The Wires
The Ledes

Saturday, May 26, 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shorter Wedding:

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

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

Here's a Guardian interview of Harry & Meghan:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Constant Comments

 

Editor-in-Chief:
Mrs. Bea McCrabbie

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

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

Friday
May182018

The Commentariat -- May 19, 2018

Afternoon Update:

** Junior, Busted Again. Mark Mazzetti, et al., of the New York Times: "Three months before the 2016 election, a small group gathered at Trump Tower to meet with Donald Trump Jr.... One was an Israeli specialist in social media manipulation. Another was an emissary for two wealthy Arab princes. The third was a Republican donor with a controversial past in the Middle East as a private security contractor. The meeting was convened primarily to offer help to the Trump team, and it forged relationships between the men and Trump insiders that would develop over the coming months -- past the election and well into President Trump's first year in office.... Erik Prince, the private security contractor and the former head of Blackwater, arranged the meeting, which took place on Aug. 3, 2016. The emissary, George Nader, told Donald Trump Jr. that the princes who led Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were eager to help his father win election as president. The social media specialist, Joel Zamel, [headed a company] which employed several Israeli former intelligence officers, specialized in collecting information and shaping opinion through social media.... Donald Trump Jr. responded approvingly..., and after those initial offers of help, Mr. Nader was quickly embraced as a close ally by Trump campaign advisers -- meeting frequently with Jared Kushner ... and Michael T. Flynn.... After Mr. Trump was elected, Mr. Nader paid Mr. Zamel a large sum of money, described by one associate as up to $2 million. There are conflicting accounts of the reason for the payment.... The meetings, which have not been reported previously, are the first indication that countries other than Russia may have offered assistance to the Trump campaign...." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: How come the Saudis didn't give Junior & Jared shiny gold medals, too?

... Marcy Wheeler: "Today's NYT scoop revealing that the Trump campaign colluded not just with Russians, but also Saudis, Emirates, and Israelis explain why the discovery of the later meetings was so dangerous: because it would reveal other efforts Trump made to sell out American foreign policy." Mrs. McC: Wheeler ties the meeting to Devin Nunes' "unmasking" hoo-hah in a way that is somewhat opaque to me. ...

... Emily Stewart of Vox: "There are multiple reasons the report matters. It indicates that it wasn't just Russia that was offering to help the Trump campaign ahead of the 2016 election. It also raises questions about what sort of repayment the Middle East countries in question might have received for their help. And it demonstrates the Trump campaign's reckless -- if not nefarious -- attitude toward campaign laws in the United States.... During the 2016 campaign, [George] Nader visited Moscow at least twice as a confidential emissary from Crown Prince Mohammed of Abu Dhabi, and he helped to arrange a meeting in the Seychelles between [Erik] Prince and a Russian businessman close to Vladimir Putin that [Robert] Mueller has also been probing. Companies tied to Zamel have connections to Russia as well." ...

... Dan Friedman of Mother Jones: "... on November 30, 2017, [Erik Prince] told the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, under oath, that he had no formal communication or contact with the Trump campaign, other than occasionally sending 'papers' on foreign policy matters to Steve Bannon.... 'So there was no formal communication or contact with the campaign?' Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) asked Prince during his interview by the Intelligence Committee. 'Correct,' Prince responded.... Prince also told the committee that he met Trump Jr. 'at a campaign event,' and at Trump Tower 'during the transition.' He did not mention the meeting with Trump Jr. and [George] Nader.... Prince [also told the Committee] a meeting he attended in Seychelles during the presidential transition with a Russian financier close to Vladimir Putin was an unplanned encounter. Nader, who is cooperating with [Robert] Mueller, has told investigators that he arranged for Prince to travel to the Seychelles to meet Kirill Dmitriev, the manager of a Russian sovereign wealth fund, after giving Prince information about Dmitriev, according to ABC." ...

Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post: "A personalized visit to Joshua Tree National Park. A spin through the West Wing, guided by White House staffers. And a trip to the top of the Lincoln Memorial, which is closed to the public. Such VIP tours of National Park Service sites, some at the height of the tourist season, came at the request of either Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke or his wife, Lola, according to records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Several excursions were scheduled specifically for friends and acquaintances. Under both Democratic and Republican presidents, top Interior officials have long given lawmakers and White House officials tours of Park Service sites and other courtesies at the agency's disposal. Several Obama administration officials -- including Vice President Joe Biden -- stayed for free at the Brinkerhoff Lodge in Grand Teton National Park, only to reimburse the government later when their visits came under fire after a FOIA disclosure." Among the recipients of these VIP tours: "friends from England" & Lola's boat broker.

Michael Grynbaum of the New York Times: "A federal judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit against Fox News filed by a former on-air host, Andrea Tantaros, who had alleged that the network retaliated against her after she complained about being sexually harassed.... On Friday, however, Judge George B. Daniels of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York wrote that Ms. Tantaros's allegations were 'based primarily on speculation and conjecture.' In dismissing the suit, the judge noted that Ms. Tantaros 'fails to adequately make out the basic elements of her claims.'" Mrs. McC: Well, that fits. Tantaros' entire political commentary was "based primarily on speculation and conjecture." That is of course Fox "News"' fundamental modus operandi, but apparently Fox attorneys know it doesn't work so well in court.

*****

Julie Davis & Michael Shear of the New York Times: "On Friday, Mr. Trump once again expressed heartbreak and frustration about a deadly school shooting that killed 10 people at a high school in Santa Fe, Tex., and said his administration would do 'everything in our power' to keep guns away from those who should not have them.... There was little indication that Mr. Trump's White House intended to make a new and aggressive push for gun restrictions.... After 17 students and teachers were shot to death at a Florida high school in February, President Trump vowed to challenge both the National Rifle Association and his Republican allies in Congress by taking major action to improve school safety and impose new restrictions on guns. In the months afterward, Mr. Trump backed down on most of those promises, telling N.R.A. members this month that their Second Amendment rights would 'never ever be under siege as long as I am your president.'... In October, the president also vowed to prevent a repeat of the massacre at a concert in Las Vegas. Since he took office, there have been mass shootings at a congressional baseball practice, a church in Texas, a Waffle House and more than a dozen other places."

Bob Mueller, Take Note:

Articles of Impeachment adopted by the House Judiciary Committee on July 27, 1974.... Article 2. Using the powers of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon..., has repeatedly engaged in conduct violating the constitutional rights of citizens, impairing the due and proper administration of justice and the conduct of lawful inquiries, or contravening the laws governing agencies of the executive branch and the purposed of these agencies.... In disregard of the rule of law, he knowingly misused the executive power by interfering with agencies of the executive branch..., in violation of his duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.

Some administration officials say several of Trump's attacks aimed at Amazon have come in response to articles in The Post that he didn't like. -- Washington Post ...

... POTUS* Tries to Use Office to Punish Perceived Enemies. Damian Paletta & Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post: "President Trump has personally pushed U.S. Postmaster General Megan Brennan to double the rate the Postal Service charges Amazon.com and other firms to ship packages, according to three people familiar with their conversations, a dramatic move that probably would cost these companies billions of dollars. Brennan has so far resisted Trump's demand, explaining in multiple conversations occurring this year and last that these arrangements are bound by contracts and must be reviewed by a regulatory commission, the three people said. She has told the president that the Amazon relationship is beneficial for the Postal Service and gave him a set of slides that showed the variety of companies, in addition to Amazon, that also partner for deliveries. Despite these presentations, Trump has continued to level criticism at Amazon. And last month, his critiques culminated in the signing of an executive order mandating a government review of the financially strapped Postal Service that could lead to major changes in the way it charges Amazon and others for package delivery." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... "An Unusually Outrageous Abuse of Power." Steve Benen: "Donald Trump has reportedly been 'obsessed' with Amazon.com for quite a while, apparently because the online retailer is owned by Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post. It's like a political bank shot of presidential contempt: the Republican hates the newspaper's coverage, which leads Trump to hate its owner, which then leads the president to hate its owner's other businesses. To that end, Trump has argued, publicly and privately, that Amazon is a tax-dodging company that unfairly exploits the U.S. Postal Service.... If it's true that this president used his office to try to punish a company he dislikes personally, that's an unusually outrageous abuse of power. Indeed, the closer one looks, the more unsettling the story appears: Trump disapproves of one of the nation's largest and most important news organizations, and he's reportedly acted on those frustrations by urging the U.S. Postmaster General to penalize one of his perceived enemies. Not to put too fine a point on this, but in the United States, a president can't use his office to retaliate against private businesses whose owners hurt his feelings." ...

... "Old Man Still Confused about What Exactly the Post Office Does." Bryan Menegus of Gizmodo: "All an average person needs to know is that mail goes in a mailbox, and, with relative expedience, it shows up where it's addressed to go. Donald Trump, being the president, is not most people. That makes his unique ignorance about how the agency works all the more embarrassing, both for us as a nation, and ... for current Postmaster General Megan Brennan.... The Post reports that Brennan eventually tried to explain the non-issue to the president using visual aids, out of we imagine had to be sheer exasperation: 'She has told the president that the Amazon relationship is beneficial for the Postal Service and gave him a set of slides that showed the variety of companies, in addition to Amazon, that also partner for deliveries.' Unfortunately we have to conclude the attempt to get Trump to bow out of the world's dumbest pissing match was ultimately a failure."

This Russia Thing, Etc., Ctd.

Adam Goldman, et al., of the New York Times: "President Trump accused the F.B.I. on Friday, without evidence, of sending a spy to secretly infiltrate his 2016 campaign 'for political purposes' even before the bureau had any inkling of the 'phony Russia hoax.' In fact, F.B.I. agents sent an informant to talk to two campaign advisers only after they received evidence that the pair had suspicious contacts linked to Russia during the campaign. The informant, an American academic who teaches in Britain, made contact late that summer with one campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, according to people familiar with the matter. He also met repeatedly in the ensuing months with the other aide, Carter Page, who was also under F.B.I. scrutiny for his ties to Russia.... Over the past two days, Mr. Trump has used speculative news reports about the informant, mostly from conservative media, to repeatedly assail the Russia investigation.... No evidence has emerged that the informant acted improperly when the F.B.I. asked for help in gathering information on the former campaign advisers, or that agents veered from the F.B.I.'s investigative guidelines and began a politically motivated inquiry, which would be illegal." ...

     ... AND There's This. The informant also had contacts with [Michael] Flynn. The two met in February 2014, when Mr. Flynn was running the Defense Intelligence Agency and attended the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar, an academic forum for former spies and researchers that meets a few times a year.... The source was alarmed by the general's apparent closeness with a Russian woman who was also in attendance. The concern was strong enough that it prompted another person to pass on a warning to the American authorities that Mr. Flynn could be compromised by Russian intelligence.... ...>

... Robert Costa, et al., of the Washington Post: "In recent days, Trump and his allies have escalated their claims that the FBI source improperly spied on the campaign.... There is no evidence to suggest someone was planted with the campaign. The source in question engaged in a months-long pattern of seeking out and meeting three different Trump campaign officials.... In late summer, the professor met with Trump campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis for coffee in Northern Virginia, offering to provide foreign-policy expertise to the Trump effort." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: It's worth noting that the NYT & WashPo have effectively outted the FBI source. The Times notes, "The informant is well known in Washington circles...," and the WashPo reports, "has confirmed the identity of the FBI source who assisted the investigation, but is not reporting his name following warnings from U.S. intelligence officials that exposing him could endanger him or his contacts." Well, the source & those contacts are in danger now. The Washington Examiner names him, and so does Ken Dilanian of NBC News. ...

... ** Asha Rangappa in a Washington Post op-ed explains the difference between FBI criminal investigations & counterintelligence ops: "Ironically, the FBI's apparent attempt to protect the campaign by investigating Russia's efforts quietly is now being weaponized against it. Accusations that the FBI was 'spying' on the Trump campaign -- rather than spying on foreign spies, which is its job -- erase the important distinctions between counterintelligence and criminal investigations. I also displays a shocking ignorance of the devastating consequences to our national security if the Justice Department hands over the information that Nunes is demanding: 'Burning' the FBI's purported source and exposing how it obtained intelligence against Russia's efforts only helps Russia cover its tracks, change tactics and improve its future operations against the United States. The Trump administration's assault against the FBI's efforts to assess a national security threat posed by suspected foreign agents only raises more questions about what went on in 2016. Trump ... should be glad to know that the FBI appears to have been trying to thwart a hostile country's efforts to infiltrate his campaign." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: I recall reading that way back when Trump first began getting national security briefings that briefers warned him that Russian agents were attempting to infiltrate his campaign. Trump & Co.'s attacks on counterintelligence agents are unconscionable. Trump's attacks should be added to articles of impeachment.

Donald CliffClavin McNasty is still attacking Andy McCabe: "Why isn’t disgraced FBI official Andrew McCabe being investigated for the $700,000 Crooked Hillary Democrats in Virginia, led by Clinton best friend Terry M (under FBI investigation that they killed) gave to McCabe's wife in her run for office? Then dropped case on Clinton!"

Andrew Desiderio of the Daily Beast: "Three top senators on Friday requested rare multi-agency inspector-general investigations into the Trump administration's failure to fully implement congressionally mandated sanctions against Russia. In a letter addressed to the inspectors general of the State Department, Treasury Department and Intelligence Community, the Democratic lawmakers ... Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) ... said the administration has not complied with the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which was passed overwhelmingly and signed into law last year in part to punish Russia for its election-meddling and its incursions into eastern Europe." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Cohen Tried to Shake Down Marks Right up until the FBI Raided His office. Matt Naham of Law & Crime: "The stakes for Donald Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen certainly changed when Stormy Daniels' attorney Michael Avenatti released records showing that Cohen's shell corporation Essential Consultants, LLC, was paid by major companies. But the stakes got worse when companies said Cohen was the one approaching them about various consulting opportunities.... You can add a recent meeting Cohen reportedly had in Florida with a Qatari official ... the minister of economy & commerce ... to the list of now-questionable activity. It reportedly occurred days before the April 9, 2018 FBI raid of Cohen's home, office and hotel room.... The Qatar Embassy said Cohen requested the meeting but didn't say if it took place."

David Stern of Politico: "Special counsel Robert Mueller's team has been meeting over the last year with a Ukrainian lawmaker at the center of a controversial plan to end his country's conflict with Russia.... Andrii Artemenko told Politico that FBI agents had peppered him with 'assorted questions' over 'at least' two interviews about his 'meetings, dealings and the questions discussed with various levels of the American political establishment.'... In total, Artemenko said, he was presented with a list of more than 140 questions and is now scheduled to appear under oath before a grand jury on June 1. Artemenko has become a figure of interest in Mueller's Russia probe because of his attempts to back-channel a deal to ... Donald Trump that would have had his administration drop sanctions against Russia imposed by the Obama White House.... Artemenko has drawn additional scrutiny because he attempted to shuttle this plan to the White House via two Trump associates now of interest to investigators -- Trump business associate Felix Sater and Michael Cohen...."

Mark Hosenball & Nathan Layne of Reuters: "U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed a key assistant of long-time Donald Trump adviser Roger Stone, two people with knowledge of the matter said, the latest sign that Mueller's investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election is increasingly focusing on Stone. The subpoena was recently served on John Kakanis, 30, who has worked as a driver, accountant and operative for Stone. Kakanis has been briefly questioned by the FBI on the topics of possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, the WikiLeaks website, its founder Julian Assange, and the hacker or hackers who call themselves Guccifer 2.0, one of the people with knowledge of the matter said. Mueller has not scheduled a grand jury appearance for Kakanis, the person said."

Digby in Salon: "Trump's defenders are prepared to argue that if a presidential candidate conspires with a foreign adversary to sabotage a rival's campaign -- and secretly offer favors for the benefit of that adversary -- it's not a crime. That's the way the game is played. Richard Nixon famously said, 'If the president does it, it's not illegal.' It appears that Trump is taking that concept to a whole other level, especially when you consider he wasn't president when this stuff was happening: 'If the right presidential candidate does it, it is positively virtuous.'" (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Rudy Is Saying Stuff

Jenna Johnson of the Washington Post: "... Rudolph W. Giuliani said Friday that he has been told 'off the record' that there was at least one informant for the FBI or Justice Department embedded in Trump's presidential campaign, but he admitted that he and the president do not know whether that's true. Trump alleged in a Thursday morning tweet that during the Obama administration, the FBI placed 'an embedded informant' inside his presidential campaign to improperly spy on him.... On Friday morning, the president tweeted this quote that he attributed to Fox Business Network anchor David Asman: 'Apparently the DOJ put a Spy in the Trump Campaign. This has never been done before and by any means necessary, they are out to frame Donald Trump for crimes he didn't commit.' Trump then added his own commentary: 'Really bad stuff!' Later Friday morning, Trump repeated his allegation that the FBI 'implanted' someone in his campaign. But this time he added a caveat, 'If true.'" (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Aaron Blake of the Washington Post: "Rudy Giuliani just made a big two-word concession: 'He can.' That's what Giuliani said Friday morning when asked by CNN's Chris Cuomo about whether a president can obstruct justice. And it contradicts the case that President Trump's now-former lawyer John Dowd had made. Dowd told Axios in December: 'The president cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution's Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case.' And there is some legitimate debate on that point. But apparently Giuliani disagrees. Trump's own lawyer said Friday that his client is not immune from charges of obstructing justice -- which is clearly the most troubling part of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation for Trump personally." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Only Democratic Presidents Have to Comply with Subpoenas. Brad Reed of the Raw Story: "... Rudy Giuliani went on an angry tirade against Chris Cuomo on Friday after the CNN host played an old clip of him saying that presidents must comply with subpoenas to testify. During the CNN interview, Giuliani claimed that back in the 1990s, he simply argued that former President Bill Clinton couldn't ignore subpoenas to hand over documents as part of the Whitewater probe. The former New York mayor then said [to Cuomo] that he would never have argued that a sitting president must comply with a subpoena asking him to testify. Cuomo then rolled the clip of Giuliani being interviewed by Charlie Rose in which Rose directly asked him about whether a president must obey a subpoena to testify -- and Giuliani said he did. Giuliani at this point began ranting at Cuomo and accused him of being 'unfair' to him...." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)


Surprise! Come on Down, Bob, You Just Won a Place in the Rotating Cabinet Sweepstakes! Eileen Sullivan & Dave Philipps
of the New York Times: "President Trump announced on Friday that he intended to nominate Robert Wilkie, the acting secretary of veterans affairs, to take over the sprawling agency, a move that the president said would surprise Mr. Wilkie because he was learning about it only as it was being revealed. The president made the announcement ahead of a public event about prison reform as he praised members of his cabinet who have worked on the issue. The president said, 'Acting Secretary Wilkie, who, by the way, has done an incredible job at the V.A. and I'll be informing him in a little while -- he doesn't know this yet -- but, we're going to be putting his name up.'" (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: As usual, Trump is taking great care in the process of nominating Cabinet members.

Ariana Cha & Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post: "The Trump administration is proposing a far-reaching change in the distribution of Title X family-planning funds that would make clinics that provide abortion services or referrals ineligible for the federal funding. The move would potentially defund Planned Parenthood by millions of dollars. Under the proposal filed Thursday and announced Friday by the Department of Health and Human Services, the $260 million program would require a 'bright line' of physical and financial separation between Title X services and providers that perform or support abortion services or refer to abortion as a method of family planning. These requirements are similar to those that were in place, although not enforced, during Ronald Reagan's presidency.... The policy would have ripple effects far beyond Planned Parenthood.... Planned Parenthood as well as other proponents, such as Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), said Friday they were prepared to challenge the proposed rule in court. It will take several months before the rule will take effect, because HHS must first subject it to public comment, respond to that feedback, and issue a final version of the proposal."

Erica Werner & Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post: "A sweeping farm bill failed in the House on Friday in a blow to GOP leaders who were unable to placate conservative lawmakers demanding commitments on immigration. The House leadership put the bill on the floor gambling it would pass despite unanimous Democratic opposition. They negotiated with members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus up to the last minutes. But their gamble failed. The vote was 213 to 198, with 30 Republicans joined 183 Democrats in defeating bill. The outcome exposed what is becoming an all-out war within the House GOP over immigration, a divisive fight the Republicans did not want to have heading into midterm elections in November that will decide control of Congress." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Paul Sonne of the Washington Post: "Dangerous equipment has once again gone missing at the U.S. Air Force base in North Dakota that operates aircraft and intercontinental ballistic missiles that can deliver nuclear warheads. Days after Minot Air Force Base reported that one of its squadrons protecting intercontinental ballistic missile silos had lost a 42-pound box of explosive grenade rounds while traveling on a gravel road, the same base said a machine gun turned up missing in a routine inventory of the facility's weapons."

Julie Turkewitz of the New York Times: “'Born to kill' was the disturbing message on a T-shirt that appeared in a Facebook post by Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 17, whom authorities identified Friday as the suspect in an attack on Santa Fe High School in Texas. At least 10 people are dead. Mr. Pagourtzis, a student at the school, was in police custody.... The governor [Greg Abbott (R)] said he used a shotgun and a .38 revolver, and both weapons appeared to have been obtained from the suspect's father, who legally owned them. Investigators are still determining a motive, but the social media trail Mr. Pagourtzis left in his wake shows a young man obsessed with violence. Mr. Abbott said the authorities had not had any previous contact with the gunman that would have alerted them." (See related links under yesterday's News Ledes.) ...

... Kelly Weill & Kate Briquelet of the Daily Beast: "Dimitrios Pagourtzis, the suspected gunman who opened fire at a Texas high school on Friday morning, apparently posted photos of neo-Nazi iconography online, according to social media accounts flagged by classmates and reviewed by The Daily Beast. Pagourtzis, 17, was booked into Galveston County Jail for capital murder on Friday. He allegedly killed 10 people at Santa Fe High School, where he was a student Explosive devices were left inside the school near Houston, authorities said. Pagourtzis reportedly had an assault-style rifle, shotgun, and pistol." ...

... Saeed Ahmed & Christina Walker of CNN: "We're only 20 weeks into 2018, and there have already been 22 school shootings where someone was hurt or killed. That averages out to more than 1 shooting a week." ...

... Philip Bump of the Washington Post: "The school shooting near Houston on Friday bolstered a stunning statistic: More people have been killed at schools this year than have been killed while serving in the military.... The figures for 2018 do not suggest schools are more dangerous than combat zones. After all, there are more than 50 million students in public elementary and high schools and only about 1.3 million members of the armed forces. So far in 2018, a member of the military has been about 40 times as likely to be killed as someone is to die in a school shooting...." ...

... Tess Owen of Vice News: "After Friday's shooting at a Texas high school, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos quickly put out a statement offering her prayers for those affected by the massacre. She also highlighted the efforts of the federal commission on school safety, formed in March in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. But despite DeVos's words, it's unclear what -- if anything -- the commission has actually been doing over the last two months, and a variety of groups involved in school safety say they've grown increasingly frustrated with the lack of action and transparency.... In the meantime, there have been 10 school shootings since the Valentine's Day massacre in Parkland that left 17 people dead...."

News Lede

New York Times: "A 17-year-old student confessed to opening fire at his Texas high school on Friday, killing 10 people, and told investigators that he had spared certain students 'so he could have his story told,' the authorities said. A Galveston County Sheriff's Office investigator wrote in an affidavit that Dimitrios Pagourtzis had waived his right to remain silent and had given 'a statement admitting to shooting multiple people' at Santa Fe High School. The investigator, identified only as J. Roy, also wrote that Mr. Pagourtzis had said that 'he did not shoot students he did like so he could have his story told.'"

Thursday
May172018

The Commentariat -- May 18, 2018

Afternoon Update:

Surprise! Come on Down, Bob, You Just Won a Place in the Rotating Cabinet Sweepstakes! Eileen Sullivan & Dave Philipps of the New York Times: "President Trump announced on Friday that he intended to nominate Robert Wilkie, the acting secretary of veterans affairs, to take over the sprawling agency, a move that the president said would surprise Mr. Wilkie because he was learning about it only as it was being revealed. The president made the announcement ahead of a public event about prison reform as he praised members of his cabinet who have worked on the issue. The president said, 'Acting Secretary Wilkie, who, by the way, has done an incredible job at the V.A. and I'll be informing him in a little while -- he doesn't know this yet -- but, we're going to be putting his name up.'" ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: As usual, Trump is taking great care in the process of nominating Cabinet members. ...

... In discussing Trump's exhaustive Cabinet personnel vetting & selection process, Akhilleus referred (in today's Comments) to Carnac. For those of you unfamiliar with Carnac, here is a brief introduction in which Carnac practices his usual magnificent methods to divine answers to questions he has not seen:

POTUS* Tries to Use Office to Punish Perceived Enemies. Damian Paletta & Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post: "President Trump has personally pushed U.S. Postmaster General Megan Brennan to double the rate the Postal Service charges Amazon.com and other firms to ship packages, according to three people familiar with their conversations, a dramatic move that probably would cost these companies billions of dollars. Brennan has so far resisted Trump's demand, explaining in multiple conversations occurring this year and last that these arrangements are bound by contracts and must be reviewed by a regulatory commission, the three people said. She has told the president that the Amazon relationship is beneficial for the Postal Service and gave him a set of slides that showed the variety of companies, in addition to Amazon, that also partner for deliveries. Despite these presentations, Trump has continued to level criticism at Amazon. And last month, his critiques culminated in the signing of an executive order mandating a government review of the financially strapped Postal Service that could lead to major changes in the way it charges Amazon and others for package delivery."

Andrew Desiderio of the Daily Beast: "Three top senators on Friday requested rare multi-agency inspector-general investigations into the Trump administration's failure to fully implement congressionally mandated sanctions against Russia. In a letter addressed to the inspectors general of the State Department, Treasury Department and Intelligence Community, the Democratic lawmakers ... Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) ... said the administration has not complied with the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which was passed overwhelmingly and signed into law last year in part to punish Russia for its election-meddling and its incursions into eastern Europe."

Digby in Salon: "Trump's defenders are prepared to argue that if a presidential candidate conspires with a foreign adversary to sabotage a rival's campaign -- and secretly offer favors for the benefit of that adversary -- it's not a crime. That's the way the game is played. Richard Nixon famously said, 'If the president does it, it's not illegal.' It appears that Trump is taking that concept to a whole other level, especially when you consider he wasn't president when this stuff was happening: 'If the right presidential candidate does it, it is positively virtuous.'" ...

... Rudy Is Saying Stuff

Jenna Johnson of the Washington Post: "... Rudolph W. Giuliani said Friday that he has been told 'off the record' that there was at least one informant for the FBI or Justice Department embedded in Trump's presidential campaign, but he admitted that he and the president do not know whether that's true. Trump alleged in a Thursday morning tweet that during the Obama administration, the FBI placed 'an embedded informant' inside his presidential campaign to improperly spy on him.... On Friday morning, the president tweeted this quote that he attributed to Fox Business Network anchor David Asman: 'Apparently the DOJ put a Spy in the Trump Campaign. This has never been done before and by any means necessary, they are out to frame Donald Trump for crimes he didn't commit.' Trump then added his own commentary: 'Really bad stuff!' Later Friday morning, Trump repeated his allegation that the FBI 'implanted' someone in his campaign. But this time he added a caveat, 'If true.'" ...

... Aaron Blake of the Washington Post: "Rudy Giuliani just made a big two-word concession: 'He can.' That's what Giuliani said Friday morning when asked by CNN's Chris Cuomo about whether a president can obstruct justice. And it contradicts the case that President Trump's now-former lawyer John Dowd had made. Dowd told Axios in December: 'The president cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution's Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case.' And there is some legitimate debate on that point. But apparently Giuliani disagrees. Trump's own lawyer said Friday that his client is not immune from charges of obstructing justice -- which is clearly the most troubling part of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation for Trump personally." ...

... Only Democratic Presidents Have to Comply with Subpoenas. Brad Reed of the Raw Story: "... Rudy Giuliani went on an angry tirade against Chris Cuomo on Friday after the CNN host played an old clip of him saying that presidents must comply with subpoenas to testify. During the CNN interview, Giuliani claimed that back in the 1990s, he simply argued that former President Bill Clinton couldn't ignore subpoenas to hand over documents as part of the Whitewater probe. The former New York mayor then said [to Cuomo] that he would never have argued that a sitting president must comply with a subpoena asking him to testify. Cuomo then rolled the clip of Giuliani being interviewed by Charlie Rose in which Rose directly asked him about whether a president must obey a subpoena to testify -- and Giuliani said he did. Giuliani at this point began ranting at Cuomo and accused him of being 'unfair' to him...."


Erica Werner & Mike DeBonis
of the Washington Post: "A sweeping farm bill failed in the House on Friday in a blow to GOP leaders who were unable to placate conservative lawmakers demanding commitments on immigration. The House leadership put the bill on the floor gambling it would pass despite unanimous Democratic opposition. They negotiated with members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus up to the last minutes. But their gamble failed. The vote was 213 to 198, with 30 Republicans joined 183 Democrats in defeating bill. The outcome exposed what is becoming an all-out war within the House GOP over immigration, a divisive fight the Republicans did not want to have heading into midterm elections in November that will decide control of Congress."

*****

You can view the Trump candidacy & presidency as One Big Grift or as several smaller but significant grifts, but whether grift is singular or plural, it defines this presidency. -- Mrs. Bea McCrabbie

This Russia Thing, Etc., Ctd.

** No, This Is Not "Normal." Philip Rucker, et al., of the Washington Post: "President Trump's allies are waging an increasingly aggressive campaign to undercut the Russia investigation by exposing the role of a top-secret FBI source. The effort reached new heights Thursday as Trump alleged that an informant had improperly spied on his 2016 campaign and predicted that the ensuing scandal would be 'bigger than Watergate!' The extraordinary push begun by a cadre of Trump boosters on Capitol Hill now has champions across the GOP and throughout conservative media -- and, as of Thursday, the first anniversary of Robert S. Mueller III's appointment as special counsel, bears the imprimatur of the president. The dispute pits Trump and the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee against the Justice Department and intelligence agencies, whose leaders warn that publicly identifying the confidential source would put lives in danger and imperil other operations.... The source is a U.S. citizen who has provided information over the years to both the FBI and the CIA, as The Post previously reported, and aided the Russia investigation both before and after Mueller's appointment in May 2017, according to people familiar with his activities." ...

Trying to wrap my head around the claim that it somehow reflects badly on Obama that Trump's campaign was so riddled with agents of foreign powers that FBI felt compelled to investigate. -- David Frum, in a tweet ...

... Martin Longman in the Washington Monthly: "... it looks like the FBI did not go looking into the Trump campaign's Russian connections until after they were tipped off by the Australians that there was a problem. Specifically, the Australians told the FBI that George Papadopoulos knew the Russians had thousands of hacked emails that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign long before any of those emails were released to the public. That caused them to investigate. And when they started to investigate, they noticed Russian connections everywhere they looked.... Yes, this is bigger than Watergate. But not because there was an informant inside Trump's campaign." ...

... As Adam Raymond of New York & others point out, the Obama-FBI-spied-on-me meme is the latest popular Trumpy conspiracy theory. ...

... Peter Baker of the New York Times: "In seeking to undercut the legitimacy of the current investigation, Mr. Trump seized on the first anniversary of Mr. Mueller's appointment on Thursday to denounce it as a politically inspired waste of time and resources, in some ways echoing Mr. Nixon who at a similar point declared that 'one year of Watergate is enough.' Mr. Trump has made a point of saying again and again that there was 'no collusion,' but as documents released this week make clear, there was at the very least attempted collusion. His son Donald Trump Jr.; his son-in-law, Jared Kushner; and his campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, met with Russian visitors during the campaign after being promised incriminating information about Mrs. Clinton as 'part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump.'"

Despite the disgusting, illegal and unwarranted Witch Hunt, we have had the most successful first 17 month Administration in U.S. history - by far! Sorry to the Fake News Media and 'Haters,' but that's the way it is! -- Donald Trump, in a tweet this morning

Congratulations America, we are now into the second year of the greatest Witch Hunt in American History...and there is still No Collusion and No Obstruction. The only Collusion was that done by Democrats who were unable to win an Election despite the spending of far more money! -- Donald Trump, in a tweet this morning

Wow, word seems to be coming out that the Obama FBI 'SPIED ON THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN WITH AN EMBEDDED INFORMANT.' Andrew McCarthy says, 'There's probably no doubt that they had at least one confidential informant in the campaign.' If so, this is bigger than Watergate! -- Donald Trump, in a tweet this morning ...

... Eileen Sullivan of the New York Times: "In some sense, many analysts have said, [Trump] is right: Efforts by a hostile foreign power to influence an American presidential election -- with or without the assistance or knowledge of the winning candidate -- may well be a scandal 'bigger than Watergate!'... Mr. Trump marked the Mueller anniversary with a series of Twitter posts on Thursday morning, reminding his 52 million followers that the investigation is a witch hunt.... At least one government informant met several times with two of Mr. Trump's former campaign aides, officials have said." (Also linked yesterday.)

Anthony Cormier & Jason Leopold of BuzzFeed write "the crazy true story of Trump Moscow." (Also linked yesterday.) ...

... Martin Longman in the Washington Monthly: "Simply by announcing his candidacy for president and getting a lot of news coverage, Trump was upping his chances of making licensing deals. There was a limited window on how long this opportunity would last [since no one thought Trump would win the presidency or even the GOP nomination], so there was a certain urgency to cashing in while the irons were hot. [Michael] Cohen and [Felix] Sater[, who were spearheading the Russia tower deal,] certainly acted like they needed to move with haste, and they kept Trump apprised of their progress throughout.... On October 28, 2015, Donald J. Trump Sr. signed on the dotted line a letter of intent to build a tower in Moscow. They immediately decided that this agreement should be kept secret. Had the public known about the project, they would have had a much different impression of Trump's [remarkably favorable] commentary on Vladimir Putin.... For me the degree to which Trump concealed and lied about this information is impeachable on its own before we even get to possible coordination in the general election. Trump's primary interest in running for president was ... auditioning for Vladimir Putin in the hope that he'd be able to put his name on the tallest tower in Europe. And he did not tell the truth about this and still hasn't."

Alison Frankel of Reuters: "In a media blitz Wednesday night and Thursday..., Donald Trump's lawyer Rudolph Giuliani told Fox and CNN he had received assurances that Special Counsel Robert Mueller will not indict the president while he is in office. Whether a sitting president can be subjected to prosecution has never been tested at the U.S. Supreme Court, but Giuliani said Mueller's team agrees it is bound by a U.S. Justice Department memo from October 2000. That memo concluded U.S. presidents cannot be indicted because the prosecution would interfere with their ability to execute their constitutional duties.... I talked Thursday to eight lawyers who've been involved in previous probes of U.S. presidents. Every one of them said Giuliani's theory is incorrect. Some of them had quite strong words. George Conway [Mrs. McC: Kellyanne's husband!] wrote the Supreme Court briefs for Bill Clinton accuser Paula Jones in the case that led to a unanimous ruling from the justices that the Constitution does not shield presidents from testifying in certain civil suits. He said Giuliani's assertion that President Trump cannot be subpoenaed is 'drivel.'"

The Ever-Helpful Rudy. Aaron Blake of the Washington Post: "Rudolph W. Giuliani hit the airwaves of Fox News on Wednesday night to again raise the bar for what might constitute collusion. On the same day that 2,500 pages of testimony about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting were released, Giuliani declared that collusion would require using information that was provided by the Russians. 'And even if it comes from a Russian, or a German, or an American, it doesn't matter,' he said of the opposition research that was offered. 'And they never used it is the main thing. They never used it. They rejected it. If there was collusion with the Russians, they would have used it.'... The new argument allows for the Trump team to have received information from foreign sources, as long as it wasn't utilized. We will see whether that's a distinction he's drawing for a reason. It's possible that Giuliani was just speaking loosely while trying to restate the previous company line.... But ... this is the latest episode in what has been a steady narrowing of the Trump team's denials of collusion." (Also linked yesterday.)

Beth Reinhard & Emma Brown of the Washington Post: "The Treasury Department's inspector general is expanding a probe into leaks of confidential reports about suspicious banking activity by Michael Cohen, President Trump's former personal attorney, to include an uncorroborated allegation that some of those reports were mysteriously absent from a government database. The investigation began last week after Michael Avenatti, an attorney for adult-film star Stormy Daniels, detailed transactions in which large firms with business interests before the U.S. government transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars to Essential Consultants, a company controlled by Cohen.... Late Wednesday, the New Yorker published a story about an unnamed law enforcement official it said had leaked the report. The official told the magazine that the report contained references to two earlier reports about Cohen's financial activity -- reports the official said were missing from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) database.... On Thursday, Treasury officials sought to tamp down concerns, saying in a statement that since 2009, FinCEN has had the ability restrict access to sensitive SARs. Richard Delmar, counsel to the inspector general, said investigators will now explore questions raised by the New Yorker after receiving a request from Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee." ...

... Jason Leopold of BuzzFeed: "Records pertaining to the financial activities of ... Michael Cohen are not missing from a government database; rather Treasury Department officials have taken the highly unusual step of restricting access to them even from certain law enforcement agencies, according to three sources familiar with the matter.... Three sources ... said that access to Cohen's SARs has merely been limited, not removed. They added that limiting access is rare and must have come from the top of the Treasury Department." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: The funny thing is that whoever these "top Treasury Department" officials may be (Steve Mnuchin), they must be pretty incompetent since they apparently restricted access to only two of the three Cohen SARs.

Nathan Layne of Reuters: "The former son-in-law of Paul Manafort, the one-time chairman of President Donald Trump's campaign, has cut a plea deal with the Justice Department that requires him to cooperate with other criminal probes, two people with knowledge of the matter said. The guilty plea agreement, which is under seal and has not been previously reported, could add to the legal pressure on Manafort, who is facing two indictments brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his probe of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Manafort has been indicted in federal courts in Washington and Virginia with charges ranging from tax evasion to bank fraud and has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Jeffrey Yohai, a former business partner of Manafort, was divorced from Manafort's daughter last August. Yohai has not been specifically told how he will be called on to cooperate as part of his plea agreement, but the two people familiar with the matter say they consider it a possibility that he will be asked to assist with Mueller's prosecution of Manafort." ...

... Sarah Lynch of Reuters: "Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office notified a federal court in Virginia on Thursday it had filed under seal an unredacted memorandum that is expected to shed light on the scope of his wide-ranging probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The filing, made as part of Mueller's criminal case against ... Paul Manafort, was requested by the judge...." (Also linked yesterday.)

The Plot Thickens. Erin Banco of NJ.com: "A Russian plane linked to the country's government flew into the Seychelles the day prior to a 2017 meeting [which included Blackwater founder Erik Prince] now under review by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, according to the airport flight data obtained by NJ Advance Media. Mueller's team is examining a series of meetings that took place in the Seychelles, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, as part of its broader investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.... New details about [the] Russian aircraft ... has raised questions about the scope of the meetings that week and whether sanctions were a topic of conversation among participants." The owner of the plane is Russian billionaire Andrei Skoch, whom the U.S. has sanctioned. The U.S. also has sanctioned the fund of Kirill Dmitriev, who was at the Seychelles meeting. "It is unclear if Skoch was on the aircraft.... But if Skoch participated in the Seychelles meetings that week in January 2017, it would raise the possibility state business, including sanctions, was discussed."


It's Always Someone Else's Fault. Maggie Haberman & Katie Rogers
of the New York Times: "... in recent months, Mr. Trump, who has never been convinced that his aides have his best interests at heart, has felt increasingly aggrieved. He blames his staff for not delivering better headlines on key initiatives, like tax cuts or a diplomatic breakthrough with North Korea. And he sees leaks as a cause of the distractions that have helped deprive him of those headlines, according to interviews with several current and former White House officials...." The reporters examine Trump's paranoia. ...

... Kaitlan Collins of CNN: "The White House is considering shrinking its communications team in the coming weeks, two officials with knowledge of the expected changes tell CNN, with one objective being reducing the number of leaks and the overall goal being restructuring the entire press shop.... Staffers are not expected to be fired outright, but pushed out slowly or shifted to other departments in the administration outside of the West Wing, the officials said. It will also likely affect junior aides without clearly defined responsibilities. The reason staffers aren't expected to be fired directly is because, although the White House has taken several steps to combat leaks including canceling the daily communications meeting, senior officials aren't confident about who it is exactly that is doing the leaking, one official noted."

Mark Berman & Frances Sellers of the Washington Post: "A New York appeals court on Thursday rejected a request from President Trump to stay proceedings in a defamation suit filed by a former contestant on 'The Apprentice' [Summer Zervos] who has claimed that he sexually harassed her. The ruling on Thursday is a legal setback for Trump, who is facing multiple lawsuits focused on allegations women have made against him as well as his public comments about those women. It could open him up to discovery in the case, although he could also file further appeals to try to delay proceedings." (Also linked yesterday.)

Isn't This Special? Charles Bagli of the New York Times: "The company controlled by the family of the White House adviser Jared Kushner is close to receiving a bailout of its financially troubled flagship building by a company with ties to the government of Qatar, according to executives briefed on the deal. Charles Kushner, head of the Kushner Companies, is in advanced talks with Brookfield Properties over a partnership to take control of the 41-story aluminum-clad tower 666 Fifth Avenue in Midtown, according to two real estate executives who have been briefed on the pending deal but are not authorized to discuss it. Brookfield is a publicly traded company, headquartered in Canada, one of whose major investors is the Qatar Investment Authority.... The deal with Brookfield is likely to raise further concerns about Jared Kushner's dual role as a White House point person on the Middle East and a continuing stake holder in the family's company." (Also linked yesterday.) ...


MEANWHILE, Paul Krugman
makes the case that China successfully bribed Trump to undermine U.S. security. Krugman blames the entire GOP establishment: "... Trump's corruption is only a symptom of a bigger problem: a G.O.P. that will do anything, even betray the nation, in its pursuit of partisan advantage." Mrs. McC: I would add that the China bribe is the principal purpose of the Emoluments Clause. ...

... Mark Landler & Ana Swanson of the New York Times: "Chinese negotiators are preparing to offer the administration a deal to buy up to $200 billion worth of American goods, which would allow Mr. Trump to claim victory in his campaign to reduce the trade deficit with China and rebalance America's trade relationship with its biggest economic rival, according to people briefed on the deliberations. But the Chinese promises would be largely illusory, economists cautioned, given the structural hurdles in China to buying more American exports and the sheer amount of goods the United States would have to produce to meet Beijing's demand. Under the deal being discussed, China would pledge to buy substantially more American agricultural products, including soybeans, as well as semiconductors and natural gas. That could theoretically reduce its trade surplus with the United States.... In return, China is asking the United States to set aside tariffs and investment restrictions it has threatened against Chinese companies. That includes lifting sanctions on the telecommunications giant ZTE...."

Louis Nelson of Politico: "... Donald Trump on Friday chided media outlets who reported earlier in the week that he had referred to undocumented immigrants as 'animals,' a remark that came in response to questions about members of the brutal MS-13 gang with roots in El Salvador. 'Fake News Media had me calling Immigrants, or Illegal Immigrants, "Animals." Wrong! They were begrudgingly forced to withdraw their stories,' the president wrote on Twitter. 'I referred to MS 13 Gang Members as 'Animals,' a big difference - and so true. Fake News got it purposely wrong, as usual!'" ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: As Trump is fully aware, the real problem is that he himself conflates gang members with ordinary immigrants in an attempt to paint all immigrants as machete-wielding villains. This is not the media's fault; it's a Trumpian strategy to mislead the public.


Nicholas Fandos
of the New York Times: "The Senate confirmed Gina Haspel on Thursday to be the first woman to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, elevating a career clandestine officer to the directorship despite bipartisan misgivings about her role in the agency's brutal detention and interrogation programs in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.... She was confirmed 54 to 45.... Two Republican no votes [Mrs. McC: Jeff Flake & Rand Paul] -- and opposition from Senator John McCain of Arizona, the victim of torture in Vietnam who was not present for the vote -- were more than offset by six Democrats, most of whom represent states that Mr. Trump won in 2016. Ms. Haspel also won over Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, who had led the interrogation of her record." (Also linked yesterday.)

Brian Fung of the Washington Post: "The Senate approved a resolution Wednesday that aims to undo a sweeping act of deregulation undertaken last year by the Federal Communications Commission, issuing a rebuke to the Trump administration, which supported the FCC's move. The resolution targets the FCC's vote in December to repeal its net neutrality rules for Internet providers. If successful, the legislative gambit could restore the agency's regulations and hand a victory to tech companies, activists and consumer advocacy groups. The congressional effort comes less than a month before the rules are officially expected to expire, on June 11. And the high-profile vote could shine a spotlight on lawmakers running for reelection during a tough midterm season.... Senate supporters of the FCC rules put forward the legislation under the Congressional Review Act, a law that permits Congress to revisit -- and reject -- decisions by administrative agencies within a certain window of their approval. The resolution, or CRA for short, passed with the backing of all 49 Democratic senators and three Republicans: Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, John N. Kennedy of Louisiana and Lisa A. Murkowski of Alaska.... Still, it is unclear what fate may await the measure in the House." (Also linked yesterday.)

Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post: "Leave it to Congress to take food away from 2 million poor people and somehow save no money in the process. The House farm bill, scheduled for a vote Friday, contains a major overhaul to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly known as food stamps).... [The bill] was written entirely by Republicans.... The bill House Republicans wrote would ratchet up [work] requirements, for every state.... The net consequence of ... ill-thought-out provisions: Millions will see their food assistance cut or eliminated, or never even apply for it. Billions will be spent getting that outcome. All of which is to say: Republicans aren't really opposed to Big Government; they just want their Big Government to help fewer people."

Every time you have that soil or rock or whatever it is that is deposited into the seas, that forces the sea levels to rise, because now you have less space in those oceans, because the bottom is moving up. -- Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), explaining rising sea levels to a climate scientist during a House hearing ...

Lesson: Do not skip rocks while at the beach. You will cause sea levels to rise. Oops, never mind; I guess that would be a man-made cause, and there's no such thing. ...

... Scott Waldman in Science: "Republicans on the U.S. House of Representatives Science, Space and Technology Committee yesterday ... at times embraced research that questions mainstream climate science during a hearing on how technology can be used to address global warming. A leading climate scientist testifying before the panel spent much of the two hours correcting misstatements.... Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the committee, entered into the record an opinion piece published in The Wall Street Journal yesterday that claimed sea levels are not rising because of climate change, a view that rejects thousands of scientific studies. The piece was written by Fred Singer, who is affiliated with the Heartland Institute in Chicago, Illinois, which promotes the rejection of mainstream climate science." (Also linked yesterday.)

Rick Hampson, in a long USA Today essay, looks at the U.S.'s second Gilded Age: "In this Gilded Age, like the one at the end of the 19th Century, the gap between rich and poor is widening; monopolies have more power over business, business has more power over politics and politics are close-fought and hyper-partisan. The pace of change -- technological, cultural, social -- is dizzying.... The most striking feature shared by the two Gilded Ages is growing economic inequality. In the 19th Century, the juxtaposition of squalor and splendor shocked a rural nation that was moving to the city; today, it haunts a nation that can remember the relative equality of the Depression, World War II and the long post-war period. Nowhere is this inequality more apparent than Los Angeles, where hundreds of encampments have sprung up on beaches, in riverbeds and in canyons as the homeless population has exploded and expanded beyond its old boundaries." ...

... Tami Luhby of CNN: "Nearly 51 million households don't earn enough to afford a monthly budget that includes housing, food, child care, health care, transportation and a cell phone, according to a study released Thursday by the United Way ALICE Project. That's 43% of households in the United States. The figure includes the 16.1 million households living in poverty, as well as the 34.7 million families that the United Way has dubbed ALICE -- Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. This group makes less than what's needed 'to survive in the modern economy.'"

News Ledes

New York Times: "A Cuban airliner carrying more than 100 people crashed and burned shortly after takeoff from Havana on Friday, killing all but three people aboard, Cuba's official media reported.... The plane, a Boeing 737 leased by Cubana de Aviación, a state-run Cuban airline, was nearly 39 years old, according to the United Nations aviation agency, making it one of the older 737s still in commercial operation."

New York Times: "A male student was taken into custody on Friday morning after a shooting spree inside a high school in southeast Texas left at least eight people dead, the majority believed to be students, the authorities said. In what has become a national rite, the authorities arrived en masse at a campus, this time at Santa Fe High School, 35 miles from Houston, as students fled in tears. In addition to the suspect, the authorities said another student was detained as a person of interest." ...

... The Houston Chronicle has live updates & links to related stories here. The paper reports at least 9 people are dead.

Miami Herald: "A gunman ranting about ... Donald Trump walked into the lobby of Trump National Doral Miami resort, draped an American flag on the counter and began firing in the air -- leading cops to shoot him in the legs in a bizarre firefight early Friday that drew a massive law-enforcement response. The man, Jonathan Oddi, a 42-year-old fitness enthusiast..., was hospitalized and is expected to face an array of criminal charges, including attempted murder of law-enforcement officers. No one at the resort was wounded, although a Doral police officer broke his wrist during the confrontation."

Wednesday
May162018

The Commentariat -- May 17, 2018

Late Morning/Afternoon Update:

Nicholas Fandos of the New York Times: "The Senate confirmed Gina Haspel on Thursday to be the first woman to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, elevating a career clandestine officer to the directorship despite bipartisan misgivings about her role in the agency's brutal detention and interrogation programs in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.... She was confirmed 54 to 45.... Two Republican no votes [Mrs. McC: Jeff Flake & Rand Paul] -- and opposition from Senator John McCain of Arizona, the victim of torture in Vietnam who was not present for the vote -- were more than offset by six Democrats, most of whom represent states that Mr. Trump won in 2016. Ms. Haspel also won over Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, who had led the interrogation of her record."

Mark Berman & Frances Sellers of the Washington Post: "A New York appeals court on Thursday rejected a request from President Trump to stay proceedings in a defamation suit filed by a former contestant on 'The Apprentice' [Summer Zervos] who has claimed that he sexually harassed her. The ruling on Thursday is a legal setback for Trump, who is facing multiple lawsuits focused on allegations women have made against him as well as his public comments about those women. It could open him up to discovery in the case, although he could also file further appeals to try to delay proceedings."

Anthony Cormier & Jason Leopold of BuzzFeed write "the crazy true story of Trump Moscow."

The Ever-Helpful Rudy. Aaron Blake of the Washington Post: "Rudolph W. Giuliani hit the airwaves of Fox News on Wednesday night to again raise the bar for what might constitute collusion.& On the same day that 2,500 pages of testimony about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting were released, Giuliani declared that collusion would require using information that was provided by the Russians. 'And even if it comes from a Russian, or a German, or an American, it doesn't matter,' he said of the opposition research that was offered. 'And they never used it is the main thing. They never used it. They rejected it. If there was collusion with the Russians, they would have used it.'... The new argument allows for the Trump team to have received information from foreign sources, as long as it wasn't utilized. We will see whether that's a distinction he's drawing for a reason. It's possible that Giuliani was just speaking loosely while trying to restate the previous company line.... But ... this is the latest episode in what has been a steady narrowing of the Trump team's denials of collusion."

Sarah Lynch of Reuters: "Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office notified a federal court in Virginia on Thursday it had filed under seal an unredacted memorandum that is expected to shed light on the scope of his wide-ranging probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The filing, made as part of Mueller's criminal case against ... Donald Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was requested by the judge...."

Every time you have that soil or rock or whatever it is that is deposited into the seas, that forces the sea levels to rise, because now you have less space in those oceans, because the bottom is moving up. -- Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), explaining rising sea levels to a climate scientist during a House hearing ...

Lesson: Do not skip rocks while at the beach. You will cause sea levels to rise. Oops, never mind; I guess that would be a man-made cause, and there's no such thing.

... Scott Waldman in Science: "Republicans on the U.S. House of Representatives Science, Space and Technology Committee yesterday ... at times embraced research that questions mainstream climate science during a hearing on how technology can be used to address global warming. A leading climate scientist testifying before the panel spent much of the two hours correcting misstatements.... Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the committee, entered into the record an opinion piece published in The Wall Street Journal yesterday that claimed sea levels are not rising because of climate change, a view that rejects thousands of scientific studies. The piece was written by Fred Singer, who is affiliated with the Heartland Institute in Chicago, Illinois, which promotes the rejection of mainstream climate science."

Isn't This Special? Charles Bagli of the New York Times: "The company controlled by the family of the White House adviser Jared Kushner is close to receiving a bailout of its financially troubled flagship building by a company with ties to the government of Qatar, according to executives briefed on the deal. Charles Kushner, head of the Kushner Companies, is in advanced talks with Brookfield Properties over a partnership to take control of the 41-story aluminum-clad tower 666 Fifth Avenue in Midtown, according to two real estate executives who have been briefed on the pending deal but are not authorized to discuss it. Brookfield is a publicly traded company, headquartered in Canada, one of whose major investors is the Qatar Investment Authority.... The deal with Brookfield is likely to raise further concerns about Jared Kushner's dual role as a White House point person on the Middle East and a continuing stake holder in the family’s company."

Despite the disgusting, illegal and unwarranted Witch Hunt, we have had the most successful first 17 month Administration in U.S. history - by far! Sorry to the Fake News Media and 'Haters,' but that's the way it is! -- Donald Trump, in a tweet this morning

Congratulations America, we are now into the second year of the greatest Witch Hunt in American History...and there is still No Collusion and No Obstruction. The only Collusion was that done by Democrats who were unable to win an Election despite the spending of far more money! -- Donald Trump, in a tweet this morning

Wow, word seems to be coming out that the Obama FBI 'SPIED ON THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN WITH AN EMBEDDED INFORMANT.' Andrew McCarthy says, 'There's probably no doubt that they had at least one confidential informant in the campaign.' If so, this is bigger than Watergate! -- Donald Trump, in a tweet this morning ...

... Eileen Sullivan of the New York Times: "In some sense, many analysts have said, [Trump] is right: Efforts by a hostile foreign power to influence an American presidential election -- with or without the assistance or knowledge of the winning candidate -- may well be a scandal 'bigger than Watergate!'... Mr. Trump marked the Mueller anniversary with a series of Twitter posts on Thursday morning, reminding his 52 million followers that the investigation is a witch hunt.... At least one government informant met several times with two of Mr. Trump's former campaign aides, officials have said."

Brian Fung of the Washington Post: "The Senate approved a resolution Wednesday that aims to undo a sweeping act of deregulation undertaken last year by the Federal Communications Commission, issuing a rebuke to the Trump administration, which supported the FCC's move. The resolution targets the FCC's vote in December to repeal its net neutrality rules for Internet providers. If successful, the legislative gambit could restore the agency's regulations and hand a victory to tech companies, activists and consumer advocacy groups. The congressional effort comes less than a month before the rules are officially expected to expire, on June 11. And the high-profile vote could shine a spotlight on lawmakers running for reelection during a tough midterm season.... Senate supporters of the FCC rules put forward the legislation under the Congressional Review Act, a law that permits Congress to revisit -- and reject -- decisions by administrative agencies within a certain window of their approval. The resolution, or CRA for short, passed with the backing of all 49 Democratic senators and three Republicans: Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, John N. Kennedy of Louisiana and Lisa A. Murkowski of Alaska.... Still, it is unclear what fate may await the measure in the House."

*****

This Russia Thing, Etc. Ctd. -- Trump Is So Screwed
Happy First Anniversary to the Special Counsel

** "Crossfire Hurricane." Matt Apuzzo, et al., of the New York Times write a fascinating account of the first days of the FBI's Russia investigation in the summer of 2016 & elaborates on subsequent moves to keep the investigation secret. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) Among the new info, the Russia investigation began as a result of George Papadopoulos' drunken boast to an Australian diplomat, & The FBI had reason to believe Carter Page was a Russian agent who funneled info back to Russian intelligence. Mrs. McC: Rachel Maddow notes that the article includes a sorta mea culpa for the Times story, published right before the 2016 election, essentially exonerating Trump & Co. ...

... Scott Lemieux in LG&$: "This big Times story about the FBI's Russia ratfucking investigation is really the story of two fuckups that contributed to the election of Donald Trump: double standards in the FBI investigation, and double standards and completely botched stories by the New York Times.... The DEEP STATE mattered to the 2016 election, all right -- its most consequential arm was solidly behind Trump." ...

... Kevin Drum: "In the end..., all the howling over Benghazi paid off, as did Trump's endless bellyaching about the election being rigged. The result was just what Republicans wanted: The press played along eagerly with both Benghazi and Hillary's emails, while the FBI cowered in a defensive crouch over fear of Republican attacks on them. There hasn't been a more masterful game of working the refs in recent history." ...

... Annals of "Journalism," Ctd. Erik Wemple of the Washington Post looks at the history of the New York Times' very own October Surprise in the context of the story linked above, where Times reporters admit the October 31 story "buried the lede." Mrs. McC: But guess what? If this Times report is a mea culpa for its Trump-friendly October 31, 2016 story, the reporters bury the mea culpa in a report that centers on the intelligence community's early investigations into Trump's collusion with Russia. Sort of perfect. I'm surprised they didn't mention their Pulitzer Prize in there alongside the "we buried the lede" admission.

Steve Eder, et al., of the New York Times: "President Trump's financial disclosure, released on Wednesday, revealed for the first time that he paid more than $100,000 to his personal attorney, Michael D. Cohen, as reimbursement for payment to a third-party.... A footnote in the disclosure said that Mr. Cohen had requested reimbursement of the expenses incurred in 2016 and Mr. Trump had repaid it in full in 2017. It did not give an exact amount of the payment but said it was between $100,001 and $250,000.... The 92-page disclosure covers only calendar year 2017.... It also provides much less specificity than his tax returns, which he has refused to make public. Still, the disclosure provides the first extended look at the performance of Mr. Trump's Washington hotel, which opened in September 2016 and has become a magnet for lobbyists and Republican aides. The hotel is one of his best performing properties, and the disclosure listed revenues of $40.4 million. And Mr. Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, which has become known as the Winter White House, saw revenues of $25.1 million.... Individual performance aside, there are broader signs that the business is retreating somewhat during the first part of Mr. Trump's presidency." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Eric Levitz of New York: "On Wednesday, Donald Trump formally acknowledged that he had repaid Michael Cohen for expenses the latter accrued during the 2016 presidential campaign; which is to say, the president tacitly admitted that, in October 2016, at Trump's behest, his personal attorney paid a porn star not to publicly detail her (alleged) affair with Trump. This admission would appear to implicate the Trump team in a campaign-finance violation: Assuming Trump's motivation for paying Stormy Daniels $130,000 not to go public about their (alleged) relations was at least partly because of political concerns, then Cohen's payment to her would constitute a loan to the Trump campaign -- one far larger than federal election laws allow." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... ** Louis Nelson, et al., of Politico: "The government's top ethics officer told the Justice Department on Wednesday that ... Donald Trump should have disclosed last year that he reimbursed his longtime personal attorney for a 'hush money' payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. The letter from David Apol, the acting director of the Office of Government Ethics, came as that office also released Trump's most recent financial disclosure form, a 92-page document that included the reimbursement to attorney Michael Cohen as a footnote.... 'OGE has concluded that, based on the information provided as a note to part 8, the payment made by Mr. Cohen is required to be reported as a liability,' Apol wrote to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, adding, 'you may find the disclosure relevant to any inquiry you may be pursuing regarding the President's prior report that was signed on June 14, 2017.'... As recently as April, Trump had told reporters he was not aware of the payment to Daniels.... Apol's letter to the Justice Department is 'highly unusual,' said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for the non-profit watchdog group Public Citizen." ...

     ... Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: Several experts said Apol's letter was the equivalent of a criminal referral against the POTUS*. So yeah, "highly unusual."

Ryan Grim of the Intercept: "Over the past two months, [former Qatari sovereign fund manager Ahmed] al-Rumaihi has shared details of his meetings [with Michael Cohen & another person] ... in off-the-record interviews with The Intercept.... Al-Rumaihi said Cohen asked him for an upfront fee of $1 million for his services in the midst of their conversation about a potential Qatari investment in U.S. infrastructure.... [At a early-December 2017 meeting among Cohen, al-Rumaihi & another person at a New York restaurant,] Cohen suggested that Qatar could revitalize some Midwestern towns, saying, according to al-Rumaihi, '"For example, we can find a steel factory that is about to shut down. You guys can invest. I'll give you some names to appoint as partners. You guys put in the money, we will put in the know-how, and share the profits 50-50. We can perhaps get a federal government "off-take agreement" for 10 to 15 years. It will revitalize the city, great PR, you guys will look like you're saving the city, everybody wins."'... Al-Rumaihi said he did not pay Cohen, and Cohen's since-revealed account ledger includes no payment from al-Rumaihi, or any companies connected to him." Mrs. McC: Al-Rumaihi has allowed Grim to report his side of the story. ...

... Eric Levitz: "... al-Rumaihi's account of the meeting is quite consistent with pre-existing reports about Cohen's 'aggressive' approach to selling well-heeled special interests influence over the White House. Previous reports have already established that Cohen pitched his consulting services -- at a very similar price -- to the Swiss drugmaker Novartis, among multiple other major corporations. That said, al-Rumaihi's honesty and ethical scruples have recently been called into question by a mutual business partner of Steve Bannon and the rapper Ice Cube.... All of this comes on top of the public facts that Jared Kushner's family sought Qatari financing for their financially embattled 666 5th Avenue building, and that the Trump administration gave its blessing to a Saudi blockade of Qatar shortly after the Kushners' overtures were rejected." ...

... Karen DeYoung, et al., of the Washington Post: "Michael Cohen ... solicited a payment of at least $1 million from the government of Qatar in late 2016, in exchange for access to and advice about the then-incoming administration, according to the recipient of the offer and several others with knowledge of the episode. The offer, which Qatar declined, came on the margins of a Dec. 12 meeting that year at Trump Tower between the Persian Gulf state's foreign minister and Michael Flynn, who became Trump's first national security adviser. Stephen K. Bannon, who became White House chief strategist, also attended. Cohen did not participate in the official meetings but spoke separately to a member of the Qatari delegation, Ahmed al-Rumaihi, who at the time was head of the investments division of the country's sovereign wealth fund, the Qatar Investment Authority.... News of the Qatar solicitation marks the first time Cohen is believed to have pitched his influence directly to a foreign government." ...

...**Josh Boswell & Ryan Parry of the Daily Mail: "...Michael Cohen, is facing claims he asked a Middle Eastern official for millions of dollars to give to 'Trump family members' in a meeting at Trump Tower weeks after the president's election victory, DailyMail.com can reveal. Cohen is alleged to have asked Ahmed Al-Rumaihi, a former diplomat in charge of a $100bn Qatari investment fund, to send 'millions' through him to Trump family members.... The claims of a demand for 'millions' were made by a senior Kuwaiti government source close to Al-Rumaihi.... The Kuwaiti source told DailyMail.com that following DailyMail.com's disclosure of the court case, Al-Rumaihi called him and boasted that Cohen had asked him for money in exchange for influence in the Trump administration. The official said: 'He said Cohen told him to send millions to various members of the Trump family.' Al-Rumaihi did not do so, the official added. The Trump family members were not named." --safari: This could just be a case of Middle Eastern backstabbing with only one reported source. Let's see some evidence. ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie Note: I purposely did not link the Daily Mail report yesterday because, well, it's the Daily Mail. However, the Intercept report, which cites al-Rumaihi, & the WashPo report, which cites others who were aware of the Cohen overtures, are far more credible. The Daily Mail report is single-sourced by an anonymous Qatari official, a "reporting" standard that doesn't pass muster in more reputable news outlets. Neither the Intercept nor the WashPo claims Cohen asked for millions to spread around to Trump family members. In fact, they sort of refute that idea in al-Rumaihi's claim that all Cohen asked for was $1MM for himself.

... Jonathan Chait of New York: "The Daily Mail report deepens the trouble in two crucial ways. First, it extends Cohen's scheme from domestic corporations (or, in one case, domestic corporations controlled by foreign entities) to direct overseas fundraising. Second, and more ominously, it alleges that Cohen funneled the money to Trump's family.... Now the story suggests he was enriching them, transforming the Cohen bribery story into a Trump bribery story." --safari ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: As Chait writes in the linked post, "The [Daily Mail] story's publication did not reverberate with the explosive force proportional to the scale of the allegation. The reason is that the Daily Mail lacks the familiarity and credibility of major American legacy media firms. Its occasional bombshell scoops reside in a never-never land between rumor and accepted fact. And yet there is plenty of contextual evidence to support the charge." So far, there is more "contextual evidence" that Cohen was hitting up the Qataris for himself alone. It's still possible, of course, that the Daily Mail story is correct.

... ** Ronan Farrow of the New Yorker: "Last week, several news outlets obtained financial records showing that Michael Cohen ... had used a shell company to receive payments from various firms with business before the Trump Administration. In the days since, there has been much speculation about who leaked the confidential documents, and the Treasury Department's inspector general has launched a probe to find the source. That source, a law-enforcement official, is speaking publicly for the first time, to The New Yorker, to explain the motivation: the official had grown alarmed after being unable to find two important reports on Cohen's financial activity in a government database. The official, worried that the information was being withheld from law enforcement, released the remaining documents.... The report also refers to two previous suspicious-activity reports, or SARs, that the bank had filed, which documented even larger flows of questionable money into Cohen's account. Those two reports detail more than three million dollars in additional transactions -- triple the amount in the report released last week. Which individuals or corporations were involved remains a mystery. But, according to the official who leaked the report, these SARs were absent from the database maintained by the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN." Read on, as Farrow has more on the contents of the SARs. ...

... Justin Miller of the Daily Beast: "The Michael Cohen scandal began as a six-figure payment to a porn star, but on Wednesday it exploded into an international, multimillion-dollar financial scandal.... Donald Trump's fixer took in more than $4 million in eyebrow-raising deposits to his shell company -- much of it from foreign sources."

... Shawn Boburg & Aaron Davis of the Washington Post: "A California man who says he served as a translator last year for Michael Cohen and a South Korean aerospace firm that paid Cohen's company $150,000 said Tuesday that FBI agents recently interviewed him. Mark Ko said in an email to The Washington Post that he spoke with the FBI about the arrangement 'a few weeks ago.' Ko declined to provide details about investigators' inquiries and said he was unsure whether the agents were part of the probe led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Ko's statement is the first indication that federal authorities are examining Cohen's contract with Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) -- one of several companies with substantial business before the U.S. government that hired Cohen ... after the 2016 election." ...

... Hunter Walker & Brett Arnold of Yahoo! News: "Prosecutors and congressional investigators have obtained text messages and emails showing that President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, was working on a deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow far later than Cohen has previously acknowledged. The communications show that as late as May 2016, around the time Trump was clinching the Republican nomination, Cohen was considering a trip to Russia to meet about the project with high-level government officials, business leaders and bankers.... In a statement to Congress, Cohen claimed he gave up on the project in late January 2016, when he determined the 'proposal was not feasible for a variety of business reasons and should not be pursued further.'"

Mark Hosenball of Reuters: "U.S. Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller has issued two subpoenas to a social media expert who worked for longtime Donald Trump adviser Roger Stone during the 2016 presidential election campaign. The subpoenas were delivered late last week to lawyers representing Jason Sullivan, a social media and Twitter specialist Stone hired to work for an independent political action committee he set up to support Trump.... The subpoenas suggest that Mueller, who is probing Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, is focusing in part on Stone and whether he might have had advance knowledge of material allegedly hacked by Russian intelligence and sent to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who published it."

Michael Schmidt, et al., of the New York Times: "The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, will not indict President Trump if he finds wrongdoing in his investigation of Trump campaign links to Russia, according to the president's lawyers. They said Wednesday that Mr. Mueller's investigators told them that he would adhere to the Justice Department's view that the Constitution bars prosecuting presidents.... Mr. Trump's lead lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, said the special counsel's office displayed uncertainty about whether Mr. Trump could be indicted. 'When I met with Mueller's team, they seemed to be in a little bit of confusion about whether they could indict,' Mr. Giuliani said. 'We said, "It's pretty clear that you have to follow D.O.J. policy."' Mr. Giuliani said that one member of Mr. Mueller's office acknowledged that the president could not be indicted. Two or three days later, Mr. Giuliani said, Mr. Mueller's office called another of the president's lawyers, Jay Sekulow, to say that prosecutors would adhere to the guidelines. 'They can't indict,' Mr. Giuliani said. 'They can't indict. Because if they did, it would be dismissed quickly. There's no precedent for a president being indicted.' But the question of whether the president can be indicted is an unsettled legal issue."

Karoun Demirjian of the Washington Post: "The Senate Intelligence Committee has determined that the intelligence community was correct in assessing that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election with the aim of helping then-candidate Donald Trump, contradicting findings House Republicans reached last month.... The committee's review is not yet complete: On Wednesday, panel members huddled behind closed doors with former intelligence chiefs to discuss their impressions and conclusions. Former Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., former CIA director John Brennan, and former National Security Agency director Adm. Mike Rogers were in attendance. Former FBI director James B. Comey also was invited." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Justin Miller: "The Senate Judiciary Committee said Wednesday that the Russian government apparently used the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump's presidential campaign in 2016. Documents suggest the Kremlin used the NRA to offer the campaign a back channel to Moscow -- including a potential meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin -- and might have secretly funded Trump's campaign, the committee said. One of the Russians named in the report even bragged she was part of the Trump campaign's communications with Russia, The Daily Beast reported last year. The NRA spent a record $30 million on Trump and the FBI is reportedly investigating whether any of the money came from Russia. U.S. law prohibits foreign money to be spent on elections. Two Russian nationals figure prominently in the alleged scheme: Alexander Torshin, deputy governor of the Kremlin's central bank, and his then-deputy Maria Butina." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Aaron Blake of the Washington Post: "Here are some key findings [of the Senate Intelligence Committee report released Wednesday]. 1. Trump Jr. was clearly anxious for dirt on Hillary Clinton... 2. Trump Jr. says President Trump may have personally influenced misleading explanations about the meeting... 3. Trump Jr. says he doesn't recall whether a key call with a blocked phone number was his father... 4. Goldstone suggests Veselnitskaya was pitched as having Russian government connections... 5. Meeting attendees say no valuable information was provided... 6. Goldstone vented about the meeting being 'an awful idea' after investigators grilled him..." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Kyle Cheney of Politico: "Top congressional allies of ... Donald Trump are calling on him to order the release of sensitive documents connected to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. In a letter to Trump, Republican Reps. Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan, leaders of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, as well as Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), urged the president to demand that Attorney General Jeff Sessions turn over the documents to Congress immediately. Included in their request is a demand for a copy of an August 2017 document detailing the scope of Mueller's probe, which would reveal the subjects of his investigation and details about the potential crimes he's examining.... It's an extraordinary request from three congressmen who have largely defended Trump from the ongoing probes, accusing top Justice Department and FBI officials of misconduct and raising questions about the legitimacy of Mueller's investigation."

Donie O'Sullivan & Drew Griffin of CNN: "Christopher Wylie, a former Cambridge Analytica employee who blew the whistle on its alleged misuse of Facebook data, told the Senate Judiciary Committee [Wednesday] that the company offered services to discourage voting from targeted sections of the American population.... After the hearing, Wylie told CNN that although he did not take part in voter suppression activities, he alleged that African-Americans were particular targets of Cambridge Analytica's 'voter disengagement tactics,' which he said were used to 'discourage or demobilize certain types of people from voting,' and that campaigns and political action committees requested voter suppression from Cambridge Analytica.... Wylie also outlined during his testimony how he believed it may have been possible for the Facebook data of American voters to have been obtained by entities in Russia. Wylie highlighted how Cambridge University professor Aleksandr Kogan -- who has told CNN he gathered information on 30 million Americans through his Facebook personality test app in 2014, which he then passed to Cambridge Analytica -- made numerous trips to Russia, in part a result of his work with St. Petersburg University."


Brian Bennett & Tessa Berenson
of Time: "With just one month until a scheduled sit-down with North Korea's leader..., Donald Trump hasn't set aside much time to prepare for meeting with Kim Jong Un, a stark contrast to the approach of past presidents. 'He doesn't think he needs to,' said a senior administration official familiar with the President's preparation. Aides plan to squeeze in time for Trump to learn more about Kim's psychology and strategize on ways to respond to offers Kim may make in person, but so far a detailed plan hasn't been laid out for getting Trump ready for the summit." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Besides, he's busy writing his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. Oh, wait ...

... Veronica Stracqualursi of CNN: "The White House on Wednesday downplayed comments by national security adviser John Bolton, who recently invoked Libya's decision to denuclearize during the Bush administration as a model for US policy on North Korea, potentially placing a planned US-North Korea summit in jeopardy. Hours earlier, a North Korean official said Bolton's remarks were indicative of an 'awfully sinister move' to imperil the Kim regime. North Korea stunned Washington on Tuesday by threatening to abandon talks between ... Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un if Washington insists on pushing it 'into a corner' on nuclear disarmament.... In April, Bolton suggested that the White House was looking at Libya as an example of how it will handle negotiations with North Korea to denuclearize. 'We have very much in mind the Libya model from 2003, 2004,' Bolton said on Fox News.... White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday that she hadn't 'seen that as part of any discussions so I'm not aware that that's a modelthat we're using....'" (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Mark Landler, et al., of the New York Times: "The White House brushed aside threats by North Korea on Wednesday to cancel an upcoming summit meeting between President Trump and the North's leader, Kim Jong-un, saying it was still 'hopeful' the meeting will happen -- but that Mr. Trump would be fine if it did not.... American officials acknowledged that the North appeared to be seeking to exploit a gap in the administration's messages about North Korea -- between the hard-line views of the national security adviser, John R. Bolton, and the more conciliatory tone of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.... The president has shifted between a hard-line and more conciliatory tone in his statements about the North, although in recent days he has expressed excitement about a potential breakthrough with Mr. Kim. He has not yet responded to the warning Wednesday issued by the North's first vice foreign minister, Kim Kye-gwan, which took direct aim at Mr. Bolton. People close to the White House said the uncoordinated nature of the statements reflected the newness of the president's national security team, but also the fact that Mr. Trump was distracted by the swirl of legal issues around him...." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... The Bolton Plan. Joshua Keating of Slate: "In several interviews, [John] Bolton has cited former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's 2000 decision to abandon his nascent nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief as a model for the 'complete denuclearization' of North Korea. As Bolton well knows, North Korea has specifically cited the Libya example as a reason why it should pursue a nuclear deterrent: 11 years after giving up his weapons program, Qaddafi was lying dead in a roadside ditch following a Western military intervention. It's hard to imagine a choice of precedent from Bolton that would raise more red flags with the North Koreans. Of course, that may be exactly why Bolton cited it. Bolton has advocated pre-emptive military action against North Korea and has sounded highly skeptical about the recent diplomatic opening.... So, a national security adviser who seems to view these talks as a dangerous waste of valuable time has been making statements that see perfectly tailored to either scuttle the talks or make meaningful progress at them impossible. Judging by North Korea's outburst this week, the strategy -- if that's what it is -- is working." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Mrs. McCrabbie: My favorite headline today: "Trump's North Korea Nobel buzz could die with John Bolton. Michael Crowley & Eliana Johnson of Politico: "North Korea's latest diatribe against the United States -- and specifically a 'repugnant' national security adviser, John Bolton -- spotlights a core tension within the Trump administration as the president seeks a nuclear deal with North Korea that he hopes might earn him a Nobel Peace Prize. Bolton is famously contemptuous of what he considers naïve U.S. diplomacy with foreign adversaries who can only be trusted to cheat and lie. Prominent on his list is North Korea itself, which he has written 'will never give up nuclear weapons voluntarily,' calling past U.S. diplomatic forays with the country 'embarrassments.'"

Ben Mathis-Lilley of Slate: "It's amazing how many countries appear to be trying to bribe our President right now." Mathis-Lilley cites China, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia & India, & a few others, plus those who book the Trump International Hotel. "European heads of state, who are generally governed by laws prohibiting bribery, have treated Trump like a typical U.S. president, making the case to him via formal diplomacy.... He's generally ignored them in favor of developing buddy-buddy relationships with a number of authoritarians whose countries are friendly toward the Trump Organization and the people in its orbit. All in all, it's really starting to seem like Trump's promise to create a 'blind trust' that would completely insulate him from his business interests has not been entirely effective in its implementation. Sad!" (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

We have people coming into the country -- or trying to come in, we're stopping a lot of them -- but we're taking people out of the country, you wouldn't believe how bad these people are. These aren't people. These are animals. -- Donald Trump, at an immigration roundtable, Wednesday ...

... David Nakamura & Jenna Johnson of the Washington Post: "Trump said [Oakland] Mayor Libby Schaaf's decision to inform residents of Oakland ahead of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement action amounted to 'obstruction of justice' because many of those who were targeted fled the area before federal agents arrived.... 'You talk about obstruction of justice -- I would recommend that you look into obstruction of justice for the mayor of Oakland, California, Jeff,' Trump continued, aiming his remarks at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was seated at the table.... Sessions has previously criticized Schaaf, stating her warning prevented authorities from making 800 arrests. That claim was disputed by an ICE spokesman, who said it was false and resigned in protest.... Trump's move to encourage the nation's top law enforcement officer to investigate a Democratic politician was viewed by some as an attempt to weaponize the Justice Department against his political opponents, with critics calling it an abuse of power." ...

... Julie Davis of the New York Times: "Mr. Trump's comments came during a round-table discussion with state and local leaders on California's so-called sanctuary laws, which strictly limit communication between local law enforcement and federal immigration officers, and which the Trump administration is suing to invalidate.... Mr. Trump's remarks came as the local officials invited for the event took turns praising his immigration policies and lamenting California's law, arguing that it was making it more difficult for their communities to find and deport criminals.... 'Trump is lying on immigration, lying about crime and lying about the laws of California,' [California Gov. Jerry] Brown said in a statement. 'Flying in a dozen Republican politicians to flatter him and praise his reckless policies changes nothing. We, the citizens of the fifth-largest economy in the world, are not impressed.'"

Donald to Donald: "With Friends Like You...." Michael Birnbaum of the Washington Post: "At the outset of a summit of European leaders..., European Council President Donald Tusk ... ripped into what he called 'the capricious assertiveness of the American administration' over issues including Iran, Gaza, trade tariffs and North Korea. In comments to reporters and a subsequent tweet, he suggested the White House had lost touch with reality. He said Europe didn't need enemies when it had friends like the United States. And he exhorted European leaders not to be reliant on Washington.... Europeans are increasingly exasperated by the way Trump is steering U.S. policy objecting not only to his stances but also to what they say is erratic policymaking that switches on the whim of Fox News programmers. The shifting desires make it nearly impossible to negotiate with the White House, many diplomats say, because they cannot strike a bargain to get close to what Trump wants when he doesn't know it himself." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Reuters via the Guardian: "Japan is considering slapping tariffs on US imports worth $409m in retaliation against steel and aluminium levies imposed by Donald Trump.... Tokyo's planned retaliatory tariffs would be the equivalent value to duties imposed by Washington via its tariffs.... Japan was the United States' fourth largest export market in 2016.... Japan is the only major US ally that did not receive exemptions from Trump's tariff decision, which came as a shock to many policymakers given prime minister Shinzo Abe's close ties with Trump." --safari

Frank Rich: "Some 40 miles away Palestinian demonstrators were being mowed down en masse, an image juxtaposed on split screen by the sight of Ivanka Trump smiling, as Michelle Goldberg has written, 'like a Zionist Marie Antoinette.' The most prominent Jews in attendance besides her and her husband were Sheldon Adelson, Steven Mnuchin, and 'Bibi' Netanyahu, who (along with his wife) is under criminal investigation in tandem with that of his ally in the White House. This Jersualem 'ceremony' will live on not as a positive step in Israeli history but as a shabby rogue's gallery panorama of mobsterism at the top of both the American and Israeli governments. The only thing missing from the picture was a sanctimonious Jared Kushner evocation of his grandparents' survival of the Holocaust.... Many American Jewish families are the descendants of Holocaust survivors. They don't merchandize that legacy to justify the alt-right, and they don't embrace anti-Semites praying for the mass conversion and/or mass extinction of Jews."

Gardiner Harris of the New York Times: "In a veiled rebuke of President Trump, former Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson warned on Wednesday that American democracy was threatened by a growing 'crisis of ethics and integrity.' 'If our leaders seek to conceal the truth, or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom,' he said in a commencement address at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va. Even small falsehoods and exaggerations are problematic, Mr. Tillerson said. He did not mention Mr. Trump by name, although the president is prone to both."

John Cassidy of the New Yorker writes a fun column on how game theory explains the leaky Trump White House. And yeah, Trump himself created the "game."

Ellen Knickmeyer & Michael Biesecker of the AP: "Lawmakers at a Senate hearing Wednesday hammered Scott Pruitt with his toughest questioning to date amid federal investigations on his spending, bodyguards and ties with lobbyists, in exchanges that included dramatic production of a newly released internal email that appeared to contradict the embattled Environmental Protection Agency administrator. Pruitt, appearing before a Senate appropriations subcommittee, denied direct responsibility for alleged ethical missteps that have prompted about a dozen probes, including ones by Congress, the EPA's inspector general, the Government Accountability Office and the Office of Management of Budget. He stuck to his practice in a previous round of congressional hearings of deflecting blame onto subordinates at EPA, including its security agents and public-affairs workers.... Time and again, Pruitt responded to questions by saying he either couldn't recall details or was unaware of decisions made by aides."

Heather Timmons of Quartz: "The White House is discussing possible replacements for Department of Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, because Donald Trump is unhappy with how she is running the massive agency..., according to two people briefed on the situation. Names being discussed inside the White House include Tom Cotton, the senator from Arkansas, energy secretary Rick Perry, and Thomas Homan, the retiring head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, one of these people said. Cotton and Perry were also considered for the position previously.... In several negotiations since Trump was elected, Congress refused to give DHS the billions the agency requested to build his promised wall on the US's southern border. Nielsen is being blamed in the White House for the omission, one of the people briefed said. Far-right pundits have been mocking the administration this week for failing to get it done, angering Trump, this person said."

was confirmed by the commission on Wednesday, with the agency's three Republican commissioners voting in favor of and the two Democratic commissioners voting against his appointment.

Glenn Thrush & Jack Nicas of the New York Times: "The new director of the Federal Trade Commission's consumer protection unit, a watchdog with broad investigative powers over private companies, stands out even in an administration prone to turning over regulatory authority to pro-industry players. The director, Andrew M. Smith..., was confirmed by the commission on Wednesday, with the agency's three Republican commissioners voting in favor of and the two Democratic commissioners voting against his appointment.... [He] has recently represented Facebook, Uber and Equifax -- all companies with matters before the commission -- and plans to recuse himself from dozens of cases now that he has been confirmed for the post. And in 2012, Mr. Smith was also part of the legal team that defended AMG Services, the payday lender founded by the convicted racketeer Scott Tucker, whose predatory practices against impoverished borrowers eventually led to a $1.3 billion court-ordered settlement, the biggest in the commission's history. 'It's outrageous the F.T.C. would pick the lawyer for a criminally convicted racketeer's payday loan company as consumer protection chief,' said Senator Elizabeth Warren [D-Mass.]...."

Congressional Races. Gail Collins: "As a public service, today we are going to discuss the latest primary elections. And I promise there will be some sex scandals. But first -- wow, women are on the move. The big election story on Tuesday was in Pennsylvania, whose 18-member delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives is currently composed of 18 men. (Well, O.K., 16 men and two vacancies due to men who abruptly left town. As we will see, Pennsylvania is having some trouble hanging on to its representatives.)' Next year there could conceivably be seven women."

"Capitalism is Awesome", Ctd. Jessica Pishko in the Guardian: "Across the country, more state legislatures are increasing the penalties for multiple shoplifting offenses, a move that has been encouraged by the National Retail Federation, a trade group that lobbies on behalf of retail businesses. The Federation represents the interests of both small businesses -- mom-and-pop shops -- and big megastores like Walmart and Dollar Store. According to the trade publication Loss Prevention Media, 'legislation has become a primary tool used in combating organized retail crime'.... In the meantime, it appears that the new law is being used not to prosecute dangerous retail gangs, but rather to penalize those who can least afford it." --safari

Edward Helmore of the Guardian: "The first comprehensive study of the massive pay gap between the US executive suite and average workers has found that the average CEO-to-worker pay ratio has now reached 339 to 1, with the highest gap approaching 5,000 to 1. The study, titled Rewarding Or Hoarding?, was published on Wednesday by Minnesota]s Democratic US congressman Keith Ellison, and includes data on almost 14 million workers at 225 US companies with total annual revenues of $6.3tn. Just the summary makes for sober reading."...

...**"The Powell Memo", Ctd. Ed Pilkington of the Guardian: "Rightwing activists are launching a nationwide drive to persuade public-sector trade union members to tear up their membership cards and stop paying dues, posing a direct threat to the progressive movement in America. Documents obtained by the Guardian reveal that a network of radical conservative thinktanks spanning all 50 states is planning direct marketing campaigns targeted personally at union members to encourage them to quit.... The anti-union marketing drive is the brainchild of the State Policy Network (SPN), a coast-to-coast alliance of 66 rightwing thinktanks that has an $80m war chest ... funded by such billionaire conservative donors as the Koch brothers and the Walton Family Foundation that stems from the Walmart fortune.... The goal, the group said, was 'permanently depriving the left from access to millions of dollars in dues extracted from unwilling union members every election cycle'." Read on. --safari...

...Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! has more.

Will Hobson & Cindy Boren of the Washington Post: "Michigan State has agreed to pay $500 million to settle lawsuits filed by 332 alleged victims of disgraced former sports physician Larry Nassar, both sides announced Wednesday, ending the university's involvement in litigation over the former Olympic gymnastics doctor's rampant sexual abuse of girls and women under the guise of medical treatment." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Bill Hutchinson of ABC News: "A wave of teacher revolts sweeping the nation is set to hit North Carolina on Wednesday as thousands of educators are expected to swarm the state's capital in a quest for higher pay and more money for education. The scheduled one-day walkout has prompted school districts across the state to cancel classes for Wednesday, leaving more than 1 million students with an unexpected day off. The labor action is the latest in a string of teacher uprisings across the country this year that have prompted strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona. Educators in Kentucky and Colorado have also taken action, staging walkouts and sick-outs in hopes of pressuring lawmakers to stop a decade of cuts in education funding the teachers say have hurt students. In Puerto Rico, thousands of teachers walked out of classes in March to protest the cash-strapped government's plan to shut down more than 300 schools this year as the unincorporated U.S. territory struggles to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria in September." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Damian Carrington& of the Guardian: "A sharp and mysterious rise in emissions of a key ozone-destroying chemical has been detected by scientists, despite its production being banned around the world. Unless the culprit is found and stopped, the recovery of the ozone layer, which protects life on Earth from damaging UV radiation, could be delayed by a decade. The source of the new emissions has been tracked to east Asia.... CFC chemicals ... were banned under the global Montreal protocol [in 1989] after the discovery of the ozone hole over Antarctica in the 1980s." --safari

News Lede

Weather Channel: "Hawaii's Big Island was rocked early Thursday morning by an explosive eruption at the Kilauea Volcano, which sent ash and debris shooting some 30,000 feet into the air and prompted emergency officials to urge everyone near the peak to shelter in place..... Officials were hopeful that the eruption wouldn't be deadly as long as nobody was in the areas of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park that have been closed since last Friday, when the risk of a large eruption began to increase. The ash, which had been coming from the crater, Halemaumau, for days, prompted a 'red alert' for all aircraft in the area, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory announced Tuesday. Impacts to airplanes by airborne ash can be extremely dangerous, as the fine-grained particles can disrupt plane engines, according to the USGS."

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