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

Sunday
May062018

The Commentariat -- May 7, 2018

Late Morning/Afternoon Update:

NRA Chooses Former International Arms-Dealing Felon (Convictions Vacated) as New Prez. Katie Zezima of the Washington Post: "Retired Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North, a central figure in the Iran-contra affair in the 1980s, has been named president of the National Rifle Association. The NRA's board of directors chose North to be the organization's president Monday morning after NRA President Pete Brownell decided not to seek a second term. 'This is the most exciting news for our members since Charlton Heston became president of our Association,' said NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre.... North will assume the presidency in the coming weeks and has retired from Fox News, where he was a commentator, effective immediately.... North was convicted in 1989 of charges including obstructing Congress, unlawfully mutilating government documents and taking an illegal gratuity. He was fined $150,000, given a three-year suspended sentence and two years' probation. A federal judge dropped the criminal charges against North in 1991."

Jonathan Martin of the New York Times: "... Donald J. Trump intervened Monday in the West Virginia Republican Senate primary, pleading with voters a day before the election to oppose the former mine operator Don Blankenship, and suggesting that Mr. Blankenship's nomination would lead to a replay of the party's embarrassing loss last year in Alabama. Mr. Trump's decision to speak out on the race came after Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, whom Mr. Blankenship has targeted in a deeply personal manner, urged the president in a telephone call on Sunday to weigh in against the controversial former coal executive, according to a Republican official familiar with the conversation.... 'Don Blankenship currently running for Senate, can't win the General Election in your State...No way!' Mr. Trump wrote in a tweet. 'Remember Alabama. Vote Rep. Jenkins or A.G. Morrisey.'"

This is a classic. "John Oliver examines [Rudy Giuliani's] turbulent record as a lawyer, a politician, and an enemy to ferrets":

Mallory Shelbourne of the Hill: "President Trump on Monday criticized the suggestion that he has obstructed justice in the Russia investigation, saying he is simply 'fighting back.' The Russia Witch Hunt is rapidly losing credibility. House Intelligence Committee found No Collusion, Coordination or anything else with Russia,' the president wrote on Twitter. 'So now the Probe says OK, what else is there? How about Obstruction for a made up, phony crime. There is no O, it's called Fighting Back.'... 'The 13 Angry Democrats in charge of the Russian Witch Hunt are starting to find out that there is a Court System in place that actually protects people from injustice...and just wait 'till the Courts get to see your unrevealed Conflicts of Interest!' Trump added Monday." ...

... Christopher Cadelago & Darren Samuelsohn of Politico: "Trump has increasingly cautioned his party against allowing the House, and even the Senate, to fall into Democratic control, voicing fears about his certain impeachment if that happens. 'We have to keep the House because if we listen to Maxine Waters, she's going around saying, "We will impeach him,"' Trump said at a recent rally in Michigan, referring to the Democratic congresswoman from California.... Trump appears to believe victory in the November midterms depends on turning the contests into a referendum on his leadership, rather than risking a district-by-district slog over conventional messaging about the Republican tax overhaul and the upbeat economy."

Louis Nelson of Politico: "... Donald Trump issued an online vote of confidence Monday for Gina Haspel, his pick to be the next director of the CIA, and chided Democrats who have been critical of her for her role in waterboarding terrorism suspects at a secret agency prison. 'My highly respected nominee for CIA Director, Gina Haspel, has come under fire because she was too tough on Terrorists,' the president wrote on Twitter. 'Think of that, in these very dangerous times, we have the most qualified person, a woman, who Democrats want OUT because she is too tough on terror. Win Gina!'"

*****

This Russia Thing, Etc., Ctd.

Mark Landler & Noal Weiland of the New York Times: "Rudolph W. Giuliani, reeling after a chaotic first week as President Trump's lawyer, tried again on Sunday to straighten out his client's story. But Mr. Giuliani raised new questions about whether Mr. Trump had paid hush money to other women and suggested the president might invoke the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying in the special counsel's Russia investigation. Mr. Giuliani, a former federal prosecutor and New York City mayor hired by Mr. Trump to smooth communication between the White House and the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, instead painted Mr. Mueller as an out-of-control prosecutor bent on trapping Mr. Trump into committing perjury. The president, he said, could defy a subpoena to testify." ...

... Rudy Continues to Be Very Helpful. Mallory Shelbourne of the Hill: "Rudy Giuliani on Sunday said while he has no knowledge of President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, paying any women in addition to Stormy Daniels, he believes Cohen would have done so if he deemed it 'necessary.' 'I have no knowledge of that. But I would think if it was necessary, yes.' Giuliani, who recently joined Trump's team of lawyers, told ABC's 'This Week' when asked about Cohen making payments to other women." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Mallory Shelbourne: "Rudy Giuliani said Sunday that a potential pardon for President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, is not a possibility at this point. 'Jay and I have made it clear, and -- and -- and Michael's lawyers all know that that obviously is not on the table,' Giuliani told ABC's 'This Week,' referring to Trump attorney Jay Sekulow and Cohen. 'That's not a decision to be made now, there's no reason to pardon anybody now.'" Mrs. McC: Apparently it's possible to reset the table. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Here's video of Rudy's latest disastrous performance:

     ... The transcript is here. ...

... Judd Legum of Think Progress: "The overall impression created by Giuliani's appearance ... was more Mr. Magoo than Perry Mason. Giuliani was confused, self-contradictory, and ignorant of key facts.... When a lawyer speaks on behalf of a client, their words typically carry the same legal force as if they'd been spoken by the client him or herself. So when Giuliani stated in Sunday's interview that the $130,000 payment to Daniels 'may have involved the campaign,' or when he suggested that Daniels had greater leverage over Trump because Trump was running for president, those are statements that run counter to the Trump legal team's larger narrative -- that the payment was irrelevant to the campaign. And they potentially could be turned against Trump in court." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Still, Giuliani's repeated assertions that the facts of the matter were irrelevant is a feature, not a bug, of Trump's defense on, well, everything. Contradictory statements sow confusion, and even when the contradictions themselves are unintentional, these contradictions are part of a strategy to hide the truth. Even if you've closely followed Giuliani's ramblings, I'll bet you don't know what his "position" is on the hush-money payments to Daniels & others any more than he does. We're all Mr. Magoo now.

A Teaching Moment for Jim Comey. Martin Cizmar of the Raw Story: "The Mueller probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and associated crimes may have to 'go dark' during the mid-term elections or risk being shut down entirely, the Wall Street Journal reports. ...

... Kevin Drum: "Hahahaha. He [Mueller] doesn't want to appear to be trying to sway voters' decisions. Of course not. That would be at odds with DOJ guidelines. So very much at odds. Totally at odds. We can't have that, can we?"

Christopher Carbone of Fox "News": "House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes is going to push Congress to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt of Congress. The Californian Republican's committee has been looking into allegations that the Justice Department and the FBI abused the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in their scrutiny of the Trump campaign. 'On Thursday we discovered that they are not going to comply with our subpoena,' Nunes said on 'Fox and Friends,' adding, 'The only thing left to do is we have to move quickly to hold the attorney general of the United States in contempt and that is what I will press for this week.' Two weeks ago, Nunes sent to Sessions a classified letter, which he said was not acknowledged, and then he sent a subpoena. However, the Justice Department said it responded to Nunes' letter.... 'The Department has determined that, consistent with applicable law and longstanding Executive Branch policy, it is not in a position to provide information responsive to your request regarding a specific individual,' Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd wrote in the signed letter." ...

     ... Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: It would no doubt be reasonable to assume that the devilish Devin is making this move at the behest of JeffBo's boss.

Nick Visser of the Huffington Post: "Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee reportedly plan to release details about 3,000 Facebook ads linked to the Russian campaign to influence the last presidential election. According to The Wall Street Journal, the files could be released as early as this week and may show images of the promoted material, which demographic groups were targeted and how many people saw them.... In September, Facebook announced that it had been paid $100,000 to promote thousands of ads that were linked to the Russian-backed Internet Research Agency.... Facebook later said more than 126 million people potentially saw the ads purchased by the Russians."

Trump Black Ops

The Weinstein Connection. Josh Marshall: "We have a pretty stunning development about aides to Donald Trump apparently (though they deny it) hiring the same Israeli dirty ops/private intel firm [-- called 'Black Cube' --] that Harvey Weinstein used to cover up his history to mount an operation against public supporters of the Iran deal. We start with this story in The Guardian [also linked here yesterday]. It's very hedged and key details are not included. But the gist is that aides to Donald Trump hired an Israeli security firm to dig up dirt on two prominent supporters of the Iran nuclear deal. They are Ben Rhodes and Colin Kahl, both Obama administration national security hands who were involved in the negotiation.... Laura Rozen confirmed with Kahl that the purported firm which reached out to the Kahls [in an approach Kahl & his wife found "fishy"] was 'Reuben Capital Partners'. That's the same name used by Black Cube in the Weinstein operations.... It is very hard to believe that two separate operations would stumble on the same name for a front operation." ...

... Steve M. elaborates. There's even a Cambridge Analytica connection. ...

... Kevin Drum: "The worst part of this is yet to come. That will be when this gets more attention and all the usual slimeballs chime in to say that there was nothing wrong with this at all. Oppo research is a normal part of politics, and checking to see if the Iran negotiators had a personal stake in the deal is perfectly reasonable. Nothing to see here, folks." ...

... Update. Wait, Wait, There's More. Ronan Farrow of the New Yorker: Black Cube tried essentially the same trick they used against the Kahls on Ben Rhodes' wife Ann Norris, a former State Department official. However, one of Farrow's sources said that the campaign against Rhodes & Kahl was 'part of Black Cube's work for a private sector client pursuing commercial interests related to sanctions on Iran'; i.e., not necessarily Trump surrogates. Still, "Rhodes said that the campaign represented a troubling situation in which public servants were being targeted for their work in government. 'This just eviscerates any norm of how governments should operate or treat their predecessors and their families,' he said. 'It crosses a dangerous line.'" Mrs. McC: Yes, it does. ...

... Chas Danner & Margaret Hartmann of New York sum up what's known so far -- and not much is nailed down. Mrs. McC: It's certain possible -- in fact, likely -- that there's at least one degree of separation between Trump & Black Cube, just as, say, a GOTV effort funded by Organizing for America is not specifically President Obama's handiwork. ...

... Treason. Juan Cole: "There is only one word for a sitting US administration that deploys a foreign intelligence firm linked to that of a foreign government with a vested interest in shaping US intelligence to bamboozle Congress and the US public by smearing dedicated (and as it turns out upright) public servants. That word is treason." ...

Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.... Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency? -- Attorney Joseph Welch to Joe McCarthy during the Army-McCarthy hearings

... Mrs. McCrabbie: Now ask yourself this: If a person would use a foreign-based black-ops outfit to compromise former federal employees & their families in order to scuttle an international treaty, would he do anything remotely like that for a much bigger prize -- say, the presidency? Would a person who recently wailed "Where's my Roy Cohn?" do such a thing? As for me, I hope we have found our Joseph Welch in Bob Mueller.

<
Isabel Kershner & Thomas Erdbrink
of the New York Times: "With time running out before the May 12 deadline by which President Trump is to decide whether to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, the leaders of Israel and Iran weighed in on Sunday, with one calling the agreement 'fatally flawed' and the other warning of 'historic regret' if the United States rips up the deal. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel repeated his call for the agreement to be 'fully fixed or fully nixed,' arguing that while it may have delayed the acquisition of Iran's first bomb, it paves the way for the country to build an entire nuclear arsenal soon after the deal expires. In Iran, President Hassan Rouhani, whose negotiating team reached the nuclear accord with six world powers in 2015, said the Trump administration would come to rue any decision to renounce the agreement."

More White House Chaos. Carol Leonnig, et al., of the Washington Post: "Gina Haspel, President Trump's nominee to become the next CIA director, sought to withdraw her nomination Friday after some White House officials worried that her role in the interrogation of terrorist suspects could prevent her confirmation by the Senate, according to four senior U.S. officials. Haspel told the White House she was interested in stepping aside if it avoided the spectacle of a brutal confirmation hearing on Wednesday and potential damage to the CIA's reputation and her own, the officials said. She was summoned to the White House on Friday for a meeting on her history in the CIA's controversial interrogation program -- which employed techniques such as waterboarding that are widely seen as torture -- and signaled that she was going to withdraw her nomination. She then returned to CIA headquarters, the officials said.... Senior White House aides, including legislative affairs head Marc Short and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, rushed to Langley, Va., to meet with Haspel at her office late Friday afternoon. Trump learned of the drama Friday, calling officials from his trip to Dallas. He decided to push for Haspel to remain as the nominee after initially signaling he would support whatever decision was taken, administration officials said." ...

... Mrs. McCrabbie: What's wrong with this picture? Haspel can repeatedly torture people as a means of interrogation but she can't endure five minutes of Dianne Feinstein's sharp questions?

... digby: "Personally, I think anyone who was involved in that hideous program should have been fired at the very least and in a just world, prosecuted.This was a war crime perpetrated by the United States and people should have been held accountable. I don't care how great a CIA operative any of them were. But my God --- making one of the torturers and a person involved in the destruction of evidence the Director of the CIA? It really could not be more of a signal that the US is no longer a civilized nation." ...

... Chas Danner: "... Sarah Huckabee Sanders was out defending Haspel over the weekend and trying to reframe her nomination along feminist -- rather than moral -- grounds: 'There is no one more qualified to be the first woman to lead the CIA than 30+ year CIA veteran Gina Haspel. Any Democrat who claims to support women's empowerment and our national security but opposes her nomination is a total hypocrite'" ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: While Mrs. Huckleberry knows how to be a "total hypocrite," I'm not sure she really understands the concept of hypocrisy. So let's respond in a way she might find helpful: "Any Republican who claims to support women's empowerment and our national security but opposes Hillary Clinton's presidency is a total hypocrite." No, that doesn't make sense, either, but it follows Mrs. Huckleberry's "logic."

Jonathan Swan of Axios: "President Trump is unhappy about a report in The Atlantic [linked here last week] which says a member of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's press team has been shopping negative stories about Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to multiple outlets.... Trump has been souring on Pruitt as the negative press about him piles up.... Trump's draining supply of goodwill towards Pruitt is the EPA administrator's lifeline. Most everyone else in the building wants him gone.... Pruitt has grown paranoid and isolated.... Over the last few months, Pruitt has walled himself off from all but five EPA political appointees: ​Millan Hupp, Sarah Greenwalt, Hayley Ford, Lincoln Ferguson, and [Jahan] Wilcox. Of those five, only Wilcox is over 30. Hupp, Greenwalt and Ferguson came with Pruitt from Oklahoma.... Pruitt's chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, runs the agency's operations but rarely knows where his boss is. Pruitt has frozen Jackson out of his inner circle.... Since his April 26 congressional testimony, senior staff outside his inner circle have had virtually no idea of his whereabouts...." ...

... Alex Guillen of Politico: "Top [political] aides to Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency are screening public records requests related to the embattled administrator, slowing the flow of information released under the Freedom of Information Act -- at times beyond what the law allows. Internal emails obtained by Politico show that Pruitt's political appointees reviewed documents collected for most or all FOIA requests regarding his activities, even as he's drawn scrutiny for his use of first-class flights and undisclosed dealings with lobbyists.... The emails also show Pruitt's aides chastising career employees who released documents about the administrator without letting them screen the records first."

Haley Boasts She Tells off Trump. Luis Sanchez of the Hill: "U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Sunday that she won't defend President Trump's 'communication style.' 'First of all, he has his communication style,' Haley told CBS's 'Sunday Morning.' 'But you're not hearing me defend that.' 'What I will tell you is if there is anything that he communicates in a way that I'm uncomfortable with, I pick up the phone and call him, and I tell him that. And I think that's something that he deserves from me,' the former South Carolina governor said." ...

... MEANWHILE, It Appears Jim Mattis Is Not Heeding Putin's Puppet. Alex Horton of the Washington Post: "The U.S. Navy has reactivated a fleet responsible for overseeing the East Coast and North Atlantic -- an escalation of the Pentagon's focus on a resurgent Russia and its expanding military presence.... Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson ... invoked Defense Secretary Jim Mattis's national-defense strategy as key guidance to reestablish the fleet, which will extend halfway across the Atlantic until it meets the area of responsibility for the Italy-based 6th Fleet."

Alan Rappeport of the New York Times: "At a rally in Michigan a little over a week ago, President Trump assured his supporters that he had kept his promise to abolish the Affordable Care Act -- even though Congress had failed to repeal the Obama-era health law. But ... many parts of the Affordable Care Act remain in place. And the Trump administration is even enforcing some of its provisions more aggressively than President Barack Obama did -- a reality that has enraged business groups and Republicans in Congress who still want the law officially repealed. While the individual mandate may be dead, the employer mandate -- the requirement that many companies offer health insurance to their workers or pay a penalty -- is very much alive. Under Mr. Trump, the Internal Revenue Service has been pursuing companies that fail to comply with the mandate and, according to the agency, was sending penalty notices to more than 30,000 businesses around the country." ...

... Washington Post Editors: "... the effects of the president's underinformed instincts, enabled by the ideologues in his administration, are beginning to show up.... The Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit foundation focused on health-care issues, announced last week that the rate of working-age Americans without health insurance in the group's annual survey rose to 15.5 percent, up about three percentage points since 2016. Things are worse in the 19 holdout states ... that have refused to expand their Medicaid programs: The rate of uninsured working-age Americans hit 21.9 percent in those areas, up nearly six percentage points over two years.... Obamacare critics regularly describe all problems as the inevitable result of a poorly designed law. But the numbers suggest that the critics' sabotage efforts are to blame.... During the campaign, Mr. Trump regularly complained that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) left too many Americans uncovered. The result of nearly a year and a half of Mr. Trump's leadership is 4 million people added to that group."

Amy Sorkin of the New Yorker argues that even if Trump is an idiot who doesn't understand DACA, as John Kelly has reportedly asserted, Democrats need to step up their game. "Trump turned his attention to the midterms last week, at a rally in Michigan [Mrs. McC: paid for by taxpayers], where he made it clear that he thinks border demagoguery will provide the Republican Party with another path to victory. 'Our laws are so corrupt and so stupid,' he said. 'I call them the dumbest immigration laws anywhere on earth.' He told the crowd, 'The liberal politicians who support criminal aliens, and they support them far over American citizens -- Nancy Pelosi and her gang -- they've got to be voted out of office!' The 2016 election showed that, if not adequately countered, bigotry and fearmongering can yield crowds, votes, and the power of high office. In that sense, Trump understands DACA very well."

Susan Glasser of the New Yorker: "Little more than fifteen months into his Presidency, the attention-seeking President has the rest of the world right where he wants it: hanging on his every word.... He is the indispensable man. Soon he will meet Kim Jong Un, of North Korea, in an unprecedented nuclear summit. Next week, in advance of a May 12th deadline, he may single-handedly decide whether to blow up the Iran nuclear deal.... The smart betting is that he will, but he may not. Nobody knows, and that's the point: all roads now lead through Trump.... L'état, c'est Trump.... There is one nation conspicuously missing from Trump's long list of upcoming deadlines and deals...: Russia.... Several former U.S. officials who follow Russia closely told me the believed that the President remained committed to [inviting Putin to the White House], despite little enthusiasm on his team." (Also linked yesterday.)

God called King David a man after God's own heart even though he was an adulterer and a murderer. I think evangelicals have found their dream president. -- Jerry Falwell, Jr. ...

... ** John Ehrenreich, in Slate, explains the psychology of white evangelical support for Trump.

Sheera Frenkel in the New York Times: "For more than a decade, professors, doctoral candidates and researchers from academic institutions around the world have harvested information from Facebook.... They have compiled hundreds of Facebook data sets that captured the behavior of a few thousand to hundreds of millions of individuals, according to interviews with more than a dozen scholars.... In many cases, the data was [sic.!] used for research or scholarly articles. The information was then sometimes left unsecured and stored on open servers that offered access to anyone. Some academics said the data could have been easily copied and sold to marketers or political consulting firms.... The Facebook data was [sic.!] typically amassed through scraper programs that crawled the social network to document what was posted, or through quiz apps that requested access to people's profiles. The results included users' locations, interests, political affiliations, Facebook interactions and even music preferences."

Saturday
May052018

The Commentariat -- May 6, 2018

Late Morning Update:

Susan Glasser of the New Yorker: "Little more than fifteen months into his Presidency, the attention-seeking President has the rest of the world right where he wants it: hanging on his every word.... He is the indispensable man. Soon he will meet Kim Jong Un, of North Korea, in an unprecedented nuclear summit. Next week, in advance of a May 12th deadline, he may single-handedly decide whether to blow up the Iran nuclear deal.... The smart betting is that he will, but he may not. Nobody knows, and that's the point: all roads now lead through Trump.... L'état, c'est Trump.... There is one nation conspicuously missing from Trump's long list of upcoming deadlines and deals...: Russia.... Several former U.S. officials who follow Russia closely told me they believed that the President remained committed to [inviting Putin to the White House], despite little enthusiasm on his team."

Rudy Continues to Be Very Helpful. Mallory Shelbourne of the Hill: "Rudy Giuliani on Sunday said while he has no knowledge of President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, paying any women in addition to Stormy Daniels, he believes Cohen would have done so if he deemed it 'necessary.' 'I have no knowledge of that. But I would think if it was necessary, yes.' Giuliani, who recently joined Trump's team of lawyers, told ABC's 'This Week' when asked about Cohen making payments to other women." ...

... Mallory Shelbourne: "Rudy Giuliani said Sunday that a potential pardon for President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, is not a possibility at this point. 'Jay and I have made it clear, and -- and -- and Michael's lawyers all know that that obviously is not on the table,' Giuliani told ABC's 'This Week,' referring to Trump attorney Jay Sekulow and Cohen. 'That's not a decision to be made now, there's no reason to pardon anybody now.'" Mrs. McC: Apparently it's possible to reset the table.

*****

** How Low Can He Go? Mark Townsend & Julian Borger of the Guardian: "Aides to Donald Trump ... hired an Israeli private intelligence agency to orchestrate a 'dirty ops' campaign against key individuals from the Obama administration who helped negotiate the Iran nuclear deal, the Observer can reveal. People in the Trump camp contacted private investigators in May last year to 'get dirt' on Ben Rhodes, who had been one of Barack Obama's top national security advisers, and Colin Kahl, deputy assistant to Obama, as part of an elaborate attempt to discredit the deal. The extraordinary revelations come days before Trump's 12 May deadline to either scrap or continue to abide by the international deal limiting Iran's nuclear programme.... Sources said that officials linked to Trump's team contacted investigators days after Trump visited Tel Aviv a year ago.... A source with details of the 'dirty tricks campaign' said: 'The idea was that people acting for Trump would discredit those who were pivotal in selling the deal, making it easier to pull out of it.'" ...

... Yastreblyansky.: "This is pretty clearly Nixon-level skullduggery, reminiscent of the original Plumbers burglary when they attacked Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office, with the added weirdness of using a foreig agency, and similar to what the Trump people are alleged to have done with Russian agents and a British firm trying to 'get dirt' on Hillary Clinton in the campaign period. It's also similar in the tie-in of allowing foreign leaders to dictate US policy -- Netanyahu for the Iran deal, Putin for the Ukrainian and Syrian issues, not to mention old Flynn offering US cooperation to the Turkish authoritarian president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.... There's something especially Nixonian about this particular episode, too, in its narrow focus, in its concern with 'enemies' -- we all understand Trump's personal stake in abrogating the JCPOA is to wound Obama and undo his accomplishment, and we see how this project goes after the reputations of people who are loyal to Obama as well." P.S. As commenter emjayay asks, "Isn't this kinda big, like really big? Are we going to see it get to US media, or is it more complicated than lying about paying off a porn star so it will be ignored?" Good question.

Your Taxpayer Dollars at Work -- Covering Trump's Campaign Expenses. Afi Scruggs & Philip Rucker of the Washington Post: "President Trump used a roundtable on taxes [in Cleveland, Ohio,] Saturday to campaign for a Republican Senate candidate and to assail undocumented immigrants for taking advantage of U.S. laws he derided as weak. Though billed as an official White House event, and therefore funded with taxpayer money, Trump was overtly political in his remarks ahead of Tuesday's primary election. He celebrated his own poll numbers, repeatedly attacked Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and urged Ohioans to elect Rep. James B. Renacci (R-Ohio), who is running against Brown. 'We need your vote, we need your help, so go out and help Jim,' Trump said, with Renacci seated by his side. 'Get it done.'... Reporters traveling with Trump requested access to hear the president's remarks to donors at the fundraiser, but were denied by White House officials."

Jonathan O'Connell, et al., of the Washington Post: "In the nine years before he ran for president, Donald Trump's company spent more than $400 million in cash on new properties -- including 14 transactions paid for in full, without borrowing from banks -- during a buying binge that defied real estate industry practices -- and Trump's own history as the self-described 'King of Debt.' Trump's vast outlay of cash, tracked through public records and totaled publicly here for the first time, provides a new window into the president's private company, which discloses few details about its finances. It shows that Trump had access to far more cash than previously known, despite his string of commercial bankruptcies and the Great Recession's hammering of the real estate industry." ...

... Also Too Emoluments! Jason Linkins of ThinkProgress: "Call it impeccable timing: A federal judge in January tossed a lawsuit claiming Donald Trump was in violation of a constitutional ban against using the presidency for financial gain from foreign governments. Less than a month later, Qatar shelled out a cool $6.5 million for new digs in the Trump World Tower in Manhattan. The January 17 real estate transaction focuses new attention on what the aforementioned lawsuit sought to prevent: violations of the constitution's emoluments clause.... ... Trump World Tower is mere steps away from the United Nations' Manhattan headquarters."

More Re-enactment than Parody:

William Rashbaum, et al., of the New York Times delve into the diverse business interests of Michael Cohen. "Before he joined the Trump Organization and became Mr. Trump's lawyer and do-it-all fixer, Michael D. Cohen was a hard-edge personal-injury attorney and businessman. Now a significant portion of his quarter-century business record is under the microscope of federal prosecutors -- posing a potential threat not just to Mr. Cohen but also to the president.... A New York Times review of thousands of pages of public records, and interviews with bankers, lawyers and businessmen who have interacted with Mr. Cohen, reveal the degree to which he has often operated in the backwaters of the financial and legal worlds. While he has not been charged with a crime, many of his associates have faced either criminal charges or stiff regulatory penalties." Terms like "Lucchese family," "forgery," & "pleaded guilty" -- dot the story.

Tom LoBianco, et al., of the AP: "Investigators working for special counsel Robert Mueller have interviewed one of ... Donald Trump's closest friends and confidants, California real estate investor Tom Barrack.... Barrack was interviewed as part of the federal investigation of possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election, according to three people familiar with the matter.... Barrack played an integral role in the 2016 campaign as a top fundraiser at a time when many other Republicans were shunning the upstart candidate. Barrack later directed Trump's inauguration."

Actual Rudy & Donald:

... Annie Karni of Politico: "In private, according to a Republican close to the White House, [Rudy] Giuliani has ... blamed the negative view of him in the media, including the whispers about his mental health, on [Jared] Kushner and Ivanka Trump.... His mention of the president's son-in-law [as 'disposable']... was one of the comments he made on television that had White House aides watching his appearance on Hannity with mouths agape.... Some point to Giuliani's main ally in the White House as an explanation: Giuliani, according to people in the building, has aligned himself with Don McGahn, the White House counsel who has clashed repeatedly with Kushner." ...

... Maureen Dowd: "Trump distanced himself from his good friend [Rudy Giuliani], as he is wont to do, promising that Rudy will 'get his facts straight.' This prompted Vanity Fair to write the headline: 'Trump Assures Reporters He'll Make Giuliani a Better Liar.'... The gruesome twosome, whose reputations have grown darker since the days when they swanned around New York as larger-than-life figuras, didn't consult any top White House officials, even the counsel." ...

... Brent Griffiths of Politico: "Rudy Giuliani pushed for regime change in Iran on Saturday, saying ... Donald Trump is 'as committed to regime change as we are.' It's 'the only way to peace in the Middle East' and 'more important than an Israeli-Palestinian deal,' Trump's newest attorney in the ongoing Russia probe and former mayor of New York City told reporters after giving a speech to the Iran Freedom Convention for Democracy and Human Rights in Washington." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: You might think this is Rudy pretending to be secretary of state again & casually releasing secret intel about delicate international negotiations, right after he promised to cut that out, except Griffiths also reports, "As a congressman, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote in a Fox News op-ed '... Congress must act to change Iranian behavior, and, ultimately, the Iranian regime.' His predecessor Rex Tillerson also voiced explicit support for regime change telling CNN 'we always support a peaceful transition of power.'" On the other hand, "A top State Department official later said that the administration was not pursuing regime change."

Wendy Siegelman of the Guardian: "The announcement that Cambridge Analytica is shutting has a certain inevitability to it.... But ... already there are some suggestions that those associated with Cambridge Analytica may re-emerge in another form.... Cambridge Analytica and [its parent company] SCL have at least 18 active companies, branches,and affiliates with similar names, based in the UK and the US.... The complex relationship among these companies makes it very difficult to understand how revenues, employment, and data are shared. It almost seems as though the business structure was created to make it impossible to track decision-making and funding." ...

... Carole Cadwalladr of the Guardian: "Cambridge Analytica has been ordered to hand over all the data and personal information it has on an American voter, including details of where it got the data and what it did with it, or face a criminal prosecution. The UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) served the enforcement notice to the company on Friday in a landmark legal decision that opens the way for up to 240 million other American voters to request their data back from the firm under British data protection laws. The test case was taken to the ICO by David Carroll, an associate professor at Parsons School of Design in New York. As a US citizen, he had no means of obtaining this information under US law, but in January 2016 he discovered Cambridge Analytica had processed US voter data in the UK and that this gave him rights under British laws.... The ICO ... has now told SCL Elections, which acted as the data controller for Cambridge Analytica, that it has 30 days to comply or appeal."

Adam Taylor of the Washington Post: "... despite the outward appearance of warm ties with Britain and France, traditionally two of America's strongest European allies, Trump managed to stoke outrage and anger in both London and Paris this weekend -- and he did so with a single speech. Speaking to the National Rifle Association convention in Dallas on Friday, the president had used the rising number of knife attacks in Britain while speaking in support of gun rights in the United States.... Trump's comments immediately drew a backlash from Londoners on social media.... In the same speech, Trump also took aim at France's strict gun laws -- describing them as the 'toughest gun laws in the world.' Trump then told the NRA audience said that as 'nobody has guns in Paris' and that terrorists were able to take their time to kill civilians 'one by one' in a November 2015 terrorist attack that left 130 dead.... The French Foreign Ministry released a statement on Saturday that expressed its 'firm disapproval' for Trump's remark about the attack and called 'for respect for the memory of the victims.'"

Caroline Orr of Shareblue: "As Trump and Pence took the stage at the NRA's annual convention Friday, a Kremlin-linked ammunition company with ties to sanctioned Russian entities set up an exhibit just down the hallway. The company, TulAmmo USA, is based in Texas, but the ammunition it sells is manufactured by the Tula Arms Plant (also known as Tula Cartridge Works) in Tula, Russia. TulAmmo is listed as an exhibitor at the NRA's Annual Meetings in Dallas, Texas, this weekend. TulAmmo USA and its Russian counterpart TulAmmo are part of a tangled web of corporations, subsidiaries, and holdings with close ties to the Kremlin and to other Russian entities -- many of which have been sanctioned for their role in producing munitions used by Russia against Ukraine and other eastern European countries."

Robert Costa & Dave Weigel of the Washington Post: "House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called for a 'prompt' House ethics investigation into Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.) on Saturday, following reports of allegations that he sexually abused a 16-year-old girl in 2006. Cárdenas has vehemently denied the allegations through his attorney."

Jonathan Martin of the New York Times: John McCain receives friends like Joe Biden at his Arizona ranch. "... the senator participated in a nearly two-hour HBO documentary and co-wrote what he acknowledges will be his last book, 'The Restless Wave,' both of which are set to be released this month.... His intimates have informed the White House that their current plan for his funeral is for Vice President Mike Pence to attend the service to be held in Washington's National Cathedral but not President Trump...."

Senate Race. Because "China Person"?? Alex Isenstadt of Politico: "There is growing concern among Republicans that Don Blankenship, a bombastic coal baron who has spent time in prison, is surging ahead of Tuesday's West Virginia Senate primary -- and a last-minute campaign is underway to stop him. As the tight contest hurtles to a close, four Republicans said they'd reviewed polling conducted in recent days showing Blankenship, who spent a year in jail following the 2010 explosion at his Upper Big Branch Mine that killed 29 workers, moving narrowly ahead of his more mainstream GOP rivals, Rep. Evan Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey." Mrs. McC: I'm guessing in West Virginia, it helps a GOP candidate to insist you can't be racist if you don't even say "nee-gro."

Friday
May042018

The Commentariat -- May 5, 2018

What's worse than having Uncle Fred show up at the family picnic? He brings Uncle Rudy & Uncle Donald:

... Gail Collins writes one of her better columns helping explain to Rudy & Donald what their explaining means. ...

... Trump as "Seinfeld." Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: I realized last night that when Trump & the Gang don't utterly horrify me, I react to them as I did to the old "Seinfeld" shows. I've caught myself many times smiling while watching the News about Trump. Really, Trump & the "best people" with whom he surrounds himself are very much like Jerry, George, Elaine & Kramer: they're narcissistic, self-aggrandizing, aggrieved, careless, vindictive, dishonest, fiercely ambitious & not all that bright. The combination of these traits get them into predictable trouble. I had liberal acquaintances who were incensed by the teevee characters' sometimes-cruel behavior. These acquaintances just couldn't get that no matter what awful thing the characters did -- George pushing a wheelchair-bound woman over a steep hill -- but the situations were funny because the joke was on Seinfeld & friends, not on their fictional victims; these acquaintances had so suspended disbelief that they imagined the teevee characters were real. Now they indeed have come to life in Donald & Rudy & Kellyanne & Scotty, etc. The "Show about Nothing" has become the "Show about a Lot." The real-life consequences of the foibles of Donald & Co. are not funny at all, but the real-life actors themselves are LOL hilarious.

... Michael Shear, et al., of the New York Times: "President Trump knew about a six-figure payment that Michael D. Cohen, his personal lawyer, made to a pornographic film actress several months before he denied any knowledge of it to reporters aboard Air Force One in April, according to two people familiar with the arrangement.... Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, has known since last year the details of how Mr. Cohen was being reimbursed, which was mainly through payments of $35,000 per month from the trust that contains the president's personal fortune, according to two people with knowledge of the arrangement.... If Mr. Weisselberg was involved in directing the use of the funds to silence Ms. Clifford, it could draw Mr. Trump's company deeper into the federal investigation of Mr. Cohen’s activities, increasing the president's legal exposure in a wide-ranging case involving [Cohen].... The payment to Ms. Clifford is a part of that investigation.... Two people close to the president ... said that Mr. Trump was displeased with how Mr. Giuliani ... conducted himself, and that he was also unhappy with Mr. Hannity, a commentator whose advice the president often seeks, in terms of the language he used to describe the payments to Ms. Clifford."

... David Graham of the Atlantic: "As yet another bizarre week comes to a close for the president, no one seems to know the reality of what happened between Donald Trump, Stormy Daniels, and Michael Cohen. The only thing that is proven beyond a reasonable doubt is that the White House is lying about it.... Giuliani told the Post that he had both discussed his plans to disclose the reimbursement with Trump, and that he had spoken with Trump after his Hannity interview, and that Trump was 'very pleased.' Moreover, Trump tweeted a statement (written in legal language, with formal titles, that seemed written by someone other than Trump, though still including a typo) that confirmed what Giuliani had said. Then Friday morning, Trump reversed course. 'Rudy is a great guy but he just started, but he just started a day ago. He's learning the subject matter and he's going to be issuing a statement too,' the president said as he prepared to leave for a trip to the NRA convention in Dallas. 'He started yesterday, he'll get his facts straight. In other words, Trump was saying the account he had both discussed with Giuliani ahead of time and endorsed in his tweets Thursday was not true.... Trump's claim that Giuliani just had his first day was also not true. The White House announced his addition on April 19, and Giuliani has described conversations with Trump about the case stretching back two weeks." ...

... Giuliani's Latest Tall Tales. John Wagner, et al., of the Washington Post: "... Rudolph W. Giuliani sought Friday to clean up a series of comments made during a whirlwind media tour meant to bolster the president's standing regarding a payment to a porn star but that instead created new problems for his client. In a statement issued hours after Trump told reporters Giuliani was still getting up to speed on the facts, the former New York mayor said that a $130,000 payment made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels by longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen would have happened regardless of whether Trump was on the presidential ballot the following month. 'The payment was made to resolve a personal and false allegation in order to protect the President's family,' Giuliani said in the statement. 'It would have been done in any event, whether he was a candidate or not.'... In his statement, Giuliani also sought to make clear that he [was] speaking in television interviews about his understanding of events in which Trump had been involved and not about what the president knew at the time." Mrs. McC: Uh-huh. ...

... Devlin Barrett, et al., of the Washington Post: "The cautious wording of the written statement released by Giuliani stood in sharp contrast to his previous two days of wide-ranging television and print interviews in which, according to legal experts, he exposed his client to greater legal risks and might have compromised his own attorney-client privilege with the president.... Some Trump advisers said they fear that Giuliani may have waived his right to assert that his conversations with the president are private -- and that government or private lawyers pursuing lawsuits could now seek to interview him.... Giuliani's attempt at damage control will probably do little to mitigate the legal problems he has caused, legal experts said. 'The first rule is to shut up, which he is unable to do,' said Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University. 'False exculpatory statements often come back to bite.'" ...

... Ed Kilgore: "In what appeared to be an effort to vindicate the president's prediction that he'd eventually 'get his facts straight,' Trump's new lead lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, walked back earlier comments in a statement that will probably create fresh confusion about his client's actions and intentions." Kilgore does a nice job of breaking down Giuliani's statement, which, as Kilgore says, "did have the advantage of brevity, and it was pretty clear which earlier comments Giuliani was trying to retract, blur, or place in a different context[.]" ...

... Eileen Sullivan, et al., of the New York Times: "President Trump undercut his attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, on Friday, and said the former New York mayor will eventually get th facts right regarding a payment to a pornographic actress who said she had an affair with Mr. Trump. 'And virtually everything said has been said incorrectly, and it's been said wrong, or it's been covered wrong by the press,' Mr. Trump said. Mr. Giuliani, who joined Mr. Trump's legal team last month, 'just started a day ago,' Mr. Trump said, speaking to reporters on Friday as he left Washington to attend a National Rifle Association convention in Dallas. 'He is a great guy,' Mr. Trump said. 'He'll get his facts straight.' It was the first time the president addressed the inconsistent narrative about the payment made by his personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, to the actress, Stephanie Clifford, who goes by the stage name Stormy Daniels. Mr. Trump did not offer any details on Frida to clarify the confusion, but said, 'It's actually very simple. But there has been a lot of misinformation.'" (Also linked yesterday.) ...

... Jonathan Chait: "This morning, President Trump delivered an impromptu interview to reporters while shouting above the noise of his nearby helicopter. Trump stated, twice, that 'Rudy is a great guy but he started a day ago,' and 'he'll get his facts straight.' Giuliani was, in fact, hired 15 days ago. Trump also insisted that Robert Mueller was treating him unfairly because Mueller 'worked for Obama for eight years.' In fact, Mueller is a Republican who was appointed by George W. Bush, worked for Bush for seven years, and then five under Obama, before retiring. Trump offered, as further reason why Mueller should not be trusted and to explain his reason for not wanting to submit to an interview the 'fact' that Mueller has '13 Democrats' working for him. That is also not true. Donald is a great guy, but he started a day ago, he'll get his facts straight." (Also linked yesterday.) ...

... Aidan McLaughlin of Mediaite: "MSNBC's Donny Deutsch dropped a bombshell on Morning Joe Friday, stating that said ... Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen told him Rudy Giuliani 'doesn't know what he's talking about.... He also said look, there are two people that know exactly what happened. And that's myself and the president. And you'll be hearing my side of the story.'" Mrs. McC: Why, I do believe Michael's going to sing. (Also linked yesterday.) ...

... Kristen Welker & Dennis Romero of NBC News: "... Donald Trump only recently found out that he reimbursed his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, for a $130,000 nondisclosure agreement with adult performer Stormy Daniels just days before the 2016 election, his lawyer Rudy Giuliani claimed Thursday.... 'I don't think the president realized he paid him (Cohen) back for that specific thing until we (his legal team) made him aware of the paperwork,' he said. Giuliani said the president responded, '"Oh my goodness, I guess that's what it was for."'" Mrs. McC: Totally true, I'm sure; right down to the "oh my goodness" part. (Also linked yesterday.) ...

... Jeff Toobin of CNN: "Consider, alternatively, if Trump's team had told the truth from the start. He would have made a campaign report of a payment to Daniels, and that could have resulted in an embarrassing, but short-lived story. Instead, the lies caused the Daniels fiasco to metastasize into a genuine crisis.... Then of course there is the political (and moral) fallout of the falsehoods: why, now, should the public believe anything Trump says after he so obviously misled the public on this subject of wide public interest? Trump's prevarications also made a mess of the even more consequential story of the firing of James Comey, the FBI director, in May of last year. The simple question of why Trump fired Comey has produced a still-changing collection of answers.... Multiple explanations succeed only in arousing suspicion -- which the President and his allies seem by now to richly deserve."

Travels with Rudy. Chapter 1: Hanging with (Former) Terrorists in Albania. Josh Marshall: "Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK) is a notorious cult-like group of Iranian exiles which appears to have close to literally zero support inside Iran but has for years cultivated significant ties to DC Iran 'regime change' advocates as well as a bipartisan list of shills willing to take their money (of which they have quite a lot). It's an odd group which mixes Islam, Marxism and neocon-inflected DC Pay-to-Play values into a bizarre amalgam run by current cult leader Maryam Rajavi. Until just a few years ago the US State Department listed them as a terrorist organization. They appear to be mainly out of the terrorism business now.... With all this you'll be glad to learn that one of their biggest backers is none other than Trump National Security Advisor John Bolton. And perhaps they're most high profile and ardent supporter (and recipient of their cash) is Rudy Giuliani.... In March of this year Rudy traveled to Tirana, Albania to headline a major MEK event."

Michael Schmidt of the New York Times: "Two top F.B.I. aides who worked alongside the former director James B. Comey as he navigated one of the most politically tumultuous periods in the bureau's history resigned on Friday. One of them, James A. Baker, was one of Mr. Comey's closest confidants. He served as the F.B.I.'s top lawyer until December when he was reassigned as the new director, Christopher A. Wray, began installing his ownadvisers. Mr. Baker had been investigated by the Justice Department on suspicion of sharing classified information with reporters. He has not been charged. The other aide, Lisa Page, advised Mr. Comey while serving directly under his deputy, Andrew G. McCabe. She was assailed by conservatives after texts that she had exchanged with the agent overseeing the investigation into links between President Trump's campaign and Russia were made public. In the messages, they expressed anti-Trump views but took aim at Hillary Clinton and other political figures as well. The decisions by Mr. Baker and Ms. Page to leave the bureau were unrelated."

Rachel Weiner of the Washington Post: "A federal judge in Virginia on Friday grilled lawyers from the office of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III about their motivations and authorization for bringing a fraud case against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. 'You don't really care about Mr. Manafort's bank fraud,' Judge T.S. Ellis III said during a morning hearing. 'You really care about getting information Mr. Manafort can give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump and lead to his prosecution or impeachment.' Manafort was seeking to have bank and tax fraud charges against him dismissed in federal court in Alexandria, with his lawyers arguing that the alleged crimes have nothing to do with the election or with President Trump. Ellis agreed, emphasizing that some of the charges involve alleged conduct that occurred over a decade ago. But he made no immediate decision on the defense motion. He said even without such a connection the special counsel, which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, may well still have the authority to bring the charges. 'I'm not saying it's illegitimate,' Ellis said." (Also linked yesterday.) ...

... Ben Mathis-Lilley & Mark Stern of Slate: "... Ellis' apparent objections to the special counsel's prosecution are profoundly flawed and unlikely to be upheld on appeal should he rule in Manafort's favor. When Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller to investigate potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, he licensed Mueller to look into 'any matters that arose or may arise directly from' that investigation. Mueller was also licensed to investigate 'any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.'... Rosenstein has also expressly authorized Mueller to investigate any crimes Manafort may have committed 'arising out of payments he received from the Ukrainian government.' One of those alleged crimes was bank fraud, which was necessary to launder money -- the charges at the heart of Mueller's prosecution of Manafort in Virginia federal court" Read on. Mathis-Lilley & Stern make a pretty good case. ...

... Speaking of Rosenstein, Rachel Maddow devoted a segment to him. As usual, she's too long-winded, but if you've got the time, the piece is worth watching:

Adam Goldman, et al., of the New York Times: "Federal agents working with Mr. Mueller stopped [Viktor] Vekselberg, a billionaire businessman [upon whom the U.S. imposed sanctions], at a New York-area airport this year and sought to search his electronic devices and question him, according to people familiar with the matter. They confronted him after he stepped off a private plane about two months ago, according to one of the people. There is no indication that Mr. Mueller suspects Mr. Vekselberg of wrongdoing. But Mr. Vekselberg attended the presidential inauguration last year, and the interest in him suggests that the special counsel has intensified his focus on potential connections between Russian oligarchs and the Trump campaign and inaugural committee.... Mr. Vekselberg also attended a December 2015 dinner in Russia where Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump's first national security adviser, was also among the guests and sat beside Mr. Putin.... Another potential area of interest for Mr. Mueller is Mr. Vekselberg's business in Cyprus, the Mediterranean nation considered a magnet for Russian money. Mr. Vekselberg has controlled a company that has been the largest single shareholder in the Bank of Cyprus. Around the same time that Mr. Vekselberg was investing in the bank, Mr. Trump's future commerce secretary, Wilbur L. Ross, was its vice chairman." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: I hope Ross goes down too in this vast corruption scheme. ...

... Devin Nunes Is (a) Nuts, (b) Illiterate, (c) a Colossal Dick. (More than one answer may be correct.) Manu Raju, et al., of CNN: Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) demanded "a fully uncensored version of a highly sensitive document from the Justice Department explaining how the Russia investigation began in 2016," & when he didn't get it, he warned Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein that he would be held in contempt of Congress or impeached. "Facing the growing pressure, and outrage from ... Donald Trump, Rosenstein finally relented in early April -- and granted Nunes and Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina access to the document with only minimal redactions.... But when the pair arrived at the Justice Department to review the electronic communication..., Nunes -- sitting with a copy of the document in an unopened folder directly in front of him -- opted not to read it, according to four sources with knowledge of the situation.... The moment marked at least the second time that he has demanded sensitive documents from the Justice Department, only to choose not to read them -- allowing his staff or Gowdy to pore through the materials instead." (Also linked yesterday.)

Addy Baird of ThinkProgress: "... Donald Trump harkened back to the racist attack he made on Mexican immigrants on the first day of his campaign in the summer of 2015 during a speech at the National Rifle Association (NRA) convention Friday. 'These countries send up their worst,' Trump said, addressing the crowd assembled in Dallas, Texas. 'Remember in my opening speech, I got criticized for it. Remember? Well, guess what. They're not sending their finest....' In his opening speech nearly three years ago, Trump said..., 'When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best.... They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.'" ...

... Benjamin Hart of New York: "Speaking at an NRA convention in Dallas on Friday..., Trump did a 'bit' on the perceived meekness of President Obama's stance on North Korea, then slammed the Iran nuclear agreement he is likely to pull out of in the coming days, getting the ultrafriendly crowd to boo the previous administration and John Kerry.... The president followed with an extended riff on the time Kerry broke his leg during a break from high-pressure negotiations crafting the agreement. 'John Kerry ... not the best negotiator we've ever seen,' Trump said. 'He never walked away from the table except to be in that bicycle race where he fell and broke his leg.... And I learned from that -- at 73 years old, you never go into a bicycle race....' Beyond the childishness, Trump was, shockingly enough, wrong on the facts. Kerry was 71 years old -- the same age Trump is now -- when he hit a curb and fractured his femur in 2015, while biking in the French Alps, about 25 miles from Geneva. There is no evidence that he entered a race, as Trump claimed, though he was riding on a section of the Tour de France when the accident occurred. As Trump attacked Kerry's cycling acumen, the Boston Globe reported that the former secretary of State was making a last-ditch, unofficial diplomatic effort to salvage the deal he was instrumental in creating." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: The only funny part of Trump's riff is where you imagine Trump on a Bicycle.

It's All about the Trump Show! David Nakamura of the Washington Post: "As he has sought to build anticipation for his high-stakes summit with Kim Jong Un, President Trump has delighted in dropping tantalizing hints about where the meeting will take place -- maybe the Korean demilitarized zone! -- and what can be achieved -- perhaps a peace treaty!This week, the president, without direct prompting, casually raised another possibility, noting on Twitter that three Americans prisoners have been held in a North Korean labor camp. But, he suggested in a tweet, that could soon change: 'Stay tuned!'... Who knows? We'll see what happens.... On Friday, as he departed Washington for a day trip to Dallas, Trump reiterated his cryptic prediction in impromptu remarks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House.... 'A lot of good things have already happened with respect to the hostages. And I think you're going to see very good things,' Trump said. 'As I said yesterday, stay tuned.' The president often uses such phrases to hype dramatic possibilities.... But in the case of the prisoners, Trump and some key surrogates have again shattered long-standing Washington protocols by speaking so openly about delicate negotiations on American detainees, potentially risking a last-minute setback or coming across as insensitive to the privacy of their families, according to former U.S. diplomatic and intelligence officials."

Matthew Nussbaum of Politico: "Vice President Mike Pence's physician has resigned, the latest fallout from the collapse of Ronny Jackson's nomination for secretary of Veterans Affairs. Dr. Jennifer Peña, who like Jackson is a military physician detailed to the White House, was among those who detailed claims of professional misconduct against Jackson to senators considering his nomination, according to a person familiar with the events.... The allegations were troubling to many in Pence's office and the White House, who felt that Pena misrepresented the severity of the situation in an effort to harm Jackson, according to the person familiar with the situation." (Also linked yesterday.)

Nick Miroff of the Washington Post: "More than 50,000 Hondurans who have been allowed to live and work in the United States since 1999 will have 20 months to leave the country or face deportation, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced Friday, the latest in a series of DHS measures aimed at tightening U.S. immigration controls. The Hondurans were granted temporary protected status (TPS) in 1999, shielding them from deportation, after Hurricane Mitch slammed their country and left 10,000 dead across Central America. Under President Trump, DHS has been eliminating TPS programs one by one, arguing they were never designed to grant long-term residency to foreigners who may have arrived illegally or overstayed their visas."

Jonathan Cooper of the AP: "California's economy has surpassed that of the United Kingdom to become the world's fifth largest, according to new federal data made public Friday. California's gross domestic product rose by $127 billion from 2016 to 2017, surpassing $2.7 trillion, the data said. Meanwhile, the UK's economic output slightly shrunk over that time when measured in U.S. dollars, due in part to exchange rate fluctuations. The data demonstrate the sheer immensity of California's economy, home to nearly 40 million people, a thriving technology sector in Silicon Valley, the world's entertainment capital in Hollywood and the nation's salad bowl in the Central Valley agricultural heartland. It also reflects a substantial turnaround since the Great Recession."

John Koblin of the New York Times: "Three women sued Charlie Rose and CBS on Friday, alleging that they were sexually harassed by the former anchorman while working for him and that the network did nothing to stop it. On Thursday, The Washington Post published an article that detailed accusations against Mr. Rose by numerous women, including the three who are suing, and alleged that CBS managers knew about harassment complaints against Mr. Rose before he was fired in November. CBS has said it was not aware of any allegations about Mr. Rose's behavior before a November article by The Post that detailed accusations from multiple women and led to his firing as a host of 'CBS This Morning' and a correspondent for '60 Minutes.' PBS, the longtime home of the 'Charlie Rose' interview show, also cut ties with Mr. Rose."

Beyond the Beltway

Rick Rojas & Kristin Hussey of the New York Times: "The Connecticut Supreme Court, in a surprising reversal of its own decision less than two years ago, ruled on Friday to vacate the conviction of Michael C. Skakel, who had been found guilty of bludgeoning his neighbor with a golf club in 1975. The ruling is not only the latest of the many twists in a legal battle that has been drawn out over decades, but could stand as the conclusion of a case that has attracted the attention of tabloids and television newsmagazines with its blend of a cold-case murder with celebrity and wealth. Mr. Skakel, a nephew of Ethel Kennedy, had been convicted in 2002 of killing Martha Moxley, a 15-year-old in his Greenwich, Conn., neighborhood. Mr. Skakel, also 15 at the time of the killing, was not arrested until he was in his late 30s. He was convicted after a three-week trial that brought to light details including his drinking and drug use."

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