Monday, January 21, 2019

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez encourages people to 'shake the table' in pursuit of justice

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 02:  U.S. House candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks at a progressive fundraiser on August 2, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. The rising political star is on her third trip away from New York in three weeks and is projected to become the youngest woman elected to Congress this November when she will be 29 years old.  (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke at the Women’s March in New York City on Saturday, as well as the Women’s Unity Rally. She didn’t hold back when it came to inclusive feminism or the progressive platform she feels is necessary for the nation. As a freshman Congress member, she’s already battled criticism from the right for just about anything, but what are her actual beliefs?

Here’s what she laid out at two marches this weekend:

"Last year we brought the power to the polls, and this year we need to make sure we translate that power into policy," she stated to the crowd of protestors. "That means we will not let anyone take our rights away. In fact, we will expand them." 

“Are you all ready to make a ruckus? Are you all ready to fight for our rights?” she posed to the crowd by Central Park. “Everyone deserves justice, and everyone deserves equal protection and prosperity in our country.”

“Justice is not a concept we read about in a book,” She continued. “Justice is about the water we drink. Justice is about the air we breathe. Justice is about how easy it is to vote. Justice is about how much ladies get paid.” 

At the city’ s other rally, the Women’ s Unity Rally, held in Foley Square, she continued with a message in the same vein. She stated that she supports passing an equal rights amendment which would protect people from discrimination based on gender identity, parental leave for all parents, and equal pay for equal work.

"This means this is the start of our advocacy because we just captured the House," she stated. "Now we have to show what we're going to do with it."

An excerpt of her second speech is particularly inspiring:
"It is so incredibly important to uplift all of our voices. And to make sure the least among us advocated the most. That means we will not be quiet when it comes to the rights of black women. That means we will not be quiet when it comes to the rights of trans women. That means we will not be quiet when it comes to the rights of poor women. And middle-class women. And working-class women. And all women in the United States and in the world.”
Ocasio-Cortez first garnered attention when she won New York City’s 14th district’s primary election, defeating Rep. Joe Crowley, the 10-term incumbent. She then became a household name as the youngest woman who has ever been elected to Congress.  She’s carrying that same change-making energy into the public sphere. 

“Justice is about making sure that being polite is not the same thing as being quiet,” she told the crowd. “In fact, often times, the most righteous thing you can do is shake the table.”

Sunday, January 20, 2019

About Those Punks from Covington Catholic High School: We Know This Face.

DC march.jpg
The particulars, this time, are that a group of students from Kentucky's Covington Catholic High School attending--surely under supervision from the school--the March for Life Rally in Washington DC were recorded at the Lincoln Memorial confronting Nathan Phillips, who was present for the coinciding Indigenous People's March.

One report from the local Fox station says, “The young man's intent is unclear.” 

It isn’t unclear. We know this face. The intent of that cold stare and hard smile are obvious: to intimidate, dismay, mock, disrupt, and disturb an old man. That face has been a useful tool of the people who seek to cause fear to those whom they dislike. In the particulars of prior versions, this is the face of the people who screamed at the schoolchildren in Little Rock. This is the face of the louts who dumped sodas on the people at the lunch counter in Greensboro. This is the face of Lawrence Rainey and Cecil Ray Price on trial for murder.

The boys watching this young man understand the intent. They surround this man, mock him, and do all they can to frighten him.  They’re enjoying a moment of thrilling fearless cruelty. It goes on and on.

This never went away. It was never expunged from the culture. These boys are its proud heirs, and they know it. 

Covington Catholic High School’s motto is Building Minds. Living Faith. Their phones and social media are offline for the moment as the school leaders handle the embarrassment of a seeming breach, or perhaps an equally embarrassing convergence, between this spontaneous behavior by their own, and their “over-riding assist parents and families in forming a Catholic identity within the students that God has entrusted to us.”

The particulars this time aren’t as important as the pattern over time. Covington would profit from taking a history lesson instead of being one.

Look at this picture.  We know this face.

About Those Punks from Covington Catholic High School.
From the Louisville Courier-Journal:
Covington Catholic High School and the Diocese of Covington apologized to the man in the video, identified as Vietnam veteran and Native American elder Nathan Phillips, and said they will take appropriate action, which could include expulsion.
This is a possibility, but it will not be easy to expel the punks involved in this shocking incident.  The local news is reporting Tweets from other so called catholics that they didn’t see anything wrong in the video.  The students “appear to be enjoying” the music.


So expect a lot of pushback that this will violate those kids “freedom of speech.”

And you can bet their parents will argue this.  In fact, I am counting on this.  Why?

Because I taught in a catholic boys school in KY, and we had similar racial incidents that did not result in expulsions.

The school I taught at was diversifying, which I think is a good thing.  Many of the new students were black and not from the local neighborhoods.  Besides shoving Confederate flags in the black students face and yelling the South will rise again, we had several of the white students use the N word.

Only the worst offenders were ever expelled, and I think it was no more than two students who were expelled.  This is because catholic schools can not really afford to throw too many students out.  As with other private schools, catholic schools have priced themselves where they cater to upper middle class or wealthy parents.

It cost $13,000 dollars a year to go to the school I taught at.  And we were not the most expensive either.  Not like there are a lot of catholic parents who can afford to throw that kind of money around.

I predict maybe one or two students will be expelled.  No more than that.  Otherwise, I expect the archdiocese to ride this out.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Remember when Mitch McConnell covered up Putin's interference to elect Trump?

TOPSHOT - Senate Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) walks to the Senate floor on Capitol Hill September 28, 2018 in Washington, DC. - The US Senate Judiciary Committee gave its backing to Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump's embattled pick for the Supreme Court, one day after he fought off allegations of sexual assault at a dramatic day-long hearing that riveted the nation. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
With Individual 1 sinking deeper and deeper into impeachment territory, it's worth remembering that he didn't get there without a lot of help from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who's currently carrying his water by refusing to vote on reopening government.

McConnell's willingness to jeopardize the nation by going along with this manufactured crisis is one thing. But his efforts to keep the nation in the dark about what the government knew—before the election—about Russia's interference on behalf of Trump is quite another. For if there's a whiff of illegality around Trump for his Russia dealings and coverup efforts, then it has to surround McConnell, too.

Remember that in 2016, when it became clear after Trump had secured the nomination that Russia was interfering, and the nation's intelligence agencies had that information and presented it to congressional leadership, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell covered it up. He and then Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid were told that Putin was overseeing an operation to disrupt the election and to help Trump. McConnell's reaction, in the words of Washington Post reporter Greg Miller, who initially broke this story: "'McConnell is basically telling [the CIA], 'you're telling us that Russia is trying to help elect Trump. If you try to come forward with this, I'm not going to sign onto any sort of public statement that would condemn Russian interference. But I will condemn you and the Obama administration for trying to mess up this election.'"

The briefing from the CIA had Reid so alarmed that he wrote, and made public, a letter to then-FBI chief James Comey, saying "The evidence of a direct connection between the Russian government and presidential campaign continues to mount and has led Michael Morrell, the former Acting Central Intelligence Director, to call Trump an ‘unwitting agent’ of Russia and the Kremlin. The prospect of a hostile government actively seeking to undermine our free and fair elections represents one of the greatest threats toward democracy since the Cold War ..."

The evidence presented to Reid that so alarmed him was also presented to McConnell. He knew full well that the CIA was deeply concerned before the election, and made the decision to cover it up. McConnell also knew full well that Russia wanted to get involved in our elections, because his own leadership PAC received a cool $2.5 million filtered through Len Blavatnik, a dual U.S.-U.K. citizen, from a web of Putin's oligarchs. He started getting that money in 2015, and kept on getting it through at least 2017. Among those business associates of Blavatnik is none other than Oleg Deripaska, Paul Manafort's boss both in Ukraine and while he was nominally working on the Trump campaign.

McConnell is deep into this, at least up to his third chin. He is by no means an innocent bystander. Every action he takes—including his refusal to do his constitutional job and stand up to Trump on the government shutdown—has to be viewed through the filter of his complicity with Trump's lawlessness.

Friday, January 18, 2019

With State of the Union Disinvitation, Pelosi Outmaneuvers Trump Once Again

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. (photo: Getty)
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. (photo: Getty)

By Frank Rich, New York Magazine
18 January 19

Most weeks, New York Magazine writer-at-large Frank Rich speaks with contributor Alex Carp about the biggest stories in politics and culture. Today, Trump’s unusual silence on Nancy Pelosi’s call to reschedule the State of the Union, the GOP’s about-face on Steve King, and Democrats’ deliberations about the next attorney general.

esterday morning, Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked Donald Trump to reschedule the upcoming State of the Union (or to submit it to Congress in writing), and Rudy Giuliani backed away from denials of collusion with Russia in the Trump campaign. How costly are these developments for Trump and the GOP? 

I can’t resist saying it again: Pelosi is awesome. She knows how to push the levers of government. She knows how to push Trump’s buttons. This is an unbeatable combination. Twenty-four hours after she released her letter declining to play host to the State of the Union, Trump was so flummoxed he still hadn’t tweeted about it and his White House still had not responded. That’s because there is no response. It’s Pelosi’s House, and she’s under no obligation to let Trump commandeer it as a splashy backdrop for his propaganda. Even if there were a president of her own party in power, it would be ludicrous to stage this event, a superfluous (and tedious) political jamboree under the best of circumstances, during a government shutdown.

As the speaker also said, Trump can submit his speech in writing (ha!) or deliver it from the Oval Office. We know the latter isn’t happening because even he has reportedly figured out that his recent prime-time address was a flop and that he can’t read from a teleprompter — or at least one that isn’t on set at The Apprentice. So maybe he’ll hold a MAGA rally instead? If so, are the broadcast networks once again going to interrupt their prime-time schedules to air it unedited? We’ll see if they’ve learned a damn thing from their embarrassing enlistment in the White House’s fake news event of two weeks ago.

One more note about Pelosi. As Aaron Blake of the Washington Post has pointed out, the most brilliant passage of her letter to Trump was her reminder that last September Kirstjen Nielsen, in her capacity as secretary of Homeland Security, had officially “designated State of the Union Addresses as National Special Security Events (NSSEs),” a move requiring “the full resources of the Federal Government” to be employed when they occur. Those resources aren’t available during a shutdown.

Hoisted by her own petard, Nielsen tried to recoup by tweeting yesterday that Homeland Security and the Secret Service are “fully prepared” to do the job. Even if Nielsen hadn’t previously destroyed her credibility with her litany of lies about the humanitarian crisis at the border, the fact remains that she can’t govern by Twitter and her tweet cannot override a policy she herself had set. Checkmate.

As for that other genius, Giuliani, he seems to be yanking back his and Trump’s repeated denials of any Russian collusion by Trump or his campaign in anticipation of Mueller dropping a new bombshell in court. What’s fascinating about his latest revisionist version, in which Trump’s campaign may well have colluded but Trump himself did not, is that it not only throws Paul Manafort and associates under the bus but also Donald Jr. and Jared. 

And let us not forget that there was a third costly development for Trump and the GOP yesterday: the slaughter of four Americans in Syria a couple of hours before Mike Pence publicly repeated his boss’s claim that ISIS has been defeated. “We are bringing our troops home,” Pence said — which was technically true, but left out the detail that they were doing so in body bags.

After decades of support for white supremacy and a reelection victory last year, Iowa congressman Steve King has been removed from his committee assignments by House Republicans and major Iowan newspapers are calling for his resignation. What changed since the midterms? 

What’s changed is that the GOP cynically wanted to keep King in place rather than lose his seat in the midterms. That mission was accomplished; King won after having been endorsed by Iowa’s senators, Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst. Now GOP leaders can posture about their abhorrence of racism and throw King to the wolves. (Sort of: He is still in Congress.) Many have pointed out the hypocrisy of this. King has a history of racist statements and of palling around with white nationalists and neo-Nazis that dates back to nearly the turn of the century, yet no Republicans in power ever made any credible effort to drive him out of their party. It has also been widely noted that Trump is guilty of nearly every outrage committed by King. (Asked about King’s latest infractions last week, Trump said “I haven’t been following it” — a lie, of course, but doubly so since he has literally followed King’s nativist and racist playbook from the start of his presidential campaign.)

But another, greater hypocrisy is left unmentioned by the Republicans now turning on King: The GOP’s racism didn’t begin with King or Trump and likely won’t end with them either as long as their party’s base remains intact. From the moment Barry Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to recruit the old Dixie states to the GOP in his presidential run through Chief Justice John Roberts’s disembowelment of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, the GOP has been the party of what Richard Nixon codified as the “Southern strategy”: exploiting racial resentments for political gain. And so, to take one handy example of this denial, the former George W. Bush speechwriter, current NeverTrumper, and Post columnist Michael Gerson wrote a column this week excoriating King, Trump, Jefferson Davis, and Bull Connor — but never mentioned Strom Thurmond, George H. W. Bush’s Willie Horton campaign, or Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign speech in favor of “states rights” in a Mississippi town adjacent to the site where three civil-rights workers had been murdered in 1964. In a similar vein, the House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy condemned King by saying, “That is not the party of Lincoln” — as if this were the first time the GOP had breached that sobriquet. For heaven’s sake, McCarthy’s own deputy, Steve Scalise, had to admit four years ago that as a Louisiana state representative he had given a 2002 speech before a convention held by a white-supremacist organization founded by David Duke. (Of course Scalise claimed he had no idea of what group he was speaking to.) 

At his confirmation hearing this week, attorney general nominee William Barr testified that he would not end the Mueller investigation prematurely, despite a memo he wrote last year that raised questions about his intentions to interfere. Should Democrats vote to confirm him? 

A conventional conservative Republican with a Bushie resume, Barr towers over the grifters and hacks in Trump’s cabinet. He has not credibly explained why he wrote an unsolicited memo challenging the Mueller investigation’s legality, and his blurriness about whether he’d release a Mueller report (if there is one) is unacceptable. You are not exactly the crème de la crème of the American bar if the most prominent testimonials to your character include an op-ed (in the Times) written by Kenneth Starr, whose most recent accomplishment was to ignore a culture of rape at Baylor University, which ousted him as its president and chancellor. So as a matter of principle, there’s good reason to vote against Barr. But there is no way he will not be confirmed.

That said, what is happening in Mueller’s investigation and elsewhere is bigger than Barr. He’s too late in the game to stop the legal avalanche that seems likely to rain down on the White House, and perhaps he’s not inclined to destroy his reputation by attempting to do so. One way or another Mueller’s findings will get out. Too many inquiring minds want to know, including in Congress. And meanwhile, thanks to another cunning move by the Pelosi-run House, Michael Cohen will be giving televised public testimony on February 7 before he goes to prison. There will be Mueller-imposed restrictions on what he can talk about, but he has a hell of a story to tell and just the right dems-and-dose voice to tell it in. It’s the perfect spinoff to the 20th-anniversary celebration of The Sopranos.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

William Barr Was Chosen by This Administration* to Protect This Administration*

William Barr. (photo: Saul Loeb/Getty Images)
William Barr. (photo: Saul Loeb/Getty Images)
By Charles Pierce, Esquire

He's willing to live in Trumpian fantasy land because so are the people voting on his confirmation.

he judicial branch has taken a ballpeen hammer to the administration* over the past couple of weeks, as it has periodically ever since El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago came to Washington and started a fight over his travel ban. (We'll come back to that in a moment.) A couple of days ago, a federal judge in Philadelphia struck down the administration*'s regulation that would allow a "religious liberty" exemption from the Affordable Care Act's requirement that companies provide free birth control. The Philadelphia decision extended over the whole country a previous decision in a California court that applied only to California and 12 other states and the District of Columbia.

Then, on Tuesday, a federal judge in the Southern District of New York whaled on Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Ross's attempt to add a "citizenship" question to the 2020 census. From the Washington Post:
In his ruling, Furman blasted Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for “egregious” violations of the Administrative Procedure Act, including ignoring a statute that requires him to collect data through administrative records instead of through direct inquiries on a survey such as the census.

Furman called Ross’s decision to add the question “arbitrary and capricious,” adding that Ross had “failed to consider several important aspects of the problem; alternately ignored, cherry-picked, or badly misconstrued the evidence in the record before him; acted irrationally both in light of that evidence and his own stated decisional criteria; and failed to justify significant departures from past policies and practices — a veritable smorgasbord of classic, clear-cut APA violations.”

Ross also failed to follow other laws, including a statute requiring that he notify Congress of the subjects planned for any census at least three years in advance, Furman wrote, adding that the plaintiffs had proved they would be harmed by the question.
"A veritable smorgasbord of classic, clear-cut...violations." Lovely phrase, that, and one that can be applied to so many of the administration*'s actions over the past two years.

These two decisions have set all the bats careening around the belfries as regards the judiciary and the Department of Justice. On Fox News, contributor Gregg Jarrett proposed breaking up the FBI. And the Washington Examiner's Quin Hillyer, drawing in part on the work of noted legal scholar Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, proposed restricting the power of federal district courts to make their decisions applicable to the entire country. David French, writing in the National Review, the country's longest-running journal of white supremacy, also chimed in with horror.

And the general principle came up often as William Barr faced the Senate Judiciary for the first of two days of testimony.

I gave up taking confirmation hearings seriously when I watched grifters like Ryan Zinke and fools like Betsy DeVos go sailing into the Cabinet simply because the Republicans had the votes in the Senate to put them there. (The Gorsuch hearings and the Kavanaugh puppet-show didn't recommend themselves to me as having been more than rigged wheels, either.) So watching William Barr's testimony on his behalf was rather like watching the same movie for the 93rd time.

Republican senators threw softballs. Democratic senators went head-hunting, and Barr sought refuge in that unique form of Beltway weaselspeak that sounds important but is only portentous—Polonius with an honorarium and a fellowship at Heritage. There is no doubt in my mind that Barr was chosen by this administration* to protect this administration*, and that any pretense to the contrary was vain and foolish. Yet, everyone had to go through the motions anyway, so there we are.

If there was an intriguing strand to the questioning, it came on those occasions when Barr was questioned not about our current political dilemmas but, rather, on his work in the Department of Justice back in the 1980s and 1990s. Barr was George H. W. Bush's last Attorney General. It was the superheated beginning of the "war" on drugs, and Barr was central to creating that administration's draconian policies for drug enforcement and incarceration. Those policies now are the exact policies that the new push for criminal-justice reform is trying to, well, reform. (After leaving the White House the first time, Barr took a job with then-Virginia Governor George Allen in the latter's attempt to abolish parole in that state.)

Senator Kamala Harris took that particular bit in her teeth.
HARRIS: The war on drugs was a failure that should have focused on public health.

BARR: But the job of the DOJ is enforcement.

HARRIS: But I remind you what you said earlier that the AG roles are enforcement, legal advice AND policy.
Senator Cory Booker went at Barr even harder than Harris did.
BOOKER: I just want to tell you that I was a young black guy in the 1990s, I was a 20-something year told, and experienced a dramatically different justice system and the treatment that I received...Do you think, just yes or no, that this system of mass incarceration has disproportionately benefited African American communities?
Later, Barr said that he believed the "overall system" was working and that black and white defendants were treated equally within it and, demonstrating the kind of discipline we like to see in our public servants, nobody fell off their chairs or threw food.

Anyway, Barr was slipping and sliding all over the place, ducking a question on voter-suppression by saying low turnout represented citizens "not being that engaged in the public affairs of the country," but occasionally letting the mask slip a bit, such as when he talked about how a court had overturned the Muslim Ban in the first days of this administration*.
BARR: A judge with a lifetime appointment sitting somewhere in the country who doesn't have the access to the information, has no political accountability, can stop a national security measure?... That's really troublesome to me.
That's a tell. Barr is trying to sell the original fig-leaf that the ban was a response to a national-security threat, one that turned out to be as evanescent as the one the administration* is pitching to us as occurring along the border with Mexico. He can walk through the Trumpian fantasyland as easily as anyone else, and that's why he's going to be the attorney general, because the other people willing to live there have the votes.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Subpoena the Interpreter

Vladimir Putin. (photo: Adam Berry/Getty Images)
Vladimir Putin. (photo: Adam Berry/Getty Images)
By David Frum, The Atlantic
14 January 19

There are real costs to such a move—but the public needs to know what was said between Trump and Putin.

ow Congress faces a very hard question: Subpoena President Donald Trump’s translator, or not?

On Saturday, The Washington Post’s Greg Miller reported new details of the extreme things done by Trump to conceal his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin from even the senior-most members of Trump’s own administration. Trump even reportedly seized the interpreter’s notes after one of his meetings, the Trump-Putin sit-down at the Hamburg G20 meeting in July 2017. Even more disturbingly, Trump and Putin met privately a second time at Hamburg—with no American present. In an act of astonishing recklessness, Trump relied entirely on the Russian interpreter, preventing any U.S. record-keeping at all.

All this would be unusual enough for any president. It is more than suspicious for a president being formally investigated by the FBI as a possible Russian-intelligence asset.

Concern focuses most on Trump’s meetings with Putin at the Helsinki summit in July 2018. The Russian president, and the American president helped into office by the Russian president, met for two hours with no aides. No agenda was published before the meeting, no communiqué issued afterward. The Russian side later claimed that a number of agreements had been reached at the summit. Nobody on the American side seemed to know whether this was true. At a press conference four days after the meeting, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said, “I’m not in a position to either understand fully or talk about what happened in Helsinki.”

There’s only one American who does know: Marina Gross, the professional interpreter who assisted Trump.

Should she be asked? It’s a tough, tough, tough question.
Arguments against:
  • A friend who holds a senior foreign-policy position in an EU government was absolutely horrified at the prospect of a subpoena for Gross. No admirer of Trump’s, this person felt such a subpoena would create a new precedent that would shadow all future confidential presidential conversations with non-English-speaking heads of government, allied as well as adversarial.

  • The Trump administration would surely raise an executive-privilege objection. In the 1974 case U.S. v. Nixon, the Supreme Court rejected an absolute claim of internal privilege within the executive branch. But it acknowledged “the valid need for protection of communications between high Government officials and those who advise and assist them in the performance of their manifold duties.” The court stressed that this privilege was at its strongest in military and diplomatic affairs, which would presumably describe the Helsinki meeting.

  • There is a nontrivial possibility that Gross might refuse to testify. Interpreters have a strong professional code of confidentiality. This code is not recognized in law, but like a newspaper reporter protecting his or her sources, Gross might feel honor-bound to uphold the code anyway—risking a contempt citation or even jail. Should she be put in that position?
Against those arguments is this fact: We are facing very possibly the worst scandal in the history of the U.S. government. Previous high-profile cases of disloyalty to the United States—Julius and Ethel Rosenberg’s betrayal of atomic secrets to the U.S.S.R.; Secretary of War John B. Floyd’s allowing federal arsenals to fall into secessionist hands in 1861—did not involve presidents. Previous presidential scandals did not involve allegations of disloyalty.

Is the president of the United States a Russian asset? Is he subject to Russian blackmail? Is he at this hour conniving with the Russian president against the interests of the United States? These are haunting questions, and Trump’s own determination to defy normal presidential operating procedures to keep secret his private conversations with Putin only lends credibility to the worst suspicions.

I wrote in my book Trumpocracy about the “autoimmune disorders” triggered by this most corrupt, most authoritarian, and perhaps most compromised of all presidencies.

Trump’s breaches of norms force other agencies of government to breach norms in reply, in order to protect supreme public interests threatened by Trump. These norm-breaches by the other agencies do genuine harm, just as the aggressive autoimmune responses of the human body do real harm. But the alternative—suppressing all immune responses—is to allow the infection to fester and eventually destroy the host it occupies.

The scandal of the Trump presidency leaves Americans only bad choices. Powers and privileges essential to the functioning of an honest and patriotic presidency are called into question by this dishonest and unpatriotic presidency. Succeeding presidents and Congresses will have to find a way to restore or replace busted norms with new ones—but pretending now that the old rules can function as intended is not only delusive, but dangerous.

Subpoena the interpreter now; write a new law formalizing the confidentiality of interpretation later.

Monday, January 14, 2019

18 Reasons Trump Could Be a Russian Asset

President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin. (photo: Reuters)
President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin. (photo: Reuters)

By Max Boot, The Washington Post
14 January 19
n Friday, the New York Times reported that “in the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests.” That investigation may well be continuing under the auspices of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

We don’t know what Mueller has learned. But we can look at the key, publicly available evidence that both supports and undercuts this explosive allegation.

Here is some of the evidence suggesting “Individual 1” could be a Russian “asset”:

— Trump has a long financial history with Russia. As summarized by Jonathan Chait in an invaluable New York magazine article: “From 2003 to 2017, people from the former USSR made 86 all-cash purchases — a red flag of potential money laundering

— of Trump properties, totaling $109 million. In 2010, the private-wealth division of Deutsche Bank also loaned him hundreds of millions of dollars during the same period it was laundering billions in Russian money. ‘Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,’ said Donald Jr. in 2008. ‘We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia,’ boasted Eric Trump in 2014.” According to Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s guilty plea of lying to Congress, Trump was even pursuing his dream of building a Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign with the help of a Vladimir Putin aide. These are the kind of financial entanglements that intelligence services such as the FSB typically use to ensnare foreigners, and they could leave Trump vulnerable to blackmail.

— The Russians interfered in the 2016 U.S. election to help elect Trump president.

— Trump encouraged the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails on July 27, 2016 (“Russia, if you’re listening”), on the very day that Russian intelligence hackers tried to attack Clinton’s personal and campaign servers.

— There were, according to the Moscow Project, “101 contacts between Trump’s team and Russia linked operatives,” and “the Trump team tried to cover up every single one of them.” The most infamous of these contacts was the June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower between the Trump campaign high command and a Kremlin emissary promising dirt on Clinton. Donald Trump Jr.’s reaction to the offer of Russian assistance? “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

— The Trump campaign was full of individuals, such as Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and Michael Flynn, with suspiciously close links to Moscow.

— Manafort, who ran the Trump campaign for free and was heavily in debt to a Russian oligarch, now admits to offering his Russian business partner, who is suspected of links to Russian intelligence, polling data that could have been used to target the Russian social media campaign on behalf of Trump.

— Trump associate Roger Stone, who was in contact with Russian conduit WikiLeaks, reportedly knew in advance that the Russians had hacked Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails. (Stone has denied it .)

— Once in office, Trump fired Comey to stop the investigation of the “Russia thing

— and then bragged about having done so to the Russian ambassador and foreign minister while also sharing with them top-secret information. Later, Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions because he would not end the special counsel investigation that resulted after the firing of Comey. As Lawfare editor Benjamin Wittes argues, “the obstruction was the collusion” — Trump has been effectively protecting the Russians by trying to impede the investigation of their attack on the United States.

— Trump has refused to consistently acknowledge that Russia interfered in the U.S. election or mobilize a government-wide effort to stop future interference. He has accepted Putin’s protestations that the Russians did not meddle in the election over the “high confidence” assessment of the U.S. intelligence community that they did.

— Like no previous president, Trump attacks and undermines the Justice Department and the FBI (“a cancer in our country”) — two institutions that stand on the front lines of combatting Russian espionage and influence operations in the United States.

— Again, like no previous president, Trump attacks and undermines the European Union and NATO — he has suggested that France should leave the E.U. and that the United States should leave NATO, reportedly saying, “NATO is as bad as NAFTA.” The E.U. and NATO are the two major obstacles to Russian designs in Europe.

— Trump supports populist, pro-Russian leaders in Europe, such as Viktor Orban in Hungary and Marine Le Pen in France, just as the Russians do.

— Trump has praised Putin (“a strong leader”) while trashing just about everyone else from grade-B Hollywood celebrities to leaders of allied nations. Trump even praised Putin for expelling U.S. diplomats and, notwithstanding instruction from his aides (“DO NOT CONGRATULATE”), congratulated Putin on winning a rigged reelection.

— Trump was utterly supine in his meetings with Putin, principally in Hamburg and Helsinki. Even more suspicious, according to a Post article on Saturday, Trump “has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with . . . Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials . . . Several officials said they were never able to get a reliable readout of the president’s two-hour meeting in Helsinki.”

— Trump defends the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and repeats other pro-Russian talking points.

— Trump is pulling U.S. troops out of Syria, handing that country to Russia and its ally Iran.

— Trump has effectively done nothing in response to the Russian attack on Ukrainian ships in international waters, thereby encouraging greater Russian aggression.

— Trump is sowing chaos in the government, most recently with a record-breaking partial government shutdown and “acting” appointees in key posts such as the Defense Department and Justice Department, thus furthering a Russian objective of undermining its chief adversary.

Now that we’ve listed 18 reasons Trump could be a Russian asset, let’s look at the exculpatory evidence:

[This page intentionally left blank]

I can’t think of anything that would exonerate Trump aside from the difficulty of grasping what once would have seemed unimaginable: that a president of the United States could actually have been compromised by a hostile foreign power.

In his own defense, Trump claims he has been tougher on Russia “than any other President,” but literally in the next sentence he says, “getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing.” When the United States actually has taken steps to get tough with Russia in the past two years, it has usually been the work of Congress (the 2017 Russia sanctions bill) or Trump aides (expelling 60 Russian diplomats). The Post reports that Trump was “furious” when his administration was portrayed as being tough on Russia, and NBC News reports that he instructed subordinates never to publicly discuss plans to sell weapons to Ukraine.

This is hardly a “beyond a reasonable doubt” case that Trump is a Russian agent — certainly not in the way that Robert Hanssen or Aldrich Ames were. But it is a strong, circumstantial case that Trump is, as former acting CIA director Michael Morell and former CIA director Michael V. Hayden warned during the 2016 campaign, “an unwitting agent of the Russian federation” (Morell) or a “useful fool” who is “manipulated by Moscow” (Hayden). If Trump isn’t actually a Russian agent, he is doing a pretty good imitation of one.