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Friday, March 31, 2017

House Russia Probe Implodes

House Intelligence Committee Republican Chairman Devin Nunes. (photo: Kelly Camino/The Daily Beast)
House Intelligence Committee Republican Chairman Devin Nunes. (photo: Kelly Camino/The Daily Beast)
By Tim Mak and Kelly Weill, The Daily Beast
 
The House investigation has imploded under the huge pressure on Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes. Ranking Democrats now say he must sit-out the Russia probe.

he House Intelligence Committee’s bipartisan investigation into Russia’s influence on America’s politics imploded Monday evening.

The probe simply could not withstand the pressure put on it following Republican chairman Devin Nunes’s strange behavior over the past week—including briefing the president before his own committee, and a nighttime dash to the White House grounds to review secret documents.

The committee’s scheduled meetings for the week have been reportedly canceled. 

Given Nunes’s close ties to the Trump team, and his decision to brief the president on his investigation into the surveillance matter before even informing his own committee, Democrats—and a handful of leading Republicans—are publicly doubting his ability to oversee the probe.

"I think you put his objectivity in question at the very least," Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told the Today Show Tuesday. “He’s gone off on… a sort of Inspector Clouseau investigation by himself.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee, said in a statement Monday: “After much consideration, and in light of the Chairman’s admission that he met with his source of information at the White House, I believe that the Chairman should recuse himself from any further involvement in the Russia investigation, as well as any involvement in oversight of matters pertaining to any incidental collection of the Trump transition, as he was also a key member of the transition team.”

Two of Schiff’s fellow Democrats on the committee, Reps. Jackie Speier and Eric Swalwell, have also called for Nunes’s recusal. And as the Senate resumed its business Monday afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer went even further, calling for Nunes to be replaced as the committee’s chairman.

Schiff was more of a hold-out though, saying he hoped Nunes could regain the trust necessary for an independent committee. As recently as Sunday, he was dedicated to keeping the investigation alive. The intelligence committees in Congress have a decades-long tradition of bipartisanship and quiet cooperation. And Schiff has a reputation of being anything but a partisan bomb-thrower.

“I am going to do everything I can to get this back on track. And I implore our chairman and the speaker to rededicate themselves to a serious and bipartisan investigation,” Schiff said Sunday morning on CBS’ Face the Nation.

Just one day later, Schiff lost faith in Nunes.

“In the interests of a fair and impartial investigation whose results will be respected by the public, the Chairman’s recusal is more than warranted,” Schiff said Monday.

“This is not a recommendation I make lightly, as the Chairman and I have worked together well for several years; and I take this step with the knowledge of the solemn responsibility we have on the Intelligence Committee to provide oversight on all intelligence matters, not just to conduct the investigation.”

The collapse of the House Intelligence Committee’s bipartisan probe shifts the spotlight to the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has continued to hold the faith of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. The Senate panel will hold its first open hearings later this week.

Nunes drew scrutiny last week for an unexpected bombshell: He held a sudden press conference to allege some members of the Trump transition team might have been picked up through “incidental collection” during the surveillance of foreign intelligence targets. He then, in a breach of congressional protocol, rushed to the White House to brief the president, even before briefing the committee whose investigation he was leading. He pledged to share that information with his fellow committee members, but as of Monday that still has not occurred.

Odd circumstances began to emerge about what happened the evening before Nunes’s impromptu press conference. Committee sources told The Daily Beast that Nunes was riding in an Uber with a senior committee staff member Tuesday evening when he received a phone message and abruptly left. Even his senior aides were left in the dark about what Nunes was doing and where he was going.

CNN then later reported that Nunes had visited the White House grounds that night, before his press conference. In an interview Monday evening, Nunes told the network he was on White House grounds because he needed a secure room to view the documents, and Congress did not have access to those files.

“I had been working this for a long time with many different sources and needed a place that I could actually finally go, because I knew what I was looking for and I could actually get access to what I needed to see,” Nunes said.

After promising not to reveal who gave him this information, Nunes later said it was an “intelligence source.” He also insisted nothing strange had occurred, and that there was nothing mysterious about his visit to the White House.

“If I really wanted to, I could have snuck onto the grounds late at night and probably nobody would have seen me. But I wasn’t trying to hide,” Nunes told CNN. “In fact, I stopped to talk to several people there, just along the way, including, like I said, many foreigners.”

Nunes' story has shifted: he said the president's communications were incidentally collected, then later walked it back to say it was merely possible; then later Nunes said he didn't know if the Trump transition team was surveilled or merely mentioned in intelligence reports. Nunes has denied that his actions were orchestrated by the White House, but then admitted Monday that he had visited the White House grounds, which if not sinister at least gave the appearance of impropriety. The changing story lines add a cloud over Nunes' investigation.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Dear America, Donald Trump is completely insane


US President Donald Trump speaks during a lunch with House and Senate leadership in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC on March 1, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Mandel Ngan        (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
That may seem like hyperbole. The use of the word “insane” is something that many people feel strongly about, rightly concerned that turning the word into a casual alternative for “jackass” is a slight to people with genuine mental illness. But no. I don’t mean that Donald Trump is a jackass … or rather, it’s not that he’s only  a jackass. He’s also nuts, unglued, screwy, crazed, cracked, and potty. Open up the thesaurus and select a term. Not an exaggeration.
Because, America … here’s Trumpy:
TIME: Do you want me to give you a quick overview [of the story]?
TRUMP: Yeah, it’s a cool story. I mean it’s, the concept is right. I predicted a lot of things, Michael. Some things that came to you a little bit later. But, you know, we just rolled out a list. Sweden. I make the statement, everyone goes crazy. The next day they have a massive riot, and death, and problems. Huma [Abedin] and Anthony [Weiner], you know, what I tweeted about that whole deal, and then it turned out he had it, all of Hillary’s email on his thing. NATO, obsolete, because it doesn’t cover terrorism. They fixed that, and I said that the allies must pay. Nobody knew that they weren’t paying. I did. I figured it. Brexit, I was totally right about that. You were over there I think, when I predicted that, right, the day before. Brussels, I said, Brussels is not Brussels. I mean many other things, the election’s rigged against Bernie Sanders. We have a lot of things.
There is neither sense nor sensibility anywhere in this train of WTF. And it’s far from the only block of Crazytown included in Trump’s interview.
Trump: Now remember this. When I said wiretapping, it was in quotes. Because a wiretapping is, you know today it is different than wire tapping. It is just a good description. But wiretapping was in quotes. What I’m talking about is surveillance. And today, [House Intelligence Committee Chairman] Devin Nunes just had a news conference. Now probably got obliterated by what’s happened in London. But just had a news conference, and here it is one of those things. The other one, election, I said we are going to win, we won. And many other things. And I think this is going to be very interesting.
Throughout the interview, Trump defends every claim he ever made—including the claim that Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the attacks on 9/11—with a combination of word salad and word … stew? Mush? Let’s just say a mixture of flat-out lies and jaw-dropping delusions. Reminded, repeatedly, in ways both subtle and subtle as a load of bricks that everyone else in the world doesn’t just disagree with him in the sense of “blueberries are better on cereal than bananas,” but knows he is wrong as in “blueberries are not larger than elephants,” Trump eventually comes to the Ultimate Comeback.

TIME: But isn’t there, it strikes me there is still an issue of credibility. If the intelligence community came out and said, we have determined that so and so is the leaker here, but you are saying to me now, that you don’t believe the intelligence community when they say your tweet was wrong.
TRUMP: I’m not saying—no, I’m not blaming. First of all, I put Mike Pompeo in. I put Senator Dan Coats in. These are great people. I think they are great people and they are going to, I have a lot of confidence in them. So hopefully things will straighten out. But I inherited a mess, I inherited a mess in so many ways. I inherited a mess in the Middle East, and a mess with North Korea, I inherited a mess with jobs, despite the statistics, you know, my statistics are even better, but they are not the real statistics because you have millions of people that can’t get a job, ok. And I inherited a mess on trade. I mean we have many, you can go up and down the ladder. But that’s the story. Hey look, in the mean time, I guess, I can’t be doing so badly, because I’m president, and you’re not. You know. Say hello to everybody OK?
“I’m president, and you’re not.” Great. That’s just … great.

Thursday morning, following the general jaw-dropping nature of the information that slipped out on FBI investigations of Russia-related activity, Trump is back on the air.

Oddly enough, his tweets now sound comfortingly, merely jackass-ish. Perhaps 144 characters at a time really is the best way to experience Trump, because anything long is scary as hell.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Gorsuch Does Not Belong on the Supreme Court

Elizabeth Warren. (photo: Michael Dwyer/AP)
Elizabeth Warren. (photo: Michael Dwyer/AP)


By Elizabeth Warren, The Boston Globe

29 March 17
readersupportednews.org

Trump trying to hand highest court over to highest bidder
 

hen Justice Antonin Scalia died last year, giant corporations and their right-wing buddies spent millions of dollars to keep the Supreme Court seat open so that Donald Trump could fill the vacancy. It was only the latest step in their campaign to tilt our courts in favor of big corporations and the wealthy. Now, the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court is their reward. Anyone who believes in a neutral Supreme Court guided by equal justice for all should oppose this nomination.

Over the past three decades — as the rich have gotten richer and middle-class families have been left behind — the scales of justice have been weighted further and further in favor of the wealthy and the powerful. That tilt is not an accident. It’s the result of a deliberate strategy by powerful interests to turn our courts over to the highest bidder.

Its effects have been devastating. Recent court decisions have let giant corporations that cheated their consumers off the hook, unleashed a flood of secret money into the political process, and made it easier for businesses to abuse and discriminate against their employees.

At the core of this strategy is an all-out attack on fair-minded, mainstream judges. A prime example is the unprecedented blockade of Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court — a consensus nominee praised by Republicans and Democrats alike as a thoughtful, intelligent, and fair judge. None of that mattered for powerful right-wing groups that decided that Garland’s record did not reflect a sufficient willingness to bow down to the interests of the wealthy few. So they poured millions into a public smear campaign to stop his confirmation and leave the seat open.

During his campaign, Trump promised to nominate a Supreme Court justice selected exclusively from a list drawn up by far-right groups with ties to these same wealthy interests. As president, Trump kept that promise when he nominated Gorsuch last month to fill the vacancy.

Even before his elevation to the bench, Gorsuch’s right-wing, pro-big business views were clear. For example, he wrote an article arguing that liberals are too addicted to the court system and should keep important social issues like gay marriage, physician-assisted suicide, and school vouchers out of the courts. Notably absent was a similar critique of conservatives who pursue their interests in the court system. And Gorsuch has advocated for making it harder for investors and shareholders to bring lawsuits when companies commit securities fraud.

On the bench, his judicial decisions show a remarkable ability to shape and re-shape legal arguments in ways that benefit large corporations and disadvantage ordinary people seeking justice. In the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores case, when he had to choose between the “rights” of corporations and the rights of women, Gorsuch sided with corporations. In consumer protection cases, when he had to choose between the “rights” of corporations and the rights of swindled consumers, Gorsuch sided with corporations. In discrimination cases, when he had to choose between the “rights” of corporations and the rights of employees to be free from harassment and abuse, Gorsuch sided with corporations.

Gorsuch has taken positions that are even more extreme than his extremely conservative colleagues. When it comes to the rules that protect public health and safety, Gorsuch is more radical than Scalia was. Gorsuch believes that courts should not be required to defer to expert agency interpretations of their governing laws. If he had his way, he’d make it even easier for corporations to challenge health and safety rules that prevent them from polluting our air and water, poisoning our food, undermining public safety, or cheating people out of their hard-earned savings.

Big companies and rich right-wing billionaires are spending top dollar to help a judge like Gorsuch get over the finish line. But that’s not how our court system is supposed to work. Our courts are supposed to be neutral arbiters, dispensing justice based on the facts and the law — not the party with the most money or political power.

Gorsuch is charming and intelligent. He has an impressive legal pedigree. But this is not a Miss Congeniality pageant or a contest for the nominee with the fanciest degrees. This is a vote for a justice who will sit on the highest court in our nation for the next generation and decide cases that will touch every human being in this country. Cases about a woman’s right to choose, voting rights, LGBTQ rights, secret spending in our political system, and freedom of speech and religion. The next Supreme Court justice will help determine whether our courts will serve the interests of all of us or bend to the will of the powerful moneyed few who helped place them on the court.

There is only one question that should guide us in that decision: whether the nominee will defend equal justice for every single one of us — rich or poor, black or white, female or male, gay or straight, popular or unpopular. Gorsuch’s record shows that he is not that nominee.

At a moment when the awesome power of the presidency is in the hands of someone who has shown contempt for our Constitution, our independent judiciary, our free press, and the principles that make our nation a beacon of democracy, this decision is more consequential than at any time in recent history. We cannot stand down when the president of the United States attempts to hand our highest court over to the highest bidder. And that is why I believe Judge Gorsuch’s nomination should be blocked.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Donald Trump's Cruel and Unusual Budget Proposal

Dan Rather. (photo: USA TODAY)
Dan Rather. (photo: USA TODAY)

'People will die because of this budget'

By Dan Rather, Dan Rather's Facebook Page
18 March 17
readersupportednews.org
 
ruel and unusual," the phrase rings in my head as I read the press reports of President Donald Trump's proposed budget.

But to even talk about it as a budget is to miss the point. It is not a budget. It is a philosophy, and one that may come as a surprise to many of the people who voted for Mr. Trump. They will hurt in real ways. Meanwhile it confirms the worst existential fears of those who see his presidency as a threat to the very being of the United States they know and love.

This is a man who made a lot of promises on the campaign about helping those struggling in society, about leading the United States to greatness in such things as fighting disease. If anyone had any doubt about the hollowness of his words, this philosophy is all the evidence one would need.

This is a philosophy that doesn't believe in helping the poor, rural or urban, or the power of diplomacy or the importance of science. It is a philosophy that doesn't want to protect the environment. It doesn't believe in the arts. This is about putting a noose around much of the United States federal government and hanging it until it shakes with life no more. In the name of reining in waste, it rains pain and suffering amongst the Americans who already are the most vulnerable. It must be remarked that many of these programs are really small budget items in the greater scheme of things, rounding errors in the federal budget. The purpose is to send a message, not to save money.

Rather than investing in what truly will make America great, this philosophy pounds its chest with false bravado. People will die because of this budget. People will suffer. Diseases will spread, and cures will not be found (really? slash science research?) Our nation will be darker and more dangerous. You know it's a philosophy because the budget has few details really in it. And here is where I see its saving grace.

This philosophy is not the United States I think a majority of Americans would recognize. I believe that we are not so cruel, so shortsighted, so dark. It's easy to rail against the federal government on the campaign stump, but cutting programs that people rely on, that is the kind of thing that can break through the fake news into reality very soon. We have already seen the mess that has become of the health care efforts.

This philosophy is no longer theoretical and it will be a rallying cry for a reverse philosophy. Those who champion an empathetic America, an America prepared for the challenges of the modern world, will have plenty of evidence to point to. Mr. Trump has already put many Republicans in Congress on a defensive footing, on Russia and on healthcare. Wait until the constituents start calling about how they won't be able to heat their homes in the winter or the agricultural programs that were slashed.

"The administration's budget isn't going to be the budget," Senator Marco Rubio told the Washington Post. "We do the budget here. The administration makes recommendations, but Congress does budgets." You can expect to hear a lot more of that kind of rhetoric.

Mr. Trump's philosophy is an opening salvo in a battle for the soul of America that is only beginning. This will be a battle fought trench by trench. But I think it is winnable and America will reconfirm a governing philosophy that is hopeful, compassionate, and wise about the role of government in making our world a safer, fairer, and more just place to live.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Epic of Donald Trump

Garrison Keillor. (photo: Wisconsin Public Radio)
Garrison Keillor. (photo: Wisconsin Public Radio)
By Garrison Keillor, The Washington Post
19 March 17

Now that Putin's our buddy, why do we need another $54 billion for defense? 
 
he $54 billion bonus heading for the Pentagon is a beautiful thing, and so far I haven’t heard a dog bark against it, even though we don’t appear to have $54 billion worth of new enemies and we’ve now come to admire former enemy Vladimir Putin, and the idea of throwing billions at the Islamic State is like going after bedbugs with bazookas, so there it sits, a big lake of cash waiting for water skiers.

Base pay for a private first class these days is around $22,000 and, granted, it is not rocket science — aerospace engineers can earn a hundred grand or more — but a Radio City Rockette earns about $1,500 per week. Should we be paying more for precision tap-dancing than for the defense of our country? Meanwhile, apple pickers are hauling down around $23,000 while orange pickers get $20,000. I’d say our soldiers are due for a big raise. Those caissons don’t roll themselves, you know. The shores of Tripoli are an ever-present threat to our security. And the halls of Montezuma are out for revenge.

I just hope that my good friends in the Pentagon will stop and think about the value of the arts and literature to our national defense. Some of that money, perhaps $3 billion or $4 billion, would be well spent encouraging writers and artists to cast a warmer light on our uniformed services than what we’ve seen the past century or so when, aside from George M. Cohan’s “Over There” (1917) and Frank Loesser’s “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” (1942), the arts have been decidedly anti-war.

When was the last time a great poet wrote an ode to the importance of following orders? 1854, that’s when. Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote, “Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die,” immortalizing Lord Cardigan’s botched mission in the Battle of Balaclava — “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” Tennyson was England’s poet laureate at the time and felt obliged to turn a military disaster into something heroic.

No American poet laureate ever wrote anything similar, and maybe that’s because they’re paid $35,000 a year. Make that $350,000 and give the laureate the rank of major general and a cap with a plume and see if the tune doesn’t change.

Our Nobel laureate Bob Dylan could have written (but did not): 

Well it ain’t no use to sit around the barracks
And ask why you must drill.
Or ask why we have to carry rifles:
They are to injure, maim and kill.
Get out of bed at the break of dawn,
Put your helmet and your uniform on,
You’re not a bishop, son, you’re just a pawn.
Don’t think twice, it’s all right. 

It’s no wonder that wealthy New York real estate heirs shopped around for physicians to diagnose heel spurs to exempt them from the draft. For a century, nobody has written a great work of literature celebrating America’s military — “Slaughterhouse-Five”? “Catch-22”? “The Naked and the Dead”? “The Things They Carried”? I don’t think so. Nobody read “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and went down to the recruiting office to sign up.

It was not always thus. Look at what Homer did for the Greeks with his “Iliad.” It’s an action epic, one hero after another, Agamemnon, Odysseus, Achilles, Ajax — no introspective nonconformist in the ranks, wondering, “Why are we brutalizing each other? Why can’t we sit down and talk through our differences?” Because we are us and they are them, and it’s one for all and all for one, so grab your spear and go puncture those Trojans, son.

What we need to make America great again is American literature about greatness. Look at Leo Tolstoy. He could’ve just written “Peace” but he wrote “War.” too, both of them, glorifying General Mikhail Kutuzov, who engineered the defeat of Napoleon.

Spending some of that $54 billion on the arts would be an excellent investment. If they need someone to write an epic poem, here I am, my pen is poised. 

Media to the right of him,
Media to the left of him,
Democrats embittered.
Loud was his battle cry,
The man with long red tie,
Onward he twittered.
Rising in early dawn,
Turning his smartphone on,
Texting he bravely fought,
Tweet after tweet he shot
With his red hat on,
Looking like George C. Scott
Playing George Patton. 

It’s the story of a man who overcame his heel-spur handicap by playing golf regularly and eventually took command in his bomber jacket and led the country to greatness. It’s going to be fantastic. I promise you.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Republican failure. A people's victory. Grassroots resistance energizes the next healthcare fight.


WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 24:  U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan delivers remarks at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol after President Trump's healthcare bill was pulled from the floor of the House of Representatives March 24, 2017 in Washington, DC. In a big setback to the agenda of President Donald Trump and the Speaker, Ryan cancelled a vote for the American Health Care Act, the GOP plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also called 'Obamacare.' (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
So sad he didn't get to yank away health insurance coverage for 24 million Americans.  Poor baby.
To nationwide cheers, Trumpcare went down in flames Friday. It was a spectacular failure on the part of a pr*sident who had vowed from the beginning to the end of his campaign that he really is the brilliant guy depicted in his ghost-written The Art of the Deal and would quickly repeal and replace Obamacare. 


Screen_Shot_2017-03-25_at_10.05.05_AM.png
So used to snapping his fingers and having his commands carried out instantly. Not this time. Let that be an omen of what is to come.

The failure had many parents. A fractious Republican Party led by incompetents who could not wrangle their ultra-extremist wing into line. Members of the Freedom Caucus didn’t vote against the repeal-and-replace legislation because it was not good enough. They voted against it because it wasn’t bad enough.

Then there was the lunatic confidence of the leadership that the rotten replacement legislation designed to rip health care coverage away from 24 million Americans and give the 1% yet another giant tax break would sail though Congress with barely a murmur.

By Friday’s end, Donald Trump had shown himself to be master of The Art of the Squeal as he blamed the Democrats for the failure that humiliated and wounded him and Speaker Paul Ryan. “They 100 percent own it,” the pr*sident said. That generated some guffaws. 

Democrats, however, do deserve some “blame.” Not a single one of them supported the repeal-and-replace bill. They did not join the “third way” NoLabels crowd and try to compromise with Trumpcare supporters by adding, as one wag on Twitter put it, a “slice of cheese to a shit sandwich.” So hurrahs to them.

In late December, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi had launched “Our First Stand: Save Health Care,” a campaign to keep Obamacare intact that included dozens of January rallies across the nation. 

But it was the huge range of grassroots actions that did the heavy lifting.

This included action like that of The Save My Care effort. Its participants went to 53 cities in 23 states to stir opposition by giving citizens a chance to speak publicly about why health care matters to them.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) has seen 'Damning Evidence' of Trump-Russia Collusion in Classified Reports



image.jpeg
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI)
 
'Every hour that Trump remains President is a grave threat to our national security and to the planet.
From Raw Story:

Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (WI) told LGBTQ activist and Sirius XM radio host Michelangelo Signorile that he has seen “damning evidence” that shows collusion between Pres. Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and the Russian government in an effort to turn the election in Trump’s favor. 

"There are things that I know,” Pocan said, according to Towleroad.com, “just that I’ve read in classified reports that I’m sure will still come out that will continue to be damning evidence when it comes to this relationship between the Russians trying to influence our elections and ultimately I think the Trump campaign’s potential coordination on it.”

Some of it is in the classified version of the report,” he said, “and some of that hasn’t come out yet.”

We’re almost hearing a chorus at this point, as Pocan’s words echo recent statements from both Rep. Adam Schiff and Clinton Press Secretary Brian Fallon.

It’s time to release the evidence to the public. Every hour that Trump remains President is a grave threat to our national security and to the planet.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Kremlingate Creeps Closer to Trump

Donald Trump, his former campaign manger Paul Manafort, and Ivanka Trump at the RNC. (photo: Getty)
Donald Trump, his former campaign manger Paul Manafort, and Ivanka Trump at the RNC. (photo: Getty)


By Tim Dickinson, Rolling Stone
24 March 17
 
We've yet to get an explanation for the raging cross-currents of Russian influence and Republican politics
he noose of Kremlingate is tightening – and the scandal increasingly appears to tie Trump associates to a Russian campaign to subvert American democracy.

The FBI is now weighing evidence that Trump associates communicated – and possibly coordinated – with "suspected Russian operatives" about when to release information that damaged the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, CNN reports.

This inquiry is part of the counterintelligence investigation that FBI Director James Comey described to Congress this week, examining "the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 president election ... and whether there was any coordination between the [Trump] campaign and Russia's efforts."

(In January, the U.S. intelligence community concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered a "multifaceted" campaign in 2016 to undermine Clinton and promote Trump – including by hacking Democratic Party operatives and relaying "material it acquired from the DNC and senior Democratic officials to WikiLeaks.")

CNN's report linking Trump's inner circle to Kremlingate has surfaced just after a bombshell report by the Associated Press. AP reveals that Paul Manafort – Trump's campaign chairman from March through August of 2016 – had previously been paid tens of millions of dollars by a Russian oligarch, after Manafort pitched him a plan to "influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States ... to benefit President Vladimir Putin's government."

The AP report is stunning: From 2006 until "at least" 2009, Manafort was paid exorbitant sums – starting at $10 million a year – by Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, described in a U.S. diplomatic cable as "among the 2-3 oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis." The payments began, the AP reports, after Manafort laid out a scheme to "greatly benefit" Putin.

Manafort's work was covert. He did not report his contract to the Justice Department, a potential violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, the AP reports. A statement by Deripaska to the news service says Manafort was paid "to provide investment consulting services related to business interests." Manafort confirmed he'd been paid, but according to the AP, "denied his work had been pro-Russian in nature." 

The New York Times had previously reported that Manafort received $12.7 million in off-the-book payments from a pro-Russia party inside Ukraine, dating from 2007 to 2012. That disclosure prompted Manafort's formal exit from the Trump campaign in August 2016. But Manafort – who reportedly owns an apartment in Trump Tower – reportedly remained in close contact with Trump and running mate Mike Pence.

According to the Daily Beast, Manafort was a pivotal figure in the Trump transition, helping select the top ranks of the new administration. "I think he's weighing in on everything," a former campaign official said in late November. "I think he still talks to Trump every day. I mean, Pence? That was all Manafort. Pence is on the phone with Manafort regularly."

Take a step back. Consider what we're talking about here:

Manafort was previously paid tens of millions of dollars by a Russian oligarch after proposing a secret, multifaceted campaign to influence U.S. politics and media to "greatly benefit" the interests of the Putin government in the United States.

A few years later, as Manafort had risen to become the campaign chairman of the Republican nominee for president, the Putin government engaged in its own multifaceted campaign to influence U.S. politics and media – seeking to undermine Hillary Clinton and ultimately to promote Donald Trump. The U.S. intelligence assessment on Putin's interference in the 2016 election records that active Russian promotion of Trump began the same month that Manafort took the helm as Trump's campaign manager. "Starting in March 2016," it reads, "Russian Government-linked actors began openly supporting President-elect Trump's candidacy in media aimed at English-speaking audiences."

Perhaps there is an innocent explanation for these raging cross-currents of Russian influence and Republican politics. But listen to top Russia hawks in the U.S. Senate and that seems unlikely. "There are other shoes that will drop," Sen. John McCain told Bloomberg of the Manafort affair. "This is a centipede."

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Unanimous Supreme Court overturns Gorsuch decision ... during his confirmation hearing



WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 31:  Judge Neil Gorsuch listens as he is nominated by  U.S. President Donald Trump to the Supreme Court during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House January 31, 2017 in Washington, DC. If confirmed, Gorsuch would fill the seat left vacant with the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Neil Gorsuch
Neil Gorsuch’s belief in reading the law as narrowly as needed to screw ordinary people reared its head again during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing Wednesday, but not because of anything Gorsuch himself said on Wednesday. No, the issue was something the entire United States Supreme Court said—that Gorsuch was wrong in a 2008 opinion dealing with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Ian Millhiser writes:

Under Gorsuch’s opinion in Luke P., a school district complies with the law so long as they provide educational benefits that “must merely be ‘more than de minimis.’”
De minimis” is a Latin phrase meaning “so minor as to merit disregard.” So Gorsuch essentially concluded that school districts comply with their obligation to disabled students so long as they provide those students with a little more than nothing.
All eight justices rejected Gorsuch’s approach. IDEA, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “is markedly more demanding than the ‘merely more than de minimis’ test applied by the Tenth Circuit.” Indeed, Roberts added, Gorsuch’s approach would effectively strip many disabled students of their right to an education.
Sure, maybe if Antonin Scalia had been alive, the Supreme Court’s decision would have been 8-1, but Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas just said Gorsuch was wrong—and wrong because he would deny disabled kids an education. 

Asked about this during his hearing Wednesday, Gorsuch stuck to his confirmation strategy of appearing as bland as possible and said, “That’s fine.”