Editor’s Choice: Scroll below for our monthly blend of mainstream and alternative news and views for March 2017
Huffington Post, Senate Intelligence Committee Denies Immunity To Michael Flynn In Russia Probe, Amanda Terkel, March 31, 2017. Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, once one of President Donald Trump’s strongest supporters and then his national security adviser, is scrambling to save himself from prosecution in exchange for telling Congress what he knows about Russia’s involvement in the 2016 elections. And to do so, he has hired a lawyer who has been a vocal opponent of Trump.
Palmer Report, Senate Intel Committee takes control on Trump-Russia by rejecting Mike Flynn’s immunity request, Bill Palmer, March 31, 2017. Mike Flynn (pictured in a file photo) showed his hand this last night when he offered to testify in the Trump-Russia scandal in exchange for immunity. Donald Trump tried to bluff by publicly telling him to go ahead and do it. And then the Senate Intelligence Committee took control of the entire pot by rejecting Flynn’s offer, essentially saying ‘not at this time’ (link). Now they’re making him beg to be allowed back into the game to play his hand.
If you watched the opening round of the Senate Intel Hearings this week, the witness list consisted of security experts and technical experts, the kind of people who are laying the groundwork for the overall context of the crimes that the Trump campaign and Russia conspired to commit. That way, by the time an eye witness like Sally Yates or a suspect like Mike Flynn is called to testify, the parameters of the crime will already have been established.
Daily Mail, Disgraced Trump aide, ‘Crazy Miss Cokehead’ and questions over their Russia links: ‘Worrisome’ meeting between sacked national security adviser and Cambridge graduate raised concern among British and US intelligence, Daniel Bates, March 31, 2017. A meeting with an Anglo-Russian banker dubbed Crazy Miss Cokehead has been linked to the controversial dismissal of one of Donald Trump’s aides, sources said last night. Svetlana Lokhova spoke with Michael Flynn at the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar, a gathering of former intelligence officials hosted at Cambridge University in 2014. Moscow-born Miss Lokhova showed the President’s former national security adviser a number of historic Russian documents – including an ‘erotic postcard’ that Joseph Stalin sent to a woman in 1912.
Mr Flynn and Miss Lokhova, a Cambridge graduate and historian, are said to have been introduced to each other at the end of the dinner in Cambridge. At the time Mr Flynn was director of the Defense Intelligence Agency under President Obama and had access to highly classified information and military secrets. What alarmed intelligence officials was that Miss Lokhova appears to have gained rare access to previously classified Soviet-era material in Moscow for her forthcoming book, The Guardian reported. Adding to the intrigue, Mr Flynn did not tell the US authorities about his meeting with Miss Lokhova, who used to work for the London branch of Russia’s state-controlled Sberbank. In 2015 she won a £3.2million payout after winning an employment tribunal case in London against Sberbank CIB for sex discrimination and harassment.
Washington Post, The White House is in deep legal trouble, according to Trump’s own standards, Aaron Blake, March 31, 2017. In an early morning tweet, President Trump said Michael Flynn should cut a deal because the entire thing is “a witch hunt” that ostensibly won’t lead anywhere. Trump used to have a very different take on immunity deals. President Trump on Friday urged his former top adviser, Michael Flynn, to seek an immunity deal from Congress, after news broke late Thursday that Flynn was seeking such a deal. Trump said Flynn should cut a deal because the entire thing is “a witch hunt” that ostensibly won’t lead anywhere.Trump used to have a very different take on immunity deals.
It wasn’t long ago that Trump seemed to believe such deals signaled guilt and were a very bad thing for a certain presidential candidate. Here’s what Trump said in the closing days of the campaign: “If she were to win, it would create an unprecedented constitutional crisis that would cripple the operations of our government. She is likely to be under investigation for many years, and also it will probably end up — in my opinion — in a criminal trial.” (Nov. 3 in New Hampshire.)
Other Continuing Investigations
Talking Points Memo, This Firebrand Ex-Congressman Blames The ‘Deep State’ For His Fraud Indictment, Staff report, March 31, 2017. Steve Stockman’s last two-year term was also dogged by swirling allegations of campaign finance violations flagged by government watchdog groups and the Office of Congressional Ethics. Those allegations came into sharp focus on Tuesday with a 28-count federal grand jury indictment against Stockman (shown in an official photo) and one of his former congressional aides, including charges of mail and wire fraud, lying to the Federal Election Commission, excessive campaign contributions and money laundering.
Palmer Report, Dmitry Rybolovlev didn’t fly into North Carolina to meet Donald Trump. It was the other way around, Bill Palmer, March 31, 2017. For months, everyone has been asking the same question: why did Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev fly into the fairly small town of Concord, North Carolina just a few days before the election, at the same time Donald Trump was in town for a last minute campaign rally? But it turns out we’ve all been asking the question backwards, because Rybolovlev had a legitimate reason to be there – and Trump did not.
McClatchy is now reporting that Dmitry Rybolovlev had flown into the town of Concord on his infamous M-KATE private plane because he was making preparations to open a business there. This is very a much a real thing; the company is called Alevo and it makes high tech batteries. Rybolovlev flew into the town in early November because he was working on getting his business off the ground. But now that we know Rybolovlev was in town for a legitimate reason, it means it was Trump who altered his schedule to make sure they met up.
Trump White House
New York Times, Kushner and Ivanka Trump Worth at Least $741 Million, Jesse Drucker, Eric Lipton and Maggie Haberman, March 31, 2017. Ethics filings show Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner (shown in a file photo) are worth as much as $741 million, and she has kept a stake in Washington’s Trump Hotel. In addition to the filings, the White House released details of a plan to avoid conflicts of interest, which some critics say is insufficient.
New York Times, Who’s Worth What at the White House, March 31, 2017. The Trump administration is releasing the financial disclosure forms from members of the White House staff. Follow along as we discover what they reveal. Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s senior adviser, made as much as $2.3 million last year.
Huffington Post, Trump Skips Out On Signing Executive Orders After Reporter’s Question About Flynn, Mary Papenfuss, March 31, 2017. Shadow of Russian investigations darkens the mood in the Oval Office. President Donald Trump walked out of the Oval Office on Friday without signing two executive orders he had just touted to the press. The disappearing act occurred as a reporter asked the president about his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. In a video of the event by Politico, Trump talked up the orders, both concerning trade policies, which he had complained are culpable in the “theft of America’s prosperity,” CNN reported. He called foreign nations that abuse the system “cheaters,” noted USA Today. “From now on, those who break the rules will face the consequences, and they’ll be very severe consequences.”
Washington Post, Top U.S. officials defend courthouse arrests of undocumented immigrants in escalating feud with California justice, Matt Zapotosky, March 31, 2017. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly fired back at California’s chief justice for criticizing the use of courthouses to arrest undocumented immigrants, writing in a letter released Friday that the practice was only necessary because the state was so uncooperative on immigration enforcement matters.
Responding to a missive from California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, Sessions and Kelly wrote that the characterization of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers “stalking” undocumented immigrants at courthouses was “particularly troubling,” and that officers were within their rights to arrest undocumented immigrants in public places. They blamed state and local officials for enacting “statutes and ordinances designed to specifically prohibit or hinder ICE from enforcing immigration law” and “denying requests by ICE officers and agents to enter prisons and jails to make arrests.” Such policies, they wrote, made it necessary for officers to arrest undocumented immigrants at courthouses.
Civil Rights Legal Pioneer Coleman Dies
Washington Post, William T. Coleman Jr., transportation secretary and civil rights lawyer, dies at 96, Matt Schudel, March 31, 2017. William T. Coleman Jr., who helped draft the landmark 1954 legal case in which the Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public schools was illegal and who later became the country’s second black Cabinet officer after President Gerald R. Ford named him transportation secretary, died March 31 at his home in Alexandria, Va. He was 96. Throughout his long career, Mr. Coleman was often at the forefront of major public events, legal battles and significant social advances. In 1948, he became the first African American to serve as a law clerk to a Supreme Court justice, and within two years he was working alongside Thurgood Marshall of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund on major desegregation cases.
In the 1960s, Mr. Coleman was a staff lawyer for the Warren Commission, investigating the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He defended young civil rights activists known as Freedom Riders and successfully argued a Supreme Court case that helped eliminate prohibitions against interracial marriage. A progressive Republican, Mr. Coleman was an adviser to every president, Republican and Democrat, from Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush.
Foreign Policy, Egypt’s Coming Revolt of the Poor, Zeinab Abul-Magd, March 31, 2017. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime has exploited an IMF agreement to squeeze the lower classes and enrich a small clique of former generals.
Trump’s Former Aide Seeks Immunity For Testimony
Wall Street Journal, Mike Flynn Offers to Testify in Exchange for Immunity, Shane Harris, Carole E. Lee and Julian E. Barnes, March 30, 2017. Former national security adviser tells FBI, the House and Senate intelligence committees he’s willing to be interviewed in exchange for deal, officials say.
Washington Post, Flynn offers to cooperate with probe in exchange for immunity, Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima, March 30, 2017. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn has offered to cooperate with congressional investigators in exchange for immunity from prosecution, a suggestion that has been met with initial skepticism, according to people familiar with the matter.
“General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit,’’ Flynn’s attorney, Robert Kelner, said in a statement Thursday evening. “Out of respect for the committees, we will not comment right now on the details of discussions between counsel for General Flynn and the House and Senate intelligence committees, other than to confirm that those discussions have taken place. But it is important to acknowledge the circumstances in which those discussions are occurring.’’
The committees are both looking into whether any associates of Donald Trump may have coordinated with agents of the Russian government seeking to meddle in last year’s presidential election. The FBI is also investigating. The Trump administration has denied any such coordination.
Washington Post, Trump’s failing presidency has the GOP in a free fall, Michael Gerson, March 30, 2017. Michael Gerson, former speechwriter for GOP President George W. Bush, is a conservative opinion writer who for more than two years has forcefully opposed the Trump candidacy and presidency. In the aftermath of the GOP health-care debacle came a revealing act of candor. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan admitted that his party, which controls the House, Senate and White House, is not yet a “governing party” because it could not “get 216 people to agree with each other on how we do things.”
Since the rise of the tea party, there have been perhaps 30 members of the House — the Freedom Caucus — who have been consistently unwilling to vote for center-right policy because their anti-government convictions are unappeasable. Incited and abetted by conservative media, they made then-Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) life a living hell, and have greeted Ryan (Wis.) with sharpened pitchforks. So a party at the peak of its political fortunes is utterly paralyzed. A caucus in control of everything is itself uncontrollable.
New York Times, 2 White House Officials Helped Give Nunes Intelligence Reports, Matthew Rosenberg, Maggie Haberman and Adam Goldman, March 30, 2017. A pair of White House officials played a role in providing Representative Devin Nunes of California, a Republican and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, with the intelligence reports that showed that President Trump and his associates were incidentally swept up in foreign surveillance by American spy agencies.
The revelation that White House officials assisted in the disclosure of the intelligence reports — which Mr. Nunes (shown in an official photo) then discussed with President Trump — is likely to fuel criticism that the intelligence chairman has been too eager to do the bidding of the Trump administration while his committee is supposed to be conducting an independent investigation of Russia’s meddling in the last presidential election.
Mr. Nunes has also been faulted by his congressional colleagues for sharing the information with President Trump before consulting with other members of the intelligence committee. The congressman has refused to identify his sources, saying he needed to protect them so others would feel safe coming to the committee with sensitive information. He disclosed the existence of the intelligence reports on March 22, and in his public comments he has described his sources as whistle-blowers trying to expose wrongdoing at great risk to themselves.
Several current American officials identified the White House officials as Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, a lawyer who works on national security issues at the White House Counsel’s Office and formerly worked on the staff of the House Intelligence Committee. Mr. Cohen-Watnick is a former Defense Intelligence Agency official who was originally brought to the White House by Michael T. Flynn (shown in a phote from his military career), the former national security adviser. The officials said that this month, shortly after Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter about being wiretapped on the orders of President Barack Obama, Mr. Cohen-Watnick began reviewing highly classified reports detailing the intercepted communications of foreign officials.
Huffington Post, The Domestic Conspiracy That Gave Trump The Election Is In Plain Sight, Staff report, March 30, 2017. Information presently public and available confirms that Erik Prince, Rudy Giuliani, and Donald Trump conspired to intimidate FBI Director James Comey into interfering in, and thus directly affecting, the 2016 presidential election. This conspiracy was made possible with the assistance of officers in the New York Police Department and agents within the New York field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
All of the major actors in the conspiracy have already confessed to its particulars either in word or in deed; moreover, all of the major actors have publicly exhibited consciousness of guilt after the fact. This assessment has already been the subject of articles in news outlets on both sides of the political spectrum, but has not yet received substantial investigation by major media.
Controversial Trump Labor Pick Acosta Wins 12-11 Committee Vote, Advances To Full Senate
New York Daily News, Trump labor pick Alex Acosta headed for Senate confirmation hearing, Ginger Adams Otis, March 30, 2017. Labor secretary nominee Alex Acosta will soon be headed to the Senate for a full confirmation hearing — now that he’s gotten through the preliminary round of voting.
A Senate panel voted 12-11 along party lines Thursday to advance Acosta to the next step in the process. He’ll now go before all 100 members of the Senate chamber for a confirmation vote — but a firm date has not yet been set. The pathway for Trump’s second labor secretary nominee has thus far been far smoother than the President’s initial choice, fast-food CEO and billionaire Andrew Puzder.
New Immigration Crackdown?
Washington Post, Trump may force thousands of legal immigrants to stop working or head home, Catherine Rampell, March 30, 2017. The spouses of high-skilled U.S. immigrants may lose their employment privileges. Come Monday, the Trump administration may quietly revoke the ability of hundreds of thousands of immigrants — almost all women — from legally working in the United States, forcing them to choose between heading back to their kitchens or leaving the country altogether. They are the spouses of workers here on high-skilled visas, and are typically high-skilled themselves. Many have launched businesses that created jobs for U.S. citizens, whose employment may in turn be at risk, too.
Student Debt Forgiveness In Jeopardy For Public Service Jobs?
New York Times, Their Student Debt Was Forgiven. Until It Wasn’t, Stacy Cowley, March 30, 2017. Over 550,000 people signed up for a program that promises to repay loans after 10 years of work in a public service job.
Trump Challenges House Ultra-Conservatives
Washington Post, Trump vows to fight hard-line House conservatives in midterm elections, Philip Rucker, John Wagner and Mike DeBonis, March 29, 2017. The president effectively declared war against the House Freedom Caucus, a powerful group of hard-line conservative Republicans who blocked the health-care bill, threatening to “fight them” and Democrats in the 2018 elections. Trump’s threat comes as Republican leaders are bracing for a month of potential GOP infighting over spending priorities.
In a morning tweet, Trump warned that the Freedom Caucus would “hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast.” He grouped its members, all of them Republican, with Democrats in calling for their political defeat — an extraordinary incitement of intraparty combat from a sitting president.
Are U.S. Wars Expanding With No Endgame?
New York Times, U.S. War Footprint Grows, With No Endgame in Sight, Ben Hubbard and Michael R. Gordon, March 29, 2017. In places like Yemen, Syria and Iraq, the United States is deepening its involvement in wars while diplomacy becomes largely an afterthought.
Senators Vow Full, Fair Probe of Russia’s Links With Trump, His Advisors
New York Times, Senate Panel Vows Full Investigation of Trump’s Russia Ties, Matt Flegenheimer and Emmarie Huetteman, March 29, 2017. The top Republican and the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee distanced themselves from a flagging House effort and vowed to take the Trump-Russia inquiry “wherever the intelligence leads.”
Trump Alleged To Be Longtime Russian Puppet
Palmer Report, Download the comprehensive seventeen page Palmer Report on Trump-Russia, Bill Palmer, March 29, 2017. Donald Trump’s Russia scandal has become so vast and complex, with new pieces of the puzzle arriving from all direction, that it’s become difficult to keep track of the pieces long enough to figure out how they fit together. As we head into the Senate Intelligence Committee hearings on the scandal, I’ve stepped back and assembled a 17-page document which ties all the pieces together and explains how we got to this point.
The Palmer Report on Trump-Russia begins with the financial bodyblow which Donald Trump suffered in 2008, leaving him unable to continue borrowing money from U.S. banks, and making him vulnerable to Vladimir Putin and Russia. My report goes on to document how the Kremlin built Trump back up over the next several years by using a carrot and stick approach of secretly laundered money and carefully orchestrated blackmail. I document how, by the time Trump entered the 2016 election, his newfound status as a Russian political puppet was a natural extension of his existing status as a Russian financial and societal puppet.
Trump Supreme Court Pick Seen Lacking 60 Votes
Washington Post, Gorsuch’s nomination is on track to irreparably change the Senate — and further divide the country, Paul Kane, March 29, 2017. There is a sense of raw politics in Democrats’ growing opposition to Neil Gorsuch (shown in a file photo), because liberal anti-Trump activists are pushing Democrats to oppose every Trump move.
Sens. Roger E. Wicker (R-Miss.) and Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) are not usually partisan firebrands, particularly on presidential appointments. Now, with about 10 days left in the showdown over President Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, both Wicker and Carper have turned dour in their outlook for what the battle means for the Senate — and the country.
Washington Post, Here’s a count of Democratic votes to block Gorsuch’s nomination, Amber Phillips, Darla Cameron and Kevin Schaul, March 29, 2017.
Inside The Trump White House
Washington Post, From ‘Apprentice’ villain to West Wing’s highest-ranking African-American: The paradox of Omarosa Manigault, Vanessa Williams, Manigault appears to have President Trump’s ear, and some black political observers see her as an important ally in a White House that is overwhelmingly white and male. Others see her as a cover for the president.
Anti-Abortion Activists Face Felonies For Secret Videos
Washington Post, Two activists who filmed undercover videos of Planned Parenthood are charged with 15 felonies, Samantha Schmidt, March 29, 2017. California prosecutors said the two violated the privacy of health-care providers by recording confidential information without consent. The two antiabortion activists who mounted a hidden-camera investigation against Planned Parenthood officials have been charged with 15 felony counts of violating the privacy of health-care providers by recording confidential information without their consent.
In announcing the charges against David Robert Daleiden and Sandra Merritt on Tuesday, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the duo used manufactured identities and a fictitious bioresearch company to meet medical officials and covertly record the private discussions they initiated. “The right to privacy is a cornerstone of California’s Constitution, and a right that is foundational in a free democratic society,” Becerra said. “We will not tolerate the criminal recording of confidential conversations.”
The criminal complaint alleges that on 14 occasions, between October 2013 and July 2015, Daleiden and Merritt filmed people without permission in Los Angeles, San Francisco and El Dorado counties. The activists face a felony count for each person covertly recorded, and an additional felony charge for criminal conspiracy to invade privacy. The charges mark a major turning point in a case that had drawn national attention from both sides of the abortion debate and led to investigations — but no charges — against Planned Parenthood in 13 states.
The secretly recorded conversations dropped during the politically tumultuous summer of 2015, amid a crowded field of Republican presidential contenders, and turned Daleiden into the biggest star of the antiabortion movement. The heavily edited videos attempted to discredit Planned Parenthood, long a target of the right, and galvanized conservatives’ efforts to pull funding from the women’s health organization and other family planning programs.
Politico, Appeals court backs injunction on sharing undercover anti-abortion videos, Josh Gerstein, March 29, 2017. A federal appeals court has upheld an injunction barring anti-abortion activists from distributing secret recordings of abortion providers and their employees-part of a set of recordings targeting Planned Parenthood and abortion providers. The appeals court decision came one day after California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced criminal charges against two of the anti-abortion activists involved for allegedly violating state laws against recording of “confidential” conversations.
Draining the Swamp
Center for Public Integrity, Justice Department joins suit alleging massive Medicare fraud by UnitedHealth, Fred Schulte, March 28, 2017. Federal intervention latest signal of enhanced scrutiny for Medicare Advantage.
Center for Public Integrity, Ethics watchdogs: Why won’t Trump’s pick for Air Force secretary account for her contractor work?
One group urges the Senate to oppose her nomination and another questions her ability to be a careful steward of public funds, Patrick Malone.
DC Justice Controversy
Roll Call, Schock’s Attorneys Claim FBI Broke the Law; Former staffer helped the feds build corruption case against former congressman, Eric Garcia, March 30, 2017. Lawyers for former Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., claim that his constitutional rights were violated when a former staffer worked as an informant for the FBI. Disgraced former Rep. Aaron Schock’s legal team claims that a staffer working as an informant for the FBI broke the law. The staffer provided emails, credit card receipts, and other documents that helped the feds make a case against Schock, Fox News reported,but Schock’s lawyers say this violated his constitutional right against unreasonable search and seizure. Schock resigned in disgrace in 2015 and was indicted last year after the Washington Post reported that the Illinois Republican received a “Downton Abbey”-inspired office redecoration for free.
Around the Nation: New Jersey’s ‘Bridgegate’
New York Times, 2 Christie Allies Are Sentenced in George Washington Bridge Scandal, Nick Corasanitti, March 29, 2017. Bridget Anne Kelly, a former top aide to Gov. Chris Christie, was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Wednesday for her role in closing access lanes to the George Washington Bridge as a form of political retribution against a mayor who refused to endorse Mr. Christie for re-election in 2013. (She is shown in a file photo with David Wildstein, a friend of Christie’s in high school who achieved success in the Christie administration and turned state’s witness.)
Earlier on Wednesday, Bill Baroni, 45, a former top official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was also sentenced to two years in prison. Ms. Kelly, 44, who was Mr. Christie’s deputy chief of staff, and Mr. Baroni, 45, had been found guilty by a federal jury last fall of conspiracy and fraud following a seven-week trial. While the sentencing drew to a close the most public investigation and trial surrounding the trial, questions still remain about who was involved, and in particular, what Mr. Christie knew and when he knew about it.
GOP House Sells Off Your Privacy Rights
New York Times, How the Republicans Sold Your Privacy to Internet Providers, Tom Wheeler, March 29, 2017. Tom Wheeler (shown in an official photo) chaired the Federal Commission Commission as an appointee of President Obama after leading as president the National Cable Television Association and CTIA, each a major trade association of powerful communications companies, including the three named below.
On Tuesday afternoon, while most people were focused on the latest news from the House Intelligence Committee, the House quietly voted to undo rules that keep internet service providers — the companies like Comcast, Verizon and Charter that you pay for online access — from selling your personal information.
The Senate already approved the bill, on a party-line vote, last week, which means that in the coming days President Trump will be able to sign legislation that will strike a significant blow against online privacy protection. The bill not only gives cable companies and wireless providers free rein to do what they like with your browsing history, shopping habits, your location and other information gleaned from your online activity, but it would also prevent the Federal Communications Commission from ever again establishing similar consumer privacy protections.
Another Trump White House Conflict Scandal?
Palmer Report, Steve Bannon is a paid foreign agent of the Egyptian government, Bill Palmer, March 29, 2017. Earlier this month Donald Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn admitted that he had been a paid foreign agent of the government of Turkey while he was working for the Trump campaign. Then Monica Crowley, who was nearly named Trump’s Deputy National Security Adviser, acknowledged she’s a paid pro-Kremlin foreign agent (link). Now, according to the Daily Beast and USA Today, Trump’s White House Chief Strategist is accused of having been a paid foreign agent of Egypt.
Washington Post, E.U. plunges into messy divorce as Britain gives formal notice to leave, Griff Witte, March 29, 2017. Britain is the first full member of the E.U. to announce it is exiting the bloc, a reversal after decades of growing European integration. The move instantly plunged both Britain and the 27 other E.U. nations into two years of what will almost certainly be messy and acrimonious negotiations over the terms of divorce.
Russian Influence Probes
Washington Post, Trump administration sought to block Yates from testifying to Congress on Russia, Devlin Barrett and Adam Entous, March 28, 2017. According to letters reviewed by the Post, former acting attorney general Sally Yates (shown above in an official photo) was told earlier this month by the Justice Department that the Trump administration considers much of her possible testimony to be barred from a congressional hearing because the topics are covered by the presidential communication privilege. The administration’s position is likely to anger Democrats who say the House investigation is being damaged.
Palmer Report, Donald Trump and Devin Nunes can’t stop Sally Yates from testifying for Senate Intel Committee, Bill Palmer, March 28, 2017. Donald Trump has decided that he must stop former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates from testifying in his Russia scandal at all cost, and so he’s used his stooge Devin Nunes (R-CA) to ensure that Yates can’t testify before the House Intelligence Committee. This has required Nunes to set himself on fire, sinking both his career and the committee he chairs. But remarkably, none of this will stop Yates from simply testifying in a different venue.
Trump appears to have baited Nunes (shown in an official photo) into leaking classified intel and compromising himself, simply so that the resulting debacle would create an opening where Trump could then nudge Nunes into canceling the remainder of the House Intel Committee hearings before Sally Yates could testify.
Trump appears to have no real sway over the Senate Intel Committee, which has been running its own parallel investigation into his Russia scandal. The Senate committee has been treating the probe with the utmost seriousness, presumably due to eight of its fifteen members (six Democrats plus Independent Angus King plus Republican Susan Collins) wanting a serious investigation. The committee has pored over binders of classified Trump-Russia intel at CIA headquarters (link), and Collins has publicly threatened to subpoena Trump’s tax returns if it becomes necessary.
Congressman Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Russia: Trump & His Team’s Ties, Rep. Eric Swalwell (CA-15), shown in an official photo, is the Ranking Member of the CIA Subcommittee of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, March 28, 2017. Despite Russia’s harmful national interests against the U.S., and its human rights violations around the world, President Trump and his team are directly and indirectly tied to Russia. The New York Times reported that members of Trump’s 2016 campaign and other Trump associates had frequent contact with senior Russian intelligence officials throughout the campaign. In addition to these questionable communications, here are a few other associates with ties to Moscow.
USA Today, Trump’s business network reached alleged Russian mobsters, Oren Dorell, March 28, 2017. To expand his real estate developments over the years, Donald Trump, his company and partners repeatedly turned to wealthy Russians and oligarchs from former Soviet republics — several allegedly connected to organized crime, according to a USA TODAY review of court cases, government and legal documents and an interview with a former federal prosecutor. The president and his companies have been linked to at least 10 wealthy former Soviet businessmen with alleged ties to criminal organizations or money laundering.
Palmer Report, FBI arrests ten people in New York City with alleged ties to Donald Trump and Russian mafia, Bill Palmer, March 28, 2017. The FBI and NYPD Joint Organized Crime Task Force have arrested ten men in New York City today on charges of running a racketeering conspiracy as part of an organized crime effort. What’s notable is that these men and their crime family have alleged ties to the Russian mafia and to Donald Trump – raising the question of whether this move was made as part of the FBI’s ongoing investigation into Trump and Russia.
Around the Nation: Alabama’s Violent Prison
New York Times, An Alabama Prison’s Unrelenting Descent Into Violence, Campbell Robertson, March 28, 2017. Even in a state with some of the nation’s most troubled and overcrowded prisons, St. Clair Correctional Facility stands out for its history of violence.
SPRINGVILLE, Ala. — The door opened and there stood a man with knives in both hands. Michael McGregor recognized him immediately. Since Mr. McGregor had arrived at the prison the day before, the man had twice propositioned him for sex and asked if he wanted to buy a knife.
Mr. McGregor, 52, with a long but mostly nonviolent record — some bad checks, a stolen car, a couple of two-decade-old minor robberies — had been unnerved enough to request a move to a different part of the prison. No, he was told. Not right now. He returned to his cell, shut the door behind him and tried to sleep. Now here was the man beside him. The door locks at this prison, he later learned, were all but useless. The man, he would also learn, had been convicted of jail rape before.
President Trump (Gage Skidmore file photo via Flickr)
New York Times, Trump Risks the Planet, Editorial board, March 28, 2017. Reversing President Obama’s climate policies will raise emissions and undercut America’s claim to leadership on the issue of global warming. Only 10 weeks into his presidency, and at great risk to future generations, Donald Trump has ordered the demolition of most of President Barack Obama’s policies to combat climate change by reducing emissions from fossil fuels.
Washington Post, Panic spreads in Iraq and Syria as reported civilian deaths rise sharply in U.S. strikes, Loveday Morris and Liz Sly, March 28, 2017. As ground forces and a U.S.-led coalition close in on the Islamic State’s two main urban bastions, families describe cowering in basements for weeks as bombs rained down around them while others desperately try to flee before an offensive begins.
Runaway Constitutional Convention?
Center for Media and Democracy via Truthout, Kochs Bankroll Move to Rewrite the Constitution, Alex Kotch, March 28, 2017. (Billionaire Charles Koch is shown in a file photo.) A Constitutional convention, something thought impossible not long ago, is looking increasingly likely. Under Article V of the US Constitution, if 34 state legislatures “issue a call” for a constitutional convention, Congress must convene one. By some counts, the right wing only needs six more states.
There are two major legislative pushes for a convention at the state level. One would attempt to engineer a convention for a balanced budget amendment only, and the other tries to secure an open convention for the purpose of limiting the power and jurisdiction of the federal government. But once a convention is underway, all bets are off. The convention can write its own rules, resulting in a wide-open or “runaway” convention that can make major changes to the constitution and, some argue, even change the number of states required to ratify those changes.
Crazy Like a Fox?
Truthout, Noam Chomsky: Trump’s First 100 Days Are Undermining Our Prospects for Survival, C.J. Polychroniou, March 28, 2017. In this exclusive interview, Noam Chomsky reflects on the destruction set in motion by this White House. Trump’s constant distortion of the truth, Chomsky argues, helps the reactionary fringe of the Republican establishment ram through a policy agenda that seeks to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Is Trump’s apparent inability to govern and conduct himself in a remotely conventional manner an innate character flaw or part of a well-conceived strategy aimed at a society that loves reality TV?
Around the Nation
Al.com, Stolen gun falls from inmate’s body cavity during search at north Alabama jail, Ashley Remkus, March 28, 2017. It’s not yet clear whether the owner wants it back, but Limestone County authorities recovered a stolen gun when it fell from an inmate’s body cavity during a search at the jail.
Overturning Americans’ Privacy
Washington Post, House votes to wipe away landmark Obama-era Internet privacy protections, Brian Fung, March 28, 2017. The sharply partisan vote led by Republicans marks a pivot toward letting Internet providers collect and sell their customers’ Web browsing history, location information, health data and personal details such as Social Security numbers. The bill, already approved by the Senate, heads to President Trump.
Huffington Post, Watch Bill O’Reilly Snicker While ‘Apologizing’ For Mocking Maxine Waters, Ed Mazza, March 28, 2017. Right-wing talker (shown in file photo) made a sexist, racist insult about the congresswoman’s hair.
WhoWhatWhy, Why FBI Can’t Tell All on Trump, Russia, Russ Baker, C. Collins and Jonathan Z. Larsen, March 27, 2017. The FBI cannot tell us what we need to know about Trump’s contacts with Russia. Why? Because doing so would jeopardize a long-running, ultra-sensitive operation targeting mobsters tied to Putin — and to Trump. But the Feds’ stonewalling risks something far more dangerous: Failing to resolve a crisis of trust in America’s president. WhoWhatWhy provides the details of a two-month investigation in this 6,500-word exposé.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation cannot tell us what we need to know about Donald Trump’s contacts with Russia. Why? Because doing so would jeopardize a long-running, ultra-sensitive operation targeting mobsters tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin — and to Trump. But the Feds’ stonewalling risks something far more dangerous: Failing to resolve a crisis of trust in America’s president. WhoWhatWhy provides the details of a two-month investigation in this 6,500-word exposé.
Reporters: Jonathan Z. Larsen is the former editor of The Village Voice, whose reporting team included the late Wayne Barrett and Robert I. Friedman. These people and the paper produced many of the important early investigative reports on Donald Trump and on the mob. Larsen is now a senior editor and board member of WhoWhatWhy. Russ Baker, a former investigative reporter for The Village Voice, is Editor-in-Chief of WhoWhatWhy. C. Collins is a WhoWhatWhy reporter.
New York Times, Senate Committee to Question Kushner on Meeting Russians, Jo Becker, Matthew Rosenberg and Maggie Haberman, March 27, 2017. The president’s son-in-law (shown in a file photo) faces questions about meetings he arranged with the Russian ambassador, including a sit-down with the head of Russia’s state-owned development bank. Senate investigators plan to question Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and a close adviser, as part of their broad inquiry into ties between Trump associates and Russian officials or others linked to the Kremlin, according to administration and congressional officials.
The White House Counsel’s Office was informed this month that the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, wanted to question Mr. Kushner about meetings he arranged with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak (shown in a file photo), according to the government officials. The meetings, which took place during the transition, included a previously unreported sit-down with the head of Russia’s state-owned development bank.
Palmer Report, Donald Trump attacks House Intel Committee after realizing Devin Nunes can no longer protect him, Bill Palmer, March 27, 2017. Yet another layer of Donald Trump’s insulation from his Russia scandal has been stripped away, and an angry Trump appears to know it tonight. House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes (shown in an official photo) was supposed to act as a failsafe if his committee began investigating Trump. But now Trump has realized that the bumbling Nunes has made things worse not better. And so now Trump is publicly attacking the House Intel Committee in dishonest fashion.
Devin Nunes was given classified intel by someone last Tuesday evening, in inappropriate fashion, which revealed some kind of surveillance of Donald Trump’s transition team with regard to Russia. Nunes improperly delivered the evidence straight to Trump, then told four or five different contrasting versions of his story to the public. He’s made things even worse for Trump, and now there’s mounting pressure for Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation altogether. Of course that would allow the House Intel Committee to pursue an honest investigation into Trump-Russia. Accordingly, Trump has now begun attacking the committee.
Trump Insiders: Conflicts?
Huffington Post, White House Announces Jared Kushner Is Now Responsible For Everything, Jason Linkins, March 27, 2017. Donald Trump really needs to meet some new people. (Son-in-law Jared Kushner shown in file photo.)
Trump DC Agenda
Washington Post, Divisions threaten Trump’s hope of winning his next big battle: Taxes, Damian Paletta, March 27, 2017. The Trump administration is planning a more assertive role in overhauling the tax code than it did with the failed effort to replace the Affordable Care Act, with some advisers working on a blueprint instead of letting Congress dictate details. But congressional Republicans and some within the administration do not agree on who should be in charge of the effort.
Supreme Court Nomination
Washington Post, Gorsuch may fall short of votes needed for smooth Supreme Court confirmation, Ed O’Keefe and David Weigel, March 27, 2017. A threatened filibuster by some Democrats on the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch potentially dashes Republican hopes for an easy victory after the stinging defeat of the party’s health-care bill.
New York Times, Paul Ryan, Brought Down to Size, Editorial board, March 27, 2017. “Look, I’m a policy guy.” That was Paul Ryan’s line before last Friday, when the health care bill he designed in secret went down without a vote, his own party showing what they thought of his policy. Time and again when he was asked about President Trump’s attacks on immigrants or the courts, his ties to Russia or his claims of massive election fraud, the speaker of the House would say he was too busy working on his agenda, “A Better Way,” to think about all that nasty stuff.
That Mr. Ryan (shown in a file photo) failed on the policy promise that Republicans have been running on for eight years makes it clear that if he is the policy wonk of the Republican Party, then the Republican Party has no policy. And with a health care plan that would have stripped 24 million Americans of basic care and drastically hiked premiums for people over 60, it seems that they don’t much care what Americans need or want.
Daily Beast, Breitbart Denied Capitol Hill Permanent Press Credentials, March 27, 2017. On Monday morning, the Standing Committee of the Senate Press Gallery denied Breitbart’s request for permanent press credentials for the Hill, stating that they needed “more answers” before considering the right-wing website’s request again. The committee discussed a request letter sent to them by Breitbart’s Larry Solov late on Thursday said to show White House chief strategist Steve Bannon had severed ties from Breitbart as of November.
Washington Post, Nunes admits meeting on White House grounds with source of Trump surveillance documents, Karoun Demirjian, Greg Miller and Philip Rucker, March 27, 2017. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes later cited the classified documents in leveling the unproven charge that spy agencies improperly used their surveillance powers by gathering and sharing information about President Trump and his transition team. Today’s revelation is likely to fuel suspicions Nunes coordinated his activities with the White House.
Washington Post, Devin Nunes is making it very hard for Republicans to claim they can run an impartial investigation on Russia, Amber Phillips, March 27, 2017. News that the chair of the House Intelligence Committee is briefing the White House on his investigation has raised alarms with ethics experts.
Patribotics, Boris Epshteyn Named in July FISA Application; Did Nunes Obstruct Justice? Louise Mensch, March 27, 2017. On November 7th, I reported at Heat Street that the FBI had obtained a FISA warrant covering the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. I reported that the FISA warrant had been granted after an earlier, failed application to the court in the summer named Trump and “at least three other men, who have either formed part of his campaign or acted as his media surrogates.”
Those names, sources said, were Donald Trump, with Paul Manafort and Carter Page (two men that had formed part of Trump’s campaign) and Boris Epshteyn, who at the time I reported, the eve of the election itself, had only acted as Mr. Trump’s media surrogate.
Billions For Koch Brothers In Windfall From XL Keystone Pipeline?
OpEdNews, TrumpCare dies, XL flies — and the secret winner is, Greg Palast, March 27, 2017. When RyanCare-TrumpCare finally ended up face-down in the swimming pool, triumphalist Democrats whooped and partied and congratulated themselves on defeating the Trump-Ryan monstrosity. But deep in their counting house, counting their gold, three brothers cackled with private jubilation.
David and Charles Koch (shown in a file photo) knew the day was theirs. Joining them in the celebration was Brother Billy, William Koch, who will share in their $21 billion windfall that the President arranged for them only hours before TrumpCare crashed — when Trump announced his State Department had formally approved the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Let’s start with that $21 billion. The XL Keystone Pipeline would take the world’s heaviest, filthiest crude from Canada’s tar sands, and snake with it all the way down to Texas.
Now here’s a question I never hear from our sleep-walking media: Exactly why are we sending oil all the way across the United States to Texas. I mean, doesn’t Texas already have a little oil? In fact, Texas is drowning in oil, choking in it. But the Kochs’ Texas refinery can’t use much local crude. The Koch Industries Flint Hills refinery on the Texas Gulf Coast was designed specifically to crack only the world’s “heaviest” (i.e. filthiest) crude. If the XL Pipeline is complete, the Kochs can suck down Canada’s cheap cruddy crude for a minimum savings of $1.27 billion in a single year.
Trump Orders Radical Reversal On Climate Controls
Washington Post, Trump order to take major step to wipe out Obama’s climate record, Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis, March 27, 2017. President Trump is set to sign a executive order that would instruct federal regulators to rewrite key rules curbing U.S. carbon emissions and lift multiple other environmental rules. The order sends an unmistakable signal that just as President Barack Obama sought to weave climate considerations into every aspect of the federal government, Trump is hoping to rip that approach out by its roots.
Washington’s Blog via Global Research, Trump = Obama = Bush = Clinton On Four Core Issues, Admin, March 27, 2017. On a superficial level, Trump and Bush couldn’t be more different from Clinton and Obama. Indeed, pollsters say that many people voted for Trump because they wanted change … Just like they voted for Obama because he promised “hope and change” from Bush-era policies.
But beneath the surface, Trump, Obama, Bush and Clinton are all very similar on four core issues: More War; Lap Dogs for Wall Street / Making the Rich Richer; Spying On Americans; Supporting Dictators Who Support Terrorism. Postscript: If you think that the presidents are more different than we’re giving them credit for, then you must conclude that they have been overridden by other forces. In that case, you may wish to consider whether the Deep State and big banks have more power than democratically-elected officials.
Labor Nominee’s Committee Vote Scheduled Thursday
Bureau of National Affairs, Acosta Inching Closer, Chris Opfer and Ben Penn, March 27, 2017. When Bernie Sanders was a no-show for a Cabinet confirmation hearing, that was a telling sign that the volume in the room would be muffled. Indeed, outside of a heated exchange between Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and labor secretary nominee Alexander Acosta (shown in an official photo) last week, the nearly three-hour affair was, dare I say, cordial.
That sets up a Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee vote Thursday in which I’m predicting Acosta will advance to the Senate floor with the support of at least a few Democrats. Acosta’s chances were likely boosted by what he didn’t say at his hearing rather than by anything he did say. As one source described his performance – “artfully evasive.”
Sure, we received a few signals on how Acosta feels about the overtime rule, the skills gap and the gig economy. But as predicted, he hid behind pending litigation on the overtime and fiduciary rules – as well as a Trump executive order to reconsider regulations – to avoid showing his hand. I suppose Ted Cruz was serious when he slipped into his introductory remarks that Acosta’s a good poker player. Six HELP members either didn’t speak or didn’t show, and most of the others fled the room without taking advantage of a second round of questions. (Was there anything else happening on the Hill last week?) Maybe something revealing will come to light when Acosta submits written responses to questions for the record. Let us know what you’re keeping an eye out for at: [email protected] and [email protected], or on Twitter: @ChrisOpfer and @BenjaminPenn.
Around the Nation: Prison Death Cover-up?
Huffington Post, Officials Ruled Inmate’s ‘Boiling’ Death An Accident. But Documents Show They Omitted Key Details, Matt Ferner, March 28, 2017. Internal reports and photos from the investigation of Florida inmate Darren Rainey’s 2012 death were reviewed by the Huffington Post.
The June 2012 death of Darren Rainey, an inmate at the Dade Correctional Institution in South Florida, attracted national attention after other inmates claimed he was burned like “a boiled lobster” after about two hours in a shower that guards had modified to punish prisoners.
A Florida prosecutor issued a 101-page report earlier this month that cleared guards of any wrongdoing in Rainey’s death. The prosecutor, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, called Rainey’s death an accident resulting from his schizophrenia and heart disease and from confinement in the shower room.
But a trove of official documents reviewed by The Huffington Post indicates that some information from police, the prison and emergency services was not included in the prosecutor’s final report, which raises questions about the circumstances surrounding Rainey’s death. A review of the documents was permitted by a person with close access to the investigation who asked not to be identified sharing non-public information.
Politico, Trump travel ban case could be on fast track to appeals court’s full bench, Josh Gerstein, March 27, 2017. The full, 15-judge bench of a federal appeals court is considering taking up the legality of President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban executive order. A federal judge in Maryland blocked a key part of Trump’s directive earlier this month, prompting the Justice Department to appeal the injunction to the Richmond-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Times of Israel, 22 ultra-Orthodox men arrested for sex assaults on women, minors, Stuart Winer, March 27, 2017. Police suspect community leaders were aware of alleged crimes against dozens of victims but preferred to deal with matter internally.
Washington Post, 2 months since he left office, Obama is having a post-presidency like no other, Krissah Thompson and Juliet Eilperin, March 26, 2017. The 44th president (shown in a file photo) has attempted to stay above the Washington fray and emphasized the need for a new generation of political leaders to step up. But — instead of settling into a quiet life after the White House that most of his predecessors enjoyed — Barack Obama is preparing to throw himself into the highly partisan issue of redistricting, with the goal of reversing the electoral declines that Democrats experienced under his watch.
Trump Insiders: Conflicts?
New York Times, An Investor and an Adviser: Icahn’s Dual Roles Raise Flags, Eric Lipton, March 26, 2017. The billionaire Carl Icahn is advising on regulations, including pressing for a change in an E.P.A. rule that has cost an oil refinery he’s invested in millions of dollars.
Around the Nation
Kentucky Sports Radio, Let UK End UNC’s Mockery of College Sport, Jonathan Miller, March 26, 2017. There’s something uniquely special about this afternoon’s Elite Eight matchup between the University of Kentucky Wildcats and the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. Arguably, the two best remaining teams in the NCAA tournament square off, reprising their thrilling December contest, perhaps the best college game played all year, and certainly one of the most fun to watch.
There’s also something uniquely disturbing about today’s contest. The University of North Carolina simply should not be playing today. Their postseason presence — following an almost-championship run last year — makes a mockery of undergraduate athletics. More than two years after revelations surfaced that the school had engaged in the most morally offensive institutional misconduct in the history of college sports, the team plays on, without even a hand check on the wrist.
UNC’s academic scandal poisoned institutions all across campus, and the injustice lives on. Over nearly two decades, more than 3100 UNC students enrolled in a series of sham African and Afro-American Studies classes. They were awarded As and Bs, even though they never had to take a test, or even to show up in class. According to an independent report, commissioned by the University, the scam was perpetuated by a conspiracy among faculty members, administrators, and academic advisers, the point of which was to keep athletes eligible to play by steering them to classes in which the only requirement was a single paper…that was never read.
Global Research, US Expands De Facto Syrian Invasion, Tony Cartalucci, March 26, 2017. The recent expansion of US military forces in Syria follows a predictable, singular agenda targeting this nation for decades – and more specifically – during the most recent and ongoing conflict which began in 2011 amid the US-engineered “Arab Spring.” The UK Independent in its article, “US marines sent to Syria to help assault on Isis’ Raqqa stronghold,” would report that: “Hundreds of US marines have arrived in Syria armed with heavy artillery in preparation for an assault on Isis’ de-facto capital of Raqqa.” However, the presence of US troops in Syria is entirely unsolicited by the Syrian government and constitutes a clear violation of Syria’s national sovereignty under international law.
Washington Post, Health-bill failure imperils Trump’s congressional agenda, John Wagner, Damian Paletta and Sean Sullivan, March 25, 2017. The stunning collapse of the Republican proposal leaves few prospects for the president to score a quick victory on tax reform, construction projects or a host of other issues despite complete GOP control of the government.
New York Times, Trump Becomes Ensnared in Fiery G.O.P. Civil War, Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman, March 25, 2017. President Trump ignites a lot of fights, but his failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the biggest defeat in his short time in the White House, was the result of something else: a long-running Republican civil war that humbled a generation of party leaders before he ever came to Washington. A precedent-flouting president who believes that Washington’s usual rules do not apply to him, Mr. Trump now finds himself shackled by them.
Washington Post, Why Republicans were in such a hurry on health care, Matt O’Brien, March 25, 2017. Why were Republicans rushing to vote on a health-care plan that they’d barely finished drafting, that budget scorekeepers hadn’t had a chance to fully evaluate, and that, insofar as people did know about it, was widely despised?
In part, it’s because their plan was so unpopular and because it got more unpopular the more people learned about it. But it’s also because only by rushing to reshape a full sixth of the American economy without knowing exactly how they would be reshaping it would Republicans be able to use health care to pave the way for the rest of their agenda, including tax reform. In other words, the GOP didn’t want to let a detail like tens of millions of people losing their health insurance get in the way of two tax cuts for the rich.Here’s what we knew about the Republican plan.
The latest version that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office had a chance to analyze would have, over the course of 10 years, cut taxes by $1 trillion, disproportionately benefiting the rich; cut Medicaid spending by $839 billion, exclusively harming the poor and sick; and cut the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance subsidies by about $300 billion, mostly hurting older people of modest means.
Add it all up, and the CBO estimated that 24 million people would have lost their health insurance as a result.
Not only that, but premiums would have increased 15 percent to 20 percent more than they otherwise would have in the next four years before so many older people were priced out of the market that premiums would have started to come down, and deductibles, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, would have been an average of $1,550 higher. In short: The GOP would have made insurance more affordable for younger people by making it unaffordable for older people and worse for everyone.
New York Times, Boris Epshteyn, Trump TV Surrogate, Is Leaving White House Job, Maggie Haberman, March 25, 2017. Boris Epshteyn, an official in the White House press office who had a contentious relationship with television producers and was once a frequent presence on TV himself, is leaving his job, according to three people with knowledge of the move.
The departure was treated with some mystery. Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, would not comment on the reason Mr. Epshteyn (shown in a cable appearance), an old friend of President Trump’s son Eric, was expected to depart the post. A senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said only that officials were exploring other opportunities in the administration for Mr. Epshteyn, who at one point was on cable news as many as seven times a day promoting Mr. Trump during the presidential campaign. Mr. Epshteyn, known for his argumentative, badgering style on TV, was a spokesman for the presidential inaugural committee. He grew up in Moscow, and met Eric Trump at Georgetown University.
Trump, Republicans Lose Health Care Repeal
New York Times, Facing a Mutiny, G.O.P. Pulls Health Bill, Robert Pear, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Jennifer Steinhauer and Thomas Kaplan, March 24, 2017. Major Setback for Trump in First Big Legislative Clash. House Republican leaders, facing a revolt among conservatives and moderates in their ranks, pulled legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act from consideration on the House floor Friday afternoon in a spectacular defeat for President Trump on the first legislative showdown of his presidency.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan conceded, “We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.”
Mr. Ryan (shown in a file photo) had rushed to the White House shortly after noon to tell Mr. Trump he did not have the votes for a repeal bill that had been promised for seven years — since the day President Barack Obama signed his landmark health care act into law.
House Republican leaders pulled legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act from consideration on the House floor. Moments later, President Trump told The Times he blames Democrats, not Paul Ryan, for the defeat.
Washington Post, ‘We just pulled it,’ Trump tells The Post amid GOP revolt, Mike DeBonis, Robert Costa and Ed O’Keefe, March 24, 2017. Move comes as Ryan struggled to win support, moments before scheduled House vote on health bill. It was a dramatic acknowledgment that Republicans are so far unable to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The decision came a day after President Trump delivered an ultimatum to lawmakers — and the defeat represented multiple failures for the new president and House Speaker Paul Ryan.
In one stunning defection, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) announced at midday that the health care bill is “currently unacceptable” and that changes made late Thursday to placate conservatives “raise serious coverage and cost issues.” Another moderate, Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio) — who had met with Trump on Wednesday night — said he would vote against the bill. So did Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), a longtime Ryan ally who represents a competitive Northern Virginia congressional district.
‘Pizzagate’ Advocate Alex Jones Apologizes
Washington Post, Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones apologizes for role in promoting baseless ‘Pizzagate’ claims, Paul Farhi, March 24 2017.Alex Jones, the conspiracy-loving media personality, apologized Friday for his role in promoting “Pizzagate,” the baseless viral story that a Washington pizza restaurant was the locale of a child sex-abuse ring run by Hillary Clinton and her campaign chairman, John Podesta.
In a surprising and rare bit of backtracking, Jones (shown in a file photo) posted a six-minute video on his website, “InfoWars,” in which he read a prepared statement formally distancing himself and his site from what became a textbook story of fake news run amok.
He addressed his apology to James Alefantis, the owner of Comet Ping Pong, the restaurant that was the supposed locale of the alleged conspiracy last year. “I made comments about Mr. Alefantis that in hindsight I regret, and for which I apologize to him,” Jones said. “We relied on third-party accounts of alleged activities and conduct at the restaurant. We also relied on accounts of [two] reporters who are no longer with us.”
Jones, a staunch supporter of Donald Trump during the presidential campaign, offered no comment or apology to Clinton or Podesta for outlandish statements about their alleged involvement in the abuse of hundreds of children.
Jones didn’t say what prompted his apology but it may have been motivated by a letter Alefantis wrote to him in February. The timing of Jones’s apology suggests he was concerned about a potential lawsuit. Under Texas law, the Austin-based Jones had to retract or apologize for the stories by Friday — one full month after receiving Alefantis’s letter — to avoid exposing InfoWars to punitive damages in a libel suit.
First Family Marriage
New York Post, Melania’s camp denies US Weekly’s ‘separate bed’ report, Laura Italiano, March 24, 2017. Melania Trump has issued her own executive order: She refuses to share a bed with Donald Trump. Inside sources have told US Weekly that the 46-year-old Slovenian stunner does not sleep in the same bed with the president even during the rare times when they are in the same city. The magazine features the story on its current cover, headlined, “Separate Bedrooms — Behind closed doors Melania and Donald Trump give each other lots of space and continue to live very much apart.”
Around the Nation
Vdare, Was Boston Bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev Working for the U.S. Deep State? James Fulford, March 23, 2017. Michele McPhee, an Emmy-award nominated reporter with the ABC News investigative team, writes that he[Tsarnaev] felt ‘double crossed’ and that he turned on America for failing to keep up its side of the bargain after he worked for them.
In Maximum Harm, McPhee says that as a result the federal government played a ‘direct role in creating the monster that Tamerlan Tsarnaev became.’ She argues that they recruited Tamerlan as an operative in late 2010 and that he was the ‘perfect candidate’ because he was ‘broke, desperate for citizenship and with a new wife and a baby to take care of, he spoke fluent English, Russian and a dialect of Chechen.’
Tamerlan was not jailed for his involvement in a triple murder in 2011 because he was ‘too valuable as an asset working for the federal government on a drug case with ties to overseas terrorism.’ Tamerlan was also providing them with intelligence on the mosque he attended and its ties to Al Qaeda.
Maybe Todashev was a Chechen/Russian double agent working for Kadyrov and Putin? (His dad was a pretty high-ranking government official reporting to the mayor of Grozny who was appointed by Chechen strongman Kadyrov who was appointed by Vlad.)
Even the long Daily Mail story leaves out interesting details like Tamerlan’s Uncle Ruslan’s CIA connections. Maybe Tamerlan saw himself as a triple agent working for Putin and the CIA and the Chechen Islamist rebels?
Another issue was where Tamerlan got his money from. On Tamerlan’s death certificate the Medical Examiner listed ‘Never Worked’ as his occupation but he drove a Mercedes.
McPhee told DailyMail.com that she believed that the CIA were running Tamerlan while he was in Russia and that the FBI were in charge of him when he returned to America, citing sources she had spoken to. McPhee writes: ‘Surely to stop Tamerlan at the airport for additional screening based on his physical profile alone – he was a dark-skinned Muslim male with a long beard – or because he was leaving a terrorist hotbed would have been insensitive racial profiling.
‘But the idea that a man whose name was on two terrorist watch lists somehow managed to clear customs because government officials claimed his name was misspelled on those lists is inconceivable.Well, never attribute to malice etc. The reporter admits she doesn’t have proof. But the whole Tsarnaev story has always been insanely screwy. To get something this messed up, it helps to have the government involved. The more outrageous the atrocity, the more likely that agents provocateur and deep state officials have embarrassing ties.
Health Insurance Vote
Washington Post, Trump delivers ultimatum: Pass health bill Friday or he’ll move on, Mike DeBonis and Juliet Eilperin, March
23, 2017. President Trump delivered an ultimatum to House Republicans on Thursday night: Vote to approve the measure to overhaul the nation’s health-care system on the House floor Friday, or reject it and the president will move on to his other legislative priorities.
The president, through his aides, signaled that the time for negotiations was over with rank-and-file Republicans who were meeting late at night on Capitol Hill to try to find common ground on the embattled package crafted by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) (shown above).
The move was a high-risk gamble for the president and the speaker, who have both invested significant political capital in passing legislation that would replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act. For Trump, who campaigned as a skilled dealmaker capable of forging a good deal on behalf of Americans, it could either vindicate or undercut one of his signature claims. If the measure fails, it would mean that Obamacare — something that congressional Republicans have railed against for seven years — would remain in place.
New York Times, Where House Republicans Stand on Bill, Staff report, March 23, 2017. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan is still trying to build a majority to pass the bill, which had been scheduled for a vote on Thursday. Among House Republicans, 146 are voting yes and 47 are undecided on the health care bill. 11 have concerns or lean no. 33 are voting no. The bill will fail if 23 or more vote no.
Supreme Court Nomination
Washington Post, Schumer: Democrats will filibuster Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination, Ed O’Keefe, Robert Barnes and Ann E. Marimow, March 23, 2017. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said in a Senate floor speech that Gorsuch “was unable to sufficiently convince me that he’d be an independent check” on President Trump. The filibuster will make it likely that the judge will struggle to find the support needed to clear a 60-vote procedural hurdle.
Other Washington News
New York Times, Congress Moves to Cut Obama’s Internet Privacy Rules, Cecilia Kang, March 23, 2017. The Senate voted to overturn regulations that required telecom companies to ask permission before tracking users’ behavior, beginning a repeal of Obama-era regulations.
London Terror Attack
Washington Post, London attacker was British-born and known to MI5; Islamic State claims responsibility, Karla Adam and Brian Murphy, March 23, 2017. The lone attacker who carried out a deadly rampage in central London was once investigated for possible extremist links but was “not part of the current intelligence picture,” Theresa May said. She did not name the suspect who left three people dead — two mowed down by his SUV on the Westminster Bridge and a police officer stabbed outside Parliament — before he was killed by police. The lone attacker who carried out a deadly rampage in central London was a British-born man once investigated for possible extremist links, but was “not part of the current intelligence picture,” Britain’s prime minister said Thursday.
Trump Speaks Out
Time, Donald Trump Time Interview, Time Staff, March 23, 2017. President Trump spoke with Time Washington Bureau Chief Michael Scherer on March 22 for a cover story about the way he has handled truth and falsehood in his career. This is a transcript of the exchange, with some minor edits. The transcript does not include requests he made of his staff during the interview, or a comment he made after asking to go off the record.
Daily Beast, Trump Defends Parroting JFK-Cruz Conspiracy, Staff report, March 23, 2017. In a new interview published Thursday, President Donald Trump defends and doubles down on many of the falsehoods that he has repeated throughout the 2016 campaign and his presidency. Notably, Trump defended parroting a baseless attack on Ted Cruz’s father — that he was somehow involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy — by saying it was “in a newspaper.” The charge was first brought to the forefront, though, by the National Enquirer, a supermarket tabloid known for peddling hoaxes and conspiracies.
“I was referring to a newspaper. A Ted Cruz article referred to a newspaper story with, had a picture of Ted Cruz, his father, and Lee Harvey Oswald, having breakfast,” Trump said in an interview with Time, adding: “I’m just quoting the newspaper.”
In the interview, Trump also stood by his unsubstantiated claims that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election, that U.S. Muslims were cheering on the 9/11 terror attacks, and that President Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower.
Big Trouble For Former Trump National Security Advisor Flynn?
Wall Street Journal, Ex-CIA Director: Mike Flynn and Turkish Officials Discussed Removal of Erdogan Foe From U.S., James V. Grimaldi, Dion Nissenbaum and Margaret Coker, March 24, 2017. Retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, while serving as an adviser to the Trump campaign, met with top Turkish government ministers and discussed removing a Muslim cleric from the U.S. and taking him to Turkey, according to former Central Intelligence Agency Director James Woolsey, who attended, and others who were briefed on the meeting.
Palmer Report, Michael Flynn tried to pay fellow Donald Trump adviser to commit crime on U.S. soil on Turkey’s behalf, Bill Palmer, March 24, 2017. Michael Flynn recently admitted to having been a paid foreign agent of Turkey while he was a Donald Trump campaign adviser, and it’s since come to light that both Trump and Mike Pence knew about it when they made him the White House National Security Adviser. But according to the Wall Street Journal, a new claim from a former Trump campaign adviser paints an even darker picture of Flynn which involved conspiring with Turkey to carry out crimes on United States soil.
Long-retired former CIA Director James Woolsey was an adviser to Donald Trump’s campaign. He eventually quit during the transition period, diplomatically suggesting that his role had run its course. But he’s now publicly disclosing something which may have been a factor. Last summer Michael Flynn brought Woolsey along to a meeting with representatives from the Turkish government, where they discussed theoretical plans for abducting Turkish dissident Fethullah Gulen from his home in Pennsylvania and shipping him back to Turkey.
During the same meeting, Flynn tried to hire Woolsey (shown in a file photo) as a consultant to his firm, in the name of furthering this plot against Gulen. Woolsey now says he was taken aback by what he overheard at the meeting, and he suspected that even the discussion about abducting Gulen was a crime. So he refused Flynn’s money, and instead he reported the meeting to the federal government. Presumably, Woolsey was not aware at the time that Flynn was being paid half a million dollars by Turkey, and that any money he would have received from Flynn would likely have come from Turkey as well.
Troubled Jewish Teen Arrested In Anti-Semitic Rampage
New York Times, Suspect in Threats to U.S. Jewish Centers Is Arrested in Israel, Isabel Kershner, Adam Goldman, Alan Blinder And Richard Pérez-Peña, March 23, 2017. Israeli authorities said the suspect, a Jewish dual Israeli-U.S. citizen, used “advanced camouflage technologies” to mask the origin of his threatening calls to Jewish institutions in the United States and elsewhere. A months long wave of bomb threats against Jewish institutions in the United States that sparked evacuations, heightened security and fears of rising anti-Semitism, gave way to an unexpected twist on Thursday: the person responsible for many of the threats, law enforcement officials said, was half a world away, in Israel, a Jewish teenager.
An intensive investigation spanning multiple countries culminated on Thursday in the arrest of the 18-year-old suspect, who holds dual Israeli and American citizenship, and his father. The teenager’s lawyer said he suffered from a brain tumor that could affect his behavior.
The surge in threats over the last few months — well over 100 sent to Jewish community centers, schools and museums since the start of the year — coincided with an increase in hate crimes against a number of groups, from scrawled swastikas to homicides, feeding worries about a new era of bigotry. American and Israeli officials refused to say how many of the threats the Israeli suspect had made, and some recent anti-Semitic acts were apparently committed by others, like threats against Jewish centers for which a Missouri man was charged, and the vandalizing of Jewish cemeteries. The father denies any knowledge of the threats, his lawyer said. The judge imposed an order of silence forbidding Israeli authorities to release either man’s name.