Editor’s Choice: Scroll below for our monthly blend of mainstream and alternative March 2018 news and views
U.S. Propaganda Disguised As ‘News’
Sinclair-owned “news” anchors parrotting the same propagand script word-for-word around the nation (Deadspin investigation)
Deadspin, How America’s Largest Local TV Owner Turned Its News Anchors Into Soldiers In Trump’s War On The Media, Timothy Burke, March 31, 2018 (1:28 mins. video here.) Timothy Burke is Deadspin’s Video Director.
Earlier this month, CNN’s Brian Stelter broke the news that Sinclair Broadcast Group, owner or operator of nearly 200 television stations in the U.S., would be forcing its news anchors to record a promo about “the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country.” The script, which parrots Donald Trump’s oft-declarations of developments negative to his presidency as “fake news,” brought upheaval to newsrooms already dismayed with Sinclair’s consistent interference to bring right-wing propaganda to local television broadcasts.
You might remember Sinclair from its having been featured on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight last year, or from its requiring in 2004 of affiliates to air anti-John Kerry propaganda, or perhaps because it’s your own local affiliate running inflammatory “Terrorism Alerts” or required editorials from former Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn (shown at right), he of the famed Holocaust Remembrance Day statement that failed to mention Jewish people. (Sinclair also owns Ring of Honor wrestling, Tennis magazine, and the Tennis Channel.)
The net result of the company’s current mandate is dozens upon dozens of local news anchors looking like hostages in proof-of-life videos, trying their hardest to spit out words attacking the industry they’d chosen as a life vocation. [They appear on stations with network affiliations such as ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, thus hiding from viewers the centralized control of news management.]
Not that any of it matters to Sinclair, which, with the help of a friendly federal government, is about to swallow up another 40 television stations — increasing its reach and its lead over competitors like Hearst and Scripps.
The script, as transcribed by ThinkProgress based on the KOMO (Seattle) version, reads:
Hi, I’m(A) ____________, and I’m (B) _________________…
(B) Our greatest responsibility is to serve our Northwest communities. We are extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that KOMO News produces.
(A) But we’re concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country. The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media.
(B) More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories… stories that just aren’t true, without checking facts first.
(A) Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think’…This is extremely dangerous to a democracy.
(B) At KOMO it’s our responsibility to pursue and report the truth. We understand Truth is neither politically ‘left nor right.’ Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility, now more than ever.
(A) But we are human and sometimes our reporting might fall short. If you believe our coverage is unfair please reach out to us by going to KOMOnews.com and clicking on CONTENT CONCERNS. We value your comments. We will respond back to you.
(B) We work very hard to seek the truth and strive to be fair, balanced and factual… We consider it our honor, our privilege to responsibly deliver the news every day.
(A) Thank you for watching and we appreciate your feedback.
For a list of stations owned or operated by Sinclair Broadcast Group, check here: “Sinclair Broadcast Group is the largest owner of television stations in the United States, currently owning or operating a total of 173 stations across the country (233 after all currently proposed sales are approved) in nearly 80 markets, ranging from markets as large as Washington, D.C. to as small as Steubenville, Ohio.”
Washington Post, Between Mueller, Stormy Daniels and ‘emoluments,’ Trump’s business is under siege, Jonathan O’Connell and David A. Fahrenthold, March 31, 2018 (print edition). The inquiries from three legal teams with different agendas have underscored the risks the president took on by keeping ownership of the company that bears his name while serving in the White House.
Inside the Justice System
New York Times, Investigation: When Bail Feels Less Like Freedom, More Like Extortion, Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Shaila Dewan, March 31, 2018. Commercial bail has grown into a $2 billion industry, and bond agents have become the payday lenders of the criminal justice world. But bondsmen have extraordinary powers that most lenders do not. Using that leverage, agents can charge steep fees.
Most bail bond agents make it their business to get their clients to court. But when Ronald Egana showed up at the criminal courthouse in New Orleans, he was surprised to find that his bondsman wanted to stop him.
A bounty hunter was waiting at the courthouse metal detector to intercept Mr. Egana and haul him to the bond company office, he said. The reason: the bondsman wanted to get paid.
Mr. Egana ended up in handcuffs, missing his court appearance while the agency got his mother on the phone and demanded more than $1,500 in overdue payments, according to a lawsuit. It was not the first time Mr. Egana had been held captive by the bond company, he said, nor would it be the last. Each time, his friends or family were forced to pay more to get him released.
Washington Post, Baton Rouge police release video showing fatal shooting of Alton Sterling and plan to fire one of the officers involved, Mark Berman and Wesley Lowery, March 31, 2018 (print edition). The graphic video of the July 2016 confrontation was captured by the body camera of Blane Salamoni, who will be fired for violating department policies during the incident, officials said.
Washington Post, Lawyer Gloria Allred withdraws from Summer Zervos’s defamation suit against Trump, Frances Stead Sellers, March 31, 2018 (print edition). Gloria Allred (shown at right in a file photo), the prominent women’s rights attorney who represented former “Apprentice” contestant Summer Zervos in her high-profile defamation suit against President Trump, is withdrawing from the case.
The shake-up is the latest twist in a saga that Zervos said began in 2007, when she alleges Trump groped her at the Beverly Hills Hotel. In a statement Friday, Zervos (shown at left in a file photo) said it was her decision to end the legal relationship. “I decided to part ways with Gloria Allred purely for personal reasons,” she said, “having nothing to do with her work as my attorney.” Mariann Meier Wang, Allred’s New York-based co-counsel, will continue to represent Zervos.
More Trump EPA Scandal
Washington Post, Analysis: Scott Pruitt’s Capitol Hill condo deal raises all sorts of red flags, Aaron Blake, March 31, 2018. The Environmental Protection Agency chief’s $50-per-night rental agreement with the wife of a fossil fuels lobbyist is pretty swampy. First off, the rental was per night, rather than monthly. This allowed Pruitt to have a home on Capitol Hill — just blocks from the Capitol, no less — for $6,100 over about six months, according to Bloomberg.
Regardless of the size of Pruitt’s room, paying about $1,000 per month to live on Capitol Hill is a deal that is basically impossible to beat — if not unheard-of. And for proof, look no further than Pruitt’s new apartment. Since ending this arrangement, he is living in a building where rents for one bedroom range between $3,100 and $4,500 per month, The Post’s Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin report.
Trump EPA Scandal
Washington Post, As new details emerge, Scott Pruitt’s housing arrangements come under scrutiny, Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin, March 30, 2018. Scott Pruitt’s unusual housing arrangement during much of last year — when he paid a lobbyist a modest sum each night for staying in a Capitol Hill condo she co-owned — has generated a new round of scrutiny about the financial decisions of the Environmental Protection Agency administrator.
Pruitt (shown at right) paid $50 for each night that he physically stayed in the condo, which sits a stone’s throw from the Capitol and is co-owned by health-care lobbyist Vicki Hart. According to people familiar with the arrangement, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly,
Pruitt initially approached her husband, lawyer J. Steven Hart, about staying there during his confirmation process in 2017 and then extended the terms of the arrangement through last July.
Washington Post, Jury acquits Orlando nightclub shooter’s wife of charges she aided ISIS-inspired massacre, Barbara Liston and Matt Zapotosky, March 30, 2018. Noor Salman, 31, faced a maximum sentence of life in prison. She is the only person authorities sought to hold criminally responsible for the attack at Pulse nightclub in June 2016. The wife of the Orlando nightclub shooter was found not guilty Thursday of aiding and abetting her husband’s deadly, Islamic State-inspired attack and obstructing the FBI’s investigation into the incident.
The stunning verdict means that Noor Salman (shown at left), 31, can go free, and no one has yet been held criminally responsible for the June 2016 massacre at the Pulse nightclub. Salman’s husband, Omar Mateen (below right), was fatally wounded in an encounter with police after he killed 49 people at the club.
Salman had been on trial in federal court here this month, and after hearing weeks of arguments and testimony, jurors deliberated for about 12 hours over the course of three days before reaching a verdict.
The way prosecutors told it, Salman willingly participated in her husband’s plot — even though she did not accompany him to the club the night of the June 12, 2016, shooting. They said she also repeatedly lied when the FBI interviewed her. But by defense attorneys’ account, Salman was an innocent dupe, and the FBI took advantage of her lack of sophistication to convince her to admit to things she did not do.
Breakthrough on MLK Death Coverage?
Washington Post, Who killed Martin Luther King Jr.? His family believes James Earl Ray was framed, Tom Jackman, March 30, 2018. In the five decades since Martin Luther King Jr. was shot dead by an assassin at age 39, his children have worked tirelessly to preserve his legacy, sometimes with sharply different views on how best to do that. But they are unanimous on one key point: James Earl Ray did not kill Martin Luther King.
For the King family and others in the civil rights movement, the FBI’s obsession with King in the years leading up to his slaying in Memphis on April 4, 1968 — pervasive surveillance, a malicious disinformation campaign and open denunciations by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover — laid the groundwork for their belief that he was the target of a plot.
“It pains my heart,” said Bernice King, 55, the youngest of Martin Luther King’s four children and the executive director of the King Center in Atlanta, “that James Earl Ray had to spend his life in prison paying for things he didn’t do.”
Until her own death in 2006, Coretta Scott King, who endured the FBI’s campaign to discredit her husband, was open in her belief that a conspiracy led to the assassination. Her family filed a civil suit in 1999 to force more information into the public eye, and a Memphis jury ruled that the local, state and federal governments were liable for King’s death. The full transcript of the trial remains posted on the King Center’s website.
“There is abundant evidence,” Coretta King said after the verdict, “of a major, high-level conspiracy in the assassination of my husband.” The jury found the mafia and various government agencies “were deeply involved in the assassination. … Mr. Ray was set up to take the blame.”
But nothing changed afterward. No vast sums of money were awarded (the Kings sought only $100), and Ray was not exonerated.
King’s two other surviving children, Dexter, 57, and Martin III, 60, fully agree that Ray was innocent. And their view of the case is shared by other respected black leaders.
“I think there was a major conspiracy to remove Dr. King from the American scene,” said Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a 78-year-old civil rights icon (shown at left). “I don’t know what happened, but the truth of what happened to Dr. King should be made available for history’s sake.”
Andrew Young, the former U.N. ambassador and Atlanta mayor who was at the Lorraine Motel with King when he was shot there, agrees. “I would not accept the fact that James Earl Ray pulled the trigger, and that’s all that matters,” said Young, who noted that King’s death came after the killings of John F. Kennedy and Malcolm X and just months before the slaying of Robert F. Kennedy.
Astride all this controversy for the last 40 years has been William Pepper, a New York lawyer and civil rights activist who knew and worked with King. Pepper first visited Ray in prison in 1978 along with Ralph Abernathy, one of King’s closest associates. Pepper became convinced of Ray’s innocence and continued to investigate the case even after Ray died.
Pepper wrote three books outlining the conspiracy, most recently The Plot to Kill King in 2016, which were largely ignored by the media.
He defended Ray in a mock trial on HBO in 1993 (Ray was found not guilty), and filed and tried the Memphis civil suit that found the government liable for King’s death.
Disturbing Police Shooting Autopsy
New York Times, Autopsy in Police Killing Finds Several Shots From Behind, Frances Robles and Jose A. Del Real, March 30, 2018. A lawyer for the family said the findings proved that Stephon Clark could not have been moving in a threatening fashion toward Sacramento officers when they opened fire.
Stephon Clark, the unarmed black man who was killed by the Sacramento police in his grandmother’s backyard, was shot eight times from behind or the side, according to a private autopsy commissioned by his family. The autopsy concluded that Mr. Clark’s death was not instantaneous, taking an estimated three to 10 minutes, raising questions about why Mr. Clark was not given more immediate medical care after the shooting.
Mr. Clark, whose death has sparked protests throughout the city, was shot at more than 20 times by officers responding to a vandalism report in a Sacramento neighborhood last week.
At least eight of those bullets struck Mr. Clark, according to an analysis by Dr. Bennet Omalu, a private medical examiner his family’s lawyer hired to conduct an independent autopsy, which was released Friday.
“These findings from the independent autopsy contradict the police narrative that we’ve been told,” Benjamin Crump, the family’s lawyer, said in a statement. “This independent autopsy affirms that Stephon was not a threat to police and was slain in another senseless police killing under increasingly questionable circumstances.”
Poverty / Race
New York Times, Opinion: How Memphis Gave Up on Dr. King’s Dream, Wendi C. Thomas, March 30, 2018. Fifty years after Martin Luther King was killed in Memphis, the city remains the poorest large metropolitan area in the country.
Trump White House
Washington Post, Behind the chaos: Office that vets Trump appointees plagued by inexperience, Robert O’Harrow Jr. and Shawn Boburg, March 30, 2018. An obscure White House office is struggling to place qualified people in key posts across government, documents and interviews show. At the same time, some of the office’s staffers have spotty records themselves.
Washington Post, White House thrown on the defensive over Trump’s pick to head Veterans Affairs, Lisa Rein, Seung Min Kim, Emily Wax-Thibodeaux and Josh Dawsey, March 30, 2018. President Trump’s announcement that he would nominate Ronny L. Jackson as VA secretary surprised veterans groups and lawmakers, who scrambled to learn the views of someone whose positions on the challenges facing VA are unknown.
There also was mounting skepticism that Jackson, 50, (shown at right) has the experience to run the government’s second-largest agency.
Jackson is a career naval officer who was an emergency trauma doctor in Iraq before spending the past 12 years as a White House physician. But his résumé lacks the type of management experience usually expected from the leader of an agency that employs 360,000 people, has a $186 billion annual budget and is dedicated to serving the complex needs of the country’s veterans
New York Times, Analysis: Broad Spending Bills Here to Stay as Long as Congressional Dysfunction Reigns, Carl Hulse, March 30, 2018. President Trump insisted he will never again sign a huge catchall spending measure of the sort he just grudgingly approved to fund the government. But he will probably have little choice if he wants to keep the government open in the future.
The steady deterioration of the congressional appropriations process makes it extremely unlikely that this president, or any future president, will ever receive the annual spending bills the old-fashioned way — one or two at a time with the opportunity to reconcile policy disputes with Congress without shutting down the entire government.
Given the current state of political warfare and congressional dysfunction, the too-big-to-veto omnibus bill seems here to stay, absent some momentous change in culture and process.
U.S. Death, Future In Syria
Washington Post, U.S.. service member among two killed by explosive device in Syria, military official says, Paul Sonne and Louisa Loveluck, March 30, 2018. Five other people were wounded in the attack, which came after President Trump suggested that the United States might pull its troops out of Syria in the near future.
In a surprise announcement Thursday, President Trump seemed to signal that U.S. forces would be withdrawing from Syria in the near future. “By the way, we’re knocking the hell out of ISIS,” Trump said midway through an infrastructure speech in Ohio, using an alternate term for the Islamic State. “We’re coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon — very soon we’re coming out.” No further details were immediately available.
Trump Media Scandal?
President Trump and his friend and defender, David Pecker, publisher of the National Enquirer and affiliated media
New York Times, Tabloid Mogul Used Trump’s Friendship to Court Saudis, Jim Rutenberg, Kate Kelly, Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Mike McIntire, March 30, 2018 (print edition). A White House dinner helped David J. Pecker, whose company owns The National Enquirer, showcase his connections as he sought Saudi cash to buy Time magazine. It is a previously untold chapter in the long, symbiotic relationship between President Trump and the tabloid publisher.
HuffPost, Parkland Survivor Criticizes Laura Ingraham For Only Apologizing After Advertisers Fled, Marina Fang, March 30, 2018. The list of advertisers pulling ads from the Fox News host’s program continues to grow. Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg on Friday pilloried Fox News host Laura Ingraham, declining to accept her apology after she mocked him for getting rejected from several colleges ― one of several right-wing attacks against the student activists of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“She’s only apologizing after a third of her advertisers pulled out, and I think it’s really disgusting, the fact that she basically tried promoting her show after apologizing to me,” Hogg, 17, said on CNN’s “New Day.” “If she really wants to do something, she could cover inner-city violence and the real issues that we have in America.”
On Wednesday night, Hogg (shown in a file photo from a Florida rally) called on his Twitter followers to pressure advertisers to cut ties with Ingraham’s TV and radio shows. By Friday evening, at least 14 companies had announced they were pulling their ads or had otherwise sought to distance themselves from Ingraham:
•Nutrish; •TripAdvisor; •Wayfair; •Expedia; •Nestlé; •Johnson & Johnson; •Stitch Fix; •Hulu; •Jos. A. Bank; •Office Depot; •Jenny Craig; •Miracle-Ear;
•Liberty Mutual; •Principal;
Some of the companies did not specify whether their decision was directly tied to Ingraham’s comments. But a number of them did criticize the host’s remarks.
“As a company, we support open dialogue and debate on issues,” a spokeswoman for the home goods retailer Wayfair said. “However, the decision of an adult to personally criticize a high school student who has lost his classmates in an unspeakable tragedy is not consistent with our values.”
Washington Post, Fox News host Ingraham’s rapid apology shows the power of Parkland survivors, Amy B Wang, Allyson Chiu and Tracy Jan, March 30, 2018 (print edition). Several companies said they would pull their advertising from Laura Ingraham’s show after the host taunted Marjory Stoneman Douglas senior David Hogg about his college applications being rejected.
Trump Abuse and #MeToo News
Then and Now: The front page of a 2016 New York Daily News edition contrasts with President Trump’s claimed fight (below) against sexual assaults
The Hill, Trump declares April sexual assault prevention month, Josh Delk, March 30, 2018. President Trump on Friday issued an official proclamation observing April as National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. In a statement, Trump encouraged the nation to “remain steadfast” in working to prevent sexual crimes and reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to empowering individuals to speak out in their communities and workplaces against perpetrators.
“Sexual assault crimes remain tragically common in our society, and offenders too often evade accountability. These heinous crimes are committed indiscriminately: in intimate relationships, in public spaces, and in the workplace,” Trump said.
The longstanding observation of the month, which often sees outreach by public health organizations and community crisis centers nationwide, comes this year following a wave of newly-empowered women leveling allegations of sexual misconduct and assault against high-profile men in media, entertainment and politics in recent months.
The proclamation also hits home for the Trump administration, which was embroiled in controversy earlier this year over allegations of past domestic abuse against former White House staff secretary Rob Porter from his two ex-wives.
The president himself has also faced accusations of misconduct by multiple women dating back to his days as a real estate mogul and reality television star, and has faced controversy for making lewd comments about his relationships with women in the past.
Palmer Report, Opinion: Donald and Melania Trump are in for a very ugly weekend, Bill Palmer, March 30, 2018. Just as the Stormy Daniels interview was airing on 60 Minutes on Sunday evening, Melania Trump was remaining behind at Mar-a-Lago while Donald Trump was heading back to Washington DC alone. Her people floated the excuse that she was spending the week in Florida due to Barron’s spring break.
If there was any doubt that this was an intentional snub on Melania’s part, that was erased when she had her friends feed a story to Us Magazine about how badly she wants to divorce Donald. Now it’s about to get uglier.
We already know from the Us Magazine profile that Melania Trump is keen on causing public humiliation for Donald Trump right now. You don’t have your friends plant quotes about you in the media like “She is very, very unhappy with her life” and “If she could, she would get away from Donald” unless you’re trying to make your husband’s life a living hell.
‘Fake News’ Fight Treatens Cyber-Censorship
RT, Facebook teams up with ‘third-party fact checkers,’ and guess who they are?, Staff report, March 30, 2018. Facebook has announced that it will step up its efforts to filter “fake news” from its platform. The company will partner with “third-party fact checkers,” including AP (Associated Press) and AFP (Agence France-Press), to verify news, photos, and videos.
The company’s fact-checking measures come as part of an overall strategy aimed at stopping the spread of content that could influence elections. This content was spread by foreign actors to “divide Americans, and to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt” in the 2016 election, claimed Guy Rosen, Facebook VP of content management.
“We’re trying to develop a systematic and comprehensive approach to tackle these challenges, and then to map that approach to the needs of each country or election,” said Alex Stamos, Facebook’s chief security officer.
Whereas Facebook previously waited for reports from users before reviewing content, it will now play the role of policeman and use machine-learning technology to proactively filter out content it deems harmful to election integrity. This approach was first rolled out last year at the time of the Alabama special Senate race between Democrat Doug Jones and Republican Roy Moore. Facebook now hopes to take this approach in the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections.
In addition, the company announced yesterday that its army of fact checkers will be drawn from the Associated Press, AFP, and other organizations that follow Poynter’s “fact checking.”
During the 2016 election campaign, these fact-checking mercenaries could only review articles that were flagged by Facebook users. As of yesterday, they have been given authority to seek out and flag content they deem “suspicious.”
“To reduce latency in advance of elections, we wanted to ensure we gave fact checkers that ability,” said Facebook’s News Feed Product Manager Tessa Lyons. This content includes not just news articles and blog posts, but photos and videos as well. Photos and videos, Facebook argues, can influence discourse without needing to be clicked. This was seen recently, as a doctored image that showed Parkland shooting survivor and activist Emma Gonzalez ripping up the constitution did the rounds on social media.
The Hill, Trump ally interrogated by FBI about campaign involvement, Avery Anapol, March 30, 2018. An American academic with links to President Trump said Friday he was detained and questioned by FBI agents at Logan airport in Boston this week. Ted Malloch, a regular contributor to the conspiracy theory outlet Infowars, told The Guardian that he was detained by the FBI after flying to Boston from London.
Malloch said the FBI asked him about his involvement in the Trump campaign, his relationship with former campaign adviser Roger Stone and if he had ever visited the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange lives.
Stone has been accused of having advance knowledge of WikiLeaks hacking the Democratic National Committee’s emails before the emails were released.
Malloch was also issued a subpoena to testify before special counsel Robert Mueller’s grand jury on April 13. The news of his detention and questioning was first reported by InfoWars.
“I was unfazed and very dubious about why they thought I knew anything,” Malloch told The Guardian in a statement. “I did … find it objectionable to treat me the way they had, as I was entering my home country, where I am a citizen.”
“They did not need to use such tactics or intimidation,” he said. “I was a U.S. patriot and would do anything and everything to assist the government and I had no information that I believed was relevant.”
Trump White House
New York Times, Hicks Is Gone, and It’s Not Clear Who Can Replace Her, Katie Rogers and Maggie Haberman, March 30, 2018 (print edition). Thursday was the last day at the White House for Hope Hicks, who followed an unlikely career path to become a presidential confidante.
9/11 Family Litigation, Protests
MSNBC, Judge Allows Suit Alleging Saudi Arabia Financed 9/11 Attacks To Move Forward, Andrea Mitchell, March 30, 2018 (4:29 mins). Terry Strada, 9/11 widow and national chair for 9/11 Families and Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism, talks to Andrea Mitchell about the lawsuit alleging Saudi Arabia had a role in the planning and financing of the September 11th attacks moving forward.
Deadline Hollywood, Crown Prince Salman Will Face Planned Protests In Los Angeles, Starting In Front Of WME, Anita Busch, March 30, 2018. Mohammed Bin Salman, known as Prince Salman, is coming to Los Angeles next week for a series of meetings with politicians and other movers and shakers, including one with William Morris Endeavor’s (WME) Ari Emanuel and producer Brian Grazer who are hosting a dinner for the Saudi dignitary in early April.
But not everyone is happy about it and, in fact, there are planned protests to air grievances against the Prince, starting on Monday in front of WME’s Beverly Hills offices at 9601 Wilshire Blvd. The protest will come before Emanuel meets with the Crown Prince. WME and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia are closing in on a deal whereby the PIF will acquire a 5% to 10% stake in Endeavor (the holding company for WME) for roughly $400M.
On April 2nd at 11 AM, CodePink: Women for Peace will be out in force in front of the agency’s building. “We plan to protest in front of William Morris and say, ‘Wake up sleepy Hollywood, there is nothing charming about this Prince,’ ” said spokeswoman Jodie Evans, co-founder of CodePink. They want the Prince to stop the war in Yemen and lift both the humanitarian and commercial blockade.
The Prince (shown in a file photo) will be coming from a meeting with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to talk about investment in Los Angeles, however, Garcetti told the CodePink organizers in a call that he has been clearly against the Yemen war and that he also thinks that women issues should be in the forefront and he plans to talk to the Prince about this.
“We had a very good call with Mayor Garcetti and he understands the issues,” Medea Benjamin, CodePink co-founder and author of a book on Saudia Arabia told Deadline. Given that, they have decided to start the protest — set initially against Garcetti — instead to WME.
Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, meets Chinese leader Xi Jinping in an historic meeting in Beijing
Strategic Culture Foundation, Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un: Make Korea United Again! Federico Pieraccini, March 30, 2018. Kim Jong-un’s visit [to China] reveals much about the tactics that will be used in the negotiations between the Korean leader and the American president; it also consolidates a historical relationship between Pyongyang and Beijing.
Kim Jong-un’s willingness to meet Donald Trump in bilateral talks, and the possibility that Pyongyang will give up its nuclear arsenal, stand out. The meeting with Xi Jinping in all likelihood focused on the demands to be made to Trump: the removal of the North American presence in the south of the country is something on which China and DPRK are in strong agreement. The desired outcome for Beijing and Pyongyang (but also for Moscow) would see Washington remove its forces from South Korea in exchange for opening up North Korea’s sites to international inspections.
Of course this scenario clashes with the recent appointments of Mike Pompeo and John Bolton to the top of the American administration, confirmed by the threat of dissolving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) reached with Iran, undoing a deal reached through the efforts of multiple countries. The consequences would be significant, with the United State coming across as an unreliable state in international relations.
The reality is that an overall agreement between North Korea and the United States is practically impossible for one fundamental reason: the United States uses the excuse of having to protect South Korea to maintain a permanent presence on the peninsula for the purposes of containing China and Russia, both through missile defense and by maintaining a military presence near their borders. For this reason, while Moscow and Beijing have multiple reasons for seeking an agreement between Pyongyang and Washington, both are aware that the US has no intentions of abandoning its presence in South Korea. The meeting between Kim Jong-un and Trump is a well-designed trap prepared by Moscow, Beijing and Pyongyang, maybe over many months or even years. The most realistic objectives are to further isolate Washington in the region, to bring Beijing and Seoul closer together, and to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington.
National Whistleblower Center, Whistleblowers’ reward approved for criminal sanctions issued against international financial institution for assisting U.S. citizens in evading taxes, Staff report, March 30, 2018. The law firms of Zerbe, Miller, Fingeret, Frank & Jadav, PC (ZMF); Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto (KKC) and Robert Amsel, Esq. announced today a key victory for tax whistleblowers with the filing of a joint stipulation for dismissal of the government’s appeal in the cases of Whistleblower 21276-13W and 21277-13W v. CIR, Case Nos. 17-1119 and 1120 (D.C. Cir.).
The case was scheduled for oral argument on April 9, 2018 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. It had pitted the U.S. Department of Justice and IRS against two whistleblowers whose information has led to $54.131 million in criminal penalties and civil forfeitures awarded against a major Swiss bank. The DOJ and IRS were arguing that the tax whistleblower law did not apply to criminal tax cases that resulted in payments of fines and civil forfeitures.
The dismissal of the government’s appeals keeps in place the whistleblower’s win in the Tax Court decision of Whistleblower 21276-13W and 21277-13W v. CIR 147, TC 4 (2016) providing for a broad definition of “collected proceeds” – the basis for whistleblower awards in tax cases. The whistleblowers had previously received an award of $4,474,000 based on the government’s collection from the Swiss bank of $20 million in restitution paid directly to the IRS for back taxes. But the IRS refused to pay an award on the additional $54.131 million collected from the bank.
Based on the DOJ and IRS’s withdrawal of the appeal the whistleblowers will receive an additional award of approximately $12.9 million, as had been previously ordered by the Tax Court.
The appeal of this Tax Court victory for whistleblowers to the D.C. Circuit was being closely watched by whistleblowers and the tax community. Amicus briefs in support of the whistleblowers had been filed by former DOJ tax prosecutors who warned that limiting tax whistleblower rewards could have a crippling impact on criminal tax cases. Senator Charles Grassley, the sponsor of the original tax whistleblower law, also filed an amicus brief in support of the whistleblowers.
More Global News
New York Times, Israeli Military Kills at Least 12 Along Border With Gaza, Isabel Kershner and Iyad Abuhewwila, March 30, 2018. What was promoted as a six-week campaign of peaceful protests, with thousands of Palestinians in tent cities, turned quickly into deadly violence.
Media: Censorship Or Economics?
RT, Opinion: RT silenced in Washington DC, proving FARA crackdown not just formality, Staff report, March 30, 2018. RT programming was removed from its two broadcast frequencies in the DC area. The move proves that claims made by the US government that the channel’s registration as a foreign agent would not affect its work were false.
Audiences in the Washington, DC area are no longer able to tune in to RT’s regular air broadcasts. Part of the reason is that MHz Networks, a Virginia-based not-for-profit distributor of international entertainment and news programming, decided to auction their licenses to frequencies previously used to broadcast RT, along with a dozen other outlets. The development was reported by Bloomberg on Thursday, which said that the change will take place on April 1. The auction of licenses happened in March 2017.
RT can now reveal that the channel was in fact dropped by its two signal broadcasters in the area, WNVT and WNVC, on February 2, 2018. This fact was later independently confirmed by MHz Networks through the Associated Press.
Anna Belkina, RT’s chief of communications, said that although the channel is not “at liberty to disclose the details, we know that this decision was linked to RT’s forced registration as a ‘foreign agent’ in the US.” The US Department of Justice forced RT America to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) in 2017.
Frederick Thomas, the founder and president of MHZ Networks, told Bloomberg that the company did indeed contact the DoJ after it targeted Reston Translator LLC, the company producing content for RT America, as part of its FARA crackdown on Russian media reporting for US audiences. But he denied the decision to get rid of the broadcast frequencies, which affected RT’s presence in Washington, DC, had anything to do with it. “It has more to do with the spectrum auction,” he said.
Crony Government Gone Amok?
Washington Post, Trump taps his doctor to replace Shulkin at Veterans Affairs, Lisa Rein, Philip Rucker, Emily Wax-Thibodeaux and Josh Dawsey, March 29, 2018. Choosing personal chemistry over traditional qualifications, President Trump said he would nominate Rear Adm. Ronny L. Jackson to replace David Shulkin as VA secretary. Jackson gained prominence with his effusive praise of Trump’s physical and mental health. Shulkin did not go quietly, offering some parting shots in an opinion piece for the New York Times in which he claimed that VA has “become entangled in a brutal power struggle.”
President Trump fired his embattled Veterans Affairs secretary Wednesday and tapped as his replacement atop the chronically mismanaged agency the president’s personal physician, who gained prominence with his effusive praise of the 71-year-old’s physical and mental health.
The ouster of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin (shown at right), who has been mired in scandal over his charging taxpayers for luxury travel expenses and the infighting among his senior aides, had been widely expected and was made official at 5:31 p.m. by presidential tweet.
Trump said he would nominate Ronny L. Jackson (shown at left), 50, an active-duty rear admiral in the Navy who has served for the past three administrations as a White House physician. A biography released by the White House shows Jackson is credentialed and experienced in medicine but has no background in management. He nonetheless will be charged with delivering on one of Trump’s signature campaign promises: to fix the federal government’s second-largest bureaucracy.
Shulkin did not go quietly. He offered some parting shots Thursday in an opinion piece for the New York Times, claiming that the VA has “become entangled in a brutal power struggle” among Trump administration officials and others over proposals such as privatizing some aspects of veterans’ care.
“They saw me as an obstacle to privatization who had to be removed,” Shulkin wrote. “That is because I am convinced that privatization is a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans.”
Politico, Trump: ‘We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon,’ Cristiano Lima, March 29, 2018. President Donald Trump predicted the U.S. will pull out of Syria “very soon” on Thursday, saying that it’s time to “let other people take care” of the situation there. “We’re knocking the hell out of ISIS. We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon,” the president said during an event in Ohio. “Let the other people take care of it now.”
The president added: “We’re going to have 100 percent of the caliphate … we’re taking it all back.” Trump complained about spending by the U.S. on Syria, but he also touted military advances against the Islamic State in the region. “We got to get back to our country where we belong, where we want to be,” he said.
New York Times, Trump Lawyer Broached Idea of Pardons for 2 Top Ex-Aides, Michael S. Schmidt, Jo Becker, Mark Mazzetti, Maggie Haberman and Adam Goldman, March 29, 2018 (print edition). A lawyer for President Trump broached the idea of Mr. Trump’s pardoning two of his former top advisers, Michael T. Flynn (shown above) and Paul Manafort, with their lawyers last year, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions.
The discussions came as the special counsel was building cases against both men, and they raise questions about whether the lawyer, John Dowd, who resigned last week, was offering pardons to influence their decisions about whether to plead guilty and cooperate in the investigation.
The talks suggest that Mr. Trump’s lawyers were concerned about what Mr. Flynn and Mr. Manafort might reveal were they to cut a deal with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, in exchange for leniency. Mr. Mueller’s team could investigate the prospect that Mr. Dowd made pardon offers to thwart the inquiry, although legal experts are divided about whether such offers might constitute obstruction of justice.
Mr. Dowd’s conversation with Mr. Flynn’s lawyer, Robert K. Kelner, occurred sometime after Mr. Dowd took over last summer as the president’s personal lawyer, at a time when a grand jury was hearing evidence against Mr. Flynn on a range of potential crimes. Mr. Flynn, who served as Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser, agreed in late November to cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation. He pleaded guilty in December to lying to the F.B.I. about his conversations with the Russian ambassador and received favorable sentencing terms.
Mr. Dowd (shown at right), who was hired last year to defend the president during the Mueller inquiry, took the lead in dealing directly with Mr. Flynn’s and Mr. Manafort’s lawyers, according to two people familiar with how the legal team operated. He denied on Wednesday that he discussed pardons with lawyers for the president’s former advisers. “There were no discussions. Period,” Mr. Dowd said. “As far as I know, no discussions.”
Palmer Report, Opinion: Donald Trump really, really didn’t want you to know about his failed pardon stunt, Bill Palmer, March 29, 2018. Donald Trump went to great lengths to try to bury a story he didn’t want out there. For all his lifelong scheming and increasing erraticism, some aspects of Donald Trump’s behavior are so consistent as to be predictable. We’ve seen him strategically create one controversial mess after another on Twitter, just as an ugly bombshell was landing in his Trump-Russia scandal, in the hope of distracting the media and the public from the real story. Yesterday we saw it happen yet again.
One of the worst kept secrets in politics for the past several weeks has been that Trump was going to fire VA Secretary David Shulkin. Yesterday afternoon the New York Times reported that Trump’s former attorney John Dowd had dangled pardons in the faces of Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort sometime in the second half of 2017.Less than an hour after the pardon story was published, Trump jumped on Twitter and promptly announced that Shulkin had been fired and replaced with Trump’s personal military physician Ronny Jackson.
It’s not that the move was going to impress anyone, or fix the worsening problems at the VA. In fact it’s an objectively ludicrous move, as Jackson has no qualifications for the job, and Trump appears to be simply paying him back for having lied about Trump’s weight and height during a recent physical. But the timing here is everything.
Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), Opinion: Trump’s perverse incestuous behavior and his upcoming downfall, Wayne Madsen, March 29, 2018 (subscription required). Most attorneys would jump at the chance to represent the President of the United States, either as White House counsel or privately.
However, in the case of Donald Trump, a combination of his own disagreeable personality, failure to pay his attorneys’ fees, perverted sexual history, and conflicts of interest have turned him into a pariah as a client for most lawyers. At right is the New York Daily News front page (on Jan. 18, 2018) portrayed what it described as Trump’s ‘creepy praise for porn star mistress” at being attractive like his daughter.
Hillary Clinton Probe
Washington Post, Sessions rebuffs GOP calls for 2nd special counsel to probe FBI, Matt Zapotosky, March 23, 2018. Three key Republican leaders in the House and Senate had called on the attorney general to appoint a second special counsel to investigate the bureau’s handling of the Clinton and Russia probes. Sessions (shown at right) said he has named U.S. Attorney John W. Huber to lead a review of topics the legislators want examined.
Salt Lake City Tribune, U.S. Attorney for Utah Huber probing GOP-raised concerns about the FBI surveilling Trump aide, ignoring Clinton uranium ties, Thomas Burr and Pamela Manson, March 23, 2018. U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber (shown at right) has been investigating whether the FBI abused its authority in surveilling a former top aide to then-GOP nominee Donald Trump and whether federal officials should have probed more into allegations of Hillary Clinton’s ties to the sale of U.S. uranium rights to a Russian-controlled company.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a letter to some congressional leaders Thursday that he appointed senior federal prosecutors — specifically Huber — to review concerns raised by Republicans that the FBI ignored those issues while focusing on investigating Trump’s potential ties to Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Sessions said that the reviews by federal prosecutors like Huber means there’s no need right now for appointment of a second special counsel, as Republican lawmakers had requested.
Trump Bashes Amazon.com
Washington Post, Trump lashes out again at Amazon in morning tweet, Abha Bhattarai, March 29, 2018. President Trump said he has long had concerns about the online retail giant’s business practices. But some of his claims about Amazon have not always been based on complete information. President Trump once again lashed out at Amazon.com, the online retailing giant, on Thursday morning, saying he has long had concerns about the company’s business practices.
I have stated my concerns with Amazon long before the Election. Unlike others, they pay little or no taxes to state & local governments, use our Postal System as their Delivery Boy (causing tremendous loss to the U.S.), and are putting many thousands of retailers out of business!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 29, 2018
Trump has periodically criticized Amazon before and since becoming president. Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, also owns The Washington Post.
Trump’s latest critique comes after Amazon’s stock took a hit Wednesday following the publication of a report in Axios that Trump was “obsessed” with the retail giant, according to a person interviewed by the publication. Shares fell more than 4 percent on Wednesday, and continued their tumble Thursday, falling more than 3.8 percent in morning trading.
Some of Trump’s claims about Amazon have not been based on complete information. Amazon, for example, does collect taxes on products it sells to customers in the 45 states with a sales tax. Items sold by third-party vendors, however, may have different arrangements. The company has also said it supports legislation that would require other online retailers to pay state and local sales taxes.
Trump’s use of social media to call out individual people and companies has been unprecedented for a president. His other Twitter targets have included Apple, Boeing and General Motors, as well as media outlets including The Washington Post, the New York Times and CNN.
Fox Host Ingraham Incurs Boycott
Washington Post, You’re a mother’: Laura Ingraham faces boycott for taunting Parkland teen over college rejections, Amy B Wang and Allyson Chiu, March 29, 2018. Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg is calling for advertisers to boycott Laura Ingraham’s show after the Fox News host taunted the high school senior over his college rejections.
“David Hogg Rejected By Four Colleges To Which He Applied and whines about it,” Ingraham tweeted Wednesday morning. She linked to a story from a conservative news site that described Hogg as a “Gun Rights Provocateur” who had not gained acceptance to four University of California schools. “Dinged by UCLA with a 4.1 GPA … totally predictable given acceptance rates,” added Ingraham (shown at right in a Gage Skidmore portrait).
Ingraham faced immediate backlash over her tweet from those shocked she would attack a 17-year-old student who had survived the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla. Among the outraged were people who reminded Ingraham, simply, that she was a mother, and Hogg’s 14-year-old sister, who accused the Fox News host of stooping to a “real low” to boost her ratings.
Politico, Companies pull ads from Fox’s Ingraham after her jab at Parkland student, Cristiano Lima, March 29, 2018. A growing number of companies will heed calls from a survivor of the Florida high school shooting to drop their advertisements on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News program after the host mocked the student on Twitter.
At least six said they would cease buying ads on the show. Nutrish, celebrity cook Rachael Ray’s dog food company, announced on Thursday that it was “in the process of removing ads from Laura Ingraham’s program.” TripAdvisor, the American travel website, told POLITICO that it had “made a decision to stop advertising on that program.”
Ingraham on Thursday issued an apology via Twitter for the remarks. “Any student should be proud of a 4.2 GPA — including David Hogg,” she said. “On reflection, in the spirit of Holy Week, I apologize for any upset or hurt my tweet caused him or any of the brave victims of Parkland.” Ingraham added that Hogg was “welcome to come on my show anytime for a productive discussion.”
Global Payback: Russia
New York Times, As Tensions With West Rise, Russia to Expel 150 Diplomats, Richard Perez-Pena, March 29, 2018. Intensifying Russia’s clash with Europe and the United States, the Kremlin on Thursday announced that it would expel 150 Western diplomats and close the United States Consulate in St. Petersburg.
The United States ambassador to Russia, Jon M. Huntsman Jr., was summoned to the Foreign Ministry, announced the foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov (shown in a file photo). Sixty American diplomats will be expelled from Russia — the same as the number of Russian diplomats whom Washington has expelled. The action was in retaliation for the expulsion of more than 150 Russian officials from other countries.
Sic Semper Tyrannis, Opinion: The Geo-Political Poker Game: Where’s the ‘Off-Ramp’? Alastair Crooke, March 29, 2018. At the beating heart of Trump’s Presidency lies the notion of “The Art of the Deal.” It is said that Trump has few convictions, but his notion of how to negotiate – with a big stick, maximum leverage, and with credible, fear-inducing ‘threats’ – is central to his whole Presidency.
In the next months, but climaxing in May (other things being equal), Trump will put his negotiating theory to the test in a very different ambit to that of New York real estate. The North Korean summit should be held; the verdict on the nuclear agreement with Iran is due to be pronounced then; the US Israeli-Palestinian determination is scheduled to be ‘handed down’ in May; the Sunni states’ Iran containment roles to be set; and any punitive tariffs on China will be decided, and enacted. Although apparently disconnected issues, their clustering together in May will inter-connect them: Success or failure in one, will leach into parallel spheres.
And in the background – of course – will grind on the western Intelligence Establishment’s determination to cut down President Putin and Russia (the Salisbury Skripal affair) to size – and through slapping down Putin, to wound Trump too, naturally.
What happens if the Chinese, the North Koreans, the Iranians and the Russians understand the concept behind the Art of the Deal, and furthermore know that the US is not really in a position to make good on the bluff – on its full-throated threats of military or trade actions – at least?
Some sense of the outrage that this ‘hard nose’ approach already has induced, can be seen from yesterday’s editorial (27 March 2018) in the Global Times of China, an organ that accurately reflects official Chinese thinking.
Global Alliance: China, North Korea
Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, meets Chinese leader Xi Jinping in an historic meeting in Beijing
Washington Post, Meeting of North Korean, Chinese leaders presents a new challenge for Trump, Emily Rauhala and Anna Fifield, March 29, 2018 (print edition). Analysts say the meeting showed the enduring bonds between the two countries and sends a message to the United States: Any moves on North Korea must go through Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Secretary of State Backgrounder
New York Times, ‘Kiss Up, Kick Down’: Recalling Bolton’s Confirmation in 2005, Katie Rogers and Elizaeth Williamson, March 29, 2018. The only extensive examination of John R. Bolton’s record happened in 2005, when the Senate decided whether he should go to the United Nations. Those who opposed him then, along with many who supported him, say he has not changed. Boston is shown in a portrait by Gage Skidmore.
New York Times, E.P.A. Set to Roll Back Rules Requiring Cars to Be Cleaner, Coral Davenport and Hiroko Tabuchi, March 23, 2018. The Trump administration, handing automakers a victory, is preparing to announce an effort to weaken strict Obama-era pollution standards. The move would also propel the White House toward a courtroom clash with California, which has vowed to stick with the stricter rules even if Washington rolls back federal standards.
#MeToo In Congress, Again
Washington Post, Conn. congresswoman kept aide on staff for 3 months after she learned of threat allegation, Elise Viebeck, March 29, 2018. The threat from Rep. Elizabeth Esty’s chief of staff arrived in a voice mail. “You better f—–g reply to me or I will f—–g kill you,” Tony Baker said in the May 5, 2016, recording left for Anna Kain, a former Esty aide Baker had once dated.
Kain, who provided a copy of the recording to The Washington Post, alerted the police, filed a report for felony threats and obtained a 12-month restraining order against Baker. According to emails obtained by The Post, Esty found out about the episode within a week. At that point, the Connecticut Democrat took matters into her own hands.
Rather than firing or suspending Baker, the congresswoman consulted her personal attorneys and advisers, she said. Baker did not leave for three months. By his last day on Aug. 12, according to documents Esty provided to The Post, he and Esty had co-written a positive recommendation letter he could use in a job search and signed a legal document preventing her from disparaging him or discussing why he left. Baker went on to work for Sandy Hook Promise, the gun-control group created after the 2012 shooting in Esty’s district. He was dismissed from the group this week after The Post contacted him.
New York Times, Rosanne’ Reboot Part of ABC Plan to Entice Trump Voters, John Koblin and Michael M. Grynbaum, March 23, 2018. The network realized it was leaving some viewers behind — and put into effect a plan that brought back a working-class sitcom.
White House Communications
Associated Press via the Washington Post, The Latest: Trump bids farewell to Hope Hicks, Staff report, March 23, 2018. President Donald Trump is bidding farewell to one of his longest-serving aides as he departs for Ohio. The president appeared alongside outgoing communications director Hope Hicks outside the Oval Office on Hicks’ last day at the White House.
Trump pointed at Hicks, waved to the cameras, and gave Hicks a handshake and a kiss on the cheek before heading to Marine One. Hicks has been one of the president’s most trusted, loyal and influential staffers. She held a portfolio that extended well beyond her job title.
Stormy Seeks Trump Deposition
Washington Post,Stormy Daniels’s lawyer pushes to depose Trump, saying Americans have been told ‘a bucket of lies,’ Frances Stead Sellers and Mark Berman, March 29, 2018 (print edition). The effort comes as the legal fight between Daniels and President Trump (shown together in 2006) has gained steam. A potential deposition poses risks for Trump, who has a history of making erroneous claims, while Daniels herself is facing questions about her credibility in the wake of a widely seen interview on “60 Minutes.”
Analysis of Major 9-11 Federal Court Ruling
Press TV, Judge rules Saudi Arabia must face 9/11 lawsuits, Staff report, (4:25 mins.) March 29, 2018. Press TV anchor Waqar H. Rizvi interviews author and former U.S. Foreign Service Officer J. Michael Springmann on a federal judge’s rejection of an attempt by Saudi Arabia to dismiss lawsuits over its alleged involvement in the September 11 attacks.
District Judge George Daniels in Manhattan says the plaintiffs’ arguments have a reasonable basis to pursue the case. He cited the 20-16 Justice against Sponsors of Terrorism Act. The lawsuits claim Saudi Arabia helped plan the attacks and should pay damages to victims. Riyadh denies any involvement. In 2001, hijacked planes crashed into New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field killing nearly three-thousand people. The majority of the attackers were Saudi nationals.
More On Syrian War
SouthFront, Russian Military Police Redeployed In Tel Rifaat City (Photos), Staff report, March 29, 2018. On March 29, the Russian Military Police was redeployed in the city of Tell Rifaat and the Menagh airbase, southeast of the Turkish-occupied area of Afrin, according to several Turkish and Syrian opposition sources.
Currently Tell Rifaat is under the control of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).Tell Rifaat city is supposedly one of the main targets of the Turkish military operation that was launched in Afrin area on January 20. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan even vowed to clean the city of the YPG earlier this month.
However, Russia appears to be against any Turkish attack on Tell Rifaat and the Menagh airbase north of it. Tell Rifaat now hosts tens of thousands of civilians that have been forcibly displaced by the Turkish Army from their villages and towns in Afrin area. This situation could be the reason behind the Russian decision to keep Turkey away from the northern city.
WhoWhatWhy, Deep State Politics: Saudi Prince Visiting Trump Tied to Unresolved 9/11 Questions, Russ Baker, March 29, 2018. What does Prince Mohammed know about apparent connections between Saudi hijackers and his half-brother and advisor? And did President Donald Trump, who once questioned the official 9/11 narrative, ask about this?
FBI’s list of 9/11 alleged hijackers, showing 14 of 19 from Saudi Arabia (Graphic by Florida Bulldog)
Reuters, Saudi Arabia must face U.S. lawsuits over Sept. 11 attacks, Jonathan Stempel, March 28, 2018. A U.S. judge on Wednesday rejected Saudi Arabia’s bid to dismiss lawsuits claiming that it helped plan the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and should pay billions of dollars in damages to victims.
U.S. District Judge George Daniels in Manhattan said the plaintiffs’ allegations “narrowly articulate a reasonable basis” for him to assert jurisdiction over Saudi Arabia under the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), a 2016 federal law.
The Saudi government has long denied involvement in the attacks in which hijacked airplanes crashed into New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania field. Nearly 3,000 people died.
Lawyers for Saudi Arabia did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the decision. At a Saudi stock market event in New York, asked whether the court decision would have a negative impact on Saudi investment in the United States, Capital Market Authority Chairman Mohammed A. ElKuwaiz declined to comment, saying he had not seen the news.
Daniels’ decision covers claims by the families of those killed, roughly 25,000 people who suffered injuries, and many businesses and insurers.
Inside Team Trump
Washington Post, Trump proposal would penalize immigrants who use tax credits, other benefits, Nick Miroff, March 28, 2018. Immigrants who accept almost any form of welfare or public benefit, even popular tax deductions, could be denied legal U.S. residency under a proposal awaiting approval by the Trump administration, which is seeking to reduce the number of foreigners living in the United States.
According to a draft of the proposal obtained by The Washington Post, immigration caseworkers would be required to consider a much broader range of factors when determining whether immigrants or their U.S.-citizen children are using public benefits or may be likely to do so.
Current rules penalize immigrants who receive cash welfare payments, considering them a “public charge.” But the proposed changes from the Department of Homeland Security would widen the government’s definition of benefits to include the widely used Earned Income Tax Credit as well as health insurance subsidies and other “non-cash public benefits.”
Judge Permits Suit On Trump Hotel $$$s
Washington Post, Judge allows lawsuit accusing Trump of receiving improper payments through D.C. hotel, David A. Fahrenthold and Jonathan O’Connell, March 28, 2018. A federal judge ruled that the District of Columbia and Maryland may proceed with an unprecedented lawsuit against President Trump alleging that Trump’s business dealings have violated the Constitution’s ban on receiving improper “emoluments,” or payments, from individual states and foreign governments.
The ruling, by U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte in Maryland, marks the first time that a lawsuit of this kind has cleared the initial legal hurdle — a finding that the plaintiffs have legal standing to sue the president in the first place.
In this case, Messitte found that D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) and Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) have legal standing to sue Trump over the business of the Trump International Hotel in downtown Washington, shown above right while under construction (Justice Integrity Project photo)..
As part of that ruling, Messitte said he rejected an argument previously made by critics of the lawsuit — that, under the Constitution, only Congress may decide whether the president has violated the emoluments clauses.
If the ruling stands, it could allow Racine and Frosh to seek internal documents from the Trump Organization, to determine how much money the Washington hotel has taken in from state and foreign governments. Although Trump said he gave up day-to-day management of his business while he is in the White House, he still owns his businesses and can withdraw money from them at any time.
Ecuador Pressures Assange
Huffington Post, Ecuador Cuts Off WikiLeaks Founder’s Outside Communications, Lydia O’Connor, March 28, 2018. Julian Assange has been stripped of his internet access for violating the terms of the asylum. Ecuador is cutting off WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s communications with the world outside the London embassy, where he’s been living in asylum since 2012.
Ecuadorean officials announced Wednesday that they had enacted the limits in response to his recent social media activity, which they say jeopardizes their relationship with the U.K. The world-famous hacker (shown at right) agreed in late 2017 not to send any messages that could interfere with Ecuador’s relations with other nations, the announcement said.
Editor’s Note: The Justice Integrity Project has documented extensively on this site that Assange, whatever his rumored but never public charged offenses, was framed and smeared on sex suspicions by Swedish authorities who never formally charged him but instead worked with British authorties to curtail his freedoms in political vendettas using the courts.
Palmer Report, Opinion: Looks like something big is up with Robert Mueller and Julian Assange, Bill Palmer, March 28, 2018. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been holed up in the basement of Ecuador’s embassy in the United Kingdom. Now, suddenly, Ecuador is cracking down on Assange in a big way – and we can’t help but observe the timing.
The most logical scenario is that Ecuador has been informed that Assange is about to be indicted in the United States, and it’s making preparations accordingly. Does this mean Ecuador will turn Assange over to Mueller? Stay tuned.
New York Times, App to Harvest Data on Facebook Had Tie to a Thiel Company, Nicholas Confessore and Matthew Rosenberg, March 28, 2018 (print edition). The idea of a personality quiz to help Cambridge Analytica mine user information came from a man working for a firm that serves American spy agencies and was co-founded by Peter Thiel (shown in a Noel St. John photo), a Facebook board member and a Trump supporter.
New York Times, Whistle-Blower Contends Data-Mining Swung Brexit Vote, Ellen Berry, March 28, 2018. The whistle-blower Christopher Wylie (shown in a file photo) held a roomful of British lawmakers rapt for three and a half hours on Tuesday, like a pink-haired, nose-ringed oracle sent from the future to explain data.
In testimony to the House of Commons’ select committee on culture, Mr. Wylie, a 28-year-old Canadian, described the inner workings of SCL, a political consultancy that gave its clients access to a vast collection of personal information harvested from Facebook.
In one of the longest sessions in recent memory, Mr. Wylie made a number of jaw-dropping assertions, most significantly that the company’s exploitation of personal data had swung the results of Britain’s 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union. He also suggested that his predecessor at Cambridge Analytica was murdered.
But mostly, Mr. Wylie tried to explain data-mining. He looked like a cerebral skate-rat, which might in other circumstances have undermined his credibility, but in this case it seemed to help. He was polite. He resembled, as one journalist put it, “a patient grandson trying to set up a Skype call with his gran.”
New York Times, Cyberattack Holds Atlanta ‘Hostage’ by Freezing City Systems, Alan Blinder and Nicole Perlroth, March 28, 2018 (print edition). Atlanta’s city government has been struggling for days with ransomware that has hobbled its computer networks and forced it back to doing business with ink and paper. The City of Atlanta’s 8,000 employees got the word on Tuesday that they had been waiting for: It was O.K. to turn their computers on.
But as the city government’s desktops, hard drives and printers flickered back to life for the first time in five days, residents still could not pay their traffic tickets or water bills online, or report potholes or graffiti on a city website. Travelers at the world’s busiest airport still could not use the free Wi-Fi.
Atlanta’s municipal government has been brought to its knees since Thursday morning by a ransomware attack — one of the most sustained and consequential cyberattacks ever mounted against a major American city.
The digital extortion aimed at Atlanta, which security experts have linked to a shadowy hacking crew known for its careful selection of targets, laid bare once again the vulnerabilities of governments as they rely on computer networks for day-to-day operations. In a ransomware attack, malicious software cripples a victim’s computer or network and blocks access to important data until a ransom is paid to unlock it.
HUD Retreat On Housing Bias?
New York Times, Carson Scales Back HUD’s Fair Housing Enforcement, Glenn Thrush, March 28, 2018. The Department of Housing and Urban Development under Ben Carson (right) is rolling back Obama administration attempts to curtail segregation in federally subsidized housing.
#MeToo Wall Street Claim
New York Times, Star Broker, Accused of Abuse, Still Works at Morgan Stanley, Emily Flitter, March 28, 2018. Douglas E. Greenberg, a top Morgan Stanley broker, was repeatedly accused of violence against ex-wives and girlfriends. Bank managers were told. But he kept his job.
‘Free-Range’ Parents Protected
Washington Post, Utah’s ‘free-range parenting’ law said to be first in the nation, Meagan Flynn, March 28, 2018. Utah became the first state in the U.S. to pass a “free-range” parenting law. Here’s what you should know.
It all started when Lenore Skenazy let her 9-year-old ride the subway home alone. She gave him a map, a MetroCard, a $20 bill and — just in case — some quarters for a pay phone call. Then she left him in the handbag section in New York’s original Bloomingdale’s. It was all his idea. He had begged Skenazy to just leave him somewhere and let him find his way back all by himself, until finally, on a spring day in 2008, she let him do it.
Gov. Gary R. Herbert (R) signed the “free-range parenting” bill into law earlier this month after it passed unanimously in both chambers of Utah’s legislature. It’s believed to be the first such law in the United States, according to Skenazy. The measure, sponsored by Utah state Sen. Lincoln Fillmore (R), exempts from the definition of child neglect various activities children can do without supervision, permitting “a child, whose basic needs are met and who is of sufficient age and maturity to avoid harm or unreasonable risk of harm, to engage in independent activities …”
Those activities include letting children “walk, run or bike to and from school, travel to commercial or recreational facilities, play outside and remain at home unattended.” The law does not say what the “sufficient age” is.
Probes Of Trump Team
Former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort, left, and his longtime associate Rick Gates (file photos)
Washington Post, Opinion: Mueller just drew his most direct line to date between the Trump campaign and Russia, Aaron Blake, March 28, 2018. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation just drew what appears to be its most direct line to date between President Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia.
That line is drawn in a new court filing related to the upcoming sentencing of London attorney Alex van der Zwaan. Van der Zwaan has pleaded guilty to lying about his contacts with deputy Trump campaign manager Rick Gates and a person identified in the document only as “Person A.” Person A appears to be a former Ukraine-based aide to Gates and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort named Konstantin Kilimnik.
What’s particularly significant in the Mueller filing, though, are six words: “and had such ties in 2016.” Prosecutors have said previously that a longtime Manafort and Gates associate had ties to Russian intelligence, but they have never said those ties remained during the 2016 campaign.
Manafort, 68, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, money laundering, and tax and bank fraud charges related to his lobbying work for a Russian-friendly political party in Ukraine and former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.
Roll Call, Analysis: 3 Takeaways From White House’s Semi-Denials of Pardon Talks, John T. Bennett, March 28, 2018. The White House on Wednesday did not categorically deny President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer discussed pardons for two former aides with their lawyers just as the special counsel was closing in on both.
At issue are conversations John Dowd, who left Trump’s outside legal team last week, allegedly had with the attorneys for Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort. The New York Times reported Wednesday afternoon that those conversations occurred, but the three sources it cites did not say that the president greenlighted those alleged conversations or was told about them after they might have occurred.
The reported conversations suggest Dowd, and possibly others including Trump himself, were concerned the former national security adviser and Trump campaign chairman might cut a deal with Robert Mueller (shown above at right), the Justice Department’s special counsel investigating Russia’s 2016 election meddling, and give him information damaging to the president.
Palmer Report, Opinion: Disney Channel star and a medieval history expert? Yep, and that’s just the start of Donald Trump’s new lunacy, Bill Palmer, March 28, 2018. With Donald Trump’s behavior and judgment deteriorating by the day, the only thing left he could do that would still surprise us is if he hired his personal physician to run the VA, a former Disney Channel star to work on his media team, and a medieval history expert for his Trump-Russia legal team. So naturally, Trump has spent the week making precisely these moves. No really, these aren’t random punchlines, these are people he’s actually hired this week.
Last night we saw the news come across the wire that Trump had hired former Disney Channel star Caroline Sunshine (shown above in a Disney publicity photo) for a White House communications job, we suspected it might have been a hoax. But sure enough, this actually happened. Caroline studied politics and she’s completed two political internships, meaning she’s the very rare Trump hire who’s actually qualified for the job. However, based on his track record, we worry that he only hired her because she’s young and attractive, and we hope she has the sense to keep physical distance from him. Seriously.
Finally, Donald Trump seemed to be trying to one-up himself in the ludicrousness department today when he announced that his personal military physician, Dr. Ronny Jackson, would be the new VA Secretary. Jackson has absolutely no skills or qualifications for the job, but he did recently announce that Trump only weighed 239 pounds. Sadly, that’s probably the reason he got the gig.
Prison Reform Divides Trump Team
New York Times, Kushner Resists Sessions’s Push for Hard-Line Prison Policy, Matt Apuzzo, March 28, 2018. Criminal justice policy has pitted Jared Kushner, the president’s reform-minded son-in-law, against Jeff Sessions, the attorney general and a hard-liner. The tensions have resulted in a whiplash approach to federal prison policy in the Trump administration.
In the final months of the Obama administration, the Justice Department announced a new approach to preparing prisoners for life beyond their cells. Officials created a prison school system, pledged money for technology training and promised to help prevent former inmates from returning to prison.
Almost immediately after taking office, Trump administration officials began undoing their work. Budgets were slashed, the school system was scrapped and studies were shelved as Attorney General Jeff Sessions (shown at left in a Justice Department photo) brought to bear his tough-on-crime philosophy and deep skepticism of Obama-era crime-fighting policies.
Now, nearly a year and a half later, the White House has declared that reducing recidivism and improving prisoner education is a top priority — echoing some of the very policies it helped dismantle.
U.S. Injustice Abuses
WGBH News (Boston), The Case Of Sullivan And Brissette, Harvey Silverglate (right), March 28, 2018. Federal District Judge Leo T. Sorokin on March 22nd put to rest the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s long simmering legal war against Boston labor unions and the Walsh administration with the dismissal of the charges against Kenneth Brissette and Timothy Sullivan. The two aides of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh were accused of threatening to withhold permits from organizers of the 2014 Boston Calling Music Festival if the organizers did not hire union workers.
Yet nobody is predicting that the Feds have at long last stopped abusing vague federal “anti-corruption” statutes to tyrannize federal, state and local pols who undertake the difficult, and these days often legally risky, task of engaging in political life. The Supreme Court has thus far failed to take the necessary step of throwing these statutes out as hopelessly and irredeemably unconstitutionally vague. (These statutes seem fit for only one purpose – terrorizing state and local officials.) Instead, the high court, and the lower federal courts (such as the District Court on which Judge Sorokin sits), keep trying to assign ever-narrower interpretations to statutes that are impossible to understand, much less to apply fairly to real life politics.
The history of this latest prosecution of Sullivan and Brissette is illustrative. Both have labor union backgrounds, as does their boss, a former labor union president who was elected in 2013 with strong union support. When the administration tried to pressure the organizers of the Boston Calling festival to hire some union help to work at the event, the organizers found a sympathetic ear in the U. S. Attorney’s Office with their complaint that the pressure amounted to illegal strong-arming (“extortion” in the language of the law, “blackmail” in more common parlance).
Democrat Barack Obama’s United States Attorney, Carmen Ortiz (shown at left), indicted the men after a grand jury investigation that for a time seemed likely to engulf Mayor Walsh himself. Republican U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling continued to press the case, suggesting that federal prosecutors’ overreach is not a partisan political activity. Rather, it is part of a long-term phenomenon of federal prosecutors exercising excessive and often unconstitutional power over civil society, and particularly over local, state and federal officials engaging in ordinary governmental actions.
This abuse of vague federal criminal statutes until recently had the full support of regional and national news media who were blinded by the specter of clean federal prosecutors, aided by much-heralded FBI agents, going after “crooked pols.” But even as the Supreme Court has continued to counsel against such overzealousness, most recently by overturning in 2016 the corruption conviction of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell, the prosecutions have continued.
Legal Schnauzer, Opinion: Milton McGregor, Alabama’s King of Gambling, is gone, but his battle against deep-seated political corruption will continue through the example he set, Roger Shuler, March 28, 2018. Milton McGregor, a titan of Alabama business and politics for 35 years, died on Sunday — and online tributes have been pouring in from people who knew him as a shrewd businessman and a good-hearted soul, with influence that crossed racial and economic boundaries.
I got to know McGregor (shown at right) through my reporting on Deep South corruption, and I found him to be sharp, insightful, tough, and charming. He also was an almost limitless source of information about the sometimes dysfunctional gears of Alabama politics.
As the owner of VictoryLand casino, McGregor was the target of corrupt state and federal efforts to shutter his business — most famously from former Gov. Bob Riley and his oily son, Rob, often with back-stabbing assistance from current U.S. Sen. and phony Democrat Doug Jones. In one of the most shameful episodes of the Obama years, beat federal charges in a criminal case that produced zero convictions.
Legal Schnauzer reported on McGregor’s battles in a way that could be found at no other news outlet. Over and over, via in-depth analysis (supported by court documents and case law), we showed McGregor and his business were wrongly targeted by Riley and former Attorney General Luther Strange. Years from now, our blog will serve as a repository of investigative journalism that shows Milton McGregor was on the right side of the law against some of the worst political thugs this state ever has produced.
The finest journalistic tribute we’ve seen comes from Josh Moon, of Alabama Political Reporter. It’s title is “Milton McGregor lied to me,” and that hints at a surprise ending, which likely will bring a tear to those who ever crossed paths with McGregor.
See also: Alabama Political Reporter, Opinion: Milton McGregor lied to me, Josh Moon, March 26, 2018. One of the first things Milton McGregor ever told me was that he wouldn’t lie to me. That was in March 2014, several months before I wrote an in-depth series on the history of gambling in Alabama and McGregor’s role in it. It was the first of many interviews, and McGregor wanted to set the ground rules.
New York Daily News, See: Al D’Amato curses at his wife while she’s laid up in the hospital amid child care dispute, Andrew Keshner and Stephen Rex Brown, March 28, 2018. Former GOP New York Senator Al D’Amato’s estranged wife released a disturbing video Wednesday showing him cursing her out as she wept in a hospital bed following neck surgery.
Inside Trump White House
Washington Post, Opinion: Yes, former Disney star Caroline Sunshine is working in the White House, and yes, she’s qualified, Helena Andrews-Dyer, March 28, 2018. The former “Shake it Up” actor and onetime White House intern, 22, will find her new role as a press assistant a not very glamorous one.
New York Times, At Least Twelve States to Sue Trump Administration Over Census Citizenship Question, Michael Wines and Emily Baumgaertner, March 26, 2018. At least 12 states signaled Tuesday that they would sue to block the Trump administration from adding a question about citizenship to the 2020 census, arguing that the change would cause fewer Americans to be counted and violate the Constitution.
New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman (right) said he was leading a multistate lawsuit to stop the move, and officials in Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Washington said they would join the effort. The State of California filed a separate lawsuit late Monday night.
“The census is supposed to count everyone,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. “This is a blatant and illegal attempt by the Trump administration to undermine that goal, which will result in an undercount of the population and threaten federal funding for our state and cities.”
The Constitution requires that every resident of the United States be counted in a decennial census, whether or not they are citizens. The results are used not just to redraw political boundaries from school boards to House seats, but to allocate hundreds of billions of dollars in federal grants and subsidies to where they are needed most. Census data provide the baseline for planning decisions made by corporations and governments alike.
The Trump administration defended the citizenship question by saying it was needed to better enforce the Voting Rights Act, which relies on accurate estimates of voting-eligible populations.
The White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders (shown in a file photo), said in a briefing that the decision to gather citizenship data through the decennial census was “necessary for the Department of Justice to protect voters.”
Opponents of the added citizenship question said it was certain to depress response to the census from noncitizens and even legal immigrants. Critics accused the administration of adding the question to reduce the population count in the predominantly Democratic areas where more immigrants reside, in advance of state and national redistricting in 2021. (Excerpt continued below.)
FBI Exposed As Lying In Mass Murder /Terror Case?
WhoWhatWhy, Case Against Pulse Nightclub Shooter’s Wife Falls Apart, James Henry, March 27, 2018. FBI Caught in an Interesting Lie. Back in a January 2017 article, we asked: “Did the Feds Indict the Wife of Orlando Shooter for Sins of Her Husband?” It turns out the answer to that question is: probably. It’s either that or the FBI is trying to silence her.
Either way, the case against Noor Salman, wife of Pulse nightclub shooter, Omar Mateen (shown in a driver’s license photo), is falling apart due to prosecutorial misconduct.
In the early morning hours of June 12, 2016, Mateen killed 49 people and wounded 58, at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in one of the worst mass shooting incidents in the nation’s history. Mateen was ultimately shot and killed by police.
Salman (shown at left), Mateen’s wife and the mother of his young child, was indicted [as reported by the New York Times, among other places] by prosecutors on charges of “aiding and abetting” an act of terrorism as well as “obstruction of justice” for supposedly lying to investigators.
Mateen, a Muslim, made a series of contradictory statements in support of Sunni ISIS and Shia Hezbollah to 911 operators the night of the shooting: hence the terrorism charges.
An exchange last week between the sitting judge in the case and an FBI special agent is illustrative. As reported by the Intercept, “the judge, in angry tones, made clear that he believed he had been misled for months by prosecutors about a key part of the government’s evidence.”
At issue is the reliability of the evidence the prosecution (and the FBI) used to make its case: that Salman was willingly aiding and abetting her husband’s violent plans to shoot up the Orlando nightclub.
Furthermore, and perhaps most troubling, it also became known in court filings that Omar Mateen’s father was a longtime FBI informant — a highly relevant fact that was not disclosed to the defense team until recently, according to the Washington Post.
Washington Post, Orlando nightclub shooter’s father was FBI informant, court documents say, Matt Zapotosky, March 27, 2018. Seddique Mateen (shown at right), the father of Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen, was a longtime FBI informant, court documents show. The father of the 29-year-old who killed 49 people at an Orlando nightclub in the summer of 2016 was an FBI informant who came under scrutiny himself after investigators found receipts for money transfers to Turkey and Afghanistan in the wake of the mass shooting, recently filed court documents show.
The revelation came in documents filed by attorneys for the shooter’s wife, Noor Salman (shown at left), who is on trial in Orlando on allegations that she aided and abetted her husband’s attack and obstructed law enforcement’s investigation into it.
Prosecutors argue that Salman essentially admitted to the FBI that she knew what her husband (shown in a selfie) was about to do. Defense attorneys argue that she was a victim of her husband’s abuse and infidelity and that false statements she made to the FBI came during a coercive interview.
Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Justice Dept. charges Minnesota FBI agent for leaking secret document to news outlet, Stephen Montemayor, March 29, 2018.
He allegedly shared secret information with reporter.
A former Minneapolis FBI agent who sought to expose what he called “systemic biases” within the bureau has been charged after allegedly leaking secret documents to a national news reporter, according to federal criminal charges filed in Minnesota this week.
The charges, filed by prosecutors for the Justice Department’s National Security Division, are the first to come in Minnesota since Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a broad crackdown on government leaks last year.
A two-page felony information, a charging document that typically signals an imminent guilty plea, outlines two counts filed against Terry James Albury of unlawfully disclosing and retaining national defense information.
Albury is accused of sharing a document on assessing confidential human sources — otherwise referred to as informants — and a document “relating to threats posed by certain individuals from a particular Middle Eastern country” with a reporter for a national media organization.
The second count charged against Albury alleged that he failed to turn over a document “relating to the use of an online platform for recruitment by a specific terrorist group” last year.
The charges do not name the reporter or news organization but allege that Albury possessed and shared the information between February 2016 and Jan. 31, 2017 — the same date that the Intercept published an entry to its “FBI’s Secret Rules” series on how the bureau assesses potential informants. The report drew upon a secret document obtained by the Intercept that has the same publication date described in the charges against Albury.
Washington Post, Md. case provides Supreme Court an opening to draw line on gerrymandering, Robert Barnes, March 27, 2018. A high court challenge to be heard Wednesday on Maryland’s Democratic-led congressional redistricting, along with the yet-to-be-decided lawsuit that was heard last fall on a Republican remapping effort in Wisconsin, could signal that justices are on the brink of a historic change in the way elections are conducted in the United States.
Inside DC: Funding For Trump’s ‘Wall’?
Washington Post, Trump privately presses for military to pay for border wall, Josh Dawsey and Mike DeBonis, March 27, 2018. President Trump, who told advisers he was spurned when lawmakers recently appropriated only $1.6 billion for a wall along the southern border with Mexico, has begun suggesting the Pentagon could fund the project, citing a “national security” risk.
New York Times, Opinion: John Paul Stevens: Repeal the Second Amendment, John Paul Stevens, March 27, 2018. John Paul Stevens (shown at right in a court photo) is a retired associate justice of the United States Supreme Court. This weekend’s marches make it clear: To enact real gun control, we need to change the Constitution. Rarely in my lifetime have I seen the type of civic engagement schoolchildren and their supporters demonstrated in Washington and other major cities throughout the country this past Saturday. These demonstrations demand our respect. They reveal the broad public support for legislation to minimize the risk of mass killings of schoolchildren and others in our society.
That support is a clear sign to lawmakers to enact legislation prohibiting civilian ownership of semiautomatic weapons, increasing the minimum age to buy a gun from 18 to 21 years old, and establishing more comprehensive background checks on all purchasers of firearms. But the demonstrators should seek more effective and more lasting reform. They should demand a repeal of the Second Amendment.
New York Times, Trump’s Litmus Test for Judges: Shrinking ‘Administrative State,’ Jeremy W. Peters, March 27, 2018 (print edition). The Trump administration has been surprisingly frank in saying it wants to use the courts to curb the power of federal agencies, a longstanding goal of conservatives.
New York Times, Opinion: Stormy Daniels Spanks Trump Again, Michelle Goldberg, March 27, 2018 (print edition). Because there is broad consensus that Donald Trump is a lewd degenerate, nothing Stormy Daniels, the pornographic film actress and director, told “60 Minutes” about their alleged 2006 sexual encounter was particularly astonishing. Everyone also knows that Trump has a repulsive compulsion to sexualize his daughter Ivanka — he once happily concurred with Howard Stern that she was a “piece of ass” — so it’s not surprising that he told Daniels she reminded him of his child before he slept with her. (According to McDougal, Trump said something similar to her.)
Nevertheless, the Daniels interview aired on Sunday was important, portending danger for both Trump and his personal lawyer Michael Cohen. As I’ve written before, the Daniels affair is a corruption scandal disguised as a sex scandal. And on the corruption front, we learned things on Sunday that could help unravel Trump’s wretched presidency.
Daniels’s most shocking disclosure was her account of being threatened, apparently on Trump’s behalf, in 2011, a few weeks after agreeing to tell her story to a gossip magazine for $15,000. She said she was in a parking lot with her infant daughter when a man approached and said: “Leave Trump alone. Forget the story.” Then, she said, he looked at the baby and warned, “A beautiful little girl — it would be a shame if something happened to her mom.”
Washington Post, Opinion: Why does character matter in politics? Look to Stormy Daniels, Michael Gerson, March 27, 2018. Some who watched the Stormy Daniels interview on “60 Minutes” claimed it contained nothing new. On national television, an adult performer alleged that Donald Trump engaged in an extramarital fling, that his minions legally and physically threatened her to discourage public disclosure of the affair, and that Trump’s fixer paid her $130,000 in hush money to secure her silence immediately before the 2016 election. People should just go back to their knitting. Nothing to see here.
Americans who find this unremarkable have missed an extraordinary cultural moment. Daniels’s allegations are denied by the White House and an attorney for President Trump’s lawyer.
Yet who in their right mind would trust Trump’s word over hers? In this case, the porn star has more credibility than the president of the United States. It is not even close.
U.S. Census Controversy
New York Times, At Least Twelve States to Sue Trump Administration Over Census Citizenship Question, Michael Wines and Emily Baumgaertner, March 27, 2018 (Continued from above).
Opponents of the added citizenship question said it was certain to depress response to the census from noncitizens and even legal immigrants. Critics accused the administration of adding the question to reduce the population count in the predominantly Democratic areas where more immigrants reside, in advance of state and national redistricting in 2021.
Ms. Sanders (shown in a file photo) also said the citizenship question had “been included in every census since 1965, with the exception of 2010, when it was removed.”
In fact, various citizenship questions have appeared in many censuses since 1850, especially during periods of high immigration. But it was dropped from the 1960 general census (there was no census in 1965) and relegated in 1970 to a longer list of questions that were asked of a small minority of residents. After 2000, the question was asked only on the American Community Survey, a separate voluntary poll of a fraction of the population that is conducted more frequently than the census.
Critics noted that the citizenship question was added at the last minute — the deadline for proposing new questions for the 2020 head count is April 1 — and that it sidestepped the years of vetting undergone by every other question that will be asked.
Washington Post, Cambridge Analytica’s Alexander Nix: Bond villain, tech genius or hustler? William Booth and Karla Adam, March 27, 2018. People are divided on how to characterize the suspended head of the British political consulting firm (shown at right) that boasted of helping President Trump win election and is now suspected of violating the privacy of tens of millions of Facebook users.
Palmer Report, Opinion: Turns out Donald Trump’s hiring of John Bolton is all about Cambridge Analytica and Trump-Russia, Bill Palmer, March 26, 2018. Donald Trump has tried to play it safe with comparatively small military action like Yemen, Syria and Niger, and even that has largely blown up in his face.
Even with the John Bolton hiring, there is no reason to expect Trump is looking to start a war. There is, however, every reason to expect that Bolton was hired because the Cambridge Analytica scandal is exploding.
The Duran via SouthFront, China applauds Putin’s win, backs Russia on Skripal case, hails China’s ‘strategic partnership’ with Russia, Alexander Mercouris, March 27, 2018. President Putin’s massive election victory and the fallout from the Skripal case have provided Global Times – an English language newspaper published under the auspices of the People’s Daily, the official organ of China’s Communist Party, and therefore reflecting the views of China’s leadership – with the opportunity to give Russia strong backing as it comes under renewed Western pressure.
Washington Post, North Korean leader reportedly meets with China’s president in Beijing, Emily Rauhala, March 27, 2018. China’s state media called Kim Jong Un’s meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping an “unofficial visit.” It is believed to be Kim’s first trip abroad as leader since he came to power in 2011 and came in the run-up to summits with leaders from South Korea and the United States.
Global News: Syrian Rebels
Reuters, Thousands more leave Syria’s Ghouta, rebels await Russian decision, Tom Perry and Suleiman Al-Khalidi, March 27, 2018. Thousands of people left eastern Ghouta for Syrian rebel territory near the Turkish border on Tuesday, the third large group to leave under a deal brokered by Russia to surrender the enclave near Damascus to the Syrian government. Government forces were also mobilizing around Douma, the last rebel-held town in eastern Ghouta, a war monitor reported, piling pressure on the insurgents holed up inside to cut a similar deal.
Police Shooting Not Prosecuted
Washington Post, Baton Rouge officers won’t be charged in 2016 fatal shooting of Alton Sterling, Mark Berman and Wesley Lowery, March 27, 2018. The decision was announced nearly two years after Sterling’s death set off intense protests in the Louisiana city. Sterling was killed in July 2016 by officers responding to a call about a man who had threatened someone with a gun.
Washington Post, Former Charles County coach, school aide sentenced to 105 years in federal prison, Clarence Williams, March 27, 2018. A U.S. District Court judge on Tuesday sentenced a former Maryland middle school aide and high school track coach to 105 years in prison on federal child pornography charges involving 10 minors. In January, Carlos DeAngelo Bell, 30, of Waldorf admitted that he coerced children to engage in sexually explicit conduct to produce child porn from 2014 to 2016.
SouthFront, Overview Of Battle For Eastern Ghouta, Staff report, March 27, 2018. 6,749 militants and members of Faylaq al-Rahman and their relatives left the southern part of Eastern Ghouta and were transferred using 110 buses to the militant-held part of Idlib province
Stone Cold Truth, Opinion: Daily Beast Web of Lies, Roger Stone, March 27, 2018. The Daily Beast published stories three days in a row claiming new evidence shows Guccifer 2.0 has been identified as a Russian and that he hacked the DNC emails and that a communication I had with him over twitter are somehow proof of collusion. This is all 100 % fabricated fake news.
You got to hand it to the folks at The Daily Beast. They just keep recycling the same discredited bullschiff with the bogus claim that some stunning new evidence proves Guccifer 2.0 is a Russian hacker and then continuing to push the unproven assertion that he hacked the DNC emails and delivered the material to WikiLeaks. Now watch a dozen other fake news sites jump on the bandwagon- even though the Daily Beast’s claim is totally contrived. The New York Post and Yahoo News are already recycling this nothingburger.
I disproved the Daily Beast story here on the Stone Cold Truth (Oct. 11, 2017), and it is dispatched here.
Since “Guccifer 2.0” used software licensed to a DNC employee the evidence that he is an American is far more significant that anything the Daily Beast is recycling. Guccifer 2.0 screamed Russian and posted five documents purposefully tainted with ‘Russian Metadata Fingerprints’. Perhaps he was trying to look like a Russian.
As I told the House Intelligence Committee I once thought Guccifer 2.0 was a Romanian. I no longer think so. I once believed his public claim that he hacked the DNC emails. I no longer think so. In fact, whether the DNC was hacked at all which is, despite the MSM insistence, unproven.
Washington Post, Another prominent lawyer declines offer to represent Trump in Russia investigation, Carol D. Leonnig and Rosalind S. Helderman, March 27, 2018 (print edition). Dan K. Webb, a former U.S. attorney for Illinois and a corporate and white collar defense lawyer, was contacted by the president’s team, which has struggled to attract top legal talent. After rejecting Trump’s invitation to join his legal team, Ted Olson admonishes president.
Global News: Russian Fire Disaster
Washington Post, Putin flies to Siberian city after deadly mall fire sparks protests and rumors that the death toll is actually much higher, Matthew Bodner, March 27, 2018. The Russian president traveled 2,000 miles to calm speculation that many more had died than in the official toll as thousands took to the streets to demand answers.
New York Times, Stormy Daniels Says She Stayed Silent on Trump Out of Fear, Jim Rutenberg, March 26, 2018 (print edition). The porn actress told “60 Minutes” that in 2011 a man threatened her to stop talking about her affair with Donald J. Trump. “He leaned round and looked at my daughter and said, ‘That’s a beautiful little girl, it would be a shame if something happened to her mom.’ ”
New York Times, Question on Citizenship, Spurring Outcry, Emily Baumgaertner, March 26, 2018. The Commerce Department said that adding the inquiry — a Trump administration request — to the 2020 census would allow it to measure the voting-eligible population. Critics say it will result in a significant undercount, and unfair redistricting that benefits Republicans.
New York Times, With Trump as a Prize, How a Top Fund-Raiser Peddled Access, Kenneth P. Vogel and David D. Kirkpatrick, March 26, 2018 (print edition). March 26, 2018 (print edition). Elliott Broidy, an investor and a defense contractor, marketed his connection to President Trump to politicians and governments, including some with unsavory records. It illustrates how Mr. Trump’s unorthodox approach to governing has spawned a new breed of influence peddling in the swamp he vowed to drain.
New York Times, Opinion: An Ohio Bill Would Ban All Abortions. It’s Part of a Bigger Plan, Editorial board, March 26, 2018 (print edition). Republican state lawmakers have introduced a bill that would outlaw abortion. It’s unconstitutional, but that’s the point.
WhoWhatWhy, Intel Expert James Bamford Blasts Russiagate Hype, Peter B. Collins, March 26, 2018. Bamford Believes Russia Hacked DNC, Can’t Confirm Transfer of Contents to WikiLeaks. Author and intelligence expert James Bamford says the reports of Russian interference in the 2016 US election, which is being treated as one of the biggest stories out there right now, are overblown.
So far, Bamford argues, no evidence has been presented that this is anything other than the type of intelligence gathering or operation that countries are engaged in all the time.
Bamford (shown at right) is critical of the hyped, 24/7 coverage of Russiagate. Indeed, he sees widespread hacking by Russia, the United States, and other online spies as old news. He has special criticism for his colleagues in the media, who have “squandered their objectivity and precious resources on a single story.”
He points out that the best known use of cyberweapons is America’s insertion of the Stuxnet virus into the automated centrifuges at the heart of Iran’s nuclear program. Despite this, he notes, many American leaders present the US only as a victim of cyberattacks.
In this Radio WhoWhatWhy interview, Bamford also talks about the recent failures of the intelligence community, including the theft of NSA hacking tools and the CIA’s bungled efforts to retrieve them. He calls the operatives of both agencies “Keystone spies,” and criticizes the extreme public responses that have compared hacking to Pearl Harbor.
James Bamford has written a number of books and articles about America’s intelligence community, with special focus on the National Security Agency. He has also produced Frontline documentaries for PBS on these subjects. His recent article in the New Republic offers his overview of Russiagate.
Bamford is the author of The Puzzle Palace: Inside the National Security Agency, America’s Most Secret Intelligence Organization (Penguin Books, September 1983); Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency (Anchor Books, April 2002); The Shadow Factory: The NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America (Anchor Books, July 2009); A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America’s Intelligence Agencies (Anchor Books, May 2005).
Media Criticque From King
Real Clear Politics, Larry King Rips Cable News Networks: There Is No News Anymore, “It’s All Trump.” Ian Schwartz, March 26, 2018. Legendary TV talk show host Larry King said there is “no news” broadcasted on cable networks anymore. He said it is “all Trump” in an interview on the Adam Carolla Show that aired on Monday.
King complained about the age of partisan cable news channels, the overuse of the ‘breaking news’ alert, and the lack of actual news aired on the networks. King was not afraid to criticize his long-time former network CNN. He said the network is “all panels,” often with 8 (or more) guests.
The former CNN host said MSNBC is liberal, FOX News is conservative, and his former home is “sorta liberal.”
President Trump in an NBC publicity photo for his show The Apprentice
Washington Post, How Trumpism has come to define the Republican Party, Ashley Parker, March 25, 2018 (print edition). Using legislation and unilateral actions, the president seems to have overtaken his party’s previously understood values, from a willingness to flout free-trade principles and fiscal austerity to a seeming abdication of the U.S.’s role as a global voice for democratic values.
Over just a few days last week, the essence of Trumpism was on global display: The president ignored his advisers by congratulating Vladimir Putin, took the first steps toward imposing tariffs on billions of dollars in Chinese goods and signed a huge $1.3 trillion spending bill that will balloon the federal deficit.
In each case, President Trump cast aside years of Republican orthodoxy — and most of the party followed right along. The raw, undefined brand of populism that Trump rode into office is now hardening into a clearer set of policies in his second year, remaking the Republican Party and the country on issues ranging from trade and immigration to spending and entitlement programs.
Even amid persistent unpopularity and the chaotic din of his White House, Trump has used a mix of legislation and unilateral actions to successfully push ahead with key parts of his vision — tariffs that have rocked global markets; harsh crackdowns on illegal immigrants; a nationalistic foreign policy that spurns allies while embracing foes and costly policies with little concern for the growing national debt.
Mass Marches For Gun Control
New York Times, Protests Put G.O.P. on Defensive Ahead of Midterms, Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin, March 25, 2018. The passionate March for Our Lives demonstrations signaled that gun violence is not going away as an issue in the 2018 midterm elections. But the debate could play out very differently in House and Senate races.
New York Times, Marches Were Mix of Youthful Energy and Influential Adults, Alan Blinder, Jess Bidgood and Vivian Wang, March 25, 2018. The rallies were triumphs of organic, youthful grass-roots energy, and of sophisticated, experienced organizational muscle. They were rallies that would not have happened without the fervor of the students: teenage survivors of last month’s massacre in Parkland, Fla., frightened high schoolers in the Midwest, unnerved university students in the Northeast.
But the March for Our Lives demonstrations that unfolded on Saturday, from Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington to the streets of Salt Lake City to a small town in north Georgia, ultimately represented twin triumphs: of organic, youthful grass-roots energy, and of sophisticated, experienced organizational muscle.
Although the events, which together drew hundreds of thousands of demonstrators across the country, were inspired and often led by students, many protests simultaneously benefited from groups with more financial resources and organizational skills than the teenagers had on their own.
“We definitely teamed up,” said Madison Knoop, 18, who organized a rally of 2,500 in Montpelier, Vt., with the support of groups dominated by adults. “They were so helpful for the entire process.”
Skeptics of the marches seized on the roles of major interest groups, suggesting that the students were unwitting participants in political warfare that should be reserved for adults. But organizers and supporters of Saturday’s events have done little to disguise that millions of dollars and thousands of hours were directed toward the weekend’s protests.
Everytown for Gun Safety, which was founded and financed by Michael R. Bloomberg, the billionaire and former New York mayor, proudly declared that it had doled out more than $1 million in grants to local organizers. A nonprofit led by former Representative Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, arranged for more than 200 people from the Parkland area to attend Saturday’s march in Washington, and said it had worked with the owner of the New England Patriots, Robert Kraft, to use the N.F.L. franchise’s plane to bring some people to the capital.
In Washington, volunteers staffed medical tents, the restaurateur José Andrés used one of his kitchens to prepare thousands of ham-and-cheese sandwiches, and a popular chain handed out personal-size pizzas to children.
“Our mission was to give them the biggest megaphone possible,” Shannon Watts, the founder of an Everytown-affiliated group, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said on Sunday. “I think what yesterday showed was every generation wants to get involved in this effort, and they want to get off the sidelines.”
Aerial photo by Digital Globe showing at center about half of the gun control protesters from Third to Sixth Streets on Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, DC
See also Washington Post video highlights.
New York Times, Students Lead Huge Rallies for Gun Control Across U.S. Staff reports, March 25, 2018 (print edition). Hundreds of thousands of protesters, outraged by a recent school shooting and energized by the student survivors, gathered in Washington to call for an end to gun violence. More than 800 protests are planned in every American state and on every continent except for Antarctica. Follow our live coverage.
Demonstrators are flooding streets across the globe in public protests on Saturday, demanding action against gun violence. Hundreds of thousands of marchers have turned out, in the most ambitious show of force yet from a student-driven movement that emerged after the recent massacre at a South Florida high school.
At the main event in Washington, survivors of mass shootings, including the one in Florida, rallied a whooping crowd — “Welcome to the revolution,” said one of the student organizers — and spoke of communities that are disproportionately affected by gun violence. “It is normal to see flowers honoring the lives of black and brown youth that have lost their lives to a bullet,” Edna Chavez, 17, said of her South Los Angeles neighborhood.
In New York, marchers bundled in bright orange — the official color of a gun control advocacy group — charged toward Central Park. And in Parkland, Fla., less than a mile from where the shooting took place last month, one protester’s eyes brimmed with tears, surrounded by the echoing chant, “Enough is enough!”
Counterprotesters supporting gun rights also marched in different cities. In Salt Lake City, demonstrators carried pistols and flags. One of their signs read: “What can we do to stop mass shootings? SHOOT BACK.” In Boston, opposing groups of protesters shouted at one another before the police intervened.
The student organizers want action in a midterm year. The student activists emphasized that they would soon have access to the ballot box as they hope to build support for candidates who support universal background checks and bans on assault-style weapons.
At street intersections in Washington on Saturday, voter registration volunteers waved clipboards over their heads, shouting, “It takes less than three minutes!” They wore neon yellow shirts that read, “Register to vote!”
“These Parkland students have already been able to make change that no one else could for decades,” said Carol Williams, a volunteer from West Chester, Pa.
In Parkland on Saturday, Sari Kaufman, a Stoneman Douglas sophomore, urged people to “turn this moment into a movement” that would push out of office any politician who took money from the National Rifle Association. “They think we’re all talk and no action,” she said to loud applause and cheers, and urged the crowd to prove politicians wrong by voting in huge numbers. “Remember that policy change is not nearly as difficult as losing a loved one,” she said. “Don’t just go out and vote: Get 17 other people to go out and vote.”
The crowd was particularly rousing in its appreciation of Casey Sherman, 17, a Douglas student and one of the Parkland rally organizers. “My love for Parkland had taken on a whole new meaning,” she said. “After all this heartbreak, we have come back stronger than ever. Those 17 people did not die in vain. We will stop at nothing until we make real, lasting change.”
Associated Press via New York Times, Fiery Speech, and Charged Silence, From a Parkland Student, Louis Luceero II, March 25, 2018 (print edition). Emma González, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., used her speech at the March for Our Lives rally in Washington to remember classmates who had been killed,
Emma González spoke for just under two minutes on Saturday before tens of thousands of demonstrators at the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, describing the effects of gun violence in emotional detail and reciting the names of classmates who had been killed.
Then she said nothing for four minutes and 26 seconds. Ms. González, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., has emerged as one of the most prominent faces among the student activists who have mobilized against gun violence after a shooting at their school last month that left 17 dead.
Their facility with social media has added urgency to demands for more gun control. Ms. González, who has more than 1.3 million followers on Twitter, has spent much of the last month urging her audience to turn out for Saturday’s marches.
Stormy Daniels-Trump Scandal
Washington Post, On eve of ‘60 Minutes’ interview, Stormy Daniels says working in porn helped prepare her for scrutiny, Emma Brown and Frances Stead Sellers, March 25, 2018. The actress (shown above in a CBS 60 Minutes photo) said the media pursuit of her allegations of an affair with President Trump has changed her day-to-day life. “Being in the adult industry, I’ve developed a thick skin and maybe a little bit of a dark sense of humor,” she told The Washington Post. “But nothing could truly prepare someone for this.”
Daniels is scheduled to be the star attraction of the CBS newsmagazine “60 Minutes” on Sunday evening, a broadcast that caps a two-week media blitz by her attorney, Michael Avenatti. As Daniels’s image and story have become 24/7 fodder for cable news shows, Avenatti has hinted repeatedly that there are more details yet to come out — including in a tweet Friday suggesting that he has a DVD with new information.
In a brief interview Saturday evening, with Avenatti on the line, Daniels sounded upbeat, even as she acknowledged that the media circus she’s attracted has changed her day-to-day life as a wife, mother and adult-film director.
New York Times, Trump Won’t Hire 2 Lawyers Announced Only Last Week, Maggie Haberman, Michael S. Schmidt and Mark Landler, March 25, 2018. The upheaval comes at a critical time for Mr. Trump, who is deciding whether to sit with the special counsel for an interview. The president’s former lead lawyer, John Dowd, quit the team on Thursday.
President Trump has decided not to hire two lawyers who were announced last week as new additions to his legal team, leaving him with a shrinking stable of lawyers as the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, enters an intense phase.
“The president is disappointed that conflicts prevent Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing from joining the president’s special counsel legal team,” Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, said in a statement on Sunday morning. “However, those conflicts do not prevent them from assisting the president in other legal matters. The president looks forward to working with them.”
The upheaval on the legal team comes at a critical time for Mr. Trump. The president’s former lead lawyer, John Dowd, quit the team on Thursday, just as Mr. Trump is deciding whether to sit with Mr. Mueller for an interview.
Global News: Syria
South Front, Mass Grave Of FSA Fighters Uncovered In Syria’s Afrin Area, Staff report, March 25, 2018. On March 24, fighters of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) and locals uncovered a mass grave of FSA fighters near the town of Maydanki north of the city of Afrin, according to the Syrian pro-opposition news outlet Enab Baladi. The source said that the grave had contained the bodies of more than 70 FSA fighters who had been killed by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) during a failed attack on the village of Ayn Daqnah, east of Afrin, in 2016.
CIA and Torture
WhoWhatWhy, Opinion: Will the Senate Become a War Crimes Kangaroo Court? Klaus Marre and DonkeyHotey, March 25, 2018. No one needs to see the truth. Sometime in the near future, a select group of US senators will get the rare chance to question an individual who has violated US and international law — specifically the United Nations Convention against Torture. Even better, this war criminal will be forced to testify under oath.
Unfortunately, the senators will probably screw up a golden opportunity to do the right thing. That’s because the person in question is not the “Butcher of Belgrade” or the “Mangler of Mosul,” but rather “Bloody Gina,” aka Gina Haspel (shown at right), President Donald Trump’s nominee to run the CIA. Highlights of her long clandestine career include running a black site prison in Thailand where detainees were tortured, and playing a key role in destroying evidence of those heinous acts.
It’s clear what should happen: When Haspel testifies, senators should grill her about the CIA’s torture program. They should state, unequivocally, that it was wrong and one of the darkest chapters in recent US history. And then they should vote to reject the nomination — unanimously. Preferably, Haspel would then be put on trial, get convicted, and thrown in a jail that will undoubtedly be much nicer than the one she oversaw.
Roll Call, A Universal Message at ‘March for Our Lives’ — Vote This November, Griffin Connolly, March 24, 2018. As hundreds of thousands of people from all over the United States flocked to the “March For Our Lives” rally in Washington on Saturday, the message was clear: Hit the polls this November.
“Vote them out! Vote them out!” the crowd of roughly half a million people chanted throughout the afternoon, referring to members of Congress who have resisted calls to enact sweeping gun control legislation.
Pennsylvania Avenue was packed with people as early as 10:30 a.m. and as late as 3 p.m. A group of a few dozen high schoolers dangled their legs from a limestone ledge on the eastern facade of the National Archives Building. Toddlers mounted the stone horses outside the Federal Trade Commission. When the original route from Twelfth St. to Third St. filled up, the crowd spilled south toward the National Mall into the numbered streets intersecting Pennsylvania Avenue.
Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, worked with the gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety for over a month to organize the march and more than 800 sibling marches across the country Saturday.
A gunman entered the Parkland high school and killed 17 people with an AR-15 on Feb. 14. The survivors of the shooting took to social media to build up a groundswell of pro-gun control sentiment across the country.
Millions of nationwide demonstrators voiced their opposition to gun violence across the nation Saturday. Marchers wielded signs decrying the National Rifle Association — which spends millions of dollars per election cycle on pro-gun candidates — and the (mostly) Republican candidates backed by the group. “The only thing easier to buy than a gun,” one sign read, “is a GOP candidate.”
Gun reform advocates line Pennsylvania Avenue while attending the March for Our Lives rally March 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, including students, teachers, and parents are expected to gather for the anti-gun violence rally, spurred largely by the shooting that took place on Valentine’s Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where 17 people died. (CREDIT: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Think Progress, March for Our Lives crowd tops Trump inauguration, according to organizer estimates, Jason Linkins, March 24, 2018. Ahead of Saturday’s March For Our Lives, officials associated with the event were bullish on their crowd expectations, anticipating that as many as a half a million demonstrators were poised to descend on the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C. Shortly after one o’clock on the day of the rally, as the bulk of the attendees had settled in to listen to the speakers and musical guests on the main stage, Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) felt confident enough about the size of the crowd to take a salty swipe at President Donald Trump.
“I can tell you for sure, it’s larger than the Trump inauguration,” Van Hollen told The Hill, picking at the oldest sore spot of the Trump presidency — the crowd size at his inaugural celebration. Famously smaller than that of his predecessor, President Trump’s sensitivity to comparison spurred former White House press secretary Sean Spicer into his first controversy, hours into his tenure — a moment he now regrets.
A few hours after the March For Our Lives concluded, organizers laid down their marker with reporters, setting their figure at 800,000 attendees.
Should those numbers bear out, Van Hollen’s enthusiasm would be validated: a crowd that size would push past most estimations of the Trump inaugural, though it would still be considerably short of the number that were tallied at President Barack Obama’s first inaugural, or the first Women’s March.
For the full day, the Trump inauguration attracted 570,557 Metro riders. For the sake of additional context, the Washington Post’s Luz Lazo notes that WMATA ridership spiked above one million riders on two days since the transit authority began keeping such statistics — the day of Obama’s inauguration (1,120,000 riders) and the first Women’s March (1,001,613). Of the top ten ridership days in the history of the system, those are the only occasions where either an inauguration or a demonstration make the list — though the January 19, 2009 “leadup to Obama inauguration” did earn seventh-place on the top ten list.
Metrorail ridership for March 24, 2018: 558,735
Washington Post, March for Our Lives: The nation’s capital has been preparing for weeks. Today, the voices rise, Peter Jamison, Rachel Chason and Marissa J. Lang, March 24, 2018. A huge crowd is expected for what is billed as a youth-led movement spearheaded by student survivors of school shootings. Many D.C.-area families, businesses and organizations are lending their support, and “sibling marches” are planned nationwide.
Today’s demonstration in Washington — with hundreds of thousands expected to attend — was organized by students who survived a mass shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Sister protests are planned in cities across the United States, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Parkland.
Washington Post, Sister marches, counterprotests planned across U.S., world, Katie Zezima, March 24, 2018. More than 800 events are scheduled worldwide, according to the gun control group Everytown. The largest marches are expected in U.S. cities. A demonstration is planned in Parkland, Fla.
Washington Post, NRA host taunts Parkland students: ‘No one would know your names’ if not for tragedy, Cleve R. Wootson Jr., March 24, 2018. “The media would have completely and utterly ignored your story,” Colion Noir of NRATV said, claiming the teens are promoting the stripping of Second Amendment rights.
Washington Post, Opinion: Opponents of gun reforms say nothing can be done. Science says they’re wrong, Robert Gebelhoff, March 24, 2018. My daughter died in Parkland. I must be her voice. Millennials are allergic to politics. But they could change anything.
Global News: Syrian Troops Welcomed In East Ghouta As Rebels Flee
SouthFront, Opinion: Overview Of Battle For Eastern Ghouta (Maps, Video, Photos), Staff report, March 24, 2018 (5:57 mins. video above). Following the liberation of the district of Harasta by government forces, militants have abandoned their attempts to resist the army’s operation in the southern part of Eastern Ghouta, a Damascus suburb.
The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allies have forced militants in the areas of Jobar, Zamalka, Hazeh and Irbin to accept an evacuation agreement. Under the deal with members of Faylaq al-Rahman and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, militants are to start leaving their areas on March 24.
As soon as militants withdraw, the SAA will start solving the Douma issue. On March 23, Jaish al-Islam promised to release 3,500 prisoners and to allow evacuation of 3,000 sick and injured people from Douma. However, the group has not accepted a deal yet.
The liberation of Eastern Ghouta is a key step to securing the entire Damascus countryside from militants, a source of security threats to the government-held areas of the Syrian capital. Now, it looks that this problam will be solved.
(Editor’s note: This report draws from sources seldom cited by Western media. Below is more of today’s news about the war from diverse sources.)
New York Times, Trump Heads South, Leaving Washington Reeling, Mark Landler and Julie Hirschfeld Davis, March 24, 2018 (print edition). President Trump decamped to his oceanfront estate in Palm Beach on Friday after a head-spinning series of presidential decisions on national security, trade and the budget that left the capital reeling and his advisers nervous about what comes next.
The decisions attested to a president riled up by cable news and unbound. Mr. Trump appeared heedless of his staff, unconcerned about Washington decorum, or the latest stock market dive, and confident of his instincts. He seemed determined to set the agenda himself, even if that agenda looked like a White House in disarray.
Inside the West Wing, aides described an atmosphere of bewildered resignation as they grappled with the all-too-familiar task of predicting and reacting in real time to Mr. Trump’s shifting moods.
Aides said there was no grand strategy to the president’s actions, and that he got up each morning this week not knowing what he would do. Much as he did as a New York businessman at Trump Tower, Mr. Trump watched television, reacted to what he saw on television and then reacted to the reaction.
Washington Post, How a Trump power play upended the $30 billion Gateway project, Mike DeBonis, March 24, 2018 (print Edition). The president’s intervention to seemingly derail the megaproject — a rail tunnel and bridge connecting New Jersey and Manhattan — was less about its merits and more about who was in control. New York Republican Congressman, a proponent of the project and Trump ally, is shown at right.
Trump vs. FBI Leadership
Fired Former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe in official FBI portrait
Washington Post, Opinion: Andrew McCabe: Not in my worst nightmares did I dream my FBI career would end this way, Andrew McCabe, March 24, 2018 (print edition). Andrew McCabe served in the FBI from 1996 until March 16. He was the bureau’s deputy director from 2016 to January, including time as acting director from May to August 2017.
On March 16, I spent the day with my family waiting to hear whether I would be fired, after 21 years in the FBI and one day before I qualified for my long-planned, earned retirement.
As day turned to night, I had a lot of time to reflect on how it would feel to be separated from the organization I loved — and led — and the mission that has been the central focus of my professional life. Despite all the preparation for the worst-case scenario, I still felt disoriented and sick to my stomach. Around 10 p.m., a friend called to tell me that CNN was reporting that I had been fired. She read me the attorney general’s statement.
So, after two decades of public service, I found out that I had been fired in the most disembodied, impersonal way — third-hand, based on a news account. Shortly after getting word, I noticed an email from a Justice Department official in my work account, telling me that I had been “removed from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the civil service.”
I have been accused of “lack of candor.” That is not true. I did not knowingly mislead or lie to investigators. When asked about contacts with a reporter that were fully within my power to authorize as deputy director, and amid the chaos that surrounded me, I answered questions as completely and accurately as I could.
And when I realized that some of my answers were not fully accurate or may have been misunderstood, I took the initiative to correct them. At worst, I was not clear in my responses, and because of what was going on around me may well have been confused and distracted — and for that I take full responsibility. But that is not a lack of candor. And under no circumstances could it ever serve as the basis for the very public and extended humiliation of my family and me that the administration, and the president personally, have engaged in over the past year.
Washington Post, Watch terrified Greyhound passengers plead with their bus driver to pull over and sleep, Avi Selk, March 23, 2018. At some point on the 20-plus-hour bus trip between Phoenix and Dallas, passengers’ attention turned from the Southwestern scenery to what was going on in the driver’s seat. Passengers told CBS-11 that Border Patrol agents finally escorted the bus off the road, where Greyhound found someone else to drive them to Dallas — several hours late but safe.
U.S. Media and Politics
World Crisis Radio, Opinion: Trump’s Base Is Revolting! Webster G. Tarpley (radio host and author shown at right), March 24, 2018. Six-month budget leaves reactionary Republicans apoplectic: No border wall and big deficit!; Strange interlude of Friday veto threat followed by crackpot demands for line item veto and end of filibuster; Mattis told him to sign; Limbaugh sees Trump fleeing back up his escalator as immigration agenda Is “gutted” in “Nuclear Win For Swamp”; Coulter and Ingraham expect impeachment; widespread revulsion against Neo-con warmonger Bolton; Bannon implicated in purloined Facebook data; Cambridge Analytica raided by British police.
Washington Post, Scoop. Denial. Scoop confirmed. That’s business as usual for writers covering the Trump White House, Paul Farhi, March 24, 2018 (print edition). The New York Times had what appeared to be a big scoop earlier this month. President Trump, it reported, was considering shaking up the legal team advising him on the investigation conducted by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Within hours of the story’s publication, however, Trump himself threw cold water on the Times. He tweeted, “The Failing New York Times purposely wrote a false story stating that I am unhappy with my legal team on the Russia case and am going to add another lawyer to help out. Wrong. I am VERY happy with my lawyers, John Dowd (shown at right), Ty Cobb and Jay Sekulow. They are doing a great job. . . . The writer of the story, Maggie Haberman, a Hillary flunky, knows nothing about me and is not given access.”
Except the story, and a second one earlier this week updating Trump’s legal search, turned out to be accurate. On Thursday, Trump’s lead attorney, John Dowd, resigned three days after Trump added Joseph diGenova, a former federal prosecutor and sometime Fox News commentator, to his legal team.
White House officials say it’s possible for events to change rapidly, and a denial at one moment is, in fact, an accurate and truthful reflection of the immediate state of play. Until the president actually makes a decision, a news story projecting the course of events can be speculative and even inaccurate, they said. This is especially true of personnel decisions because new events can intervene, undermining the president’s previous confidence in a top aide.
Palmer Report, Opinion: Donald Trump’s latest hire for his Trump-Russia legal team is already falling to pieces, Bill Palmer, March 24, 2018. There are some basic rules for hiring new employees, unless you want it all to blow up in your face. Don’t begin interviewing replacement candidates unless you’re fine with the possibility that the person currently holding the job might find out about it and abruptly quit. Don’t announce your new hire if you haven’t actually hired the person yet. And most of all, don’t announce your new hire if you’re not even sure you want to hire that person. This week Donald Trump has managed to screw up all three of those points in short order.
Trump began interviewing new attorneys to join his Trump-Russia legal team, only to be quickly rebuffed by Emmet Flood and others. This prompted Trump’s lead attorney, John Dowd, to resign after concluding that Trump was looking to replace him. Trump then countered by announcing that he was hiring Fox News guest Joseph diGenova as his new attorney. That was a bad enough look on its own, as diGenova’s best attempt at a legal defense appears to be simply having Trump yell “I was framed” in the hope anyone will believe it. Then things got ugly.
Nearly a week after Trump had his people announce that he was hiring diGenova, it turns out Trump still hasn’t hired diGenova. In fact, CNN is now reporting that Trump still isn’t convinced he wants to hire diGenova (link). It gets even worse, as Trump apparently didn’t realize that diGenova’s wife and law partner, Victoria Toensing, is currently representing Mark Corallo – a witness who recently began cooperating with Robert Mueller.
So to recap the events of the past six days: Donald Trump began interviewing potential new attorneys in such sloppy fashion that his lead attorney resigned. He then announced the hiring of a new attorney, simply because he liked what the guy had said on cable news. A week later he still hasn’t hired the guy, doesn’t know if he wants to hire the guy, and due to the conflict of interest that everyone knew about but him, isn’t even sure he can hire the guy.
As a result Trump now has no lead attorney at a crucial point in the Trump-Russia criminal investigation, and no clear path to hiring a new one, all while looking like even more of a fool than usual.
Trump Culture Wars
Washington Post, Trump issues order supporting ban on many transgender troops, defers to Pentagon on new restrictions, Dan Lamothe, March 24, 2018 (print edition). The decision revokes a full ban that President Trump issued last summer but disqualifies U.S. troops who have had sex-reassignment surgery.
Washington Post, In new memoir, a top Clinton aide says campaign was ‘foolish’ not to address email issue more forcefully, Anne Gearan, March 24, 2018. Clinton communications chief Jennifer Palmieri’s book is written as an open letter to whoever will become the nation’s first female president.
Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign was “foolish” not to mount a louder and longer defense of her government email troubles in its last weeks, when the FBI had suddenly reopened the issue and Donald Trump was using it to thrash Clinton daily, a top Clinton aide concludes in a new memoir.
Clinton herself had a gut feeling that she should be addressing the issue more forcefully in those closing days in 2016, but her campaign staff urged a strategy that would show her tackling policy questions that would matter if she won the White House, campaign communications director Jennifer Palmieri wrote.
Transitions: Wayne Huizenga Dies
Washington Post, H. Wayne Huizenga, Florida billionaire and sports franchise owner, dies at 80, Matt Schudel, March 24, 2018 (print edition). H. Wayne Huizenga, a Florida billionaire who launched his business empire by driving a garbage truck and went on to build three Fortune 500 companies — Waste Management, Blockbuster Entertainment and AutoNation — and whose tightfisted ownership of three professional sports franchises sometimes angered their fans, died March 22 at his home in Fort Lauderdale. He was 80. The death was announced by his family and businesses. He reportedly had cancer.
Mr. Huizenga (pronounced HIGH-zen-guh) (shown in a 1980s photo) drove a garbage truck for a few years before buying a one-truck trash hauling business in 1962. He remembered the words of his father, a cabinetmaker-turned-builder: “You can’t make any real money working for someone else.”
In less than 10 years, Mr. Huizenga was a multimillionaire and well on his way to making Waste Management the world’s largest trash disposal company. He went on to found, buy and sell a dizzying array of businesses and became the only person to guide three different companies into the Fortune 500. Last year, Forbes magazine estimated Mr. Huizenga’s wealth at $2.8 billion, making him the 288th-richest American.
Despite his success in business, Mr. Huizenga (whose son Bill, shown at left, is now a Republican congressman from Michigan) was not particularly well known to the wider public until the 1990s, when he became the primary owner of South Florida’s professional football, baseball and hockey franchises.
More Battlefront News From Damascus Suburbs
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad greets troops in East Ghouta on March 18, 2018 following attack begun on Feb. 24. “Every bullet you fired to kill a terrorist, you were changing the balance of the world with it,” al-Assad told a gathering of Syrian officers and soldiers.
SouthFront, Syrian Army Imposed Full Control Over Harasta Following Departure Of Last Batch Of Militants (Map, Video) Staff report, March 24, 2018. Late on March 23, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) imposed full control over the Harasta district east of the Syrian capital of Damascus follwing the departure of the last batch of Ahrar al-Sham fighters, who had headed towards the northern governorate of Idlib, according to the Hezbollah media wing.
The media outlet said that the last batch of fighters had included 111 commanders and leaders of Ahrar al-Sham. Right before their departure, 16 of Ahrar al-Sham commanders and fighters were killed when clashes erupted between them for unknown reasons.
The Ahrar al-Sham Movement was the first in the Eastern Ghouta region to accept an evacuation agreement on March 21, after the SAA and its allies had successfully besieged its stronghold, Harasta district, a week ago.
SouthFront, Opinion: All Militant Groups In Syria Receive Arms, Money, Tasks From Aboard – Russian General Staff, Staff report, March 24, 2018. Chief of Russia’s General Staff and First Deputy Defense Minister Valery Gerasimov (shown at right) qas quoted by the Russian state-run news agency TASS on March 24 as describing pervasive covert foreign support in the effort to overthrow Syria’s government.
“Prior to Russia’s involvement in the conflict on the government’s side,” he said, “the country had been actually pursuing an undeclared war advocating for its right to exist. It is still unclear when this struggle transformed from local unrest to a military conflict. No state has openly declared a war with Syria, but all illegal armed groups receive weapons, finances and are guided from abroad,”
Gerasimov added that the number of participants in military conflicts is growing: “Regular troops are coupled with the local revolt potential, as well as terrorist and extremist groups.”
Earlier in March, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said that US forces had contributed to the creation of a safe haven for terrorists in Syria. The Russian military has repeatedly noted that the US-occupied area of At-Tanf as well as other areas controlled by Washington’s proxies are a source of the security threat to the country, especially amid reports that the US uses these areas to rescue and to train former members of ISIS, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) and other radical groups.
According to Moscow, these terrorists can be used in an attempt to destabilize Syria once again.
White House Warmonger?
New York Times, Opinion: Yes, John Bolton Really Is That Dangerous, Editorial board, March 23, 2018. The good thing about John Bolton, President Trump’s new national security adviser, is that he says what he thinks. The bad thing is what he thinks.
There are few people more likely than Mr. Bolton (shown in a photo by Gage Skidmore taken at the 2018 CPAC event) is to lead the country into war. His selection is a decision that is as alarming as any Mr. Trump has made so far. oupled with his nomination of the hard-line C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo, as secretary of state, Mr. Trump is indulging his worst nationalistic instincts. Mr. Bolton, in particular, believes the United States can do what it wants without regard to international law, treaties or the political commitments of previous administrations.
Washington Post, The return of Bolton, a hawk on North Korea and Iran, sparks concerns overseas, Anna Fifield, Loveday Morris and Michael Birnbaum, March 23, 2018. John Bolton for years has espoused bringing about regime change in Pyongyang and Tehran, through force if necessary.
The Atlantic, What Trump’s Choice of Bolton Reveals, David Frum, March 23, 2018. The president (shown in a file photo) is surrounding himself with familiar faces from his favorite cable-news network — but may not find in them what he seeks.
Remember “bring in the grown-ups”? They have all now been carried off, with the sole exception of Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
Instead, Trump is staffing his administration and his legal team with familiar personalities from his preferred cable-news channel — much like an imperious child demanding that his crib be stuffed with his TV-cartoon favorites. Now perhaps the most important West Wing job of them all is to be filled by John Bolton, a figure with an authentic background in government, yes — he held a recess appointment as ambassador to the United Nations from August 2005 until December 2006 — but whose achievements over the past dozen years have been posted principally in the field of television punditry.
The Bolton appointment, however, could be seen as the strangest Trump surprise yet. Remember, Trump campaigned as the candidate of anti-interventionism. He sneered at the foreign-policy views of rivals like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz: “I don’t even call them hawks,” he told three reporters from The Washington Post in September 2015. “I call them fools.” But of course, those were John Bolton’s views, too.
Washington Post, H.R. McMaster is out as national security adviser, to be replaced by John Bolton, Trump says, Greg Jaffe, March 23, 2018 (print edition). The president said in a tweet that he was naming Bolton — a former U.N. ambassador, Fox News commentator and conservative firebrand — as his new national security adviser. President Trump said Thursday that he was naming former ambassador John R. Bolton, a Fox News commentator and conservative firebrand, as his new national security adviser, replacing Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.
The president announced the news in a tweet: “I am pleased to announce that, effective 4/9/18, @AmbJohnBolton will be my new National Security Advisor. I am very thankful for the service of General H.R. McMaster who has done an outstanding job & will always remain my friend. There will be an official contact handover on 4/9.
McMaster (shown at left) came to the Trump administration with an highly accomplished combat record in Iraq and a reputation as one of the Army’s best thinkers on the subject of battling insurgents and the future of war.
At times, Trump, who complained that McMaster was stubborn, didactic and long winded, seemed to tune out the active duty general. In Bolton Trump has chosen a frequently combative personality who fits more with his style, but it’s not clear how the White House staff will react to their new boss.
McMaster is credited with improving morale and bringing order to the National Security Council following the forced departure of his predecessor, Michael Flynn, early last year. McMaster’s vision for the NSC was that of an honest broker, teeing up options for the president and mediating disputes among the various cabinet secretaries. McMaster’s biggest win — and area of greatest influence — was the war in Afghanistan, where he convinced the president to nearly double the size of the force to 15,000 troops.
New York Times, Turnover at a Constant Clip: The Trump Administration’s Major Departures, Denise Lu and Karen Yourish, March 23, 2018 (print edition). President Trump’s record-breaking staff churn does not appear to be ending anytime soon. Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, will resign and be replaced by John R. Bolton, who will become the third person to hold that position under Mr. Trump, White House officials said on Thursday.
Breakthrough In Syrian War?
SouthFront, Jaysh al-Islam To Release 3,500 Captives Under Agreement With Damascus, Staff report, March 23, 2018. Jaysh al-Islam agreed to release more than 3,500 captives from its prisons in the Duma district in the northern part of the Eastern Ghouta region following successful negotiations with the Damascus government, according to several Syrian pro-government sources. More war news below.
Congress Rushes Passage Of Annual U.S. Spending Bill
Washington Post, After earlier veto threat, Trump signs $1.3 trillion spending bill, John Wagner and Mike DeBonis, March 23, 2018. President Trump said he signed the omnibus bill “as a matter of national security,” but he criticized the bill, saying, “I will never sign another bill like this again.” The signing came just hours before a deadline that would have forced a government shutdown.
Just hours after threatening a veto, President Trump said Friday afternoon that he had signed a “ridiculous” $1.3 trillion spending bill passed by Congress early Friday, averting a government shutdown.
In a morning tweet, Trump said he might veto the omnibus bill because it did nothing to address the fate of young undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers” and did not fully fund his border wall.
But speaking to reporters at the White House about four hours later, Trump said he had decided to sign the bill despite his reservations, arguing that it provides much-needed funding for the military, including a pay increase for troops and new equipment.
where critics took aim at the level of spending in the bill.
“He doesn’t care as much about the spending levels, but he knows all of his conservative friends do,” said a senior White House official who requested anonymity to speak more candidly.
Lawmakers have left town on a two-week recess, some of them on overseas trips and with no plans to return to Washington. The House passed the bill midday Thursday, and the Senate cleared the measure early Friday. See earlier story below:
Washington Post, In late-night drama, Senate passes spending bill, averting a shutdown, Erica Werner and Mike DeBonis, March 23, 2018. The bill now heads to President Trump, and White House Budget Director Mike Mulvaney has said he will sign it. BREAKING: Trump says he is ‘considering a veto’ of $1.3 trillion spending bill approved by Congress that would have staved off a shutdown.
The Senate vote occurred early this morning after hours cof delay because of a last-minute complication. The $1.3 trillion plan gives huge increases to military and domestic programs, abandoning Republicans’ claims of fiscal discipline.
Action by the Senate shortly before 1 a.m. capped a day of suspense, including the late-night revelation that the legislation had been stalled for hours partly because Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho) objected to the renaming of a federal wilderness area after a deceased political rival.
Finally, the Senate passed the 2,232-page spending bill 65-32, about 12 hours after the House had also approved the legislation on a similarly wide bipartisan vote of 256-to-167.
Late-night dramatics aside, the legislation sparked bitter disputes among Republicans in both chambers, on grounds both of policy and of process.
It abandons GOP claims of fiscal discipline in a stark reversal of the promises many Republicans ran on in capturing control of the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014 as they railed against what they described as a profligate President Barack Obama. And in another about-face, GOP leaders tossed aside their own rules and past complaints about Democrats to rush the legislation through the House ahead of the Friday midnight government shutdown deadline. Lawmakers of both parties seethed, saying they had scant time to read the mammoth bill, which was released less than 17 hours before the House voted.
Nonetheless, leaders of both parties declared victory following the legislation’s passage. The legislation funds the federal government for the remainder of the 2018 budget year, through Sept. 30, directing $700 billion toward the military and $591 billion to domestic agencies. The military spending is a $66 billion increase over the 2017 level, and the nondefense spending is $52 billion more than last year.
The spending bill is widely expected to be the last major legislation that Congress will pass before the November midterm elections, which had increased pressure to jam the bill full of odds and ends, with provisions addressing everything from gun safety to invasive carp.
Washington Post, Trump officials encouraged George Papadopoulos’s foreign outreach, documents show, Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger, March 23, 2018. President Trump dismissed the young foreign policy adviser (shown in a file photo) as a “low level volunteer,” but emails show he had more extensive contact with key campaign figures than previously known.
Attorney Joseph diGenova with his wife and partner Victoria Toensig (Fox News photos)
CNN, DiGenova role on President’s legal team in flux, Pamela Brown, Gloria Borger and Evan Perez, March 23, 2018. Veteran Washington attorney Joseph diGenova’s role as part of President Donald Trump’s legal team is still in question, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
DiGenova’s hiring was announced on Monday by Jay Sekulow, counsel to the President. DiGenova (shown above in a file photo with Trump’s), along with his wife and law partner, Victoria Toensing, had a Thursday meeting with the President, the sources said. Even so, diGenova’s role, as well as that of Toensing who is also in discussions about joining the team, are in flux. One source said no one has been officially hired.
The Thursday meeting was the first time the husband-and-wife legal team met with the President since the Monday announcement. One source said that while Trump liked their message, the President is not convinced they are right for the legal jobs. But there is concern about conflicts for both diGenova and Toensing, according to two sources.
The two run a small firm and there is a question if diGenova can reasonably claim a lack of conflict when his wife represents clients like Mark Corrallo, who has spoken to special counsel Robert Mueller’s team about how the President and his team responded to the revelations regarding the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting that Donald Trump Jr. and other campaign officials had with a group of Russians.
Toensing also represents former Trump campaign national co-chair Sam Clovis, who has faced scrutiny for his connection to campaign foreign policy team member George Papadopoulos, two sources said.
Roy Moore Pedophile Scandal
Washington Post, Attorney says Roy Moore supporters offered him $10,000 to drop client who accused the Senate candidate of sexual impropriety, Shawn Boburg and Dalton Bennett, March 23, 2018. Recorded phone conversations and text messages show how far some of Moore’s most fervent supporters were willing to go to salvage the campaign in Alabama.
Stormy ‘Warning Shot’
CNN, Stormy Daniels’ lawyer: Disc tweet is ‘warning shot’ to Trump, Sophie Tatum, March 23, 2018. The lawyer representing the porn star suing President Donald Trump called a tweet he posted of an apparent data disc a “warning shot” to the President. On Thursday night, Michael Avenatti (shown above) tweeted an image of what looked like a CD or DVD, with the caption: “If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many words is this worth???? Avenatti said in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that the disc contains evidence proving the porn star’s claims about her alleged affair with Trump.
“I want to be really clear about this: It is a warning shot. And it’s a warning shot to Michael Cohen and anyone else associated with President Trump that they better be very, very careful after Sunday night relating to what they say about my client and what spin or lies they attempt to tell the American people,” Avenatti said. Avenatti is representing Stephanie Clifford, otherwise known as Stormy Daniels, who is suing Trump over a nondisclosure agreement she argues is void.
House Aide Convicted; DoJ Hides Congressman’s Name
U.S. Justice Department, Chief of Staff for Former Federal Congressman Convicted for Obstructing Congressional Investigation, Staff report, March 23, 2018. The chief of staff for a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives has been convicted for obstructing a congressional investigation into the alleged misappropriation of Congressional funds to pay for campaign activity, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
David G. Bowser, 45, of Arlington, Virginia, was convicted of one count of obstruction of proceedings, one count of concealment of material facts and three counts of making false statements. A sentencing date has not been set.
Editor’s note: The indictment does not identify the congressman. Bowser had been chief of staff to then-Rep. Paul C. Broun (R-Ga.).
Global News: Syria Routs Rebels In East Ghouta
SouthFront, Jaysh al-Islam To Release 3,500 Captives Under Agreement With Damascus (continued from above)….Under the same agreement, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) will evacuate more than 3,000 injured and sick civilians from the Duma district. Jaysh al-Islam has captured thousands of SAA soldiers and civilians, including entire families, since late 2011.
The armed group imprisoned these soldiers and civilians in a large concentration camp in the Duma district, that’s known as the “al-Tuba prison.” Hundreds of families, mainly from minority groups, were captured by Jaysh al-Islam during a single attack on the civilian area of Adra southeast of Duma on December 11, 2013. This agreement will likely be followed by a full evacuation agreement that would force Jaysh al-Islam fighters to withdraw from their remaining positions in Eastern Ghouta to another opposition-held area, most likely the northern governorate of Idlib.
SouthFront, Overview Of Battle For Eastern Ghouta (Map, Videos), Staff report, March 23, 2018. On March 23, the implementation of an evacuation deal between Ahrar al-Sham and the Syrian government in the Damascus subrub of Eastern Ghouta entered its second day. Under the deal 1,500 Ahrar al-Sham members and about 6,000 civilians (mostly the militants’ families) are set to leave the area of Harasta. On March 22, 810 people, including 253 men, 157 women, 218 children and 182 militants left the area. On March 23, more militants and their relatives will be evacuated.
Government forces are in the Ayn Tarma farms area (6:27 mins. video)
Fighter of Faylaq al-Rahman in Jobar district (file photo)
SouthFront, Faylaq al-Rahman, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham Agree To Leave East Ghouta, Staff report, March 23, 2018. On March 23, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and Faylaq al-Rahman reached an agreement with the Damascus government to evacuate their fighters from their remaining positions in the districts of Zamalka, Irbin, Ayn Tarma, Hazzah and Jobar in Eastern Ghouta to the northern governorate of Idlib, the Syrian state TV reported.
The media said the evacuation of more than 7,000 persons including all the remaining fighters of HTS and Faylaq al-Rahman will begin on March 24. The two armed groups will also hand over their heavy weapons along with maps of their tunnels and will release all the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) soldiers who had been captured by them during previous battles under the agreement.
A few weeks ago, Faylaq al-Rahman leader Captain Abdel Nasser Shamir vowed to fight against the SAA until death in an official video message. Shamir also warned anyone from negotiating with Russia or the Damascus government. However, it appears that the rapid advance of the SAA broke Shamir’s will to fight, especially after the Ahrar al-Sham Movement had agreed to leave the East Ghouta region towards Idlib on March 21.
Associated Press via Washington Post, Deal reached to evacuate second pocket of Syria’s Ghouta, Sarah El Deeb and Bassem Mroue, March 23, 2018.
An agreement was reached Friday to evacuate the second of three pockets held by opposition fighters east of the capital Damascus hours after the main rebel group in the area declared a cease-fire to give negotiations with the Russians and the Syrian government a chance, state media and the armed opposition group said.
Reuters, As Syrian rebels quit Ghouta, Douma stands alone, Saff report, March 24, 2018. Syrian rebels began pulling out of several towns in their former enclave of eastern Ghouta on Saturday, surrendering them to the government and leaving the besieged city of Douma as their last bastion there.
It comes after a month-long assault that devastated the already battered eastern Ghouta, an area of farmland and towns that was one of the first centers of the uprising in 2011 and the last major rebel stronghold near the capital Damascus.
Washington Post, Fact Checker: President Trump’s claim that drug dealers who kill ‘thousands’ just get 30 days in jail, Glenn Kessler, March 23, 2018. The president asserted: “You can kill thousands of people and go to jail for 30 days.”
Are there drug dealers who kill “2,000, 3,000, 5,000 people” and get off with just 30 days in jail? The math [In President Trump’s March 19 speech in New Hampshire] seems a little fantastical, so we decided to check it out.
Once again, the president ends up in Four-Pinocchio territory because of the way he frames his rhetoric. He may have a point that “kingpin” drug dealers are responsible for at least hundreds of deaths. But then he cannot turn around and say they only end up with 30 or so days in prison if they are caught. A handful of drug dealers might get by with a little prison time, but those are the small fry, not the people responsible for many deaths.
Global News: Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon
Washington Post, Child bride survivors of Boko Haram share their horrific stories and urge lawmakers to rescue others, Photos: Carolyn Van Houten; Writer Amanda Erickson, March 23, 2018. Over the past four years, thousands of young women and girls have been kidnapped by Boko Haram, a violent Islamist militant group active in Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon. Hundreds are still captives. Some were never found. And even those who are free still carry the shame and trauma of having lived as sex slaves.
Two of them — Ya Kaka, 19, and Hauwa, 18 — are risking everything to ensure that their stories, and the stories of their fellow captives, are heard. They’ve spent the past two weeks meeting with U.S. and U.N. officials to recount the atrocities committed against them by Boko Haram.
Global News: Russia
Unz Review via SouthFront: Opinion: ‘A Truly Historical Month for the Future of Our Planet,’ The Saker, March 23, 2018. March 2018 will go down in history as a truly historical month:
- March 1st, Vladimir Putin makes his historical address to the Russian Federal Assembly.
- March 4th, Sergei Skripal, a former UK spy, is allegedly poisoned in the UK.
- March 8th, British officials accuse Russia of using nerve gas to attempt to murder Sergei Skripal.
- March 21st, The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs summons all ambassadors to a briefing on the Skripal case. The language used by the Russian representative at this briefing possibly is the bluntest used by any Russian (or even Soviet) official towards the West since WWII. The French, Swedish and US representative at the meeting all stood up to declare their “solidarity” with the UK.
- March 22nd, The Chief of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff, Deputy Defense Minister, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov, had another phone conversation with Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the United States’ Joint Chiefs of Staff. The same day, General Gerasimov also held another conversation by phone with the Commander of US European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe Army General Curtis Scaparrotti.
So what is really going on here? Surely nobody seriously believes that the Brits really think that the Russians had any motive to try to kill Skripal or, for that matter, if they had a motive, that they would do it in such a stupid manner? And what’s the deal with Syria anyway? Is the USA going to execute their false flag and bomb?
Conclusion by The Saker (pen name): I think that at this point we should not get bogged down in the details of all this. There is a forest behind these trees. A number of crucial developments forced the US and the UK into trying to strong-arm the rest of the western nations to “circle the wagons” around the Empire.
Washington Post, Opinion: The public has a right to hear Stormy Daniels, Mr. President, Laurence H. Tribe and Ron Fein, March 23, 2018. Laurence H. Tribe is university professor and professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School. He argued and won ‘Richmond Newspapers v. Virginia’ before the Supreme Court. Ron Fein is the legal director of Free Speech for People.
The adult-film actress Stormy Daniels has been dragged into secret arbitration over allegations that she has violated a hush agreement to keep quiet about her affair with Donald Trump. In response, Daniels (whose real name is Stephanie Clifford) has filed a lawsuit in California, asking the court to toss out the contract because Trump never signed it. That case is still in its early stages. But even if Daniels is forced to defend herself before a private arbitrator rather than a judge, the arbitration proceeding should not be secret. It should be open to the public.
Our constitutional tradition frowns upon secret trials. In Richmond Newspapers Inc. v. Virginia , the Supreme Court recognized a First Amendment right of public access (including press) to criminal trials. Since then, lower federal courts and state supreme courts (including the California Supreme Court) have confirmed that the same public right of access also applies to civil trials.
Of course, private arbitration is not the courtroom; there is no general right of access to arbitration proceedings.
But the unique circumstances of this case argue that any arbitration between President Trump and Daniels should be conducted in the sunlight. This is no ordinary arbitration. This is the president of the United States trying to compel a U.S. citizen to submit to a private proceeding to force her silence on a matter of significant public interest. The arbitrator has already issued a legally questionable temporary restraining order purportedly to silence Daniels, and according to court filings, Trump (or his lawyer, Michael Cohen, who apparently created a bespoke LLC solely for the hush agreement) may ask the arbitrator to order Daniels to pay up to $20 million in damages for talking about the affair.
To be clear, the public’s interest does not extend equally to all aspects of this matter. Trump’s dalliance with Daniels that began in 2006 was a consensual affair between private citizens. But the coverup is of great public interest, and relevant evidence could emerge in an arbitration proceeding.
Martin Luther King In Retrospect
The Atlantic, King Wanted More Than Just Desegregation, Eve L. Ewing, March 23, 2018, The civil-rights activist’s vision for education was far grander than integration alone. How disappointed he would be.
This morally ambitious King understood white supremacy as a system that had prevailed in every aspect of our nation’s social life, history, and legislative and judicial practice, and he envisioned the dismantling of that system.
Former Playmate Describes Trump Affair, National Enquirer Cover-Up
CNN, Karen McDougal tells CNN Trump once tried to pay her after sex, Eli Watkins, March 22, 2018. Donald Trump once tried to offer Karen McDougal money after they had been intimate, the former Playboy model told Anderson Cooper Thursday in an exclusive interview on CNN.
“After we had been intimate, he tried to pay me, and I actually didn’t know how to take that,” she said of their first alleged sexual encounter. hen Cooper asked if Trump tried to hand her money, McDougal said, “He did.”
“I don’t even know how to describe the look on my face,” she said. “It must have been so sad.”
McDougal appeared on CNN to tell her story of an alleged affair she had with now-President Donald Trump over a decade ago and its emotional fallout, as well as to air her grievances with the company she’s suing over the story.
As for Trump’s wife, Melania, who Trump was married to during the alleged affair, McDougal expressed remorse and apologized.
“What can you say except I’m sorry?” she said. “I’m sorry. I wouldn’t want it done to me.”
A spokeswoman for the first lady did not respond to a request for comment.
Thursday’s sitdown is McDougal’s first televised interview since she filed a lawsuit earlier this week against American Media Inc., the company that owns The National Enquirer, to be released from an agreement with the company.
In response to Trump’s offer of money after the first time she said they had sex, McDougal said she told Trump, “That’s not me. I’m not that kind of girl.”
“And he said, ‘Oh,’ and he said, ‘You’re really special,'” she said, adding that “it hurt me that he saw me in that light.”
The White House has said Trump denies the alleged affair.
New York Times, ‘He Tried to Pay Me,’ Model Says, Alleging Affair With Trump, Jim Rutenberg, March 22, 2018. In a lengthy television interview, Karen McDougal said she was hurt when the president offered her money after sex, but added that they ended up in love.
Russian Spy Claimed Tied To DNC Hacker
Daily Beast, ‘Lone DNC Hacker’ Guccifer 2.0 Slipped Up and Revealed He Was a Russian Intelligence Officer, Spencer Ackerman and Kevin Poulsen, March 22, 2018. Robert Mueller’s team has taken over the investigation of Guccifer 2.0, who communicated with (and was defended by) longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone.
Guccifer 2.0, the “lone hacker” who took credit for providing WikiLeaks with stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee, was in fact an officer of Russia’s military intelligence directorate (GRU), The Daily Beast has learned. It’s an attribution that resulted from a fleeting but critical slip-up in GRU tradecraft.
That forensic determination has substantial implications for the criminal probe into potential collusion between President Donald Trump and Russia. The Daily Beast has learned that the special counsel in that investigation, Robert Mueller, has taken over the probe into Guccifer and brought the FBI agents who worked to track the persona onto his team.
While it’s unclear what Mueller (shown at right) plans to do with Guccifer, his last round of indictments charged 13 Russians tied to the Internet Research Agency troll farm with a conspiracy “for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.” It was Mueller’s first move establishing Russian interference in the election within a criminal context, but it stopped short of directly implicating the Putin regime.
Mueller’s office declined to comment for this story. But the attribution of Guccifer 2.0 as an officer of Russia’s largest foreign intelligence agency would cross the Kremlin threshold — and move the investigation closer to Trump himself.
It turns out there is a powerful reason to connect Guccifer to the GRU.
Five months later, in January 2017, the CIA, NSA, and FBI assessed “with high confidence” that “Russian military intelligence (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and DCLeaks.com to release US victim data.” But the assessment did not directly call Guccifer a Russian intelligence officer. Nor did it provide any evidence for its assertions.
Guccifer 2.0 sprang into existence on June 15, 2016, hours after a report by a computer security firm forensically tied Russia to an intrusion at the Democratic National Committee. In a series of blog posts and tweets over the following seven months — conspicuously ending right as Trump took office and not resuming — the Guccifer persona published a smattering of the DNC documents while gamely projecting an image as an independent Romanian hacktivist who’d breached the DNC on a lark.
Top Trump Lawyer Quits
New York Times, Trump’s Lawyer for Russia Inquiry Quits as Advice Is Ignored, Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman, March 22, 2018. John Dowd’s departure is the latest change among President Trump’s legal team as Mr. Trump has begun directly attacking the special counsel in public.
John Dowd (shown in a Fox News screenshot) resigned on Thursday as President Trump’s lead lawyer for the special counsel investigation as Mr. Trump signaled that he was prepared to ignore his advice and wanted a sit-down with investigators.
After days of uncertainty among the president’s lawyers about their status, Mr. Dowd ultimately broke with Mr. Trump over whether he should agree to be questioned in the inquiry, a person briefed on the matter said.
Mr. Dowd viewed an interview as too risky; the president reiterated shortly after Mr. Dowd resigned that he wanted to clear his name. “I would like to,” the president told reporters at the White House when asked about meeting with investigators for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. “I would like to.”
Mr. Dowd’s departure cleared the way for the president to embrace a more aggressive posture toward the investigation and marked another reshuffling of personnel for Mr. Trump. In the most politically consequential investigation in decades, the president has refashioned his legal team several times, a revolving door that mirrors the high turnover among senior White House and campaign aides.
“I love the president,” Mr. Dowd said in a telephone interview. “I wish him the best of luck. I think he has a really good case.”
More On Trump National Security Switch
The Hill, Bannon: If Kelly leaves White House, Trump won’t replace him, Brett Samuels, March 22, 2018. Former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon on Thursday said he believes if chief of staff John Kelly (shown at right) leaves the White House, President Trump will not replace him.
Bannon said at a Financial Times event that rather than hiring a new chief of staff should Kelly leave, Trump would likely opt for a more hands-on approach that would involve directly receiving reports from multiple individuals each day. Bannon’s comments come amid a major shake-up surrounding the Trump administration.
New York Times, Opinion: Trump’s Talk Worries Me, Like the Talk Before the Iraq War, Nicholas Kristof, March 22, 2018. His cavalier approach reminds me of Cheney’s 15 years ago.
“We will be greeted as liberators” upon invading Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney counseled in 2003 on the eve of the war. He had already relayed a prediction that the streets in Basra and Baghdad are “sure to erupt in joy.”
President George W. Bush declared that there was “no doubt” that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that an invasion would be largely self-financing and that it would last “five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn’t going to last any longer.”
So 15 years ago this week, the United States careered into one of the most cataclysmic, expensive and idiotic blunders of the last half-century: We invaded Iraq.
The financial cost alone to the United States will top $3 trillion, according to the estimates of the economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, or about $24,000 per American household. Some 4,400 American soldiers died in Iraq, along with approximately 500,000 Iraqis, according to a survey and academic study.
The war helped trigger the Syria war, the genocide against the Yazidi and Middle East Christians, the rise of the Islamic State, the strengthening of Iran and a broader Sunni-Shiite conflict in the Middle East that will claim lives for years to come.
Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), Opinion: John Bolton seen more frequently around the White House, Wayne Madsen, March 13, 2018 (Subscription-only copyrighted article dated March 13 and used with permission). Wayne Madsen, editor of WMR, is an author, commentator and former Navy intelligence officer and NSA analyst.
John Bolton, the only unconfirmed U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who ever represented his country in the international organization, has recently been seen more frequently around the White House. There are strong rumors that Donald Trump’s next purge will claim the National Security Adviser, Lt. General H. R. McMaster, and that Bolton has the inside track to replace him. Bolton taking over the National Security Council will, after a nine-year hiatus, put the neo-conservatives back in the foreign policy and national security driver’s seat in Washington.
Bolton, like Trump, is plagued by allegations of bizarre sexual activities. Bolton’s first wife, Cristina Bolton, claimed in court filings in Virginia that Bolton forced her into having group sex at Plato’s Retreat, a Manhattan swingers club that catered to heterosexual couples and bisexual women and operated between 1977 and 1985. The club was located in what had been a gay bathhouse known as Continental Baths. Plato’s Retreat moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where it changed its name to “321 Slammer” and is now a gay male sex club.
On August 15, 1982, while John Bolton was on a two-week trip in his position as assistant administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Mrs. Bolton fled their residence at 918 Grand Court, Vienna, Virginia, taking with her all of her personal possessions and most of the furniture.
With such a personal history, Bolton might have faced a tougher time getting confirmed for a post entailing even greater access to highly-classified information than the U.N. ambassador post. However, the National Security Adviser position does not require Senate confirmation.
Bolton’s tenure at the U.N. was punctuated by his own undiplomatic outbursts, as well as those of his spokesman and personal assistant, Richard Grenell, Trump’s openly-gay nominee to be U.S. ambassador to Germany. Bolton strenuously pushed the neocon foreign policy line, as spelled out in the charter for the movement founded in 1997, the Project for the New American Century (PNAC).
Bolton also favors scrapping the Iran P5+1 nuclear agreement, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Bolton’s international views are no different than those of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a camaraderie Bolton shares with Trump.
On the issue of Palestine, Bolton has demanded the abolishment of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which administers aid programs for Palestinian refugees. In May 2017, before accepting the Guardian of Zion Award from Bar-Ilan University in Jerusalem, Bolton told The Jerusalem Post that the “two-state solution” of Israel and an independent Palestinian state should be abandoned, Hamas, Fatah, and the Palestinian Authority disbanded, Gaza given to Egypt, and the West Bank divided between Israel and Jordan. Bolton cynically said he believes in a “three-state solution” with Israel, Egypt, and Jordan taking control of current Palestinian territory.
Trump may not be the only top U.S. official with a blackmail problem over sex claims. A photograph of a bulletin board at Plato’s Retreat clearly offers customers the videotaping of their sex acts. Whether or not Bolton may know it, his “swinging acts” may have been captured on video, which may explain his subservience to Israel. Plato’s Retreat was founded by a high school friend of New York pornographer Al Goldstein. Goldstein had something in common with Trump’s convicted child molester friend, Jeffrey Epstein: they both shared the same criminal defense attorney, Alan Dershowitz. Dershowitz (shown at left) has also been an ardent defender of Trump and his policies.
Bolton’s neocon rhetoric on NATO is no less alarming. He wants membership in NATO fast-tracked for Ukraine and Georgia. Bolton as Trump’s national security adviser would help usher into the Trump White House Bolton’s fellow neocons ensconced at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, where Bolton enjoys a senior fellowship.
Austin Serial Bombings
New York Times, Pink Gloves and a Red Truck: Tracking the Austin Bomber, Manny Fernandez, Adam Goldman and Dave Montgomery, March 22, 2018 (print edition). Officials used clues from surveillance video to begin tailing a 23-year-old man, Mark Conditt (shown in a college photo), who killed himself as officers closed in. It was not much — surveillance footage in and near an Austin-area FedEx store showing a man in a disguise dropping off packages. But for investigators from federal, state and local agencies who had been hunting a mysterious and prolific bomb-maker, it was what they needed — their first big break.
New York Times, What We Know About the Suspect, Manny Fernandez, Stephanie Saul and Jack Healy, March 22, 2018 (print edition). Mark Conditt is believed to be linked to six bombs or explosions that killed at least two people and injured several others. The Austin bombing suspect who blew himself up Wednesday in a confrontation with police was an intense loner who grew up in a tight-knit, deeply religious family, according to friends and neighbors.
Mark Conditt, 23 (shown in a Facebook photo), could sometimes get angry over a misunderstanding, remembered Jeremiah Jensen, who knew Mr. Conditt because they were both home-schooled in Pflugerville, a town 20 miles north of Austin.
Mr. Jensen said he was one of a few people who tried to push through Mr. Conditt’s “hard-to-get-along-with” exterior. He said Mr. Conditt was not overtly political when they were growing up, but seemed to like debating issues and probing logical extremes.
“He could be dominant in conversations,” said Mr. Jensen, 24, who now lives in Dallas and had not been in touch with Mr. Conditt frequently for the last four or five years. “It would seem like he was trying to argue with you and give pushback on things you were trying to say. It didn’t have to be serious. He liked to debate.”
On Wednesday, authorities across the Austin area carried out a sprawling search for clues about Mr. Conditt’s actions and motives, as well as other explosive devices he may have left behind before he blew himself up early Wednesday morning as the police closed in.
Las Vegas Massacre
New York Times, How the Las Vegas Gunman Planned a Massacre, Malachy Browne, Natalie Reneau, Adam Goldman and Drew Jordan, March 22, 2018 (visual investigation, 6:29 mins. video). Using exclusive surveillance footage, we pieced together the last days of Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas gunman (shown in a Facebook photo on his girlfriend’s page). He plays video poker, laughs with hotel staff and hauls bag after bag of weapons into his suite.
More On Facebook Scandal
Washington Post, ‘I’m not going to be bullied by Facebook’: Cambridge Analytica whistleblower tells his story, Craig Timberg and Karla Adam, March 22, 2018 (print edition). Christopher Wylie, now regretful over his role in turning data on millions of U.S. voters into a high-tech political persuasion machine, has delivered revelations that have triggered government probes on both sides of the Atlantic, sent Facebook’s stock price plunging and pushed long-simmering privacy concerns to a boil.
Trade War Looms
Washington Post, Trump moves to crack down on China trade with $50 billion in tariffs on imports, David J. Lynch, March 22, 2018. President Trump announced the action as part of a response to Beijing’s history of forcing U.S. companies to surrender their trade secrets to do business in China.
U.S. Stocks Tumble
New York Times, Stocks Fall Sharply at Prospect of Trade War With China, Matt Phillips, March 22, 2018. Major indexes fell, with the S.&P. 500 down 2.5%, as the prospect of a trade war between the U.S. and China sent Wall Street shuddering.
Global markets shuddered on Thursday as investors began to take seriously the prospect of a trade war between the world’s two largest economies.
Stocks in the United States fell for a second-straight day, as President Trump announced $60 billion worth of annual tariffs on Chinese imports, and concerns about growing trade tensions mounted.
U.S. Annual Spending Deal
Washington Post, Opinion: Republicans control everything, and this is all they got in the spending deal? Jennifer Rubin (shown at right), March 22, 2018. The Post reports:
“Congressional leaders reached a $1.3 trillion spending deal Wednesday to keep government agencies operating through September, unveiling legislation that would make good on President Trump’s promises to increase military funding while blocking much of his immigration agenda. . . . In the broadest strokes, the bill gives Republicans a major win by delivering a $78 billion increase in military spending over 2017 levels, while Democrats won a $52 billion increase for domestic programs. In many instances large spending increases on the domestic side ignored budget cuts proposed by the Trump administration, allowing lawmakers of both parties to trumpet victories on programs from opioid prevention to clean-up of the Great Lakes.”
Yes, there is $1.57 billion for all of 90 miles of a “border wall system,” according to a summary put out by the speaker’s office. Not $25 billion. Not really even a wall. And that’s not really 90 more miles of new border security.
“Most of the funding, officials said, can be used only for repairs or for ‘secondary’ barriers along border stretches where there is already a wall,” The Post reports. “The rest can be used for 33 miles of new barriers, but there are restrictions on the type: Only levees or existing ‘bollard’ fencing can be built, rather than the concrete prototypes Trump appears to favor.” Those wall prototypes Trump looked at in California? Apparently that was for show. It’s stunning how little Trump got of what was arguably his top priority.
New York Times, Students to March for Gun Control, and to Upend Elections, Alexander Burns and Julie Turkewitz, March 22, 2018. With hundreds of March for Our Lives demonstrations planned for Saturday, high school students say this is a moment of political awakening for their generation.
Washington Post, Mississippi governor appoints Cindy Hyde-Smith to the Senate — and draws a backlash from the White House, Sean Sullivan and Josh Dawsey, March 22, 2018 (print edition). Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant appointed state Agriculture and Commerce Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith to the U.S. Senate on Wednesday — a decision that has already drawn concerns from fellow Republicans, including some inside the White House. White House officials told Bryant that Trump did not support the pick at least for now, according to three people familiar with their conversation.
A former Democrat who served in the state legislature before being elected to head the agriculture and commerce panel in 2011, Hyde-Smith will be the first woman to represent Mississippi in the Senate. When she is sworn in, the number of women in the upper chamber of Congress will grow to 23, a new high.
Bryant has argued that Hyde-Smith is a strong retail campaigner, and popular among many in Mississippi. But she was not the top choice of GOP officials in Washington. Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), shown at left, had urged Bryant to appoint himself. He declined, ruling himself out earlier this month.
There are concerns that Hyde-Smith will not be able to defeat Chris McDaniel, a hard-right state senator who also is running in the Nov. 6 special election and has been sharply critical of McConnell. White House officials have seen polling data that puts her in the back of the pack in Mississippi, Republican officials said. Hyde-Smith could be vulnerable to attacks singling her out for her past affiliation with the Democratic Party.
There will be no party primaries ahead of the Nov. 6 election. If no one wins a majority, the top two finishers will advance to a runoff. Some worry that if it comes down to McDaniel and a Democrat, his hard-right views could swing centrist Republican voters toward the Democrat.
Washington Post, Joe Biden talked about beating up Donald Trump — again. The president is not impressed, Cleve R. Wootson Jr., March 22, 2018 (print edition). “He would go down fast and hard, crying all the way,“ President Trump said in an early-morning tweet about the former vice president. “Don’t threaten people Joe!”
On Tuesday, former vice president Joe Biden (shown in a file photo) told a crowd of thousands how he would share his discontent with Trump. It does not involve words. “A guy who ended up becoming our national leader said, ‘I can grab a woman anywhere, and she likes it,’ ” Biden said during a speech at the University of Miami, according to ABC News. “They asked me if I’d like to debate this gentleman, and I said ‘no.’ I said, ‘If we were in high school, I’d take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him.’ ”
“I’ve been in a lot of locker rooms my whole life,” Biden continued. “I’m a pretty [darn] good athlete. Any guy that talked that way was usually the fattest, ugliest S.O.B. in the room.”
#MeToo Harassment, Blackmail Scandals
The Hill, Former Fox News anchor Dhue files defamation suit against O’Reilly, Joe Concha, March 22, 2018. Former Fox News anchor Laurie Dhue has filed a defamation lawsuit against former network star Bill O’Reilly (shown at right), accusing the 68-year-old host of mounting a “smear campaign” against her.
Dhue (shown below in a publicity photo for her work at the Blaze Channel) claims that O’Reilly made false allegations about her following a New York Times bombshell report nearly one year ago saying she had received a $1 million settlement over sexual harassment allegations against him and then-CEO and chairman Roger Ailes.
Dhue, who worked for Fox News as an anchor from 2000 to 2008, also appeared on “The O’Reilly Factor” on a weekly basis for several years as a guest. “O’Reilly published false statements about Dhue — as well as the other women — calling her a liar, swearing that her allegations were fabricated in an effort to obtain a settlement, falsely asserting that her purported claims against O’Reilly were politically motivated, and lying by saying that he only paid settlements to avoid having his family go through litigation, not because he had engaged in the claimed sexual misconduct,” according to the lawsuit filed in Manhattan Federal Court.
The New York Times reported in April that O’Reilly paid five women, including Dhue, $13 million over allegations of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior. “O’Reilly ensured that these statements were distributed widely, attempting to sacrifice the character reputation of Dhue and the other women mentioned,” the suit says.
Political Impact of Trump Accusers
Washington Post, Opinion: Trump’s new female accusers may put him in greater danger, Greg Sargent, On Thursday night, Karen McDougal (shown below right), a former Playboy model who claims she had a 10-month affair with Donald Trump, will have an interview aired on CNN Thursday night. This Sunday, CBS will air an interview with former porn star Stormy Daniels, who also says she had an affair with Trump.
Which raises two key points about our politics right now: First, is it possible that the deep alienation from President Trump that has set in among female voters could continue to get even worse — particularly among the suburban and college-educated white women who are driving the Democratic resurgence. Second, that dynamic could matter in this fall’s elections — potentially increasing Democratic chances of taking back the House, which would effectively check Trump’s agenda and bring real accountability that is now basically nonexistent.
CNN’s Stephen Collinson has a good article this morning explaining how the new round of female accusers Trump faces are putting him in greater peril. While we all obsess over the threat posted to Trump by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe, it’s possible these new cases could also leave Trump very exposed. The evidence is mounting on many fronts that the energy, organizing and engagement among female voters — manifested in everything from the initial Women’s March through the #MeToo movement through recent Democratic electoral wins — constitute the cardinal factor in our politics right now. And it seems clear that female alienation from Trump is at the center of it.
Dead At 91: Finance Kingpin, Public Austerity Guru
New York Times, Peter G. Peterson, a Power From Wall St. to Washington, Dies at 91, Robert D. Hershey Jr., March 20, 2018. Peter G. Peterson, the billionaire financier and philanthropist who combined a spectacular career in industry and Wall Street with public policymaking and dogged advocacy of government fiscal prudence, died on Tuesday at his home in Manhattan. He was 91.
Mr. Peterson (shown in a file photo) was one of the few captains of business whose reach extended into the public sphere. Forbes magazine described him as having “one of the most distinguished résumés in America.”
He was secretary of commerce under President Richard M. Nixon, led government commissions and advisory bodies and for 22 years was chairman of the influential Council on Foreign Relations in New York, succeeding the banker David Rockefeller, who died last year, also on March 20.
Police Kill Black Man In His Back Yard
Washington Post, Police shot at a man 20 times in his own yard, thinking he had a gun. It was an iPhone, Alex Horton and Wesley Lowery, March 22, 2018 (print edition). Body camera video shows the fatal encounter between Sacramento officers and Stephan Clark, which occurred after police said they responded to a call about a man breaking vehicle windows. The two officers were responding to a 911 call about a man breaking vehicle windows when they encountered, then killed, Clark, an unarmed black man.
“He was at the wrong place at the wrong time in his own back yard?” his grandmother, Sequita Thompson, told the Sacramento Bee. “C’mon now, they didn’t have to do that.”
Inside Washington: Sex Trafficking Bill
New York Times, Sex Trafficking Bill Passes, Despite Tech Firms’ Concerns, Cecilia Kang and Sheryl Gay Stolberg, March 22, 2018 (print edition). The Senate gave final passage to a bill over opposition from many Silicon Valley companies, which said the legislation could chill internet content and harm free speech.
Global Alliances: Iraq Reaches Out To Diminished Kurds
New York Times, For Kurdish New Year, a New Alliance With Baghdad, Margaret Coker, March 22, 2018 (print edition). Since Iraq’s Kurds voted for independence last fall, relations with Baghdad have been strained. A new agreement signals warmer ties.
Global News: ISIS Fighters Being Retrained By US-Backed Forces?
ISIS propaganda photo from group’s heyday
SouthFront, US-backed Forces Release New Batch Of Former ISIS Fighters, Staff report, March 22, 2018. On March 21, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced in an official statement that it had released 15 former fighters of ISIS. According to the SDF, all the former ISIS members who were released are Syrians from the governorates of Raqqa and Deir Ezzor.
Hussein Al-Barges, a member of the SDF’s Raqqa Civil Council, said that the former ISIS fighters had been “tricked” by the terrorist organization. “Their hands were not stained with Syrian blood,” he added.
The SDF’s media center also revealed that the initiative to release those former ISIS fighters was presented by Omar Alloush, a member of the relations office in he Syrian Democratic Council (SDC). Alloush was assassinated on March 15.
The US-backed forces have released hundreds of ISIS fighters who surrendered to it or have been captured in action. On January alone, the SDF released over 400 former fighters of ISIS, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
A report of the Russian center for reconciliation of the warring parties in Syria said that the US-led coalition is using refugee camps controlled by the SDF in al-Hasakah governorate as a base for training former fighters of ISIS who have been released by the SDF. Local observers believe that these fighters pose a serious security threat in eastern Syria, especially that ISIS cells are still active at the Syrian-Iraqi border.
Pentagon Fires Two U.S. Guantanmo Officials
Politico, Mattis: Aerial photo request triggered firing of Gitmo tribunal overseer, Josh Gerstein, March 22, 2018. Two officials overseeing the beleaguered military commission process were fired last month because of efforts they made to obtain an aerial photo of the area used to host the tribunals at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Pentagon officials said in a court filing released on Thursday.
Defense Secretary James Mattis said he dismissed a veteran national security lawyer who served as the “convening authority” of the military commissions, Harvey Rishikof, because he asked military personnel to capture fresh images of the complex and then took his request to the U.S. Coast Guard when military officials turned him down.
WhoWhatWhy, Trump White House Silences and Suppresses, Celia Wexler, March 22, 2018. And the winner of the 2018 Black Hole Award is … the Trump White House. Since 2011, the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) has yearly bestowed what it terms its “dishonor” on a government agency or institution that shows “outright contempt for the public’s right to know.” This is the first time a president and his administration have received the award.
Black Hole seemed to be a recurring theme during Sunshine Week, an annual event marking the March 16 birthday of the nation’s first transparency advocate, James Madison.
This year’s Sunshine Week seemed less like a celebration of Madison’s legacy and more like a wake. Granted, previous administrations have tried to control access to information and made it difficult for reporters to interview federal experts. The Obama administration was widely criticized for restricting reporters’ access to agency staff and for using the Espionage Act to punish government employees who disclosed classified information to the media.
But transparency advocates, former federal officials, and journalists last week warned that not only is the Trump White House doing even more to keep government in the dark and to gag federal employees, its penchant for darkness is affecting state and local governments and emboldening foreign despots to clamp down on press freedom.
Here are four takeaways from Sunshine Week events and reports:
• It is more difficult to obtain documents through the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). A bipartisan congressional effort actually strengthened FOIA in 2016, with the goal of making it easier for reporters and the public to get access to federal documents. Nevertheless, reports the Associated Press, nearly eight out of 10 FOIA requests in 2017 were rejected or censored. That rate is the highest in a decade.
• FOIA is more necessary these days because White House and agency visitor logs and calendars are no longer routinely disclosed. But even litigation may not be enough to dislodge information. Despite a court decision requiring the Trump administration to disclose the names of visitors to the president at the Mar-a-Lago resort, the Secret Service claims it cannot comply because it has no system for maintaining any records of those visits.
Trump, Russia, Mueller
New York Times, Ex-Chief of C.I.A. Suggests Putin May Have Dirt on Trump, Matthew Rosenberg, March 21, 2018. John O. Brennan (shown at right) said Russia may have compromising information on President Trump, setting off furious speculation about whether the former spy chief was basing that assertion on inside information.
Washington Post, In congratulatory call to Putin, Trump ignored advisers’ warning, Carol D. Leonnig, David Nakamura and Josh Dawsey, March 21, 2018. When he called Russia’s president after his reelection, President Trump ignored specific warnings from his aides, including a “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” note in his briefing materials. Trump also chose not to heed talking points on the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain.
New York Times, F.B.I. Investigated Sessions for Perjury Over Russia Denials, Adam Goldman, Katie Benner and Matt Apuzzo, March 21, 2018. Andrew G. McCabe, whom Attorney General Jeff Sessions (right) fired last week, authorized the investigation. Mr. Sessions inaccurately testified that he had no contacts with Russians.
New York Times, Trump Criticizes Mueller, Again, as a Former C.I.A. Director Suggests Russia ‘May Have Something’ on the President, Eileen Sullivan, March 21, 2018. President Trump indirectly criticized Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, on Wednesday for the ongoing investigation into Russia’s 2016 campaign meddling, even as a former C.I.A. director said during a morning news show that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia may have compromising information on Mr. Trump.
After a weekend of attacking Mr. Mueller — against the advice of his own lawyers — Mr. Trump picked up again in early morning tweets when he quoted a Harvard professor who said Mr. Mueller should never have been appointed to be the special counsel to investigate Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. That investigation has expanded into inquiries into Mr. Trump’s aides and his own business dealings.
“I was opposed to the selection of Mueller to be Special Council,” Mr. Trump tweeted, misspelling the word, “counsel,” as he quoted Alan M. Dershowitz, a Harvard Law professor who has been outspoken in his defense of the president.
Separately, on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” John O. Brennan, a former C.I.A. director (shown at right), speculated that the Russians “may have something on him personally,” referring to Mr. Trump. Mr. Brennan was the C.I.A. director when a salacious dossier surfaced in 2016 that claimed the Russians had compromising information on Mr. Trump. There has been no proof that such material exists, but Mr. Trump’s affection for the Russian leader has raised questions about the nature of their relationship. “I think he’s afraid of the president of Russia,” said Mr. Brennan, now retired from government service and a critic of Mr. Trump.
More On Mueller Probe
President Trump and lobbyist George Nader
New York Times, How Two Men Plied Arab Interests Inside Trump’s White House, David D. Kirkpatrick and Mark Mazzetti, March 21, 2018. Correspondence between the men — one a witness in the special counsel inquiry, the other a major G.O.P. fund-raiser — reveal an effort to cultivate President Trump on behalf of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
A cooperating witness in the special counsel investigation worked for more than a year to turn a top Trump fund-raiser into an instrument of influence at the White House for the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to interviews and previously undisclosed documents.
Hundreds of pages of correspondence between the two men reveal an active effort to cultivate President Trump on behalf of the two oil-rich Arab monarchies, both close American allies.
High on the agenda of the two men — George Nader, a political adviser to the de facto ruler of the U.A.E., and Elliott Broidy, the deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee — was pushing the White House to remove Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, backing confrontational approaches to Iran and Qatar and repeatedly pressing the president to meet privately outside the White House with the leader of U.A.E.
Facebook Data Scandal
New York Times, Facebook Owes Better Security to Its Users, Zuckerberg Says, Sheera Frenkel and Kevin Roose, March 21, 2018. In his first statements since it was revealed that a political data firm obtained the data of 50 million Facebook users, Mark Zuckerberg said if the site can’t protect information, “then we don’t deserve to serve you.”
The company has also faced criticism over Russian manipulation during the 2016 election, as well as the rise of misinformation.
Washington Post, Bannon oversaw Cambridge Analytica’s collection of Facebook data, according to former employee, Craig Timberg, Karla Adam and Michael Kranish, March 21, 2018. The data gathering was part of a program under conservative strategist Stephen K. Bannon that tested anti-establishment messages that became campaign themes for Donald Trump, said an ex-Cambridge employee.
Roll Call, No Clear Path to Legislation for Lawmakers Expressing Outrage Over Facebook Revelations, Staff report, March 21, 2018. Lawmakers are looking for an entry into the controversy surrounding Facebook’s handling of its users’ data, but so far, they haven’t been able to draw a clear path between outrage and legislation to address it.
Facebook’s relationship with Cambridge Analytica and the latter’s behavior in the 2016 elections may have lent an urgency to data privacy questions, greater than when companies such as Equifax lost the data of about 145 million consumers. It’s not clear, however, where that urgency would lead legislatively.
Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix, now on leave, was filmed boasting about the company’s role in the Trump campaign in 2016. The firm reportedly received a significant investment from wealthy Republican donor Robert Mercer. And Steve Bannon, a former top Trump strategist, oversaw Cambridge Analytica’s early efforts to collect Facebook data, The Washington Post reported.
Jared Helps Saudis In Crackdown?
Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Melania Trump, l-r, with Saudi royals (White House photo)
The Intercept, Saudi Crown Prince Boasted That Kushner Was “In His Pocket,” Alex Emmons, Ryan Grim and Clayton Swisher, March 21, 2018.
UNTIL HE WAS stripped of his top-secret security clearance in February, presidential adviser Jared Kushner was known around the White House as one of the most voracious readers of the President’s Daily Brief, a highly classified rundown of the latest intelligence intended only for the president and his closest advisers.
Kushner, who had been tasked with bringing about a deal between Israel and Palestine, was particularly engaged by information about the Middle East, according to a former White House official and a former U.S. intelligence professional.
In June, Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman ousted his cousin, then-Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, and took his place as next in line to the throne, upending the established line of succession. In the months that followed, the President’s Daily Brief contained information on Saudi Arabia’s evolving political situation, including a handful of names of royal family members opposed to the crown prince’s power grab, according to the former White House official and two U.S. government officials with knowledge of the report. Like many others interviewed for this story, they declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak about sensitive matters to the press.
In late October, Jared Kushner made an unannounced trip to Riyadh, catching some intelligence officials off guard. “The two princes are said to have stayed up until nearly 4 a.m. several nights, swapping stories and planning strategy,” the Washington Post’s David Ignatius reported at the time.
What exactly Kushner and the Saudi royal talked about in Riyadh may be known only to them, but after the meeting, Crown Prince Mohammed told confidants that Kushner had discussed the names of Saudis disloyal to the crown prince, according to three sources who have been in contact with members of the Saudi and Emirati royal families since the crackdown. Kushner, through his attorney’s spokesperson, denies having done so.
More On Trump Scandals
Washington Post, With at least three women now hoping to break their silence on Trump, his challenges grow, Beth Reinhard, Emma Brown, Frances Stead Sellers and Mark Berman, March 21, 2018 (print edition). On the same day a former Playboy playmate sued for the right to speak out about an alleged affair, a judge ruled that the defamation lawsuit of a former “Apprentice” contestant can proceed against President Trump, potentially allowing her lawyers to begin collecting evidence to support her claim that he forcibly kissed and groped her years ago.
The decision in the case brought by Summer Zervos (shown above in a photo from the show) came on the same day a former Playboy playmate, Karen McDougal, sued the publisher of the National Enquirer for the right to break her silence about the 10-month affair she says she had with Trump more than a decade ago.
The nearly simultaneous developments added to the political and legal challenges for the president, who has faced weeks of reports about his alleged affair with another woman, porn star Stormy Daniels, and his attorney’s effort to buy her silence.
All three women are now seeking to tell their stories on their own terms. McDougal is scheduled to give an interview Thursday to CNN’s Anderson Cooper, while “60 Minutes” is scheduled to air an interview with Daniels on Sunday.
As she rejected Trump’s effort to block Zervos’s lawsuit from proceeding, New York Supreme Court Justice Jennifer G. Schecter cited precedent from the Paula Jones case against President Bill Clinton, which led to his impeachment in 1998.
USA Today, Opinion: Donald Trump’s foolish legal strategy is weakening the presidency, Jonathan Turley, March 21, 2018. As Trump’s legal defense cleans up after him on his Karen McDougal, Stormy Daniels and Summer Zervos cases, they’re risking the creation of bad law.
JIP Director Criticizes Trump Death Penalty Expansion
Al Jazeera, Trump wants death penalty for opioid dealers, Heidi Zhou-Castro, March 21, 2018 (2:30 mins. video). US President Donald Trump has argued that the death penalty is a fitting punishment for drug traffickers heightening the opioid epidemic. The scourge has torn through the rural and working-class communities that, in large numbers, voted for Trump. And the president, though he has come under criticism for being slow to unveil his plan, has seized on harsh sentences as key to stopping the plague. “Toughness is the thing that they most fear,” Trump said on Monday.
“It’s the certainy of punishmnent not the severity that deters,” responded Justice Integrity Project Director Andrew Kreig (begining at 1:31 min. on the video). “That’s the big the issue not the remote chance that they’ll be executed.”
Washington Post, Lawyers for Stormy Daniels, Michael Cohen erupt at each other: ‘You’re gonna go down in flames,’ Derek Hawkins, March 21, 2018. The ever-escalating Stormy Daniels saga took another strange turn Tuesday night when CNN brought attorneys for the porn star and Michael Cohen, President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, into its studios and let them rip into each other on prime time television.
Michael Avenatti, an attorney and spokesman for Daniels, and David Schwartz, an attorney for Cohen, spent nearly a half-hour trading insults and accusations and waving their hands at each other. The heated discussion was about a nondisclosure agreement that Daniels says in legal filings she signed to stay silent about an affair with the president.
At one point Avenatti, who has mounted a media blitz in recent days, held up an unflattering picture of Cohen and demanded Schwartz explain why he wouldn’t come onto the network.
“You’re a very passionate guy on behalf of your client, Michael Cohen,” Avenatti told Schwartz. “If Michael Cohen is such a stand-up guy, where is he? Where is this guy? Why won’t he come and sit in this chair?”
Frantic U.S. “Must-Pass” Spending
Washington Post, Congress nears $1.3 trillion spending deal, with some funds for border wall but none for N.Y. tunnel project, Mike DeBonis and Erica Werner, March 21, 2018. Lawmakers hope to release a bill today with hopes of passing the legislation before a Friday night government shutdown deadline.
Fed Raises Interest Rates
Washington Post, Federal Reserve hikes interest rate to highest level in a decade, Heather Long, March 21, 2018. The move bumps the Fed’s key rate from 1.5 percent to 1.75 percent, raising costs for borrowers and easing off efforts to stimulate the economy. The Fed also signaled it would raise rates two more times this year.
Media: Fox Commentator Blasts Network
Washington Post, Fox News commentator exits with a searing attack on Fox News, Paul Farhi, March 21, 2018 (print edition). Commentator and author Ralph Peters (shown above) isn’t just closing the door on his career at Fox News Channel. He’s slamming it right off the hinges.
In a blistering goodbye email, Peters, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who commented on military affairs, called Fox “a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration.” He described President Trump as being “terrified” of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
“Four decades ago, I took an oath as a newly commissioned officer,” wrote Peters on Tuesday to his Fox colleagues, in an email first obtained by BuzzFeed News. “That oath did not expire when I took off my uniform. Today, I feel that Fox is assaulting our constitutional order and rule of law, while fostering corrosive and unjustified paranoia among viewers. Over my decade with Fox, I long was proud of the association. Now I am ashamed.”
In a statement in reply to Peters, Fox said, “Ralph Peters is entitled to his opinion despite the fact that he’s choosing to use it as a weapon in order to gain attention. We are extremely proud of our top-rated prime-time hosts and all of our opinion programing.”
To which Peters replied: “If I’m seeking attention why the [expletive] did I just quit Fox and the chance to speak to millions every day?” Peters appeared frequently on both Fox News and its sister channel, Fox Business Network, over the past decade to discuss military topics and foreign affairs, including U.S.-Russia relations. He estimates that he averaged more than 200 appearances a year during the past five years.
Syria: Exodus Deal With Rebels?
SouthFront, 1,500 Fighters Of Ahrar al-Sham To Leave East Ghouta Within 24 Hours Under Agreement With Government, Staff report, March 21, 2018. On March 21, the Hezbollah media wing reported that the Syrian government and the Ahrar al-Sham Movement had reached an agreement in order to evacuate Ahrar al-Sham fighters from the Harasta district in the Damascus subrub of Eastern Ghouta to the northern governorate of Idlib.
Over the past week, several Syrian pro-government and opposition sources reported that the Damascus government and the Ahrar al-Sham Movement had been negotiating with help from Russia. Turkey supported the negotiations and pressured Ahrar al-Sham to accept the evacuation agreement, according to the sources. Over 1,500 Ahrar al-Sham fighters along with 6,000 civilians are set to leave the Harasta district on March 22, according to the Hezbollah media wing.
A source in the SAA’s 4th Armoured Division confirmed to SouthFornt that the Ahrar al-Sham Movement had started burning its headquarters and ammo depots in Harasta in a clear sign of its commitment to the agreement. Several previous agreements to evacuate Ahrar al-Sham fighters from Harasta have failed, according to the source. The Ahrar al-Sham Movement was behind the attack on the SAA’s Armored Vehicles Base, which started on November 14, 2017. According to local observers, this offensive triggered the ongoing large military operation by the SAA and its allies in the Eastern Ghouta region.
Washington Post, Austin bombing suspect dies after blowing himself up, police say, Kristine Phillips, Meagan Flynn, Mark Berman and Eva Ruth Moravec, March 21, 2018. Police tracked down the suspect, whom officials did not name, to a hotel parking lot just north of Austin. He detonated a device in a vehicle as officers closed in. Police believe the man is responsible for four explosions in the Texas capital and a fifth in Shertz, Tex.
CNN, Austin bomber identified as Mark Anthony Conditt, source says, Faith Karimi, Jason Hanna and Jason Morris, March 21, 2018. He’s been identified as Mark Anthony Conditt, according to a source. The suspect is white and 24 years old.
New York Magazine, Alan Dershowitz’s Audition to Be Trump’s Lawyer Is Not Going Well, Jonathan Chait, March 21, 2018. Alan Dershowitz has carved out a role as Donald Trump’s favorite legal mind, a position he has previously held for such figures as Claus von Bülow and O.J. Simpson. (The common thread among all these figures is not that they know they are completely innocent.)
Last night, Dershowitz appeared on Lou Dobbs’s program to express his belief that the Mueller investigation should be dissolved. (Dobbs agreed, and proceeded to argue that Trump is entitled to subject the Department of Justice to his complete personal control, a point Dershowitz did not contest.) This morning, Trump, likely DVRing through last night’s Fox News highlights, excitedly tweeted out paraphrased, poorly spelled excerpts of Dershowitz’s commentary:
Book News: Spoof Hits No. 1
New York Times, Children’s Book About Mike Pence’s Gay Bunny Jumps to No. 1, Liam Stack, March 21, 2018 (print edition). This is the story of Marlon Bundo, the Instagram star and real-life pet of the vice president’s family, who is also the subject of two dueling children’s books released this week.
The first, Marlon Bundo’s Day in the Life of the Vice President, is a picture book written by Mr. Pence’s daughter Charlotte that focuses on the bunny’s observations of the vice president, with illustrations by his wife, Karen. The other, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver Presents a Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo” is a gay romance between two bunnies that was the brainchild of the HBO comedy host John Oliver. So far, that is the more popular of the two.
Mr. Oliver revealed the book, which was written by Jill Twiss and credits the titular bunny as a co-author, on his weekly late-night show on Sunday. He described it as a mocking rebuke of the vice president’s longtime opposition to gay and transgender rights.
SouthFront, 40 Tons Of Chemical Weapons Found In Areas Liberated From Militants In Syria, Staff report, March 21, 2018. “The Syrian Foreign Ministry pointed out that more than 40 tons of poisonous substances were found on the territories, liberated from terrorists,” Igor Kirillov, the commander of Russia’s Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Protection Forces, said on March 21.
Moon of Alabama, Opinion: Russian Scientists Explain ‘Novichok,’ High Time For Britain To Come Clean (Updated), B, March 21, 2018. A week ago we asked if ‘Novichok’ poisons are real. The answer is now in: It is ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
Several Russian scientist now say that they once researched and developed lethal poisons but they assert that other countries can and have copied these. ‘Novichok’, they say, is a just western propaganda invention. They see the British accusations as a cynical plot against Russia.
Fake News From CNN?
CNN, One JFK conspiracy theory that could be true, Thom Patterson, March 21, 2018. (Newspeg: CNN Original Series: “American Dynasties: The Kennedys” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CNN TV and CNNGo.)
During the half century since President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, you may have heard about a few conspiracy theories. Decades of investigations, hearings, documents, records, books and interviews have failed to satisfy conspiracy theorists with a definitive answer to The Question: Did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone when he shot the President? At one time or another, doubters of the lone gunman theory “have accused 42 groups, 82 assassins and 214 people of being involved in the assassination,” said author Vincent Bugliosi. That’s a lot of paranoia.
So, when reporters, producers, or amateur historians want to check out the latest JFK conspiracy theory, they call Dave Perry.
“People think I’m an anti-conspiracy guy,” Perry said at his Dallas-area home. But there’s one conspiracy theory that he’s not ruling out. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorists, Perry said, come in all degrees of interest and levels of obsession. They may believe the government was behind the 9/11 attacks or that the moon landings were fake. Those folks comprise the “off the wall” crowd. The others, he says, read the books, watch the documentaries and come to less extreme conclusions.
The presidents of Russia and the United States are shown meeting in a file photo from last year’s G-20 Summit meeting
Washington Post, Trump congratulates Putin on election, discusses meeting, Kremlin says, Anton Troianovski and Jenna Johnson, March 20, 2018. Some world leaders have hesitated to congratulate Putin, since his reelection occurred in an environment of state control of much of the news media and his most prominent opponent was barred from the ballot.
New York Times, Ex-Playboy Model Sues to Break Silence on Trump, Jim Rutenberg, March 20, 2018. Karen McDougal, shown above, is the second woman this month to challenge Trump associates’ efforts to bury stories of extramarital affairs. A former Playboy model who claimed she had an affair with Donald J. Trump sued on Tuesday to be released from a 2016 legal agreement requiring her silence, becoming the second woman this month to challenge Trump allies’ efforts during the presidential campaign to bury stories about extramarital relationships.
The model, Karen McDougal, is suing the company that owns The National Enquirer, American Media Inc., which paid her $150,000 and whose chief executive is a friend of President Trump’s. The other woman, the adult entertainment star Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels, was paid $130,000 to stay quiet by the president’s personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen. She filed a lawsuit earlier this month.
Both women, who argue that their contracts are invalid, are trying to get around clauses requiring them to resolve disputes in secretive arbitration proceedings rather than in open court. Mr. Trump has denied the affairs, which both women have described as consensual.
Ms. McDougal, in a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, claims that Mr. Cohen was secretly involved in her talks with A.M.I., and that the media company and her lawyer at the time misled her about the deal. She also asserts that after she spoke with The New Yorker last month after it obtained notes she kept on Mr. Trump, A.M.I. warned that “any further disclosures would breach Karen’s contract” and “cause considerable monetary damages.””
Mind Control via Facebook, Cambridge Analytica?
Washington Post, Cambridge Analytica CEO appears to talk about using bribes and sex workers to sway elections on video, Craig Timberg, Tony Romm and Karla Adam, March 20, 2018 (print edition). A British television station’s undercover video raises new questions about the company embroiled in controversy over its use of Facebook users’ data. The broadcast did not offer evidence that such methods were used during the firm’s work for President Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix at Web Summit 2017 in Lisbon (Photo by Sam Barnes: Sam-7378 CC by 2.0)
New York Times, Cambridge Analytica Suspends C.E.O. in Facebook Scandal, Matthew Rosenberg, March 20, 2018. The company’s board said it was suspending the chief executive, Alexander Nix, with immediate effect, pending an independent investigation. Cambridge Analytica, the political data firm with ties to President Trump’s 2016 campaign, suspended its chief executive, Alexander Nix, on Tuesday, amid a furor over the access it gained to private information on more than 50 million Facebook users.
The decision came after a television broadcast in which Mr. Nix was recorded suggesting unseemly practices to influence foreign elections.The London-based company, founded by Stephen K. Bannon and Robert Mercer, a wealthy Republican donor who has put at least $15 million into it, offered tools that could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior.
So-called psychographic modeling techniques, which were built in part with the data harvested from Facebook, underpinned the company’s work for the Trump campaign in 2016. Mr. Nix once called the practice “our secret sauce,” though some have questioned its effectiveness.
Washington Post, FTC opens probe into Facebook after firm scrapes millions of users’ personal data, Tony Romm and Craig Timberg, March 20, 2018. The investigation by the Federal Trade Commission marks the most substantial political and legal threat yet to the social media giant as it grapples with the fallout from Cambridge Analytica and its controversial tactics.
Former Cambridge Analytica Director of Research Christopher Wylie, now a whistleblower in scandal hurting Facebook and other stocks
Washington Post, Facebook’s rules for accessing user data lured more than just Cambridge Analytica, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Tony Romm, March 20, 2018. The social media giant changed its policies in 2015, but not before apps such as FarmVille and Tinder — as well as the Obama campaign — accessed the network’s information trove.
Sputnik, Dirty Tricks or Black Ops? The Secret World of Cambridge Analytica, Staff report, March 20, 2018. Executives at Cambridge Analytica have been caught on hidden camera boasting about using Ukrainian sex workers to create honey traps, bribing foreign political candidates and of using former intelligence agents to dig up dirt to help them blackmail politicians. Cambridge Analytica have worked on elections in North and South America, East Asia, Africa and Europe. They have been accused of swaying the EU referendum in the UK and of being a crucial factor in the election of Donald Trump as US president. Now, several senior officials at company have been filmed by undercover journalists bragging that their services go far beyond big data analytics and social media marketing.
Britain’s Channel 4 carried out the four-month sting in late 2017 and early 2018, secretly filming Cambridge Analytica’s CEO Alexander Nix, chief data office Dr Alex Tayler and managing director of CA Political Global Mark Turnbull. Channel 4’s representative in these meetings posed as a Sri Lankan looking to employ the company in the country’s elections.
Sputnik spoke to political and intelligence commentator Wayne Madsen who pointed out similar instances of private entities being involved in dirty tricks and black operations. Madsen highlighted how, “General Motors tapped consumer advocate Ralph Nader’s phone in an attempt to uncover salacious information and, when that failed, hired prostitutes in an attempt to catch him in a compromising situation.”
Madsen also referred to the CIA’s Operation Midnight Climax, which Agency documents confirm involved hiring prostitutes to ‘lure’ unsuspecting citizens to CIA safe houses where they were experimented on with LSD. Madsen commented, “This operation included several contractors, including the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) and the Human Ecology Foundation.”
Channel 4’s investigation shows that in Cambridge Analytica’s world there is little distinction between political dirty tricks and intelligence agency black operations.
Nix also referred to having Israeli contacts (possibly ex-Mossad) who they use to do this sort of work on their behalf. According to Nix, disguising their work is a Cambridge Analytica specialty: “Many of our clients don’t want to be seen to be working with a foreign company…so often we set up, if we are working then we can set up fake IDs and websites, we can be students doing research projects attached to a university, we can be tourists, there’s so many options we can look at. I have lots of experience in this.”
Turnbull explained that the information they obtain is then deployed as part of a propaganda strategy, saying “we just put information into the bloodstream of the internet, and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again.” He referred again to the need for this to be covert, without the target audience realising what is being done and who is doing it: “It has to happen without anyone thinking, ‘that’s propaganda’, because the moment you think ‘that’s propaganda’, the next question is, ‘who’s put that out?'”
What Are Cambridge Analytica?
These admissions raise the question of what kind of organization Cambridge Analytica are. They have denied that they actually offer these kinds of services, issuing a statement saying: “We entirely refute any allegation that Cambridge Analytica or any of its affiliates use entrapment, bribes, or so-called “honey-traps” for any purpose whatsoever… We routinely undertake conversations with prospective clients to try to tease out any unethical or illegal intentions.”
However, they met with Channel 4’s undercover reporter multiple times, each time being more explicit in what they offered, with Nix emphasizing in their final meeting, “I’m giving you examples of what can be done, and what has been done.”
Meanwhile, Madsen was unequivocal in his opinion of the company, their practices and what the response should be, commenting: “Cambridge Analytica should be prosecuted for criminal violations of the Racketeer- Influenced & Corrupt Organizations (RICO) act.”
Moon of Alabama blog, Opinion: Cambridge Analytica And The Manipulation Of People, Debs is Dead, March 20, 2018. There is a relatively easy to digest video here where Christopher Wylie, a computer scientist, outlines the birth of Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix, the CEO and the method used to sell the development of the corporation to Steve Bannon (right), CA’s first customer and Robert Mercer, the Wall Street financier who underwrote the cost of setting up the corporation. I recommend spending the 13 minutes required to watch the video because Wylie’s summation of what they did and why is horrifying.
Washington Post, Cambridge Analytica whistleblower to testify to House Democrats, Karoun Demirjian and Craig Timberg, March 20, 2018. The whistleblower who publicly revealed how Trump-affiliated data firm Cambridge Analytica used information mined from Facebook under false pretenses during the 2016 election cycle will give an interview to Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee as part of their investigation of Russian interference in the election, including possible ties to Donald Trump’s campaign.
A lawyer for Christopher Wylie confirmed Tuesday that Wylie (shown in an ABC News photo testifying to Parliament) plans to accept the invitation from the committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.).
Court Hears JFK-FOIA Fight Against CIA
USA Today, JFK files: 15-year lawsuit over mysterious CIA agent drags as final files await release, Ed Brackett, March 20, 2018 (print edition). For 15 years, journalist, author and assassination expert Jefferson Morley (right) has fought to compel the CIA to produce records about longtime spy George Joannides, who worked with a group associated with President John F. Kennedy’s acknowledged assassin and then aided the committee that tried to investigate that killing.
Morley returned to federal court again Monday, this time before a three-judge appeals court panel to get the government to pay legal fees that have climbed to more than $500,000, said Morley’s attorney, James Lesar.
Circumstances around Kennedy’s murder and the various theories over the decades that reject the idea that the lone assassin was Oswald — who himself was murdered during a jail transfer two days after Kennedy was killed — can get pretty complicated.
Morley, however, says his case is simple: The government needs to inform the public of its activities. Morley wants the appeals court in Washington to force the government to pay his legal fees and to get the CIA to reveal some of Joannides’ records.
“We’re talking about very specific things. We are not talking about a Chinese box,” he said in response to a question mentioning the term.
Bill Miller, public information officer of the Washington U.S. Attorney’s office, said the office had no comment on the case beyond its court motions and filings.
As more and more government files have been released under the JFK Records Act since October, various long-held CIA secrets have been revealed, many of them not related to the assassination, at least directly. But even with the court case and the Records Act — with its final production due in April — files on Joannides remain scarce.
In 1963, the year Kennedy was murdered, Joannides was the CIA case officer over students from Cuba eager to oust dictator Fidel Castro, who had seized power in 1959. In 1978, Joannides was named by the CIA as its contact with the House Select Committee on Assassinations.
Probes Of Trump
Washington Post, Trump’s lawyers turned over documents to Mueller to try to limit interview scope, Carol D. Leonnig, March 20, 2018 (print edition). Recognizing the extraordinarily high stakes, President Trump’s legal team is seeking to curtail his exposure to the special counsel (shown at right), whom Trump recently attacked in a series of tweets.
Washington Post, Trump legal team seeks to add high-profile conservative lawyer Theodore B. Olson, Robert Costa and Carol D. Leonnig, March 20, 2018. The addition of Olson (a former U.S. Solicitor General shown at right in official photo from his term 2001 to 2004) would come as President Trump, feeling vulnerable to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe, has told confidants that he wants to recruit top-tier talent and shake up his group of lawyers.
CBS News, Top litigator Theodore Olson turns down offer from Trump legal team, John Bat, March 20, 2018. Former Solicitor General Theodore Olson has turned down an offer to join President Trump’s legal team, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, where Olson works, said Tuesday. Ted Boutrous tweeted, “I can confirm that @gibsondunn and Theodore B. Olson will not be representing @realDonaldTrump.”
President Trump’s legal team had sought Olson, one of the country’s top litigators, to help navigate special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, the Washington Post reported. Olson considered the offer and analyzed possible conflicts of interest with his current firm, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Washington before turning down the offer.
New York Times, President Considers Reshuffling His Legal Team, Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman, March 20, 2018 (print edition). President Trump has discussed firing one lawyer, and another has considered quitting. A third, who has pushed theories on television that the F.B.I. framed the president, was hired.
President Trump’s legal team was poised for a shake-up on Monday, according to two people briefed on the matter, as he openly discussed firing one of his lawyers, another considered resigning and a third — who pushed theories on television that Mr. Trump was framed by the F.B.I. — joined the roster.
Mr. Trump has weighed aloud in recent days to close associates whether to dismiss his lawyer Ty Cobb (above right), who had pushed most strongly a strategy of cooperating fully with the special counsel investigation. The president reassured Mr. Cobb that he had no plans to fire him, according to a person who spoke with the president late Monday, in part to prevent a narrative that his team was in disarray after The New York Times began making inquiries. Mr. Trump’s lead lawyer, John Dowd, has contemplated leaving his post because he has concluded that he has no control over the behavior of the president, the two people briefed on the matter said.
New York Times, Trump Plans to Hire Lawyer Who Sees a ‘Plot’ by the F.B.I., Maggie Haberman and Michael S. Schmidt, March 19, 2018. The lawyer, Joseph E. diGenova (shown above at left with Trump in separate file photos), has pushed the theory on television that President Trump was framed by F.B.I. and Justice Department officials.
President Trump hired the longtime Washington lawyer Joseph E. diGenova on Monday, adding an aggressive voice to his legal team who has pushed the theory on television that the F.B.I. and Justice Department framed Mr. Trump.
Mr. diGenova, a former United States attorney, is not expected to take a lead role. But he will serve as an outspoken player for the president as Mr. Trump has increased his attacks on the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. Mr. Trump broke over the weekend from the longstanding advice of some of his lawyers that he refrain from directly criticizing Mr. Mueller, a sign of his growing unease with the investigation.
Guardian, Plight of Phoenix: how long can the world’s ‘least sustainable’ city survive? Joanna Walters, March 20, 2018. Set deep in the Valley of the Sun, the lush and sprawling ‘megapolis’ has a problem – the rivers. Phoenix gets less than eight inches of rainfall each year; most of the water supply for central and southern Arizona is pumped from Lake Mead, fed by the Colorado river over 300 miles away. Anthem’s private developer paid a local Native American tribe to lease some of its historic water rights, and pipes its water from the nearby Lake Pleasant reservoir – also filled by the Colorado.
That river is drying up. This winter, snow in the Rocky Mountains, which feeds the Colorado, was 70% lower than average. Last month, the US government calculated that two thirds of Arizona is currently facing severe to extreme drought; last summer 50 flights were grounded at Phoenix airport because the heat – which hit 47C (116F) – made the air too thin to take off safely. The “heat island” effect keeps temperatures in Phoenix above 37C (98F) at night in summer.
Washington Post, Lobbyist says he was nearly killed by man he hired to investigate Seth Rich’s death, Rachel Weiner, March 20, 2018. Jack Burkman took the unusual step of launching his own private investigation as conspiracy theories swirled around the murder of the DNC staffer. Now Burkman alleges that man, Kevin Doherty, nearly killed him.
Burkman, a conservative lobbyist who has also raised money for Rick Gates, a former Trump campaign official who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, and protested gay athletes in the NFL, is used to controversy. But Doherty’s arrest Saturday by Arlington County police on charges of malicious wounding and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony caps a saga stranger than Burkman’s own conspiracy theories.
Unz Review, Who poisoned the Russian spy? Philip Giraldi, March 20, 2018. Philip M. Giraldi, Ph.D., is Executive Director of the Council for the National Interest, a 501(c)3 tax deductible educational foundation that seeks a more interests-based U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
I don’t know what happened in Salisbury England on March 4th, but it appears that the British government doesn’t know either. Prime Minister Theresa May’s speech before Parliament last Monday was essentially political, reflecting demands that she should “do something” in response to the mounting hysteria over the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. After May’s presentation there were demands from Parliamentarians for harsh measures against Russia, reminiscent of the calls for action emanating from the U.S. Congress over the allegations relating to what has been called Russiagate.
There are a number of problems with the accepted narrative as presented by May and the media. So when Theresa May says that the alleged agent used against the Skripals as being “of a type” associated with a reported Russian-developed chemical weapon called Novichok that was produced in the 1970s and 1980s, she is actually conceding that her own chemical weapons laboratories at Porton Down are, to a certain, extent, guessing at the provenance and characteristics of the actual agent that might or might not have been used in Salisbury.
Beyond that, a military strength nerve agent is, by definition, a highly concentrated and easily dispersed form of a chemical weapon. It is intended to kill or incapacitate hundreds or even thousands of soldiers. If it truly had been used in Salisbury, even in a small dose, it would have killed Skripal and his daughter as well as others nearby. First responders who showed up without protective clothing, clearly seen in the initial videos and photos taken near the site, would also be dead.
After her first speech, May summoned the Russian Ambassador and demanded that he address the allegations, but Moscow reasonably enough demanded a sample of the alleged nerve agent for testing by relevant international bodies like the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons before it could even respond to the British accusations. It was a valid point even supported in Parliament questioning by opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, but May and her government decided to act anyway.
May’s language also conveys uncertainty. She used “it appears” and also said it was “highly likely” that Moscow was behind the poisoning of Skripal but provided no actual evidence that that was the case, presumably only assuming that it had to be Russia. And her government has told the public that there is “little risk” remaining over the incident and that those who were possibly exposed merely have to wash themselves and their clothes, hardly likely if it were a military grade toxin, which gains it lethality from being persistent on and around a target. She made clear her lack of corroboration for her claim by offering an “either-or” analysis: either Russia’s government did it or it had “lost control” of its nerve agent.
As noted above, May’s argument is, to a certain extent, based on character assassination of Russians – she even offered up the alleged “annexation” of Crimea as corroboration of her view that Moscow is not inclined to play by the rules that others observe.
It is a narrative that is based on the presumption that “this is the sort of thing the Russian government headed by Vladimir Putin does.” The British media has responded enthusiastically, running stories about numerous assassinations and poisonings that ought to be attributed to Russia, while ignoring the fact that the world leaders in political assassinations are actually the United States and Israel.
Facebook / Privacy Scandal
CBS News, Christopher Wylie, Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, speaks out on Facebook controversy, Nick Thompson, March 19, 2018, Reports over the weekend said Facebook mishandled data from more than 50 million users, allowing Cambridge Analytica — a consulting firm once employed by the Trump campaign — to gain access to it. The revelations that have panicked Facebook executives and spooked its investors started at Cambridge Analytica’s offices, the brainchild of now 28-year-old co-founder-turned self-proclaimed-whistleblower Christopher Wylie.
“All of these pieces of information, put together, create a digital portrait of who you are,” Wylie said. Cambridge Analytica worked for Sen. Ted Cruz (shown in a 2016 campaign portrait) and President Trump’s 2016 campaign. The idea was to put 2016 political advertising on steroids by targeting certain people based on very specific people.
Here’s how it happened: In 2014, a company called Global Science Research (GSR) used Facebook to distribute a personality quiz to analyze whether users were extroverted or neurotic. The company said it was doing it just for research purposes, but it actually harvested the psychological data from all the users and — with their permission — got access to some data on their Facebook friends.
It then sold the data to Cambridge Analytica, which used it to create targeted political advertising. In total, some 50 million Americans may have been impacted.
“It scaled really quickly. We spent over $1 million on it, so it wasn’t cheap but in terms of the amount of data that was collected, and the quality of that data, it was a rare example of where something was fast, relatively cheap, but high-quality, ” Wylie said.
Wylie also told CBS News’ Charlie D’Agata that he’s “taking responsibility” and “owning up” about Cambridge Analytica.
“I take a share of responsibility in this because I was the research director and I worked on this program so I’m going to start by saying I’m taking responsibility and I’m owning up,” Wylie said. “In terms of who else needs to take responsibility: Cambridge Analytica — it funded the program, it approved the program — as an entity this is what ultimately became the foundation of what Cambridge Analytica is.”
Wylie added: “Last week I offered to help Facebook and work with Facebook and their lawyers confirmed that they wanted to work in a collaborative manner — when all of this came out I got banned [from Facebook] — they decided that actually the whistleblower is the person they want to apparently go after.” Facebook said the use of the data was unauthorized. Since 2015, the company has banned third-party developers from collecting data on users friends.
But Facebook’s critics say the company should have done more. David Carroll, who has filed a lawsuit to figure out exactly what information was used, believes the social media giant should bear some responsibility. “If they did let data get collected in an illicit manner and didn’t adequately protect it when they learned how it was used, then yes, they are responsible. That’s the deal they make with us, that they protect our data in order for us to use the service,” Carroll said.
Wylie calls the data a “political gold mine.” “If you’re trying to influence an American election, that’s a one-stop shop,” Wylie said.
New York Times, Senior Facebook Official to Exit Over Dispute on Russian Ploys, Nicole Perloroth, Sheera Frenkel and Scott Shane, March 19, 2018. Facebook’s chief information security officer, Alex Stamos, is said to have had internal disagreements over how the social network should deal with its role in spreading disinformation. He advocated transparency in disclosing Russian activity, often to the consternation of other top executives, including Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer.
Washington Post, U.S. and European officials question Facebook’s protection of personal data, Craig Timberg, Tony Romm and Elizabeth Dwoskin, March 19, 2018 (print edition). Some called on chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to explain how information about millions of users ended up in the hands of a firm that worked for President Trump’s 2016 campaign — without the knowledge of the vast majority of those affected.
Probes Of Trump
Washington Post, Trump’s lawyers turned over documents to Mueller to try to limit interview scope, Carol D. Leonnig, March 20, 2018 (print edition). Recognizing the extraordinarily high stakes, President Trump’s legal team is seeking to curtail his exposure to the special counsel (shown at right), whom Trump recently attacked in a series of tweets.
Vote Cheaters Exposed
Washington Post, Supreme Court refuses to stop new congressional maps in Pennsylvania, Robert Barnes, March 19, 2018. The 2018 U.S. elections are likely to be held under a map much more favorable to Democrats. The 2011 map that has been used this decade has resulted in Republicans consistently winning 13 of the state’s 18 congressional seats. Under the new map, analysts say Republicans start with an edge in 10.
Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix at Web Summit 2017 in Lisbon (Photo by Sam Barnes: Sam-7378 CC by 2.0)
GregPalast.com, Opinion: Cambridge Analytica Ain’t Nuthin: Look out for i360 and DataTrust, Greg Palast (shown at right), March 19, 2018. There are two dangers in the media howl over Trump’s computer gurus Cambridge Analytica, the data-driven psy-ops company founded by billionaire brown-shirts, the Mercer Family. There are two dangers in the media howl over Trump’s computer gurus Cambridge Analytica, the data-driven psy-ops company founded by billionaire brown-shirts, the Mercer Family. The story is that Cambridge Analytica, once directed by Steve Bannon, by shoplifting Facebook profiles to bend your brain, is some unique “bad apple” of the cyber world.
That’s a dangerously narrow view. In fact, the dark art of dynamic psychometric manipulation in politics was not pioneered by Cambridge Analytica for Trump, but by i360 Themis, the operation founded by… no points for guessing… the Brothers Koch.
Mark Swedlund, himself an expert in these tools, explained in film The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, that i360 dynamically tracks you on 1800 behaviors, or as Swedlund graphically puts it [in clip]. The Koch operation and its competitor, DataTrust, use your credit card purchases, cable TV choices and other personal info — which is far more revealing about your inner life than the BS you put on your Facebook profile. Don’t trust DataTrust: This cyber-monster is operated by Karl Rove, “Bush’s Brain,” who is principally funded by Paul Singer, the far Right financier better known as The Vulture.
Opinion: The New Yorker March 26 (print edition) cover shown above is attracting buzz given the many Trump-related scandals
Palmer Report, Opinion: Cambridge Analytica’s bribery and sex worker scandal just blew Trump-Russia scandal wide open, Bill Palmer, March 19, 2018. Yesterday Palmer Report brought you the story of how Mercer-controlled Trump campaign data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica was working behind the scenes to try to prevent British television network Channel 4 from airing an undercover expose about the company. That report has predictably surfaced anyway, and it includes the leaders of Cambridge Analytica giving away the company’s dirtiest political secrets, in a development which has just blown the entire Trump-Russia scandal wide open.
The Channel 4 News report includes footage of Cambridge Analytica senior executives admitting to the tactics they’ve used to win elections, which have included everything from bribery to Ukrainian sex workers. This creates several problems for Cambridge Analytica, all of which in turn create new problems for Donald Trump.
Trump Prepares China Tariffs
Washington Post, Trump prepared to hit China with $60 billion in tariffs by Friday, doubling aides’ earlier proposal, Damian Paletta, Steven Mufson and Josh Dawsey, March 19, 2018. Senior aides had presented President Trump with a package of $30 billion in annual tariffs that would apply to a range of Chinese products, but Trump has directed them to roughly double the scope of the new restrictions, four senior administration officials said.
Syrian Rebels Overrun Kurdish-held City
New York Times, Backed by Turkey, Syrian Rebels Seize Kurdish-Held City, Carlotta Gall and Anne Barnard, March 19, 2018 (print edition). Afrin, the city in the Syrian enclave, was the target of a two-month military operation against Kurdish militias. Tens of thousands of civilians evacuated as its fall neared.
Trump To Advocate Expanded Death Penalty For Opioid Sellers
Washington Post, Trump will propose executing drug dealers. But only in some already legal cases, Paige Winfield Cunningham, March 19, 2018. President Trump today will emphasize that the death penalty can be extended to drug dealers. But compared to his tough talk about executing a class of people he seems to view as street thugs, the president’s proposal aimed at curbing the opioid epidemic is a little less than it seems.
On a visit to New Hampshire, one of the states hardest-hit by opioid addiction and overdose, Trump will officially propose that his Justice Department pursue stiffer penalties — including capital punishment — for traffickers when appropriate under the law.
That last part is important as the administration had been considering making trafficking in even small doses of fentanyl — a deadly synthetic opioid — a capital offense. But instead, Trump is urging more aggressive prosecution of drug dealers, and only seeking the death penalty when it’s already available.
U.S. law allows for the death penalty to be applied in four types of drug-related cases, according to the Death Penalty Information Center: murder committed during a drug-related drive-by shooting, murder committed with the use of a firearm during a drug-trafficking crime, murder related to drug trafficking and murder of a law-enforcement officer that relates to drugs.
In related news, the Al Jazeera cable news network invited a response from Justice Integrity Project Director Andrew Kreig, who voiced (on a segment cablecast during the evening) concerns over the lawfulness, cost, ineffectiveness and civil rights harms involved with the president’s proposal.
Russians Re-elect Putin
New York Times, Putin Wins Election, and Broad Mandate for a Fourth Term, Neil MacFarquhar, March 19, 2018 (print edition). Voters came out in smaller numbers than the Kremlin had hoped, but the result showed that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia enjoys broad approval among the people.
Russian voters gave President Vladimir V. Putin (shown at left) their resounding approval for a fourth term on Sunday, with preliminary results on state television showing him with more than 70 percent of the vote, even if the initial turnout estimate was less than the Kremlin had sought.
A poor showing by the already fractious opposition prompted a bitter public dispute between the two most high-profile liberal politicians, with one denouncing the other as a Kremlin stooge even before the polls closed.
The Kremlin had initially hoped that Mr. Putin would get at least 70 percent of the vote with a 70 percent turnout, but on Sunday it appeared unlikely to achieve that goal, according to still preliminary figures. If the turnout figure does not change, it may end up being below the level in 2012, 65 percent.
Still, the numbers were high enough for Mr. Putin, 65, to claim a popular mandate for another six-year term, which under current term limits should be his last. Mr. Putin has been president since 2000, stepping aside for one term as prime minister to get around term limits.Mr. Putin is expected to continue with little change in terms of trying to rebuild Russia as a global power while limiting economic reforms at home. Given his lame-duck status, many expect the fight will now begin in earnest among the Kremlin elite to choose his successor.
There was only one woman among the eight candidates — Ksenia A. Sobchak, 36, the daughter of Mr. Putin’s political mentor and a reality TV star turned political journalist. The attitude of many voters, however, was that choosing any of the opposition candidates would be like asking one of the seven dwarves to assume the role of Snow White. “It is not easy to rule Russia; it is too big a country,” said Christina Amelina, 50, an artist.
More Questions On UK/Russian Poison Scare
British-Russian double-agent Sergej Skripal and his daughter Julia photographed in a London restaurant this month before a claimed poisoning
Moon of Alabama, Opinion: “No Patients Have Experienced Symptoms Of Nerve Agent Poisoning In Salisbury,” B, March 19, 2018. There have been some interesting developments in the alleged poisoning case of the British-Russian double-agent Sergej Skripal and his daughter. The British government’s standing on the issue is getting worse as more inconsistencies and doubts on its statements come to light. The international support for its claims is weakening.
On March 4 the Skripals collapsed on a public bench in Salisbury in England after they had visited a pub and a restaurant. They were brought to the local hospital. A local policemen was probably also affected. (See our previous posts, liked at the end, for many additional details.) A week later, on March 12, the British government said that a nerve agent was the cause of the incident and accused Russia of being responsible for the act:
The Skripal poisoning case stinks. The British government is obviously not telling the truth about it. It uses the script of a recent spy drama to allege a ‘Novichok’ attack to implicate Russia and to raise anti-Russian sentiment. Information about the case is evidently held back. The media is mostly complicit. Foreign countries have noticed that the story stinks and are tracking back on their support.
Washington Post, Opinion: Trump made senior staff sign nondisclosure agreements. They may last past his presidency, Ruth Marcus, March 19, 2018 (print edition). In the early months of the administration, at the behest of now-President Trump, who was furious over leaks from within the White House, senior White House staff members were asked to, and did, sign nondisclosure agreements vowing not to reveal confidential information and exposing them to damages for any violation. Some balked at first but, pressed by then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and the White House Counsel’s Office, ultimately complied, concluding that the agreements would likely not be enforceable in any event.
Moreover, said [a] source, this confidentiality pledge would extend not only after an aide’s White House service but also beyond the Trump presidency. “It’s not meant to be constrained by the four years or eight years he’s president — or the four months or eight months somebody works there. It is meant to survive that.”
This is extraordinary. Every president inveighs against leakers and bemoans the kiss-and-tell books; no president, to my knowledge, has attempted to impose such a pledge. And while White House staffers have various confidentiality obligations — maintaining the secrecy of classified information or attorney-client privilege, for instance — the notion of imposing a side agreement, supposedly enforceable even after the president leaves office, is not only oppressive but constitutionally repugnant.
Questionable Prosecutor $50k Per Head Fundraiser
Legal Schnauzer, Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Josh Hawley seeks $50,000 donation from retired lawyer Paul Benton Weeks, whom Hawley’s AG office is prosecuting, Roger Shuler, March 19, 2018. A U.S. Senate candidate from Missouri sought a $50,000 donation from a retired lawyer he is prosecuting as state attorney general. Josh Hawley, a Republican, is set to face incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill in one of the most-watched Senate campaigns of 2018. For now, Hawley (shown at right) is Missouri AG, and he recently solicited a $50,000 donation (via email) for his Senate campaign from Paul Benton Weeks, of Springfield, Missouri.
Weeks was invited to attend a fundraising reception, featuring Hawley and President Donald Trump, in St. Louis on March 14. The invitation, sent to Weeks’ email address at [email protected], stated that Weeks could be part of the Host Committee Roundtable for a donation of $50,000 per person. (Invitation is embedded at the end of this post.) Why should this raise eyebrows? Hawley’s AG office is prosecuting Weeks on a dubious charge of securities fraud — but now Hawley wants the defendant to fork over $50,000 to a Senate campaign.
WhoWhatWhy, The ‘Godmother of Torture’ May Soon Be Running the CIA, Jeff Schechtman, March 19, 2018. The recent revisionist history about Gina Haspel, Trump’s nominee for CIA director, should make very little difference in examining the totality of her record on torture and its cover up.
According to John Kiriakou, a 15-year CIA veteran, and the whistleblower on the CIA covert torture operation, Gina Haspel (shown at right) is the “godmother of the torture program.” Regarding ProPublica’s correction of the record of her involvement, Kiriakou says that while she may not have actually overseen the torture of Abu Zubaydah, she did arrive at the secret CIA black-op site in Thailand in time for the waterboarding and torture of at least one other detainee, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
Kiriakou explains to WhoWhatWhy’s Jeff Schechtman how Haspel was also a key link in the destruction of the 92 tapes that contained the evidence of torture. She ordered the tapes destroyed, even though they had become federal records. They were shredded counter to the advice of White House and CIA counsel. Kiriakou reminds us that her defense of “just following orders” is far too reminiscent of Nazi apologia circa 1945.
On the basis of her “dark history,” Kiriakou argues that Haspel is clearly a poor choice for leadership of the CIA.
Self-Driving Car Kills Pedestrian
New York Times, Uber Halts Tests of Self-Driving Cars After Death of Pedestrian, Daisuke Wakabayashi, March 19, 2018. A woman in Tempe, Ariz., has died after being hit by a self-driving car operated by Uber, in what appears to be the first known death of a pedestrian struck by an autonomous vehicle on a public road.
The Uber vehicle was in autonomous mode with a human safety driver at the wheel when it struck the woman, who was crossing the street outside of a crosswalk, the Tempe police said in a statement. The episode happened on Sunday around 10 p.m. The woman was not publicly identified. Uber said it had suspended testing of its self-driving cars in Tempe, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.
The fatal crash will most likely raise questions about regulations for self-driving cars. Testing of self-driving cars is already underway for vehicles that have a human driver ready to take over if something goes wrong, but states are starting to allow companies to test cars without a person in the driver’s seat. This month, California said that, in April, it would start allowing companies to test autonomous vehicles without anyone behind the wheel.
Trump’s Civilian War Deaths
Washington Post, Middle East civilian deaths have soared under Trump. And the media mostly shrug, Margaret Sullivan, March 19, 2018 (print edition). The “collateral damage” of secret drone strikes were a stain on Obama’s presidency and has only grown since he left office.
Roll Call, Corruption Trial Begins for Former Rep. Steve Stockman; Prosecutors call the allegations against former Republican congressman a ‘white-collar crime spree,’ Eric Garcia, March 19, 2018. The corruption trial for former Texas Rep. Steve Stockman (shown at right), accused of using charitable donations for campaign and personal use, is set to begin on Monday.
The joint team of prosecutors say that Stockman and two aides used $1.25 million meant for charitable groups and used it for campaign and personal expenses without paying taxes.
“The evidence at trial will show that over a four-year period (Stockman) used a series of sham nonprofit entities to raise over $1 million in fraudulent donations, funneled the fraud proceeds through a web of shell bank accounts before ultimately using the funds to pay for personal expenses and to illegally finance his campaign for federal office,” prosecutor Ryan Ellersick wrote in a trial brief.
Defense Contractor Probe
The Intercept, Before he was FBI Director, Chris Wray supervised an investigation that found Erik Prince likely broke U.S. law, Jeremy Scahill and Matthew Cole, March 19, 2018. As a private attorney in 2016, FBI director Chris Wray supervised a team of lawyers that informed the Justice Department that Blackwater founder Erik Prince had likely violated U.S. law while trying to sell secretly modified paramilitary attack aircraft to Azerbaijan’s military.
50 Years of War Crimes Cover-up?
The Nation, The Untold Story of My Lai: How and Why the Official Investigation Covered Up General Westmoreland’s Responsibility, Gareth Porter, March 19, 2018. The Pentagon’s policy, by clear inference if not explicit directive, was to treat civilians living in Communist-controlled areas as enemy combatants.
By years ago this month, on March 16, 1968, two companies of US Army troops belonging to the Americal Division entered the My Lai and My Khe hamlets of Son My village, in Quang Ngai province, and killed 504 Vietnamese civilians— overwhelmingly women, children, and old men — in cold blood. (Part of the scene is shown at right in a U.S. Army photo.)
The national press and political elites have long learned to treat the massacre as a tragedy that did not reflect official US policy.
And ever since the Peers Commission report on My Lai was finally released to the public in November 1974 (the completed report had been transmitted to the Army chief of staff in March 1970), the press and public have believed that the commission, led by Lieut. Gen. William Peers, not only revealed the extent of the massacre but exposed the cover-up, implicating officers all the way up to the commander of the Americal Division, Gen. Samuel Koster.
But what the press and public have never understood is that the Peers Commission was involved in an even bigger cover-up: It exonerated the commander of US forces in Vietnam, Gen. William Westmoreland, from any responsibility for My Lai, despite the fact that the policy Westmoreland conveyed to his subordinates was to treat civilians who remained in long-term Vietnamese Communist, or Viet Cong (VC), base areas like My Lai as enemy combatants.
The reason that Peers covered up the responsibility of Westmoreland for My Lai, moreover—as an aide to Peers on the Commission staff told this writer—is that Peers was hoping to get a plum command assignment after completing the investigation, and Westmoreland, who had by then been promoted to Army chief of staff, had enormous influence over the decision to grant that assignment.
Another Bomb In Austin
New York Times, Austin Police Respond to Another Explosion, Hours After Plea to Bomber, Dave Montgomery and Manny Fernandez, March 19, 2018 (print edition). The Austin police responded on Sunday night to an explosion that injured two people in a neighborhood in southwest Austin, just hours after an unusual direct appeal to whoever was responsible for several deadly package explosions this month that have kept the capital of Texas on edge.
A short time after the authorities said they received reports of an explosion, two men in their 20s were taken to a hospital with serious injuries, the Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Service said.
SouthFront, U.S. Evacuating ISIS Commanders From Eastern Syria: Syrian Media, Staff report, March 19, 2018. The U.S. is evacuating ISIS commanders via helicopters from eastern Syria, the country’s state-run news agency SANA reported on March 19 citing local sources. Civil sources said that three US helicopters on Monday landed in the area between the villages of al-Jissi and Kalu, about 2 km south of Tal Hamis Township in southeastern countryside of Qamishli. The sources added that soldiers have accompanied 4 persons who were living in a house which was identified as a center for Daesh leaders from Iraqi nationality, asserting that the hovercrafts took them to unknown destination.
On February 26, two US helicopters landed in Twaimin area southeast of al-Shadadi city, transporting a number of Daesh terrorists to Sabah al-Kheir center, 20 km south of Hasaka, which the US forces are using as center for training the terrorist groups. According to some experts, the US is going to use the evacuated ISIS commanders to build various “security threats” across Central Asia. The creation of these threats should serve as a justification of the continued US miltiary presence in the region. In late 2017 and early 2018 reports appeared that the US had already redeployed some ISIS members from Syria and Iraq to Afghanistan.
Inside Washington: Farm Policy
Roll Call, Democrats Put Farm Bill Talks on Hold, Ellyn Ferguson, March 19, 2018. For those tracking the farm bill, the top question this week is whether the House Agriculture Committee chairman and ranking member can reopen talks that stalled last week, after Democrats balked at possible cuts to the food stamp program.
Rep. Collin C. Peterson, the top committee Democrat, said Thursday he would heed his colleagues’ request that he stop negotiations until Chairman K. Michael Conaway gives members the text of the proposed farm bill, along with Congressional Budget Office cost estimates and impact assessments.
The farm bill under the Agriculture Department is always a delicate balance for lawmakers who attempt to simultaneously meet the needs of the nation’s farmers and its poorest citizens.
#MeToo In Media
Tronc Chairman Michael W. Ferro, Jr. Resigns (File photo)
New York Times, Michael Ferro Steps Down as Tronc’s Chairman; Accused of Unwanted Advances, Syney Ember, March 19, 2018. Michael W. Ferro Jr., a Chicago entrepreneur and the biggest shareholder in the newspaper publisher Tronc, has stepped down as the company’s chairman, Tronc announced on Monday, hours before the publication of a report in which two women accused him of inappropriate sexual advances.
Washington Post, After McCabe firing, Trump attacks FBI and his lawyer says Russia probe must end, Philip Rucker, Matt Zapotosky and Carol D. Leonnig, March 18, 2018 (print edition). The president celebrated via Twitter the ouster of former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe, who had been probing connections between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia, as “A great day for Democracy.” McCabe said his dismissal was a deliberate effort to slander him and part of an “ongoing war” against the FBI and the Russia probe being led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
See also: New York Times, Trump Calls Out Mueller, Toeing Red Line for Some in G.O.P., Peter Baker, March 18, 2018. In two weekend tweets, President Trump lashed out at the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, by name, a departure from a strategy to show deference while his inquiry runs its course. For many, it raised a fear that Mr. Trump would try to shut down the investigation. “If he tried to do that,” said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, “that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency.”
U.S. Voting Clams Exposed
New York Times, Opinion: Kris Kobach’s Voting Sham Gets Exposed in Court, Editorial Board, March 18, 2018 (print edition). This is part of a series on voting in America, which will run up to Election Day in November. For part 1, on the importance of voting, go here.
The modern American crusade against voter fraud has always been propelled by faith. That is, an insistent belief in things unseen — things like voters who show up at the polls pretending to be someone else, or noncitizens who try to register and vote illegally.
Fraud like this is so rare as to be almost unmeasurable, and yet its specter has led to dozens of strict new laws around the country. Passed in the name of electoral integrity, the laws, which usually require voters to present photo IDs at the polls or provide proof of citizenship to register, make voting harder, if not impossible, for tens of thousands of people — disproportionately minorities and others who tend to vote Democratic.
The high priest of this faith-based movement is Kris Kobach (shown above right), the Kansas secretary of state and gubernatorial candidate who has been preaching his gospel of deception to Republican lawmakers for years. He has won plenty of converts, even though he has failed to identify more than a tiny handful of possible cases of fraud. In his eight years as secretary of state, he has secured a total of nine convictions, only one of which was for illegal voting by a noncitizen; most were for double-voting by older Republican men.
For the past two weeks, however, Mr. Kobach has been forced to make his case in a far more rigorous setting — the fact-finding process of a federal trial. In a Kansas City courtroom, Mr. Kobach and his fellow true believers have struggled to defend a 2013 state law that requires prospective voters to prove their citizenship before they can register.
Washington Post, Opinion: I went to prison for disclosing the CIA’s torture. Gina Haspel helped cover it up, John Kiriakou, March 18, 2018 (print edition). John Kiriakou (shown at right) is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He co-hosts “Loud and Clear” on Sputnik Radio, which is funded by the Russian government.
I was inside the CIA’s Langley, Va., headquarters on Sept. 11, 2001. Like all Americans, I was traumatized, and I volunteered to go overseas to help bring al-Qaeda’s leaders to justice. I headed counterterrorism operations in Pakistan from January to May 2002. My team captured dozens of al-Qaeda fighters, including senior training-camp commanders. One of the fighters whom I played an integral role in capturing was Abu Zubaida, mistakenly thought at the time to be the third-ranking person in the militant group.
By that May, the CIA had decided to torture him. When I returned to CIA headquarters that month, a senior officer in the Counterterrorism Center asked me if I wanted to be “trained in the use of enhanced interrogation techniques.” I had never heard the term, so I asked what it meant. After a brief explanation, I declined. I said that I had a moral and ethical problem with torture and that — the judgment of the Justice Department notwithstanding — I thought it was illegal.
Unfortunately, there were plenty of people in the U.S. government who were all too willing to allow the practice to go on. One of them was Gina Haspel, whom President Trump nominated Tuesday as the CIA’s next director.
Putting Haspel (shown above at left) in charge of the CIA would undo attempts by the agency — and the nation — to repudiate torture. The message this sends to the CIA workforce is simple: Engage in war crimes, in crimes against humanity, and you’ll get promoted. Don’t worry about the law. Don’t worry about ethics. Don’t worry about morality or the fact that torture doesn’t even work. Go ahead and do it anyway. We’ll cover for you. And you can destroy the evidence, too.
Syria Nears Victory In East Ghouta
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad greets troops and liberated residents in East Ghouta on March 18, 2018 following attack begun on Feb. 24
SouthFront, Syrian President Visits Frontlines In East Ghouta, Meets SAA Soldiers, Displaced Civilians (Videos, Photos), Staff report, March 18, 2018.
Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad visited frontlines in the East Ghouta region, the Syrian Presidency Office reported. “Every bullet you fired to kill a terrorist, you were changing the balance of the world with it,” al-Assad told a gathering of Syrian officers and soldiers.
U.S.-Funded Carnage In Yemen
New York Times, White House Spars With Congress Over Saudi Military Aid, Eric Schmitt and Thomas Gibbons-Neff, March 18, 2018. Even as the State Department weighs approval of more than $1 billion in new arms, lawmakers are pushing for a resolution that they say would prevent Washington from giving the Saudis “a blank check.” The Trump administration is furiously trying to fend off a bipartisan effort in Congress to halt American military support to the deadly Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen as the kingdom’s influential young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (shown at right), arrives in Washington this week for talks with President Trump.
Even as the State Department weighs approval of more than $1 billion in new arms to the Saudis, lawmakers are pushing for a resolution that they say would prevent Washington from giving the Saudis “a blank check” in the conflict. The United Nations says 10,000 civilians have been killed and 40,000 wounded in the fighting, exacerbating one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
Top Pentagon and State Department officials rushed to Capitol Hill last week to warn senators in a closed, classified briefing that approving the Senate measure could seriously damage relations with Saudi Arabia. The crown prince is scheduled to meet with the president and other officials on Tuesday, and a vote on the measure could come later this week.
Since 2015, the United States has provided the Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen with air-to-air refueling, intelligence assessments and other military advice. “New restrictions on this limited U.S. military support could increase civilian casualties, jeopardize cooperation with our partners on counterterrorism and reduce our influence with the Saudis,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in a letter last week to Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader.
The Pentagon insists that all of its military aid is noncombat assistance, like advising the Saudi Air Force on adopting bombing practices that kill fewer civilians. But at the same time, the defense contractor Raytheon is courting lawmakers and the State Department to allow it to sell 60,000 precision-guided munitions to both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, another member of the air campaign, in deals worth billions of dollars.
Consumer Protection From Wireless Poles
Washington Post, Wireless firms seek to preempt local authority to install 5G equipment in neighborhoods, Katherine Shaver, March 18, 2018. The next big thing in cellular technology, 5G, will bring lightning-fast wireless Internet — and thousands of antenna-topped poles to many neighborhoods where cell towers have long been banned.
Wireless companies are asking Congress and state lawmakers to make it easier to install the poles by preempting local zoning laws that often restrict them, particularly near homes. The lobbying efforts have alarmed local officials across the country. They say they need to ensure that their communities do not end up with unsightly poles cluttering sidewalks, roadsides and the edges of front yards.
They also are hearing from residents worried about possible long-term health risks. Until now, much of the cell equipment that emits radio-frequency energy has been housed on large towers typically kept hundreds of feet from homes. The new “small cell” technology uses far more antennas and transmitters that are smaller and lower-powered, but clustered closer together and lower to the ground.
“We want to see the future of wireless infrastructure happen, but we want a say in how that happens,” Montgomery County Council President Hans Riemer (D-At Large) said.
More On Trump Probes
Andrew McCabe official portrait
Consortium News, McCabe: A War on (or in) the FBI? Coleen Rowley, March 18, 2018. Andrew McCabe’s claim that his firing amounts to a “war on the FBI” doesn’t make sense considering it was the FBI’s own internal affairs office that recommended he be fired, as FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley explains.
The explanation from Andrew McCabe that he was fired merely due to his staunch support of his former boss and mentor, FBI Director James Comey, and the “Russiagate” investigation, does not pass the smell test. Similar to the one that mainstream corporate media is spinning, McCabe’s explanation almost totally ignores the fact that it was the relatively independent Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General (IG) and the FBI’s own Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR internal affairs) who recommended firing McCabe for his “lack of candor” on (the totally unrelated issue of) granting improper press access to the Wall Street Journal during ongoing FBI investigations of the Clinton Foundation and Clinton’s emails.
While the exact specifics of McCabe’s “lack of candor” – which McCabe denies – haven’t been released by the IG, it’s my own personal opinion that such official briefing of the press should not necessarily be a fireable offense as long as it’s justified to correct faulty media reporting and was not covertly done for improper political reasons.
But technically, firing for “lack of candor” has long been the FBI’s “bright line” policy, ever since former FBI Director Louis Freeh tried to “clean up” the FBI in the mid-1990s when so many agents, including Special Agents in Charge, were caught lying about sex affairs, improper government credit card charges and drunk driving incidents – some amounting to reckless homicides.
Coleen Rowley is a retired FBI special agent, division legal counsel and law enforcement ethics instructor who testified in connection with the 9-11 Joint Intelligence Committee’s Inquiry, the Senate Judiciary Committee investigation and Department of Justice Inspector General’s investigation, exposing some of the FBI’s pre-9/11 failures, was named one of TIME magazine’s “Persons of the Year” in 2002.
Washington Post, Congressman offers McCabe a job so he can get his pension. It might work, Amber Phillips, March 18, 2018 (print edition). McCabe was fired roughly a day before he was set to retire. With 20 years of law enforcement service under his belt, he could take a federal job for a day to get his full retirement benefits, a former government official said.
[U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc., shown at right) made the job offer via Twitter.]
Washington Post, Opinion: McCabe’s firing shows yet again how readily Trump incriminates himself, Jennifer Rubin (shown at right), March 18, 2018 (print edition). President Trump, never able to conceal his vindictiveness and incapable of understanding what evidence might be used against him, gleefully tweeted, “Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI – A great day for Democracy. Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!”
No wonder Trump’s lawyers seem unable to imagine allowing him to sit for an interview with special prosecutor Robert S. Mueller III. He is likely to blurt out something akin to, “Yay, that’ll show McCabe and others what happens when they decide to help Comey!” That’s the essence of the tweet Trump could not resist sending.
Unfortunately for McCabe, his ability to challenge his firing is limited. “There is honestly few legal recourses for him to pursue absent discriminatory actions,” says attorney Mark Zaid, who specializes in defending national security employees. “In my 25 years of federal legal practice, I have found FBI’s due process to be sorely lacking.”
In sum, once more, a Trump-inspired stunt is likely to backfire. The politics are irrelevant to Mueller, who now views each of Trump’s antics through a single lens: Does this reveal corrupt intent to disable an investigation into Trump’s conduct? In this case, Trump leaves little doubt as to his motives.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller III and President Trump (FBI and White House photos adapted by WhoWhatWhy)
WhoWhatWhy, Analysis: Subpoena of Trump Organization Records Brings Mueller Closer to Sater, Cohen, Kirsty Vitarelli, March 17, 2018. General Counsel Robert Mueller is scrutinizing Donald Trump’s business dealings and getting closer to the president’s friends who have Russian connections. News that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed Trump Organization records puts the president in a really tough spot with no good choices.
The move shows that Mueller clearly couldn’t care less about the “red line” President Donald Trump drew in July last year during an interview with the New York Times. The president was asked whether investigating his personal and family finances unrelated to Russia would be crossing a red line.
“I would say yes,” Trump said back then. But that is precisely what Mueller seems to be doing now. Such a move could lead Trump to try getting rid of Mueller, something many of the president’s own allies believe would be a catastrophic decision.
If Mueller continues down this path, however, he will get a much clearer picture of Trump’s financial ties to Putin’s regime and to dubious figures in the US and within Russia. WhoWhatWhy has extensively covered some of the figures who likely will come under Mueller’s scrutiny.
New York Times, McCabe Says His Firing Was Meant to Undermine Mueller, Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, March 17, 2018. Andrew McCabe (shown above in a file photo), the ex-F.B.I. deputy director, said his dismissal was meant to undermine his credibility as a potential witness in the Russia inquiry led by Robert S. Mueller III.
Andrew G. McCabe, the former F.B.I. deputy director and a frequent target of President Trump’s scorn, was fired Friday after Attorney General Jeff Sessions rejected an appeal that would have let him retire this weekend. Mr. McCabe promptly declared that his firing, and Mr. Trump’s persistent needling, were intended to undermine the special counsel’s investigation in which he is a potential witness.
Mr. McCabe is accused in a yet-to-be-released internal report of failing to be forthcoming about a conversation he authorized between F.B.I. officials and a journalist. In a statement released late Friday, Mr. Sessions said that Mr. McCabe had shown a lack of candor under oath on multiple occasions.
Early Saturday morning, the president weighed in with another shot at Mr. McCabe, posting on Twitter that it was “a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI.”
In an interview, Mr. McCabe was blunt. “The idea that I was dishonest is just wrong,” he said, adding, “This is part of an effort to discredit me as a witness.”
F.B.I. disciplinary officials (including Inspector General Michael Horwitz, shown at right) recommended his dismissal. Mr. McCabe, who stepped down in January and took a leave of absence, denied the accusation and appealed this week to senior career officials in the Justice Department. Lack of candor is a fireable offense at the F.B.I., but Mr. McCabe’s last-minute dismissal was carried out against a highly politicized backdrop.
Mr. McCabe was among the first at the F.B.I. to scrutinize possible Trump campaign ties to Russia. And he is a potential witness to the question of whether Mr. Trump tried to obstruct justice. Mr. Trump has taunted Mr. McCabe both publicly and privately, and Republican allies have cast him as the center of a “deep state” effort to undermine the Trump presidency.
As a witness, Mr. McCabe would be in a position to corroborate the testimony of the former F.B.I. director, James B. Comey (shown above left), who kept contemporaneous notes on his conversations with Mr. Trump. Mr. Comey said Mr. Trump prodded him to publicly exonerate the president on the question of Russian collusion and encouraged him to shut down an investigation into his national security adviser.
Washington Post, Trump’s lawyer calls on Justice Dept. to immediately end Russia probe, Carol D. Leonnig and Philip Rucker, March 17, 2018. Attorney John Dowd said in a statement that the investigation, now led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, was fatally flawed early on and “corrupted” by political bias.
He called on Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees that probe, to shut it down. Washington Post, Analysis: Dowd’s statements seem to lay the groundwork for two things, one of which is firing Mueller, Aaron Blake.
Washington Post, Russia to expel 23 British diplomats, close consulate in escalating row over poisoned ex-spy, Matthew Bodner and Karla Adam, March 17, 2018. The move comes three days after British Prime Minister Theresa May announced the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats.
The Hill, Ex-CIA director slams Trump after McCabe firing: You’ll be remembered as a ‘disgraced demagogue,’ Jacqueline Thomsen, March 17, 2018. Former CIA director John Brennan (shown in an official photo) tore into President Trump for celebrating the firing of former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe, saying Trump will be remembered as “a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history.”
“You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America…America will triumph over you,” Brennan tweeted at Trump. The former CIA director was responding to a tweet by Trump hailing McCabe’s firing as a “great day for democracy.”
The Hill, Dem offers to hire McCabe to help him qualify for his pension, Jacqueline Thomsen, March 17, 2018. A Democratic lawmaker on Saturday offered to hire former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe in an effort to help McCabe qualify to receive his pension after being fired from the agency two days before he qualified to receive it.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc., shown at left) was responding to a tweet from NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, who said the former FBI official might still be able to receive his pension if he’s hired by a member of Congress. “Andrew call me. I could use a good two-day report on the biggest crime families in Washington, D.C.,” Pocan tweeted.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired McCabe on Friday, two days before McCabe would qualify for his pension. Sessions dismissed McCabe after an internal report found he shared unauthorized information with the media and was not completely honest with investigators during their review.
Daily Beast, Andrew McCabe, formerly the deputy director of the FBI, has lawyered up, Betsy Woodruff, March 17, 2018. Michael Bromwich of the Bromwich Group confirmed to The Daily Beast that he is representing McCabe for the purposes of the matter that led to his firing.
“This attack on my credibility is one part of a larger effort not just to slander me personally, but to taint the FBI, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals more generally,” McCabe said in a statement. “It is part of this Administration’s ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the Special Counsel investigation, which continue to this day.”
The Washington Post previously reported the news of Bromwich hire. Bromwich, who has been representing McCabe for several weeks, was formerly the inspector general of the Justice Department.
Washington Post, A voter profiling firm hired by Trump likely grabbed data for tens of millions of Facebook users, Craig Timberg and Elizabeth Dwoskin, March 17, 2018. More than 50 million people may have been affected because of information collected by the “thisisyourdigitallife” app, much more than Facebook revealed earlier.
Palmer Report, Opinion: Now we know why Facebook chose right now to bust Cambridge Analytica, Bill Palmer, March 17, 2018. Last night Facebook took the unprecedented step of not only banning Trump campaign data firm Cambridge Analytica, but making a point of announcing it in a Friday night press release. The social network’s stated reasons for the ban related to abuse of Facebook user data, and made no mention of politics or the Trump-Russia scandal. Now we know why Facebook made the sudden move last night.
Despite having publicly denied it in testimony to the UK Parliament and elsewhere, Cambridge Analytica had business dealings with the Russians prior to the 2016 election, according to a New York Times report published today (link). This cannot have been a coincidence. Facebook had to have known this story was going to drop today, and thus it spent Friday night trying to get out ahead of it. There are major questions about whether Facebook should have banned the company a long time ago, but the upshot is this: Facebook appears to believe this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Trump Preparing For False-Flag War Against Syria, Russia?
SouthFront, Analysis: U.S. Deploys Naval Strike Groups For Attacks On Syria, Trains Militants For False Flag Chemical Attacks, Staff report, March 17, 2018. U.S. naval strike groups are preparing for a possible attack on Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry on March 17, 2018. “We note the evidence of preparation for possible attacks. Strike groups of naval carriers with cruise missiles are being formed in the Eastern part of the Mediterranean, in the Persian Gulf and in the Red Sea,” chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian General Staff Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi said.
Rudskoi added that false flag chemical attacks and provocations will serve as a pretext for possible U.S. attacks. “We have reliable information at our disposal that US instructors have trained a number of militant groups in the vicinity of the town of At-Tanf, to stage provocations involving chemical warfare agents in southern Syria,” Rudskoi said. “Early in March, the saboteur groups were deployed to the southern de-escalation zone to the city of Deraa, where the units of the so-called Free Syrian Army are stationed.”
He continued, “They are preparing a series of chemical munitions explosions. This fact will be used to blame the government forces. The components to produce chemical munitions have been already delivered to the southern de-escalation zone under the guise of humanitarian convoys of a number of NGOs.”
The Russian general added members of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (Jabhat al-Nusra) and the White Helmets (reportedly funded by pro-terrorist intelligence services and shown by their emblem) “are preparing a staged chemical attack in the Alghabit and Kalbb Lusa communities situated 25 km to the North-West of Idlib.” The militants allegedly have 20 chlorine containers for this.
TASS, Over 44,000 civilians leave Eastern Ghouta through safe exit: Russian General Staff, Staff report, March 17, 2018. In recent days, a total of 44,639 people have been evacuated from Eastern Ghouta, the general Sergei Rudskoi said
More than 27,000 civilians have fled from Eastern Ghouta along the humanitarian corridor on Saturday, said Chief of the Russian General Staff’s Main Operations Department Colonel-General Sergei Rudskoi (shown above in a file photo). In recent days, a total of 44,639 people have been evacuated from Eastern Ghouta, the general said on Rossiya’24 television channel.
The situation in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta has changed for the better, Rudskoi said. “Today, we can state that the situation in Eastern Ghouta has turned the tide,” the general said. “Right now, you are witnessing a humanitarian operation, unique in scale.”
A next aid convoy of the United Nations will set off to the Syrian town of Douma on Sunday, Chief of the Russian General Staff’s Main Operations Department Colonel-General. “Tomorrow, another UN humanitarian aid convoy, consisting of 25 heavy trucks, will head into the town of Douma for providing help to the residents,” the general said.
Courts and Security
Politico, Judge eases feds’ case against NSA hoarder, Josh Gerstein, March 17, 2017. A federal judge handed prosecutors a significant win this week over a computer specialist accused of stealing a massive quantity of classified documents and data during two decades working at the National Security Agency and other agencies. U.S. District Judge Marvin Garbis backed away from his earlier concerns and ruled that prosecutors won’t have to show defendant Harold Martin knew the contents of any of individual documents.
War Crimes History
Some of the 347 Vietnames civilians killed by Americans at the My Lai Massacre In Vietnam (Photo taken by U. S. Army photographer Ronald L. Haeberle)
Consortium News, Behind Colin Powell’s Legend – My Lai, Robert Parry and Norman Solomon, March 17, 2018. From the Archive: With media focus on the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War’s My Lai massacre, Colin Powell’s role as a military adviser has continued to elude scrutiny, so we’re republishing a 1996 article by Robert Parry [the late founder of Consortium News] and Norman Solomon. Photos of victims of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam galvanized public awareness about the barbarity of the war.
In 1963, Capt. Colin Powell was serving a first tour with a South Vietnamese army unit. Powell’s detachment sought to discourage support for the Viet Cong by torching villages throughout the A Shau Valley. While other U.S. advisers protested this countrywide strategy as brutal and counter-productive, Powell defended the “drain-the-sea” approach then — and continued that defense in his 1995 memoirs, My American Journey.
On March 16, 1968, a bloodied unit of the Americal division stormed into a hamlet known as My Lai 4. With military helicopters circling overhead, revenge-seeking American soldiers rousted Vietnamese civilians — mostly old men, women and children — from their thatched huts and herded them into the village’s irrigation ditches.
As the round-up continued, some Americans raped the girls. Then, under orders from junior officers on the ground, soldiers began emptying their M-16s into the terrified peasants. Some parents desperately used their bodies to try to shield their children from the bullets. Soldiers stepped among the corpses to finish off the wounded.
The slaughter raged for four hours. A total of 347 Vietnamese, including babies, died in the carnage that would stain the reputation of the U.S. Army. But there also were American heroes that day in My Lai. Some soldiers refused to obey the direct orders to kill.
While a horrific example of a Vietnam war crime, the My Lai massacre was not unique. It fit a long pattern of indiscriminate violence against civilians that had marred U.S. participation in the Vietnam War from its earliest days when Americans acted primarily as advisers.
After … cursory investigation, Powell (shown above falsely claiming before the United Nations that Iraq possessed “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” thereby helping justify the U.S-led invasion) tdrafted a response [to the massacre reports] on Dec. 13, 1968. He admitted to no pattern of wrongdoing. Powell claimed that U.S. soldiers in Vietnam were taught to treat Vietnamese courteously and respectfully. The Americal troops also had gone through an hour-long course on how to treat prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, Powell noted.
Powell reported back exactly what his superiors wanted to hear. “In direct refutation of this [informant’s] portrayal,” Powell concluded, “is the fact that relations between Americal soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent.”
Justice Department Probes Of Trump
Special Counsel Robert Mueller, as portrayed in a graphic widely disseminated on the web with the slogan “Objects in Mirror are Closer Than They Appear”
New York Times, Trump Business Gets Subpoena From Mueller in Russia Inquiry, Michael S. Schmidt, and Maggie Haberman, March 16, 2018 (print edition). The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has subpoenaed records from President Trump’s business, including some related to Russia, people briefed on the matter said. It’s the first known time the special counsel has ordered that documents directly related to the president’s businesses be turned over.
The breadth of the subpoena was not clear, nor was it clear why Mr. Mueller issued it instead of simply asking for the documents from the company, an umbrella organization that oversees Mr. Trump’s business ventures. In the subpoena, delivered in recent weeks, Mr. Mueller ordered the Trump Organization to hand over all records related to Russia and other topics he is investigating, the people said.
The subpoena is the latest indication that the investigation, which Mr. Trump’s lawyers once regularly assured him would be completed by now, will drag on for at least several more months.
Word of the subpoena comes as Mr. Mueller appears to be broadening his investigation to examine the role foreign money may have played in funding Mr. Trump’s political activities. In recent weeks, Mr. Mueller’s investigators have questioned witnesses, including an adviser to the United Arab Emirates, about the flow of Emirati money into the United States.
Washington Post, FBI’s Andrew McCabe is fired just before retiring, Matt Zapotosky, March 17, 2018 (print edition). Former deputy director became lightning rod for Clinton email and Russia probes.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions late Friday night fired former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe (shown at left), a little more than 24 hours before McCabe was set to retire. Sessions announced the decision in a statement just before 10 p.m., noting that both the Justice Department Inspector General and the FBI office that handles discipline had found “that Mr. McCabe had made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor — including under oath — on multiple occasions.”
He said based on those findings and the recommendation of the department’s senior career official, “I have terminated the employment of Andrew McCabe effective immediately.”
The move will likely cost McCabe a significant portion of his retirement benefits, though it is possible he could bring a legal challenge. McCabe has been fighting vigorously to keep his job, and on Thursday, he spent nearly four hours inside the Justice Department pleading his case.
McCabe has become a lightning rod in the political battles over the FBI’s most high-profile cases, including the Russia investigation and the probe of Hillary Clinton’s email practices. He has been a frequent target of criticism from President Trump.
Some in the bureau might view McCabe’s termination so close to retirement as an unnecessarily harsh and politically influenced punishment for a man who spent more than 20 years at the FBI. The White House had seemed to support such an outcome, though a spokeswoman said the decision was up to Sessions.
Huffington Post, Read Andrew McCabe’s Response To Being Fired Two Days Before His Retirement, Eline Gordts, March 16, 2018. Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired the former deputy director of the FBI on Friday. In a court filing, the president weighs in for the first time directly on a case in which a porn actress was paid $130,000 to stay silent about an affair she claims she had with him.
McCabe response: “I have been an FBI Special Agent for over 21 years. I spent half of that time investigating Russian Organized Crime as a street agent and Supervisor in New York City. I have spent the second half of my career focusing on national security issues and protecting this country from terrorism. I served in some of the most challenging, demanding investigative and leadership roles in the FBI. And I was privileged to serve as Deputy Director during a particularly tough time.
“For the last year and a half, my family and I have been the targets of an unrelenting assault on our reputation and my service to this country. Articles too numerous to count have leveled every sort of false, defamatory and degrading allegation against us. The President’s tweets have amplified and exacerbated it all. He called for my firing. He called for me to be stripped of my pension after more than 20 years of service. And all along we have said nothing, never wanting to distract from the mission of the FBI by addressing the lies told and repeated about us.
Washington Post, U.S. hits Russians with sanctions over election interference, cyberattacks, Ellen Nakashima, March 16, 2018. The financial sanctions seek to deter Moscow from targeting this year’s midterm elections. It’s a noteworthy step, as President Trump has shown reluctance to blame the Kremlin for tampering with the 2016 presidential race despite the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Moscow did so.
Palmer Report, Opinion: Vanessa Trump hires criminal defense attorney amid Don Jr divorce. Here’s what that means for Trump-Russia, Bill Palmer, March 16, 2018. On Wednesday it was reported that Donald Trump Jr and Vanessa Trump were on the verge of getting divorced. On Thursday it was further reported that Vanessa had in fact filed for a speedy uncontested divorce, on the same day it was reported that Robert Mueller had subpoenaed the Trump Organization’s financial records, raising the question of whether she might be trying to hurry up and secure her share of the assets before they can end up being seized by the Feds.
Now the story has gotten even stranger. It’s now being reported by Page Six – the same celebrity site that got the divorce story correct to begin with – that Vanessa has hired a criminal defense attorney. That’s a highly irregular move for an uncontested divorce. Of course this is no ordinary divorce. Donald Trump Jr is under criminal investigation for his role in his father’s Trump-Russia scandal. He could end up being indicted for anything from obstruction of justice to conspiracy against the United States.
There are a few different reasons why Vanessa might have felt the need for a criminal attorney. One could be if she fears that the Feds might end up coming after her share of the family’s money. Another could be that she fears she’ll be targeted in the scandal, perhaps as a witness, as there is no indication that she’s a Trump-Russia investigation target (and yes, the divorce proceedings make spousal privilege murky). Yet another posssibility could be that she’s considering cutting a deal against Donald Trump Jr which would allow her to keep the money in exchange for her testimony.
The reality is that we still don’t know why this divorce is suddenly happening in the middle of the biggest criminal scandal in U.S. history. People get divorced all the time, and if Donald Trump Jr and Vanessa Trump are getting divorced for personal reasons, it’s none of our business. But if so, why did she just hire a criminal defense attorney? Stay tuned.
Porn Star Lawyer Claims Threat
NBC News, Stormy Daniels’ lawyer says she was threatened with physical harm, Adam Edelman, Mar ch 16, 2018. Stormy Daniels’ lawyer says she was threatened with physical harm. Michael Avenatti, the attorney for the adult film star, wouldn’t say who threatened her.
Adult film star Stormy Daniels — who has said in a lawsuit that she had an “intimate” relationship with Donald Trump a decade before he became president — was physically threatened in relation to her attempts go public with her story, her attorney said Friday.
In an interview with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Michael Avenatti, an attorney for Daniels, repeatedly said that his client had been threatened, but wouldn’t say by who. He also declined to give details on the nature of the threats. Attorney says Stormy Daniels (shown with Trump in a 2006 photo) was threatened physically.
“There’s the act and then there’s the cover-up, and the American people are going to learn about both,” Avenatti said, referring to a secrecy agreement facilitated by Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, that Clifford signed in exchange for $130,000 before the 2016 election.
“Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski then asked whether Clifford was “threatened in any way.”
New York Times, Trump Lawyers Seek $20 Million From Stormy Daniels, Jim Rutenberg and Maggie Haberman, March 16, 2018. President Trump, weighing in directly on the Stephanie Clifford case for the first time, claimed in court papers filed by his lawyers on Friday that the porn actress who alleges she had an affair with him violated a confidentiality agreement at least 20 times, exposing her to damages of at least $20 million.
President Trump’s lawyers filed two motions on Friday in United States District Court in California in a public legal fight that Ms. Clifford, whose stage name is Stormy Daniels, started last week. That’s when she sued to get out of an agreement that she had struck to be paid $130,000 to stay silent about an affair she alleges to have had with Mr. Trump starting in 2006.
Mr. Trump formally joined his legal team’s response to Ms. Clifford’s suit in a motion, filed Friday, to move the case from state court in Los Angeles, where Ms. Clifford filed her claim, to federal court.
Mr. Trump’s reason for asking that the case be moved probably concerns the Federal Arbitration Act, which makes arbitration the preferred forum for resolving many kinds of disputes. Federal courts have applied that law more strictly than state courts, particularly ones in California. Mr. Trump may be hoping that his chances of keeping the dispute in arbitration and out of public view are better before a federal judge than a state one.
When Mr. Cohen brought a temporary restraining order seeking to silence Ms. Clifford in late February, he did so on behalf of a shell company he used to pay her through, not on behalf of Mr. Trump.
Florida Bridge Collapse
Washington Post, Engineer on Fla. bridge project called state to report crack days before collapse, Michael Laris and Susan Svrluga, March 16, 2018. The Florida Department of Transportation released the transcript of a call from an engineer that the agency got Tuesday. “Calling to, uh, share with you some information about the FIU pedestrian bridge and some cracking that’s been observed on the north end of the span.” The message was left on a land line and not retrieved until Friday.
New York Times, There Are Bodies Down There and We Can’t Get to Them,’ Patricia Mazzei and Jonah Engel Bromwich, March 16, 2018. Several cars were still trapped under the pedestrian walkway, which was designed to connect the campus of Florida International University to the city of Sweetwater.
Washington Post, Recovery efforts continue after at least 6 killed in pedestrian bridge collapse at Fla. college, Francisco Alvarado, Susan Svrluga, Faiz Siddiqui and J. Freedom du Lac, March 16, 2018. Officials don’t expect to find any more survivors after the bridge fell over a busy road west of Miami, crushing eight vehicles and leaving rescue workers racing to free victims from chunks of concrete and snapped metal.
Other Top Trump Ousters Predicted
New York Times, Analysis: The Top Trump Aides Who Are Seen as Next in His Purge, Michael D. Shear and Maggie Haberman, March 16, 2018. President Trump met with Ben Carson, who is under fire over spending at the housing department. And the national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, is rumored to be on the outs, too, but it is not clear when.
“There will always be change. I think you want to see change,” Mr. Trump said, ominously, on Thursday. “I want to also see different ideas.”
John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, met early Friday morning with Ben Carson, the secretary of housing and urban development, according to one official briefed on the meeting, amid speculation that Mr. Carson (shown at right) would be pushed out of the cabinet because of the bad publicity he received for the purchase of $31,000 in furniture for his office.
Washington Post, Trump decides to remove national security adviser, and others may follow, Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey, Philip Rucker and Carol D. Leonnig, March 16, 2018 (print edition). In yet another jolt to the senior ranks of his administration, President Trump is ready to remove H.R. McMaster but is willing to take his time to ensure that the three-star Army general is not humiliated and that he has a strong successor lined up, according to people familiar with the plans.
President Trump has decided to remove H.R. McMaster (shown at right) as his national security adviser and is actively discussing potential replacements, according to five people with knowledge of the plans, preparing to deliver yet another jolt to the senior ranks of his administration.
The turbulence is part of a broader potential shake-up under consideration by Trump that is likely to include senior officials at the White House, where staffers are gripped by fear and uncertainty as they await the next move from an impulsive president who enjoys stoking conflict.
For all of the evident disorder, Trump feels emboldened, advisers said — buoyed by what he views as triumphant decisions last week to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum and to agree to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (shown at left). The president is enjoying the process of assessing his team and making changes, tightening his inner circle to those he considers survivors and who respect his unconventional style, one senior White House official said.
Washington Post, President may hire multiple cable news personalities as part of White House shake-up, James Hohmann, March 16, 2018. Trump’s reality television presidency may be getting more star power as he turns to talking heads to join the administration. Trump has decided to remove H.R. McMaster as his national security adviser and is actively discussing Fox News contributor John Bolton as a potential successor.
A leading contender to replace Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin is Pete Hegseth, the co-host of “Fox and Friends Weekend.” The president named CNBC analyst and former host Larry Kudlow to replace former Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn as his chief economic adviser on Wednesday.
Heather Nauert, a former co-host of “Fox and Friends,” got promoted on Monday from being a spokeswoman for the State Department to acting undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs. She replaced Steve Goldstein, who was fired because he publicly contradicted the White House’s claim that Rex Tillerson knew he was being fired before Trump announced it on Twitter. (Is it any coincidence that Mike Pompeo got elevated from Langley to Foggy Bottom the morning after he aggressively went to bat for Trump on the Sunday shows?)
Washington Post, Democrats say they have proof State Dept. staff was pushed out for disloyalty to Trump, Karoun Demirjian and Carol Morello, March 16, 2018. Reps. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), shown at right, and Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) said whistleblower documents suggest several career officials were targeted as part of a “cleaning” of staff suspected of being “not sufficiently ‘supportive’ of President Trump’s agenda.”
Global News: Missing Korean Story?
Truthdig, Analysis: South Korean Report on Summit Discredits U.S. Elites’ Assumption, Gareth Porter, March 16, 2018. Media coverage of and political reactions to Donald Trump’s announcement of a summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have been based on the assumption that it cannot succeed, because Kim will reject the idea of denuclearization.
But the full report by South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s national security adviser on the meeting with Kim last week — covered by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency but not covered in U.S. news media — makes it clear that Kim will present Trump with a plan for complete denuclearization linked to the normalization of relations between the U.S. and North Korea, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
The report by Chung Eui-yong on a dinner hosted by Kim Jong Un for the 10-member South Korean delegation on March 5 said the North Korea leader had affirmed his “commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” and that he “would have no reason to possess nuclear weapons should the safety of [his] regime be guaranteed and military threats against North Korea removed.”
Global News: South Africa
New York Times, Former South Africa Leader Is Charged With Corruption, Norimitsu Onishi, March 16, 2018. The announcement was the latest chapter in a long-running case that nearly derailed Jacob Zuma’s bid for the presidency and laid the seeds of a culture of graft that has flourished in recent years.
Global News: Trump’s $4b Plea To Saudis
Washington Post, Trump wants to get the U.S. out of Syria’s war, so he asked the Saudi king for $4 billion , Paul Sonne and Karen DeYoung, March 16, 2018. After a December phone call with King Salman, according to U.S. officials, President Trump believed he had a deal that would help rebuild and stabilize the parts of Syria that the U.S. military and its local allies have liberated from the Islamic State.
In a December phone call with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman (shown left), President Trump had an idea he thought could hasten a U.S. exit from Syria: Ask the king for $4 billion. By the end of the call, according to U.S. officials, the president believed he had a deal.
The White House wants money from the kingdom and other nations to help rebuild and stabilize the parts of Syria that the U.S. military and its local allies have liberated from the Islamic State. The postwar goal is to prevent Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian partners from claiming the areas, or the Islamic State from regrouping, while U.S. forces finish mopping up the militants.
The Saudis, whose crown prince arrives in Washington on Monday for extensive meetings with the administration, are part of the anti-Islamic State coalition but have largely withdrawn from the fight in Syria in recent years. They are questioning the eye-popping sum even as U.S. officials at one point were drawing up line items totaling $4 billion.
Seven U.S. Troops Killed In Iraq
New York Times, All 7 U.S. Troops Aboard Helicopter Killed in Crash in Iraq, Eileen Sullivan, March 16, 2018. All seven service members aboard a military helicopter died in a crash in western Iraq on Thursday. The crash is under investigation but is not believed to be a result of enemy action.
Moon of Alabama, Opinion: Governments Decree ‘Truth’ About Skripal — Dissenters Will Be Punished, B, March 16, 2018. The Skripal incident is now, by chance or by design, part of a much larger campaign about ‘western’ dominance over ‘the east.’ Russia, which ended the unilateral moment of U.S. nuclear primacy, is currently the main target. The situation is extremely dangerous as any further escalation, in the Middle East, the Ukraine ore elsewhere, might lead to a war between nuclear armed powers.
The government-decreed ‘truth’ about the Skripal case has many discrepancies. The connection of the case to Russia is much weaker than the propaganda claims. But doubt and dissent about it are not allowed to prevail.
The political response to the incident around the British-Russian double-agent Sergej Skripal and his daughter started slowly. On Sunday, the 4th of March, Skripal and his daughter were found unconscious on a public bench in Salisbury, England. The local police and emergency services took care of them. Only on March 8 did the case start to make larger waves.
What we are seeing here with the Skripal incident and the “Novichok” claims is a gigantic propaganda campaign comparable to the 2001 Anthrax scare in the U.S. and the whole “weapons of mass destruction” campaign that heralded the U.S./UK war on Iraq. Provoking Russia further will not end well. Rattlesnakes are shy, but at some point they have no other way out than to bite.
More Inside Washington
Washington Post, The court battle over AT&T’s mega-merger comes down to $463 million vs. 45 cents, Brian Fung, March 16, 2018. How the government fares with its challenge to the $85 billion deal — saying it would hurt consumers — could change the course of American dealmaking.
When the Justice Department goes to court Monday to try to block the $85 billion megamerger between AT&T and Time Warner, it will rely on a tried-and-true approach of arguing that the deal would raise prices for ordinary consumers. The agency’s expert economist has estimated the precise increase in cost to cable TV subscribers — $463 million a year or, as AT&T points out, about 45 cents a month per user.
Whether that amount is truly harmful to competition will be at the heart of one of the most closely watched antitrust trials in decades.
Washington Post, Democrats balk as Republicans try to use must-pass spending bill to fix tax law, Erica Werner, March 16, 2018. The tax law inadvertently helped farm co-operatives over traditional businesses. But Democrats, who were shut out of the tax law process, now don’t want to cooperate unless they get something in return.
Washington Post, Trump nudges GOP challenger out of Nevada Senate race, aiding incumbent Dean Heller, Mike DeBonis, March 16, 2018. President Trump ended a nasty intraparty duel Friday by persuading a Republican running a populist, unabashedly pro-Trump campaign to abandon his effort to unseat Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev., shown at right) this year.
The challenger, Danny Tarkanian, said he would seek a Nevada House seat instead, removing a major headache for GOP strategists who are looking to preserve or even expand the one-seat Republican Senate majority in November’s midterm elections. A competitive GOP primary would have boosted Democrats who are hoping to snatch the seat.
U.S. Liberal Leader Dies
New York Times, Louise Slaughter, 16-Term Liberal Congresswoman, Dies at 88, Joseph P. Fried, March 16, 2018. Louise M. Slaughter, a liberal Democrat who represented an upstate New York district in Congress for more than three decades, pushing to protect health privacy and abortion rights and playing a key role in the passage of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, died on Friday in Washington. She was 88 and in the midst of her 16th term in the House.
In announcing her death, at George Washington University Hospital, her chief of staff, Liam Fitzsimmons, said Ms. Slaughter (shown above) had sustained an injury last week at her home in Washington. Ms. Slaughter was a native of rural Kentucky who moved to the Rochester area with university degrees in microbiology and public health. Her studies shaped her agenda in the House, to which she was first elected in 1986 to represent Rochester and its surroundings. She rose to become the first chairwoman of the House Committee on Rules, which was formally constituted in 1789. She remained its ranking member.
Legislation that Ms. Slaughter proposed in 1995, and for which she pressed repeatedly, was finally enacted in 2008 as the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, aimed at banning discrimination by employers and insurers based on a person’s genetic information.
Courts, Crime, Race
Washington Post, Black man beaten in Charlottesville found not guilty of assaulting white supremacist, Ian Shapira, March 16, 2018. Two months after being beaten, DeAndre Harris, 20, unexpectedly faced a felony charge for the unlawful wounding of a League of the South member.
New York Daily News, Infamous hacker who gave up whistleblower Chelsea Manning to the FBI dies in Kansas, Chris Sommerfeldt, March 16, 2018. The controversial hacker who gave up Chelsea Manning to the FBI died in Kansas this week, according to relatives and local officials.
Adrian Lamo (shown above in a file photo), who first came into the public spotlight after hacking into servers at the New York Times, Microsoft and Yahoo in the early 2000s, died in his hometown of Wichita, Kansas, at some point this week, a spokeswoman for the Segdwick County coroner confirmed to the Daily News. It was not immediately clear how or when the Colombian-American hacker passed away. He was 37.
Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), Investigative Report: Trump clan has mob-linked double murder and maybe more on its hands, Wayne Madsen, March 15, 2018 (subscription required). Author and public affairs commentator Wayne Madsen (right) was a Navy intelligence officer for 14 years and then a defence contracting executive and think tank security and privacy expert.
Did Trump Admit Lying About Canadian Trade?
Washington Post, Analysis: Why Trump’s admission that he made stuff up to Justin Trudeau is particularly bad, Aaron Blake, March 15, 2018. It’s one thing to make stuff up; it’s another to do it like this. In fundraising speech, Trump says he made up trade claim in meeting with Justin Trudeau. In Missouri, the president also seemed to threaten to withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea over trade.
In a fundraising speech Wednesday, President Trump admitted once and for all that he just makes stuff up. The man who has racked up more than 2,000 false and misleading claims as president said he insisted to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that United States runs a trade deficit with Canada — despite having “no idea” whether that was the case. (Surprise! It’s not.)
“I said, ‘Wrong, Justin, you do.’ I didn’t even know,” Trump said. “I had no idea. I just said, ‘You’re wrong.’ You know why? Because we’re so stupid.”
None of this is hugely surprising. Trump utters way too many falsehoods for it to be a coincidence. And we’ve seen over and over again — particularly most recently in meetings with lawmakers about guns and immigration — that Trump simply doesn’t do his homework beforehand. He generally doesn’t seem to have even a cursory understanding of what Congress is up to or about the underlying policies.
But the fact that Trump would make up this particular fact is especially remarkable and ominous.
Washington Post, A whopper of an alternative fact from Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Callum Borchers, March 15, 2018. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders (shown at right in a file photo) fed reporters and the public a whopper of an alternative fact at Thursday’s media briefing, denying that President Trump said something that is, in reality, on tape.
Fox News Radio’s Jon Decker tried to pose a question that he said “has to do with a story which appeared first in The Washington Post about an audio portion from a fundraiser the president had in Missouri, in which he said he was not exactly truthful in his conversation with his counterpart from Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau.”
Sanders cut off Decker there. “That’s actually not what he said,” she asserted. Yes, it is what he said.
Washington Post, Trump Cabinet members accused of living large at taxpayer expense, Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis, March 15, 2018. A half-dozen senior officials are mired in investigations over high-end travel, the role of family members in official business and extravagant expenses.
Newly disclosed documents revealed fresh details about scandals at the EPA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Fatal Bridge Collapse In Florida
New York Times, At Least Four Dead as Pedestrian Bridge Collapses in Miami, Nick Madigan, Frances Robles and Anemona Hartocollis, March 15, 2018. The pedestrian walkway at Florida International University was under construction and not yet open to the public, a university official said. The bridge had a span of about 174 feet over Southwest Eighth Street, a major thoroughfare that crosses the county, connecting the F.I.U. campus in western Miami-Dade County with the city of Sweetwater.
It had been assembled off-site and moved to the location on Saturday. The bridge was still under construction and was not expected to open to the public until the end of the year, a university official said.
The National Transportation Safety Board said that it would investigate the collapse. Munilla Construction Management, which was building the bridge, promised in a statement that it would investigate what went wrong and would cooperate with any other inquiry. The engineering firm for the project, FIGG Bridge Engineers, said that it would also cooperate with investigators.
U.S. Politics: House Recount?
Washington Post, Republicans hint at recount in Pennsylvania congressional race, with odds against them, David Weigel and Mike DeBonis, March 15, 2018. The drama in the district apparently won by Democrat Conor Lamb is one of several roiling the state’s politics, just days before candidates file in new districts created by a court ruling.
Washington Post, FBI official Andrew McCabe, hoping to retire, asks Justice Dept. not to fire him, Matt Zapotosky, March 15, 2018. 1 The decision could be consequential for the former FBI deputy director’s financial future, as if he is fired, he could lose significant retirement benefits.
Climate Change: Islands At Risk
New York Times, Easter Island is critically vulnerable to rising ocean levels, Nicholas Casey and Times photographs/video by Josh Haner, March 15, 2018. Waves are beginning to reach statues and platforms built by an ancient civilization,
Fox Pushes Reverse #MeToo, Targeting Women
New York Times, At the Fox News Site, a Sudden Focus on Women as Sex Offenders, Jonathan Galinsky, March 15, 2018 (print edition). In November, there was the story of a 22-year-old science teacher arrested in Oklahoma for her “sex romp” with a male student. In September, an article told of a 38-year-old teacher who kissed a student and let him “touch her breasts behind Culver’s,” a burger joint in Kerrville, Tex. And in July there was a report on a 54-year-old music teacher in Georgia who, a headline announced, “blames male student, 17, for tricking her into having sex ‘like a used-car salesman.’”
Instances of female teachers sexually abusing male students are rare. But stories on the subject have lately taken up a lot of space at FoxNews.com.
Through the first half of 2017, the site posted fewer than 20 stories on women accused of sex offenses. The new focus started on June 30, when FoxNews.com published an article on “the apparently increasing frequency of female teachers having sex with their young male students.” Over the next six months the site posted some 98 articles on instances of sexual abuse allegedly committed by women, most of them teachers.
Tales of the unusual suit the tabloid aesthetic of much of the site’s content. What was noteworthy was the spike in coverage of the subject, which began a few weeks after Noah Kotch, a former producer at NBC’s “Today” show, became the site’s editor in chief. It also came in the aftermath of numerous sexual harassment scandals at Fox News.
Propaganda Wars Heat Up
Washington Post, U.S., two major allies back Britain’s claim that Russia likely tied to ex-spy’s poisoning, Karla Adam and Matthew Bodner, March 15, 2018. The nerve agent attack “threatens the security of us all,” reads a joint statement from President Trump and the leaders of Britain, France and Germany. It signaled another step in mounting international pressure on Russia over apparent ties to the assault on the former spy and his daughter.
Evacuation of civilians from East Ghouta
SouthFront, Syrian Army Liberates Another Town In Heart Of Eastern Ghouta, Evacuates 12,500 Civilians (Map, Video), Staff report, March 15, 2018. On March 15, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and the Tiger Forces backed up by the Russian Aerospace Forces captured the town of Hammuriyah in the center of the Eastern Ghouta region from US-backed Faylaq al-Rahman, according to pro-government sources.
Earlier, Riam Dalati, a BBC journalist, revealed that militants had started withdrawing from the towns of Hammuriyah and Saqba. Following the liberation of positions in the eastern part of Hammuriyah, the SAA opened a safe route allowing civilians to left the combat area. Thousands of families were immediately evacuated by the SAA through the route. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), the SAA evacuated over 12,500 civilians from Hammuriyah and neighboring areas during the last few hours only. More civilians are expected to leave the pocket in the upcoming hours.
Meanwhile, a new humanitarian aid convoy of the UN entered the Jaysh al-Islam-held district pf Duma in the northern part of Eastern Ghouta in coordination with the SAA, according to SOHR. The district is currently witnessing calmness as Jaysh al-Islam appears to be respecting the humanitarian ceasefire. The upcoming hours will likely witness further collapse of Faylaq al-Rahman’s defense in the western part of Eastern Ghouta. If the SAA continues its rapid advance there while evacuating the civilians, the battle for Eastern Ghouta may end in favour of the SAA soon.
SouthFront, White Helmets Accuse “Assad Regime” Of Using Chlorine Gas In Eastern Ghouta, MSM Repeats, Staff report, March 15, 2018. On March 15, the White Helmets, a notorious pro-militant propaganda mouthpiece, accused the “Assad regime” of conducing a chlorine gas attack in the Damascus subrub of Eastern Ghouta.
According to the White Helmets, the attack took place in the militant-held village of Hammuriyah late on March 14. The group claimed that many women and children had been targeted by the attack but that their number and condition are not yet clear.
The mainstream media already spreading reports about the new “chemical attack” using the White Helmets’ claims. It’s interesting to note that the new “chemical attack” came just few days after the US had threatened to strike Syrian government forces in response to military opartions or “chemical weapons” usage in Eastern Ghouta.
Evacuation of civilians from Eastern Ghouta
SouthFront, Overview Of Battle For Eastern Ghouta (Maps, Videos), Staff report, March 15, 2018. On March 15, the Republican Guard, the Tiger Forces and other pro-government factions continued developing momentum in the southern part of Eastern Ghouta.
On March 14, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that 437 civilians had been evacuateed from the twon of Douma to the government-held area via humanitarian corridors. On March 15, a convoy of international humanitarian organizations will deliver 137 tons of food supplies to the area. Another group of civilians is also set to leave the militant-held part of Eastern Ghouta to the government-held area.
Washington Post, Amid onslaught by Syrian forces, thousands stream out of Damascus suburb, Liz Sly and Louisa Loveluck, March 15, 2018. Clutching luggage and sacks of flour, throngs of people fled the Eastern Ghouta suburb, foreshadowing the chaos that may lie ahead as loyalist forces advance into the remaining rebel-held areas. As the scenes on Thursday demonstrated, the war that already has claimed the lives of as many as half a million people is far from over.
New ORB Poll: 52% Syrians believe Assad Regime will win the war, Staff report, March 15, 2018. On the 7th anniversary of the start of the conflict, new research from ORB International has found Syrians now expect Assad to claim victory in the battle for Syria. 52% think the Regime will likely win the war, up from 42% when the same poll was conducted in 2017.
In a rare survey of public opinion across all 14 regions of Syria, our face-to-face poll of 1,001 adults shows: Over half of Syrians (52%) believe that Assad will win the conflict – a large increase since 2017. Significant proportions of Syrians are growing tired of the conflict, and many think that Basheer Al-Assad will end up the victor when the war is over. When ORB International last ran this survey in 2017, 42% thought Assad was most likely to claim victory, which has now increased to 52% in 2018.
Johnny Heald, Managing Director of ORB International said:This is a rare snapshot of national opinion in Syria, and it’s clear from the results that regional experiences are becoming more polarised, and that outside forces in the conflict are overwhelmingly viewed as negative. This poll shows a large increase in belief that Bashar Al-Assad will likely be the victor at the end of the conflict…something which will do very little to encourage the millions who have fled to return. There is no immediate light at the end of the tunnel as Syrians enter a 7th year of conflict. The recent military defeat of ISIS is reflected in the decrease in those thinking they will win, now down to only 1% (from 6% last year) . Support for ISIS has almost disappeared – only 3% of the country think their influence is positive (down from 13% last year and 21% in 2015).Whether or not an Assad victory is good for the future of the country is wide open – Although 39% agree that the country is heading in the right direction, this is a large drop since 2017 when 57% agreed with this statement.
‘Fake News’ Lawsuit?
Washington Post, Seth Rich parents sue Fox News over retracted story they say treated him like ‘a political football,’ Paul Farhi, March 15, 2018 (print edition). The second lawsuit over the discredited conspiracy theory could well make it to trial, experts say. Fox News has found out the hard way as a result of a story it published online in May and promoted avidly on the air about slain Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.
The network has now been sued twice for the widely discredited story — including on Tuesday when Rich’s parents filed a lawsuit that accuses the cable network of intentionally inflicting emotional distress on them in its handling of the story.
Federal Officials Steer Reporters To PR Offices Only
National Press Club, Despite efforts to gag them, government workers can speak to the press, panelists counsel, Bill McCloskey, March 15, 2018. A panel of journalists and government accountability experts told a National Press Club audience March 14 that journalists need to educate government employees that they have a legal right to talk to reporters. The education is necessary if reporters expect to combat what surveys say is a growing effort by agencies to inject public information officers between news gatherers and news sources, the speakers said.
“It just gets worse and worse,” said Kathryn Foxhall, a freelance reporter and member of the Freedom of the Information Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists. “How can acquiescing to these controls be ethical journalism?” she asked.
It is becoming “cultural” panelists agreed. Newly minted reporters think going through publicists instead of going direct to the experts who have the information “is just the way it is,” said Rachel Oswald, vice chair of the Club’s Freedom of the Press Committee and a reporter for Congressional Quarterly. Henry Kerner, head of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, who has been in that job since Oct.30, said he wants to change the culture in which fellow workers feel a whistleblower or leaker “is a rat.”
Kerner also amused the audience by clarifying that he was not “that special counsel,” but noted that for a while when you did a Google search for “U.S. Special Counsel Henry Kerner,” a photo of Special Counsel Robert Mueller accompanied the bio.
Although the panel was addressing the difficulty of getting access to sources without being subjected to “handlers,” it expressed appreciation for the help of press officers. “We deal with the press offices because they exist,” said AP Washington Bureau Chief Julie Pace. She noted they provide event schedules that they compile, for example. But, she emphasized that just because you deal with the press office doesn’t mean you don’t also go directly to the subject matter experts.
Tom Devine, legal director for the Government Accountability Project, which works to protect whistleblowers, conceded you can’t have 1,000 employees claiming to speak for an agency. He said if you are speaking for the department, you need approval, but if you talk to reporters as an individual, that discussion is protected by federal law.
Media: 9-11 Truth-Telling Popular But Suppressed
Architects and Engineers For 9-11 Truth, At One Million Views, Analysis and Advocacy: Richard Gage’s Interview Is the Most-Watched C-SPAN Video — Ever, Staff report, March 15, 2018. You Can Help Overcome the Media Blackout by Sharing This and Our Other Most-Popular Materials. “15 years later: On the physics of high-rise building collapses” has been downloaded nearly 700,000 times since its August 2016 publication in Europhysics News (the magazine of the European Physical Society), vastly outperforming all other articles on that site. It continues to rack up over 2,000 reads per week, keeping it at the top of Europhysics News’ “Most read articles.”
9/11 Father Seeks Justice: “9/11 Father Seeks Justice,” featuring Bob McIlvaine and promoting the Bobby McIlvaine Act, has climbed to 1.6 million views on Facebook since its release just three months ago, in December 2017.
Architects and Engineers: Solving the Mystery of Building 7: AE911Truth’s signature 15-minute documentary on WTC 7 garnered more than one million views before being arbitrarily pulled by YouTube in February 2015. It has since accumulated 1.5 million views on Facebook and, starting over from scratch three years ago, 230,000 new views on YouTube.
9/11: Explosive Evidence — Experts Speak Out: The one-hour version of AE911Truth’s signature feature documentary has received nearly 700,000 views on YouTube, along with countless additional views — easily totaling several million — on our other platforms and on other YouTube channels. The full 90-minute DVD version is available in our store.
Trump Jr.’s Wife Files For Divorce
Donald Trump Jr. and Vanessa Trump (New York Post Page Six photo on Dec. 18, 2008, as reported here: “Expecting their second child in February — they’re keeping the sex a delivery surprise again! — Donald Trump Jr. and wife Vanessa Haydon Trump pose with daughter Kai Madison, 19 months, on the cover of the newest Page Six Magazine. The family discuss their Christmas traditions, as well as gifts for the new baby — stepmom Melania Trump has already purchased two teddy bears (one pink, one blue) for the new arrival.”
New York Post, Vanessa Trump files for divorce from Donald Trump Jr., Julia Marsh and Emily Smith, March 15, 2018. Vanessa Trump filed for divorce against her husband Donald Trump Jr. late Thursday in Manhattan Supreme Court. “After 12 years of marriage, we have decided to go our separate ways,” the couple told Page Six in a joint statement. “We will always have tremendous respect for each other and our families. We have five beautiful children together and they remain our top priority. We ask for your privacy during this time.”
The president’s daughter-in-law filed for an uncontested proceeding, meaning she’s not likely to fight her ex for custody of the couple’s five children or over their assets.
Legal experts say the former couple likely has a prenuptial agreement.
“Prenuptial agreements and confidentiality agreements are in the Trump dynasty DNA so I would be surprised if Donald Jr. went into the marriage completely naked,” said divorce lawyer Michael Stutman, of the firm Stutman Stutman & Lichtenstein LLP. He is not involved in the case.
Vanessa and Don Jr., both 40, were married in 2005. Page Six first reported that they were struggling with marital problems related to Don Jr.’s travels and controversial tweets. The filing comes the same day as special counsel Robert Mueller subpoenaed President Trump’s family business, demanding that the Trump Organization release information related to Russia.
JFK Research: Controversial Figure Dies
Santa Rose Press Democrat, Michael Paine, debated politics with JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, dies at 89, Chris Smith, March 15, 2018. Michael Paine of Sebastopol was a civil libertarian and retired aeronautical engineer who, while living outside of Dallas in 1963, engaged in occasional political discussions with a self-identified Marxist named Lee Harvey Oswald. When Paine heard of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, he thought immediately of Oswald “but dismissed him because I didn’t think he was that irrational,” Paine later told an interviewer.
In testimony before the Warren Commission, created to investigate the assassination of JFK, Paine said he did not regard Oswald as someone likely to kill a president. “I saw he was a bitter person … very little charity in his view toward anybody, but I thought he was harmless,” he told the commission.
Through much of the 55 years since JFK’s murder, some conspiracy narratives have alleged that both Paine and his former wife, Santa Rosa resident Ruth Paine, were CIA operatives and framed Oswald.
Both rejected the scenario as ridiculous, declaring that their observations and knowledge of Oswald persuaded them that the killing of Kennedy was the work of him alone. Michael Paine told an interviewer not long after the shooting, “I think it’s a lone wolf thing. The opportunity presented itself to him and he probably wanted to make a mark on society.”
Paine died March 1 in Sebastopol, where he had lived with or near his son the past 14 years. He was 89. Michael Paine studied at Harvard and Swarthmore and was living in Pennsylvania when, in 1957, he married Ruth Avery Hyde. Two years later, Michael Paine took a job with Bell Helicopter that required a relocation to Texas. The couple settled in Irving, a suburb of Dallas. They had two children, Tamarin and Chris, when they separated amicably in the fall of 1962, then continued to spend time together as a family.
The children lived with Ruth Paine, a Quaker who has said she studied the Russian language in order to counter Cold War tensions by seeking out dialogue with Russian people. In February 1963, she heard of a Russian woman who spoke no English, having recently moved to the U.S. with her young daughter and her husband, Lee Harvey Oswald. Ruth, now a retired teacher and school counselor living in Rincon Valley, has said she liked the idea of having someone with whom to practice her Russian. So she reached out to the Oswalds. She invited her ex-husband, too, when she had 21-year-old Marina and Lee Oswald, 23, and baby June over for dinner. Ruth and Marina became friends.
That friendship on occasion brought Michael Paine and Lee Oswald together, and three or four times they engaged in political discussions. Paine, a liberal and longtime member of the American Civil Liberties Union, would later describe Oswald as a “pipsqueak,” but one whose politics he tried to understand.
“He told me he became a Marxist in this country by reading books and without having ever having met a communist,” Paine said in an interview following the assassination.
“With me he spoke very freely and he complained that with other people he couldn’t … they wouldn’t talk about political subjects. He would talk about nothing else.”
In interviews and in testimony before the Warren Commission, Paine described Oswald as a lonely man who seemed to like very few people. But in their conversations Oswald never revealed hostility toward Kennedy. “I expressed my appreciation of President Kennedy and he didn’t ever argue with me on that point,” Paine said in an interview. In a 2013 essay he titled, “My Experience with Lee Harvey Oswald,” Paine recalled that Oswald once declared emphatically that “change only comes through violence.”
“I’d also heard him say that President Kennedy was the best president he had in his lifetime. Looking back on what happened, these two statements seem impossibly contradictory … how could a man want to kill a president whom he thought was the best president he’d had in his lifetime?”
Though Michael Paine remained no more than an acquaintance to the Oswalds, Ruth took Marina Oswald under her wing and tried to be helpful to her struggling family.
Ruth, who became a key witness to the Warren Commission, has said she was hoping to bring a degree of stability to the Oswalds when, in the fall of 1963, she told Lee Oswald about a job opening she’d heard of — at the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas.
Editor’s Note from Justice Integrity Project: Independent researchers have repeatedly challenged statements by the Paines and those who popularize the saga of the Paines’ religiosity and other innocence, as in the above obituary. Author James Douglass wrote in JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died & Why It Matters (2009), for example, that the Paines and their family were heavily involved in the military-intelligence sector and functioned in effect as CIA “handlers” for Oswald after his previous CIA handler, George de Mohrenshildt, moved on to receive a payoff of lucrative oil engineering contracts involving Haiti. Douglass wrote also that Ruth Paine’s father received a three-year contract from the heavily CIA-infiltrated U.S. Agency for International Development in October 1964 to supervise AID’s insurance programs in Latin America. The contract was shortly after release of release of the Warren Report and provided a job giving the CIA, under AID cover, a thorough look into business practices in Latin America.
Separately, the Paines’ religious, military, CIA and Oswald relationships were described extensively in A Certain Arrogance: The Sacrificing of Lee Harvey Oswald and the Cold War Manipulation of Religious Groups by U.S. Intelligence, published by TrineDay in 2011. The book by University of Hartford Professor George Michael Evica raised deep questions about the Paine family’s Quaker-Unitarian ties, Oswald’s little-known acceptance to Albert Schweitzer University (A Unitarian university described as a CIA front) and the likelihood that the Paines participated in using their religious appearance to help frame Oswald.
Stormy’s Mom Talks Child-Rearing, Trump
Dallas Morning News, ‘I would vote for him every time’: Stormy Daniels’ mother hopes alleged affair doesn’t hurt Trump, Naomi Martin, March 14, 2018. The woman sits hooked to an oxygen machine that whirrs like a vacuum cleaner, in an old house in Baton Rouge, in a rough neighborhood she can’t afford to leave.
She clicks on the TV. Like the rest of America, she can’t escape Stormy Daniels, the porn star who says she was paid $130,000 before the presidential election to keep quiet about her affair with Donald Trump. At the time, his wife Melania was home with their 4-month-old son.
Each image of the smiling, busty blonde (shown on an In Touch Magazine cover — who is parlaying the alleged affair into a national strip club tour — strikes the woman like a bullet. And it’s not just because it’s an attack on her beloved president.
That 38-year-old isn’t Stormy Daniels to her. It’s Stephanie Gregory Clifford. Her daughter. The little girl who loved horses. “It hurts me deeply,” said Sheila Gregory, 64. “My friends all say the same thing: ‘I can’t believe that is the same sweet child — you took such good care of her.’
Gregory said she hasn’t spoken to her daughter in 12 years — around the time of the Trump encounter, which they’ve never discussed. She says she calls Daniels every few weeks, but they never connect. She says she doesn’t know why her daughter stopped talking to her.
Washington Post, CBS tentatively sets March 25 for airing ‘60 Minutes’ interview with Stormy Daniels, Frances Stead Sellers and Sarah Ellison, March 16, 2018 (print edition). The porn actress is expected to reveal new details of her alleged 2006 affair with President Trump.
U.S. Politics: Pennsylvania Upset
Democrat Conor Lamb, left, declared a narrow victory over Republican Rick Saccone in a U.S. House race for Pennsylvania’s open 18th District seat. (Courtesy Conor Lamb / Rick Saccone/Facebook)
Washington Post, Analysis: Pa. race shows GOP still hasn’t found a winning midterms message, James Hohmann, March 15, 2018. National Republicans threw the kitchen sink to hold a House seat in a Pennsylvania district that President Trump won by 20 points. But Democrat Conor Lamb’s narrow lead in the too-close-to-call race underscores the degree to which the GOP has been unable to hone in on a message that can reliably win races.
Washington Post, House election too close to call with candidates separated by couple hundred votes, David Weigel and Elise Viebeck, March 14, 2018 (print edition). A special election for a U.S. House seat was too close to call late Tuesday as Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone were separated by several hundred votes in a race that had become a test of President Trump’s political clout.
Update: The Democrat declared victory because his Republican opponent to prevail would have to win more than 70 percent of the nearly 1,400 absentee ballots from two counties where he’d won less than 60 percent of normal balloting.
Nationwide U.S. Student Protest For Gun Control
Washington Post, Students are walking out of school after the Parkland shooting. Here’s what that looks like, Sarah Larimer, March 14, 2018. The demonstrations come one month after the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., which killed 17 people. The Post is tracking how these protests unfold on social media, compiling pictures, videos and more.
Inside Trump’s DC
Trump’s new economic advisor Larry Kudlow as shown at the CPAC annual convention in 2016 (photo by Gage Skidmore)
Washington Post, Trump taps Kudlow as top White House economic adviser, Robert Costa and Josh Dawsey, March 14, 2018. Larry Kudlow, a conservative economic media analyst and Trump campaign adviser, championed the president’s plan to cut taxes. But Kudlow recently criticized Trump’s moves to add tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. He’ll replace Gary Cohn, who recently resigned.
Kudlow, 70, is described by White House officials as someone who connects with the president personally and politically. Kudlow, born and raised in New Jersey, shares with Trump a hard-charging personality and a fondness for being a media figure and both have hosted television programs. Kudlow has also been an informal Trump adviser over the past year.
Washington Post, FBI disciplinary office recommends firing former deputy director Andrew McCabe, Matt Zapotosky, March 14, 2018. The recommendation is based on allegations that McCabe authorized the disclosure of sensitive information to a reporter and misled investigators when asked about it — though Justice Department officials are still reviewing the matter and have not come to a final decision, a person familiar with the case said.
The FBI office that handles employee discipline has recommended firing the bureau’s former deputy director over allegations that he authorized the disclosure of sensitive information to a reporter and misled investigators when asked about it — though Justice Department officials are still reviewing the matter and have not come to a final decision, a person familiar with the case said.
The recommendation from the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility is likely to add fuel to the political fire surrounding former deputy director Andrew McCabe, who abruptly stepped down from his post earlier this year but technically remained an FBI employee.
McCabe (shown at left in a screenshot) was hoping to retire in just days, when he becomes eligible for his full benefits. If he is fired, he could lose his retirement benefits. President Trump has long made McCabe a particular target of his ire, and the recommendation to fire the former No. 2 FBI official could give him new ammunition. McCabe, 49, had long been expected to retire on March 18.
The situation now seems fraught for all involved. If the Justice Department does not move on the recommendation, conservatives might view officials there as unfairly protecting McCabe. Trump — who already has a strained relationship with Justice Department leaders — might be particularly displeased. But if the FBI fires McCabe with just days to go before his retirement, it could be viewed as bending to the will of a vindictive president.
Background briefings with reporters are common in Washington, particularly when reporters have information that officials feel compelled to respond to or add context to. In this instance, though, it might have been viewed as inappropriate because the discussion was focused on an ongoing criminal investigation.
Claims of Russian Spy Attack
Washington Post, Britain to expel 23 Russian diplomats in nerve agent case and will block all high-level contacts with Moscow, William Booth and Matthew Bodner, March 15, 2018. The moves come after Britain charged that a Russian double agent and his daughter were poisoned by a “weapons-grade” nerve agent developed at a Russian laboratory. In response, the Russian Embassy in London denounced the British steps as “hostile” and a new blow to relations with Moscow.
CraigMurray.com, The Novichok Story Is Indeed Another Iraqi WMD Scam, Craig Murray, March 14, 2018. Craig Murray is an author, broadcaster and human rights activist. He was British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004 and Rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010.
As recently as 2016 Dr Robin Black, Head of the Detection Laboratory at the UK’s only chemical weapons facility at Porton Down, a former colleague of Dr David Kelly, published in an extremely prestigious scientific journal that the evidence for the existence of Novichoks was scant and their composition unknown.
In recent years, there has been much speculation that a fourth generation of nerve agents, ‘Novichoks’ (newcomer), was developed in Russia, beginning in the 1970s as part of the ‘Foliant’ programme, with the aim of finding agents that would compromise defensive countermeasures. Information on these compounds has been sparse in the public domain, mostly originating from a dissident Russian military chemist, Vil Mirzayanov. No independent confirmation of the structures or the properties of such compounds has been published. (Black, 2016)
Robin Black. (2016) Development, Historical Use and Properties of Chemical Warfare Agents. Royal Society of Chemistry
Yet now, the British Government is claiming to be able instantly to identify a substance which its only biological weapons research centre has never seen before and was unsure of its existence. Worse, it claims to be able not only to identify it, but to pinpoint its origin. Given Dr Black’s publication, it is plain that claim cannot be true.
Moon of Alabama, Opinion: Theresa May’s ‘Novichok’ Claims Fall Apart, B, March 14, 2018. The British government claims that ‘Novichok’ poisons, developed 30 years ago in the Soviet Union affected a British double agent. But such substances may not exist at all.
The original source for the ‘Novichok’ poison claims published some chemical formulas that should enable any decent laboratory to reproduce them. But neither the existence of the claimed program nor the existence of the alleged substances have been accepted by the scientific community.
The highly constructed drama around the alleged poisoning of a British double agent Skripal and his daughter has thus turned into a surreal play. The British government (Prime Minister Theresa May is shown at right) has so far given no evidence that the Skripal’s were poisoned at all or were poisoned by someone else. No detailed medical bulletin has been published. The British accusations lets one assume that a suicide attempt has been excluded. Why?
There is no independent evaluation of the alleged poison. The British government claims that its own chemical weapon laboratory at Porton Down, only a few miles from where the incident happened, has identified the poison as one of the ‘Novichok’ chemicals.
But in 2016 a leading chemist at Porton Down published a piece in a scientific journal that denied that such chemicals exist. (Tim Hayword and Craig Murray both point this out).
Consortium News, Analysis: Intel Committee Rejects Basic Underpinning of Russiagate, Ray McGovern, March 14, 2018. The assumption underpinning Russiagate – that Vladimir Putin preferred Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton – is not supported by the facts, according to “Initial Findings” of the House Intelligence Committee, as Ray McGovern reports.
New York Times, Editorial: Having a Torturer Lead the C.I.A., Editorial board, March 15, 2018. President Trump has displayed enthusiasm for brutality over the past year. He has told the police to treat suspects roughly, praised President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines for murdering people suspected of drug ties and called for the execution of drug dealers.
But one of his most unsettling beliefs is still his acceptance of the value of torture. “In my opinion, it works,” he told Sean Hannity of Fox News early last year. Previously, anyone alarmed by Mr. Trump’s cavalier embrace of government-sanctioned cruelty was reassured by his vow to accept the advice of his defense secretary, Jim Mattis, who opposes torture and promised at his Senate confirmation hearing that he would uphold American and international laws against it.
Now we have reason to be uneasy yet again. When it comes to torture, no American officials have been more practiced in those heinous dark arts than the agents and employees of the Central Intelligence Agency who applied it to terrorism suspects after 9/11.
Few American officials were so directly involved in that frenzy of abuse, which began under President George W. Bush and was ended by President Barack Obama, as Gina Haspel (shown in a file photo). As an undercover C.I.A. officer, Ms. Haspel played a direct role in the agency’s “extraordinary rendition program,” under which suspected militants were remanded to foreign governments and held at secret facilities, where they were tortured by agency personnel.
Ms. Haspel ran the first detention site in Thailand and oversaw the brutal interrogations of two detainees, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. Mr. Zubaydah was waterboarded at least 83 times in a single month; his C.I.A. torturers bashed his head into walls and subjected him to other unspeakable brutalities. This cruelty stopped when investigators decided he had nothing useful to tell them.
On Tuesday, in announcing that he had dismissed Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and was replacing him with Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director, Mr. Trump said that Mr. Pompeo’s successor would be his deputy, Ms. Haspel. The sessions were videotaped and the recordings stored in a safe at the C.I.A. station in Thailand until they were ordered destroyed in 2005. And who did that? By then, Ms. Haspel was at C.I.A. headquarters, and while the agency said the decision to destroy evidence was made by her boss at the time, Jose Rodriguez, Ms. Haspel’s name was on the cable with the destruction orders.
Global News: Syria
SouthFront, Government Forces Liberate Key Area In Southern Damascus, Staff report, March 14, 2018 (video shown above). On March 13, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) entered the area of al-Qadam in southern Damascus after local militants had been evacuated from it. ISIS launched an attack on al-Qadam seeking to capture the area before it could be fully secured by the SAA. Clashes continued on March 14.
On March 13, Head of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov commented on the US threat to strike Syrian government forces if the military operation in Eastern Ghouta continues.
“There are many Russian advisers, representatives of the Russian Center for Reconciliation of Opposing Sides and servicemen in Damascus and at Syrian defense facilities,” he said adding that Russian forces will take retaliatory actions against any “missiles” or “launchers” posing a threat to Russian service members.
Earlier, both Syrian and Russian officials warned that militants had been preparing to stage a chemical attack in Eastern Ghouta and to blame it on Damascus.
Crime and Courts
New York Times, Once a Silicon Valley Star, Theranos Chief Is Accused of Fraud, Katie Thomas, March 14, 2018. Elizabeth Holmes, the chief executive of the blood-testing company, agreed to a settlement in which she will be stripped of control. Elizabeth Holmes, the founder and chief executive of the blood-testing company Theranos, was charged with fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday for raising more than $700 million from investors by falsely promoting a key product, the commission said.
In announcing the charges, the S.E.C. also said that Theranos and Ms. Holmes had agreed to settle them, with Ms. Holmes agreeing to pay a $500,000 penalty. As part of the settlement, she was stripped of control of the company and barred from being an officer or director of any public company for 10 years.
Ms. Holmes was a self-made billionaire and Silicon Valley darling who persuaded high-profile investors to back Theranos, a private company, based on promises that it would revolutionize the lab-testing industry. She promoted tests that used a finger prick of blood and cost a fraction of traditional lab tests. But a series of articles in The Wall Street Journal in 2015 cast doubt on whether the technology worked.
Washington Post, Second lawyer tied to Trump was involved in court action to keep Stormy Daniels quiet, new document shows, Staff report, March 14, 2018. A top attorney for the Trump Organization filed secret legal documents to keep Stormy Daniels from talking about her alleged affair with President Donald Trump, the first known link between Trump’s company and the effort to silence the porn star.
The documents, filed as part of confidential arbitration proceedings on Feb. 22, were made public Wednesday evening by CNN and the Wall Street Journal. The Washington Post confirmed their authenticity with Michael Avenatti, a lawyer for Daniels.
In a statement, the Trump Organization said it was not representing anyone in the Daniels dispute and “had no involvement in the matter.” One of its attorneys, Jill A. Martin, filed a document in her personal capacity while awaiting permission for another lawyer, not connected to the company, to practice in California, the statement said.
Daniels alleges that in the days leading up to the 2016 presidential election, she was paid $130,000 to keep quiet about her alleged affair with Trump. Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, has acknowledged making that payment, saying the money came from his home equity line of credit.
Daily Mail, Tablioid Opinion: Vanessa Trump steps out for first time since report that she and husband Donald Jr are preparing to file for divorce after 13 years and five children, Chris Spargo. March 14, 2018. Vanessa Trump was seen for the first time since Page Six reported that friends believe she and Donald Trump Jr will soon file for divorce. The couple has only been seen together twice this year, and Don Jr spent Valentine’s Day with daughter Kai while Vanessa took out two of their sons.
A somber Vanessa Trump was spotted stepping out in new York City on Wednesday shortly after news broke that she and husband Donald Trump Jr would soon be filing for divorce. Vanessa and her oldest daughter Kai were photographed as they left a pharmacy, with the mother at one point reaching over and putting her arms around the 10-year-old girl as they headed home. She and Don Jr. have been married for 13 years and have five children – Kai (10), Donald III (9), Tristan (7), Spencer (5) and Chloe (3). Vanessa and Don Jr have yet to respond to requests for comment.
Major JFK Hearing Set For March 19 In DC
JFK Facts.org, Opinion: CIA to argue JFK lawsuit disclosures have no ‘public benefit,’ Jefferson Morley (shown at right), March 14, 2018. On Monday March 19, a three-judge federal appellate court in Washington, D.C. will hear oral arguments about the “public benefit” of disclosure of CIA files related to the assassination of President Kennedy.
With the release of the last of the U.S. government’s JFK assassination files set for April 26, 2018, the judges have to pass judgement on a still-timely question: is there any public benefit from learning more about the events of November 1963?
I say yes. A lot of news organizations have agreed with me. In the past 10 years, the New York Times, Fox News, Boston Globe, Politico, and Associated Press have all written about Morley v. CIA, and its revelations.
The lawsuit, Morley v. CIA, obtained several hundred pages from the files of deceased CIA officer George Joannides. The new material included:
– a photograph showing that Joannides received a CIA medal in July 1981 (as indicated in an adjoining CIA photo, with Joannides on the left). That was three years after he had stonewalled Dan Hardway and other congressional investigators about what he knew of contacts between accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and his agents in a CIA political action/propaganda program known by the code name AMSPELL.
While it was been known since 2001 that Joannides played a curious, if not suspicious, role in the JFK story, Morley v. CIA revealed he had received a CIA commendation for his actions.
–Two memos indicating that Joannides maintained a residence in New Orleans during his stint as the Miami-based chief of the agency’s psychological warfare operations in 1962-64.
Joannides’ role in funding the anti-Castro Cuban Student Directorate, (AMSPELL), at the time the group had contact with accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was previously known. Morley v. CIA revealed that Joannides travelled at least twice to New Orleans where the Oswald-AMSPELL encounters took place. AMSPELL is still a very sensitive topic. The CIA partially released an 86 page AMSPELL file last fall; all but 24 pages were redacted.
– A CIA memo stated that when Joannides acted as CIA liaison to the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978, he served in an “undercover” role.Until Morley v. CIA no one knew that the CIA had assigned an officer to an “undercover” role in a JFK investigation.
– A so-called Vaughn Index listing scores of still-classified CIA records about Joannides’ actions, including a September 1978 evaluation of his job performance when he was stonewalling the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Dan Hardway, West Virginia attorney and former HSCA investigator, has explained how Joannides thwarted the HSCA investigation.
In sum, the lawsuit revealed that Joannides was rewarded for obstructing the investigation of the death of President Kennedy and that the CIA is still concealing information about his JFK-related activities in 1963 and 1978.
Transitions: Stephen Hawking
New York Times, Stephen Hawking, Whose Mind Roamed the Cosmos, Is Dead at 76, Dennis Overbye, March 15, 2018. The Cambridge-educated physicist made discoveries that changed the way we look at the universe, overcoming a disability to become an emblem of human determination. He is shown at right in a U.S. NASA photo.
Washington Post, Sunshine Week brings Trump’s information darkness to light, Joe Davidson, March 13, 2018. If sunshine is the best disinfectant, President Trump must pray for rain. He and his administration have a gloomy record when it comes to transparency, a particularly lamentable situation during Sunshine Week, which ends Saturday. Started by the American Society of News Editors (ASNE), the observance began in 2005 to celebrate openness and transparency in government.
But what’s to celebrate under Trump? ASNE has “significant concerns with the level of transparency demonstrated by the Trump administration,” said Kevin M. Goldberg, the organization’s legal counsel. “Public data that was once available even without a Freedom of Information Act request has disappeared from public view, a trend of restricting access to government officials — especially those in agencies dealing with science and defense issues — has continued, and some forward-looking programs designed to improve the flow of information to the public that were created by prior administrations have been discontinued.”
“Transparency is in danger,” he added by email, “when it is needed most.”
Washington Post, Trump ousts Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker, March 13, 2018. President Trump has ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and plans to nominate CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace him as the nation’s top diplomat, orchestrating a major change to his national security team amid delicate negotiations with North Korea, White House officials said Tuesday.
Trump last Friday asked Tillerson (shown at left) to step aside, and the embattled diplomat cut short his trip to Africa on Monday to return to Washington.
Pompeo (shown at right) will replace him at the State Department, and Gina Haspel — the deputy director at the CIA — will succeed him at the CIA, becoming the first woman to run the spy agency, if confirmed.
In a statement issued to The Washington Post, Trump praised both Pompeo and Haspel.
“I am proud to nominate the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Mike Pompeo, to be our new Secretary of State,” Trump said. “Mike graduated first in his class at West Point, served with distinction in the U.S. Army, and graduated with Honors from Harvard Law School. He went on to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives with a proven record of working across the aisle.”
The president continued, “Gina Haspel, the Deputy Director of the CIA, will be nominated to replace Director Pompeo and she will be the CIA’s first-ever female director, a historic milestone. Mike and Gina have worked together for more than a year, and have developed a great mutual respect.”
New York Times, Gina Haspel, Trump’s pick for CIA director, tied to use of brutal interrogation measures, Greg Miller and Shane Harris, March 13, 2018. President Trump on Tuesday nominated CIA veteran Gina Haspel to be the spy agency’s next director, tapping a woman who spent multiple tours overseas and is respected by the workforce but is deeply tied to the agency’s use of brutal interrogation measures on terrorism suspects.
Haspel, 61 (shown at left), would become the first woman to lead the CIA if she is confirmed to succeed outgoing director Mike Pompeo, who has been nominated to serve as secretary of state. Haspel’s selection faced immediate opposition from some lawmakers and human rights groups because of her prominent role in one of the agency’s darkest chapters.
Haspel was in charge of one of the CIA’s “black site” prisons where detainees were subjected to waterboarding and other harrowing interrogation measures widely condemned as torture.
When those methods were exposed and their legality came under scrutiny, Haspel was among a group of CIA officials involved in the decision to destroy videotapes of interrogation sessions that left some detainees on the brink of physical collapse.
Other Cabinet Firings Soon?
CNN, Trump eyes Rick Perry to replace VA secretary, Kaitlan Collins and Kevin Liptak, March 13, 2018. President Donald Trump has grown irritated with his embattled Veterans Affairs secretary, David Shulkin (shown at right, and is now making plans to remove him from his post, two sources familiar with the move tell CNN.
Trump has eyed Energy Secretary Rick Perry (left) as a possible replacement, a person familiar with the matter said. Trump and Perry discussed the possible move during a lunch at the White House Monday. Shulkin’s standing in the administration has been shaky for weeks now as his agency devolves into turmoil, and though White House press secretary Sarah Sanders maintained just last week that he has done “a great job,” Trump now wants him out.
CNN also reported that Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Advisor H.L. McMaster (shown at right), both former generals, are reported by sources to be on shaky ground also.
U.S. Politics: Pennsylvania Election Today
Democrat Conor Lamb, left, and Republican Rick Saccone are competing for Pennsylvania’s open 18th District seat. (Courtesy Conor Lamb/Rick Saccone/Facebook)
RollCall, Democrats Hate America, Trump, and God, Rick Saccone Says, Griffin Connolly, GOP nominee made comments at campaign rally on special election eve. Pennsylvania state Rep. Rick Saccone accused the Democratic party of being energized by “hatred” for “our country,” “God,” and “our president” on the eve of a most important day in his political career so far.
Saccone made the comments Monday at a rally at a local volunteer fire department in Blaine Hill. He squares off Tuesday against Democrat Conor Lamb in the special election for Pennsylvania’s 18th District. “They say the other side is energized,” Saccone said in a video posted to Twitter by NBC News. “Let me tell you, they’re energized for hate for our president. They have a hatred for our president.”
“I’ve talked to so many of these on the left,” Saccone said. “And they have a hatred for our president. And I tell you, many of them have a hatred for our country.”
“I’ll tell you some more — my wife and I saw it again today: They have a hatred for God,” Saccone said. “It’s amazing. You see it when I’m talking to them. It’s disturbing to me.”
Inside Trump World
Washington Post, ICE spokesman resigns, citing ‘false’ statements by agency chief, Sessions on immigrant arrests, Meagan Flynn, March 13, 2018. The San Francisco spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has resigned over what he described as “false” and “misleading” statements made by top-ranking officials, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions(shown at right) and ICE Acting Director Thomas D. Homan.
The now-former spokesman, James Schwab (shown at left), told news outlets late Monday that his resignation stemmed from statements by Homan and Sessions that potentially hundreds of “criminal aliens” evaded ICE during a Northern California raid in February because Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf warned the immigrant community in advance.
“I quit because I didn’t want to perpetuate misleading facts,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle, which broke the story. “I asked them to change the information. I told them that the information was wrong, they asked me to deflect, and I didn’t agree with that. Then I took some time, and I quit.”
Washington Post, Trump fires White House personal assistant John McEntee, who promptly rejoins president’s campaign, David Nakamura, March 13, 2018. McEntee, who had been with the president since early in his campaign, becomes the latest in a series of West Wing departures in recent weeks. Trump has had a record rate of turnover in his senior staff. Before McEntee’s departure, 43 percent of the president’s executive staff had left in the first 13½ months.
Update: Multiple news outlets reported that he was fired because of suspicion of serious financial irregularities before his White House service, that he was escorted out of the White House and prompted hired as a senior advisor to Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign.
Washington Post, Roger Stone claimed contact with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in 2016, according to two associates, Tom Hamburger, Josh Dawsey, Carol D. Leonnig and Shane Harris, March 13, 2018. In the spring of 2016, longtime political operative Roger Stone (shown above in a file photo) had a phone conversation that would later seem prophetic, according to the person on the other end of the line.
Stone, an informal adviser to then-candidate Donald Trump, said he had learned from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (shown in a 2014 file photo) that his organization had obtained emails that would torment senior Democrats such as John Podesta, then campaign chairman for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
The conversation occurred before it was publicly known that hackers had obtained the emails of Podesta and of the Democratic National Committee, documents that WikiLeaks released in late July and October. The U.S. intelligence community later concluded the hackers were working for Russia.
The person, who spoke to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing federal investigation into Russian campaign interference, is one of two Stone associates who say Stone claimed to have had contact with Assange in 2016.
The second, former Trump adviser Sam Nunberg, said in an interview Monday that Stone told him that he had met with Assange — a conversation Nunberg said investigators for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III recently asked him to describe.
More On Foreign Affairs Crises
SouthFront, Lavrov: US Strike On Syria Will Have “Grave Consequences,” Staff report, March 13, 2018. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (shown in a file photo) warned on March 13 that a new US strike on Syria [Washington threatened to do this on March 12] will have “grave consequences.”
“If a new strike of this kind takes place, the consequences will be very serious,” the minister said, according to the state-run news agency TASS. “Mrs. Haley should understand that it is one thing to irresponsibly exploit the microphone in the UN Security Council and it is another thing when both the Russian and American militaries have communication channels and it is clearly stated via these channels what can be done and what must not be done.”
SouthFront, US Officially Threatens To Strike Syrian Army, Staff report, March 13, 2018 (2:48 min. video above). On March 12, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley actually threatened that the US will strike Syrian government forces if they don’t halt their operation against terrorists in Eastern Ghouta.
“We also warn any nation that is determined to impose its will through chemical attacks and inhuman suffering, most especially the outlaw Syrian regime, the United States remains prepared to act if we must,” said Haley (shown at right).
The US diplomat proposed a new UN ceasefire resolution that “will take effect immediately upon adoption by this Council. It contains no counterterrorism loopholes for Assad, Iran and the Russians to hide behind.” According to Haley, the previous resolution “failed” because it had allowed the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allies to conduct operation in Eastern Ghouta against Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda) and other militant groups.
Russian ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia reacted by saying that Syria has all the legal right to fight terrorism near its capital. The US-drafted document was not put to the vote on March 12.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, now fired
Washington Post, Opinion: Tillerson is put out of his misery, Jennifer Rubin (shown at right), March 13, 2018. The good news is that Haspel, a 30-year veteran of the CIA, not uber-partisan Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), will replace Pompeo.
As for Tillerson’s departure, this was a long time in coming. Tillerson never enjoyed the trust of the president, which is essential for any secretary of state. When he was denied his pick for deputy secretary, Elliott Abrams, the handwriting was on the wall — he would be under the White House’s thumb.
After he was reportedly caught calling the president a “moron,” his days were numbered. (If not for the havoc and rash of dismissals in the White House, he might have departed sooner.)
Rex Tillerson is shown with the president in a cartoon now circulating on the web that recalls the secretary’s reported f-bomb description of Trump
Moon of Alabama, Opinion: Trump Votes For Rexit; Torture Girl To Become CIA Director, B, March 13, 2018. U.S. President Donald Trump just fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson [and wrote]: “Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!”
The plan was “developed by John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff.” It had nothing to do with Russia. Tillerson never got traction as Secretary of State. Congress disliked him for cutting down some State Department programs. Trump overruled him publicly several times.
There is some contradiction in the statements coming from the White House and the State Department. According to the Washington Post: Trump (shown above in a publicity photo from his show The Apprentice) last Friday asked Tillerson to step aside, and the embattled top diplomat cut short his trip to Africa on Monday to return to Washington.
But a statement by Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein (shown at left) contradicts the Friday claim. Tillerson knew he was fired but did not tell his staff?
“NBC Politics….JUST IN: Under Secretary of State Steve Goldstein is being fired for contradicting the account of Rex Tillerson’s dismissal, White House official tells @PeterAlexander.”
Thus ends the insurrection of State.
With Tillerson leaving, Secretary of Defense Mattis (shown at right) is losing an ally in the cabinet. Mattis sometimes calming influence over Trump on military issues will now become less effective.
CIA head Pompeo, the new Secretary of State, is a neoconservative with a racist anti-Muslim attitude and a special hate for Iran, which he compared to ISIS. That he will now become Secretary of State is a bad sign for the nuclear agreement with Iran. The Europeans especially should take note of that and should stop [looking] for a compromise with Trump on the issue. The deal is now dead. There is no chance that a compromise will happen.
The new CIA director Gina Haspel is well known for actively directing and participating in the torture of prisoners at ‘black sites. Haspel would be in jail if former president Barack Obama had not decided against prosecuting the CIA torture crimes.
Both, Pompeo and Haspel, will need to be confirmed by Congress. Both will receive a significant number of ‘yes’-votes from the Democratic side of the aisle.
Guns / Education
President Trump (Defense Department photo by Dominique Pineiro)
Washington Post, White House vows to help arm teachers, backs off on raising age to buy guns, Philip Rucker, March 13, 2018 (print edition). The Trump administration endorsed a bill to tighten the federal background check system following last month’s massacre at a Florida high school.
But the plan does not include substantial changes to gun laws. President Trump tweeted that officials are watching court cases before taking any action on raising the age to purchase guns.
Washington Post, Trump blocks Singapore firm’s $117 billion bid for U.S. mobile chipmaker, citing national security concerns, Hamza Shaban, March 13, 2018 (print edition). Experts say the government’s investigation into Broadcom’s hostile bid for Qualcomm has been unusual in its speed and intensity, a sign that the United States is concerned about putting mobile technology into the hands of an Asian company.
Trump White House Demurs On UK Spy Death Claim
The Hill, White House condemns poisoning of ex-spy after UK points to Russia, Brett Samuels, March 13, 2018 (print edition). The White House on Monday condemned the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy in the U.K. earlier this month but declined to say whether Moscow was responsible.
“The use of a highly lethal nerve agent on U.K. soil is an outrage. The attack was reckless, indiscriminate and irresponsible,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
New York Times, Britain Blames Russia for Poisoning of Former Spy, Ellen Barry and Richard Perez-Pena, March 13, 2018 (print edition). Prime Minister Theresa May’s remarks were an unusually direct condemnation of a country that Britain has been loath to blame for previous attacks. Mrs. May (shown at right) said she expected a response from Russia on Tuesday.
The March 4 nerve agent attack on Sergei V. Skripal, once an informant for Britain’s foreign intelligence service, and his daughter, Yulia, occurred in and around public spaces in the city of Salisbury.
Moscow has insisted that it played no role in the attack, and did so again on Monday. “This is a circus show in the British Parliament,” the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, told journalists in Moscow, according to the Interfax news agency.
Another #MeToo Harassment Scandal
New York Times, Celebrated Architect Is Accused of Sexual Harassment, Robin Pogregin, March 13, 2018. Five women say that Richard Meier sexually harassed them, The Times has learned. In response, he announced a six-month leave as founder and managing partner of his firm.
Richard Meier, the celebrated architect and Pritzker Prize winner who designed the Getty Center in Los Angeles, established a graduate scholarship in January at his alma mater, Cornell University’s architecture school. Intended to honor the 55th anniversary of his practice, the scholarship was designed to “recruit and retain the most talented women applicants.”
But four women who have worked for Mr. Meier — and another who met him when he was working on the Getty — have described encounters when the architect, now 83, was, in fact, not good to women.
Two of the women have described incidents over the past 10 years in which they were sent to Mr. Meier’s New York apartment, where he exposed himself, according to interviews with one of the women and several former employees of the firm.
A third woman said in an interview that Mr. Meier grabbed her underwear through her dress at a firm holiday party, and a fourth said he asked her to undress at his apartment so she could be photographed.
Disputed #MeToo Claim On Video
Washington Post, Security video shows encounter that prompted Md. lawmaker’s complaint against lobbyist, Ovetta Wiggins, March 13, 2018. A Maryland state senator and a lobbyist she has accused of harassment both released security camera video Tuesday of their recent encounter in an Annapolis pub, with each declaring the footage proves their version of events.
The video shows lobbyist Gil Genn approaching Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-Montgomery) near a crowded bar at Castlebay Irish Pub, putting his hand on Kagan’s back and moving it around. The physical contact is brief, and it is hard to tell exactly when Genn — who previously denied touching Kagan at all — removes his hand. (The two are shown at the lower right of the video, with the incident at the beginning)
At a hastily called news conference, Kagan held up her laptop to play the 86-second video, saying it showed how Genn put his hand on her back and slid “it down my body.” “Most women who are harassed or sexually assaulted will not have access to such undeniable proof,” she said in an interview.
Genn, meanwhile, demanded an apology from Kagan, saying in a statement that the video shows “beyond dispute that I did not grab or grope her.”
Associated Press, Green Party candidate was on state GOP payroll, Matt Volz, March 13, 2018. Green Party candidate was on state GOP payroll. A man who registered as a Green Party candidate for Montana’s U.S. Senate race was on the state Republican Party’s payroll and heads a newly formed anti-tax group, according to a review of election documents.
Press Under Attack
National Press Club, Institute panel reports troubled and dangerous times for journalists, Louise D. Walsh, March 14, 2018. Despite growing tensions between the media and government officials in the United States, journalists elsewhere face far worse conditions, according to a six-member panel of veteran reporters and media advocacy groups who spoke at a National Press Club Journalism Institute symposium on March 12.
“We’re not throwing journalists in jail here,” said the panel’s moderator, Miranda Spivack, a visiting journalism professor at DePauw University in Indiana, but warning signs exist. “It’s a tough time to be a journalist abroad and in the United States,” she said. A record number of journalists worldwide, 262, were imprisoned in 2017, the Committee to Project Journalists reports, and 82 were killed.
Speakers gave examples of attacks against journalists in Poland, Myanmar, China and Slovakia, plus targeted killings in Mexico. Mahmoud Abou Zeid, a young Egyptian photojournalist known as Shawkan, learned this week that prosecutors in his home country are seeking the maximum penalty against him, death by hanging. Shawkan won the NPC’s 2016 John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award and has been in prison for more than four years after covering an anti-government protest. Both the Club and its Journalism Institute this week condemned Egypt’s effort to intimidate the press by threatening a photojournalist with death.
Mueller grand jury witness Sam Nunberg, left, and his friend Roger Stone, author of the column below debunking misleading reporting
Stone Cold Truth, Witness Commentary on Mueller Probe: Sam Can’t Take A Joke; More Fake News By The Washington Post, Roger Stone, March 13, 2018. I must address reports in today’s Washington Post in which my friend Sam Nunberg is identified as one of two sources who allegedly claim I told them I met Julian Assange in 2016. Sam Nunberg’s statements do not create evidence. There is no evidence that I participated in or have any knowledge of any collusion with the Russians to effect the 2016 elections. I had no advance notice of the content, source or timing of the Wikileaks publication of any material.
Nor did I receive any allegedly hacked material from any source and pass them on to Donald Trump or the Trump campaign. Nor did i know in advance that Wikileaks had obtained John Podesta’s emails and would publish them nor did I predict that his e-mail would be published.
No communication from me to Sam Nunberg or anyone else will prove otherwise- in fact documents I submitted to the House Intelligence Committee prove that I did not collaborate with Wikileaks and that my testimony there was truthful.
Allegations that I met with Julian Assange in London in 2016, allegations apparently repeated by Sam Nunberg and apparently a second unidentified person, are provably false.
My passport shows I never left the country in 2015 or 2016 and surveillance camera’s for a guy in a virtual gulag at the Ecuadorian Embassy show he never left there and I never arrived there.
Now you have to understand when you worked with Sam would call and text you over and over. As Sam would call and text you 30 time a day. Sam said in a interview that he spoke to Steve Bannon 30 times a day.One major reporter said he called her eight times late one night.
Nunberg told CNN “They want me to testify against Roger,” Nunberg said. “They want me to say that Roger was going around telling people he was colluding with Julian Assange.” We can clear this up right now.
Late one Friday night when I was trying to get Sam off the phone. Sam asked if I had plans for the weekend — and I said, “I thought I would fly to London to have dinner with Julian Assange “- a joke and hung up. It was jocular and of course provably false via passport record and security video. It was a throw away line. I was amused when Sam took it seriously. I now realize Sam told several people- including two reporters that I had actually met Assange.
Sam called me to warn me that Mueller was out to get me three times after his initial interview with OSC then told me I must admit I told 58 people that I had gone to London…which of course is not true- I told ONE person….who was too intense to figure out it was a joke. Just the same I bare Sam no ill will as he struggles with his demons.
Now as to the second person baring false witness against me I am asked to answer a faceless charge and an e-mail I have not seen allegedly making claims I don’t recall. I had no advance notice of the alleged hacking of the DNC emails or John Podesta’s emails.
Sam is a talented researcher and writer and a relentless gossip and yenta. In this case he has done me a disservice.
The claim that I got documents or allegedly hacked email from Wikileaks – or anyone else it and gave them to Donald Trump or anyone in the Trump Camp is as false as the certainty that they were hacked by Russians or anyone else.
These are lies created by Democrats and some in the media that will be dispelled by the investigation.
My testimony before the House Intelligence Committee was 100 % truthful and documents I submitted to them show I did not collaborate with Wikileaks.
As far as the so-called “Back Channel – I addressed it here- the claim by Mother Jones that Randy Credico’s confirmation that Wikileaks would publish non-specific Clinton material predates his meeting and first interview with Assange is irrelevant – Credico was well aquainted with members of Assange’s legal team.
While we’re at it let’s dispense with Guccifer 2.0 since Chuck Todd revived this chestnut late week. My exchange with someone claiming to be a hacker has been fully released publicly. It is innocuous, banal and based on the timing, content and context certainly doesn’t constitute collusion. (Editors note: several minor typos were corrected in this column.)
The Unz Review, Christopher Steele As Seen By the New Yorker, Philip Giraldi (shown at right), March 13, 2018. The latest salvo in the Russiagate saga is a 15,000 word New Yorker article entitled “Christopher Steele the man behind the Trump dossier: how the ex-spy tried to warn the world about Trump’s ties to Russia” by veteran journalist Jane Mayer.
Steele is shown in a file photo at left.
The premise of the piece is clear from the tediously long title, namely that the Steele dossier, which implicated Donald Trump and his associates in a number of high crimes and misdemeanors, is basically accurate in exposing an existential threat posed to our nation by Russia. How does it come to that conclusion? By citing sources that it does not identify whose credibility is alleged to be unimpeachable as well as by including testimony from Steele friends and supporters.
In other words, the Mayer piece is an elaboration of the same “trust me” narrative that has driven the hounding of Russia and Trump from day one. Inevitably, the Trump haters both from the left and the right have jumped on the Mayer piece as confirmation of their own presumptions regarding what has allegedly occurred, when, in reality, Trump might just be more right than wrong when he claims that he has been the victim of a conspiracy by the Establishment to discredit and remove him.
The account of Donald Trump performing “perverted sexual acts” in a Moscow hotel is likewise a good example of what is wrong with the article. Four sources are cited as providing details of what took place, but it is conceded that none of them was actually a witness to it. It would be necessary to learn who the sources were beyond vague descriptions, what their actual access to the information was and what their motives were for coming forward might be. One was allegedly a “top-level Russian intelligence officer,” but the others were hotel employees and a Trump associate who had arranged for the travel.
Finally, from an ex-intelligence officer point of view I have some questions about Steele’s sources in Russia. Who are they? If they were MI-6 sources he would not be able to touch them once he left the service and would face severe sanctions under the Official Secrets Act should he even try to do so.
Saudi Shakedown Update
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman
New York Times, Saudis Said to Use Coercion and Abuse to Seize Billions, Ben Hubbard, David D. Kirkpatrick, Kate Kelley and Mark Mazzetti, March 12, 2018 (print edition). As the Saudi crown prince comes to the U.S. to court investment, new details cast doubts on his claims of a transparent, legal anti-corruption effort.
Businessmen once considered giants of the Saudi economy now wear ankle bracelets that track their movements. Princes who led military forces and appeared in glossy magazines are monitored by guards they do not command. Families who flew on private jets cannot gain access to their bank accounts. Even wives and children have been forbidden to travel.
In November, the Saudi government locked up hundreds of influential businessmen — many of them members of the royal family — in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton in what it called an anti-corruption campaign.
Most have since been released but they are hardly free. Instead, this large sector of Saudi Arabia’s movers and shakers are living in fear and uncertainty. During months of captivity, many were subject to coercion and physical abuse, witnesses said. In the early days of the crackdown, at least 17 detainees were hospitalized for physical abuse and one later died in custody with a neck that appeared twisted, a badly swollen body and other signs of abuse, according to a person who saw the body.
New York Times, As Trump Seeks One Nuclear Deal, He Could Kill Another, David E. Sanger, March 12, 2018 (print edition). Iran and North Korea will be paying close attention to President Trump’s decisions regarding each nation’s nuclear ambitions in the coming months.
Suppressed JFK Records
JFKFacts.org, Roger Stone’s valid JFK point: CIA is not complying with the law, Jefferson Morley, March 12, 2018. As we approach President Trump’s April 26, 2018 deadline for release of the last of the government’s JFK files, Roger Stone makes a legally valid point: The CIA is not obeying the JFK Records Act.
Stone pointed out that the 1992 law which required the JFK documents be released also required the agency redacting records to justify their redactions in writing and that those explanations be published in the Federal Register.
Stone is referring to a specific passage in the JFK Records Act, Section 4 (g) (2) (B), which states “All postponed assassination records determined to require continued postponement shall require an unclassified written description of the reason for such continued postponement. Such description shall be provided to the Archivist and published in the Federal Register upon determination.”
From the passage of the law in 1992 until 2017, the CIA and other agencies adhered to this passage, and did so scrupulously. If the CIA released a JFK file to the National Archives with redactions, a coded comment in the margin gave an unclassified description of why information was withheld. Typical reasons were “national security,” “personal privacy” or “sources and methods.”
Climate Change: Africa
New York Times, Hotter, Drier, Hungrier: How Global Warming Punishes the World’s Poorest, Somini Sengupta, March 12, 2018. A series of droughts with little recovery time between them has pushed millions to the edge of survival in the Horn of Africa.
Northern Kenya — like its arid neighbors in the Horn of Africa, where Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson (shown at right) paid a visit last week, including a stop in Nairobi — has become measurably drier and hotter, and scientists are finding the fingerprints of global warming. According to recent research, the region dried faster in the 20th century than at any time over the last 2,000 years. Four severe droughts have walloped the area in the last two decades, a rapid succession that has pushed millions of the world’s poorest to the edge of survival.
Amid this new normal, a people long hounded by poverty and strife has found itself on the frontline of a new crisis: climate change. More than 650,000 children under age 5 across vast stretches of Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia are severely malnourished. The risk of famine stalks people in all three countries; at least 12 million people rely on food aid, according to the United Nations.
New York Times, Far From Manhattan, a Magazine Empire Humbly Reigns, Sydney Ember, March 12, 2018 (print edition). After buying Time Inc. for $2.8 billion, Des Moines-based Meredith is the nation’s largest magazine company. But it’s not about to change its unassuming style.
U.S. Politics: Trump Scandals
Washington Post, Republicans find no evidence of collusion or Russian preference for Trump, Karoun Demirjian, March 12, 2018. House Intelligence Committee Republicans have completed a draft report in their year-long Russia probe that states they found no evidence President Trump or anyone affiliated with him colluded with Russian officials to affect the outcome of the 2016 elections, a conclusion expected to incite backlash from committee Democrats.
Republicans also determined that while the Russian government did pursue “active measures” to interfere in the 2016 election, they did not do so with the intention of helping Trump’s campaign, contradicting the findings of the intelligence community.
U.S. Politics / Missouri Scandals
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Once a selling point, Greitens’ charity now under microscope, Kurt Erickson and Jack Suntrup, March 12, 2018. Though [ Missouri] Gov. Eric Greitens (shown at right) used ties to his former veterans charity as an asset during the 2016 election, those connections are now proving to be a liability as he negotiates a legal minefield in an attempt to preserve his political career.
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, a Republican, recently announced he was launching an inquiry into St. Louis-based The Mission Continues. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner and a Missouri House panel could also look into the charity, and the New York attorney general’s office won’t say whether it is investigating.
Among the issues investigators may scrutinize is whether Greitens or the charity violated federal tax laws that forbid charities from taking sides in elections. Charity insiders also are barred from using organization assets for personal gain.
The Greitens campaign has admitted to using one of the charity’s donor lists to raise money during the 2016 election. But in a March 5 letter to its donors, The Mission Continues stressed that it did not coordinate with the 43-year-old former Navy SEAL when it came to his bid for public office.
While recent reporting on Greitens’ use of charity assets has triggered a wave of scrutiny, documents obtained by the Post-Dispatch indicate that at least some Missouri political operatives have long known about pitfalls that Greitens’ cozy relationship with his charity could pose for the candidate. He founded the organization in 2007 but left in 2014.
The documents suggest Greitens’ charity may have helped boost his book sales — which, if true, could pose additional legal problems for the governor, or The Mission Continues, if charity resources were improperly used for personal business ventures. The memo also says that donors to The Mission Continues included Wall Street banks, hedge fund managers and drug companies — each of which could have posed a liability to the political newcomer.
That Greitens appeared to use a charity email list to promote his book — and the donor list to promote his campaign — highlights how he may have used the organization’s resources improperly.
U.S. Politics: PA House Vote Tuesday
Washington Post, Opinion: Bad news for Trump is brewing in Pennsylvania, Greg Sargent, March 12, 2018. Prediction: If Republican Rick Saccone scrapes out a close win in tomorrow’s special election for a House seat in southwestern Pennsylvania, Donald Trump will claim it was all because of Donald Trump. But if Saccone falls just short, Donald Trump will claim it was all because Saccone didn’t sufficiently emulate Donald Trump.
But either way, it will be very bad news for Trump. This isn’t just because this election is deep in the heart of Trump country. It’s also because the failure of the Trump/Republican argument to prevent this contest from being so close also carries ominous signs for the GOP this fall.
New York Times, My Union or My President? Dueling Loyalties Mark Pennsylvania Race, Trip Gabriel, March 12, 2018 (print edition). Working-class voters are the prize in a widely watched special congressional race on Tuesday, as unions try to line up their pro-Trump members behind a moderate Democrat, Conor Lamb.
Bloomberg, Mueller Weighs Putting Off Trump Obstruction Decision, Chris Strohm and Shannon Pettypiece, March 12, 2018. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice is said to be close to completion, but he may set it aside while he finishes other key parts of his probe, such as possible collusion and the hacking of Democrats, according to current and former U.S. officials.
That’s because Mueller may calculate that if he tries to bring charges in the obstruction case — the part that may hit closest to Trump personally — witnesses may become less cooperative in other parts of the probe, or the president may move to shut it down altogether.
The revelation is a peek into Mueller’s calculations as he proceeds with his many-headed probe, while pressure builds from the president’s advisers and other Republicans to show progress or wrap it up.
The obstruction portion of the probe could likely be completed after several key outstanding interviews, including with the president and his son, Donald Trump Jr. The president’s lawyers have been negotiating with Mueller’s team over such an encounter since late last year. But even if Trump testifies in the coming weeks, Mueller may make a strategic calculation to keep his findings on obstruction secret, according to the current and former U.S. officials, who discussed the strategy on condition of anonymity.
New York Times, Lawyers Battle as ‘60 Minutes’ Prepares Porn Star Interview, Jim Rutenberg and Mich M. Grynbaum, March 12, 2018 (print edition). “60 Minutes” was moving forward with plans to show a segment with the pornographic film actress Stephanie Clifford, known as Stormy Daniels, who says she had an affair with President Trump. The two are shown in a file photo.
Washington Post, Analysis: It is almost certainly too late for Trump to stop Stormy Daniels’s ‘60 Minutes’ interview, Callum Borchers, March 12, 2018.
New York Times, Opinion: Melania Knew, Charles M. Blow, March 12, 2018 (print edition). The ongoing saga over a president, a porn star and a payoff is so lewd and tawdry that it can’t simply be added to the ever-expanding list of horrible misbehaviors of a womanizing misogynist.
It’s not even the infidelity that most bothers me. I view that as an issue between spouses and with the other person involved. I contend that we on the outside never really know what understandings may exist in a marriage, unless the two parties within reveal it.
In this case, Melania knew exactly the kind of man she was getting.When Donald first meets Melania, they are at a New York Fashion Week party to which Donald has been invited by the wealthy Italian businessman who brought Melania to America on a modeling contract and work visa. According to GQ, sometimes, to promote his models, the businessman “would send a few girls to an event and invite photographers, producers, and rich playboys.”
Trump is on a date with another woman that night. He is also in the process of divorcing Marla Maples, his second wife, with whom he had had an affair while still married to his first wife, Ivana Trump.
Fraud Claims Against Silicon Valley Star
New York Times, Once a Silicon Valley Star, Theranos Chief Is Accused of Fraud, Katie Thomas, March 14, 2018. Elizabeth Holmes, the chief executive of the blood-testing company, agreed to a settlement in which she will be stripped of control. Elizabeth Holmes, the founder and chief executive of the blood-testing company Theranos, was charged with fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday for raising more than $700 million from investors by falsely promoting a key product, the commission said.
In announcing the charges, the S.E.C. also said that Theranos and Ms. Holmes had agreed to settle them, with Ms. Holmes agreeing to pay a $500,000 penalty. As part of the settlement, she was stripped of control of the company and barred from being an officer or director of any public company for 10 years.
Ms. Holmes was a self-made billionaire and Silicon Valley darling who persuaded high-profile investors to back Theranos, a private company, based on promises that it would revolutionize the lab-testing industry. She promoted tests that used a finger prick of blood and cost a fraction of traditional lab tests. But a series of articles in The Wall Street Journal in 2015 cast doubt on whether the technology worked.
New York Times, James Levine’s Final Act at the Met Ends in Disgrace, Michael Cooper, March 12, 2018. The Metropolitan Opera fired Mr. Levine, one of the greatest American conductors and one who defined the company for more than four decades, after finding evidence of “sexually abusive” conduct.
The Metropolitan Opera fired the conductor James Levine on Monday evening, ending its association with a man who defined the company for more than four decades after an investigation found what the Met called credible evidence that Mr. Levine had engaged in “sexually abusive and harassing conduct.”
The investigation, which the Met opened in December after a report in The New York Times, found evidence of abuse and harassment “both before and during the period” when Mr. Levine worked at the Met, the company said in a statement. It was an extraordinary fall from grace for a legendary maestro, whom many consider the greatest American conductor since Leonard Bernstein.
Four men accused Levine of assault, including Ashok Pai, who told the Daily News that the conductor “basically sexually assaulted me hundreds of times.”
James Levine: 40 Years at the Metropolitan Opera
New York Daily News, Metropolitan Opera fires James Levine after sexual abuse allegations, Kate Feldman, March 12, 2018. Three months after multiple men accused James Levine of sexual assault, the Metropolitan Opera officially fired the conductor. “The investigation uncovered credible evidence that Mr. Levine had engaged in sexually abusive and harassing conduct both before and during the period when he worked at the Met,” the opera said in a statement Monday.
“The investigation also uncovered credible evidence that Mr. Levine engaged in sexually abusive and harassing conduct towards vulnerable artists in the early stages of their careers, over whom Mr. Levine had authority.” Four men accused Levine of assault, including Ashok Pai, who told the Daily News that the conductor “basically sexually assaulted me hundreds of times.”
Bomb Explosions In Austin
New York Times, Three Package Explosions in Austin Appear to Be Linked, Maya Salam, March 12, 2018. The interim police chief in Austin, Tex., warned residents not to touch any unexpected or suspicious packages after one person was killed and two were injured in separate blasts miles apart in the city.
Education / Media
Washington Post, Analysis: Why it was so easy for ’60 Minutes’ to rebut Betsy DeVos’s charter-school arguments, Philip Bump, March 12, 2018. An examination of schools in Michigan — DeVos’s home state — undercuts much of the education secretary’s rhetoric on charters.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (shown at right) was picked to run the Education Department largely to continue the work she had embraced through her philanthropic work: advocating an expansion of charter schools. Hers was the most controversial Cabinet nomination by President Trump, requiring Vice President Pence to cast a tie-breaking vote confirming her for the position.
That controversy had many causes, but a significant one was that many in the education community were concerned about turning over the department to someone who advocated transferring scarce public funding to what amounted to educational experiments.
Which is to say that DeVos should, by now, be very aware that her advocacy of charter schools is contentious, to understate it a bit. Meaning, by extension, that when being interviewed by one of the most established television news programs in the country, she should be able to defend her position.
Yet when interviewed by “60 Minutes” for a program that aired on Sunday — she wasn’t.
Washington Post, Trump administration uses fuzzy logic to derail $11 billion tunnel plan for New York and New Jersey, Salvador Rizzo, March 12, 2018. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao says New Jersey and New York want the federal government to pay for their new tunnel, but that’s not the whole story.
New York Times, Mideast Peace Plan Is Nearly Finished. Is It Dead on Arrival? Mark Landler, March 12, 2018 (print edition). Mr. Trump is likely to present his administration’s proposal soon, despite risking swift rejection by the Palestinians and already having taken on another thorny dispute with North Korea.
Middle East War: Syria
Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations Bashar al-Jaafari argues that terrorists in East Ghouta are concocting false flag phony claims of gas attacks and are holding civilians hostage to stave off the Syrian government’s anti-terrorist operation in the Damascus suburb
SouthFront, Militants’ Defense Collapsed In Eastern Ghouta, Staff report, March 12, 2018. Last weekend, a defense of militant groups operating in Eastern Ghouta collapsed under pressure of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allies and the militant-held pocket was cut off into two separate parts.
Reports are circulating that US and Israeli-backed militant groups are preparing for an attack against the SAA in the city of Daraa in southern Syria. The alleged attack would exploit the SAA involvement in Eastern Ghouta operation and aimed at indirectly assisting militants there.
Reuters, U.S. warns if Security Council doesn’t act on Syria, it will, Staff report, March 12, 2018. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley (shown at right) warned on Monday that if the U.N. Security Council fails to act on Syria, Washington“remains prepared to act if we must,” just as it did last year when it bombed a Syrian government air base over a deadly chemical weapons attack.
“It is not the path we prefer, but it is a path we have demonstrated we will take, and we are prepared to take again,” Haley told the 15-member Security Council. “When the international community consistently fails to act, there are times when states are compelled to take their own action.”
Haley’s warning came as the United States asked the Security Council to demand an immediate 30-day ceasefire in Damascus and rebel-held eastern Ghouta, where Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, backed by Russia and Iran, say they are targeting “terrorist” groups which are shelling the capital.
Editor’s Note: Haley and other U.S. proponents of launching a new war against Syria’s government almost never cite any Constitutional or other legal provision accepted under international law to justify a first-strike against a nation that has not threatened the United States.
SouthFront, Syrian Government Allowed 2,000 SDF Members To Reinforce Kurdish Forces In Afrin – Reports, Staff report, March 12, 2018. 2,000 members of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have reportedly reinforced the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YGP) fighting the Turkish Army and the Free Syrian Army in the area of Afrin.
The YPG is a core of the US-backed group. So, in a major part of cases, the SDF is just used as a PR brand to cover the US support to the YPG in eastern Syria.
According to reprots in the Russian media, the SDF column consisting of 2,000 fighters, moved from the city of Manbij through the government-held area towards Afrin on March 11.
There were also reports about the second column consisting of US-linked private military contractors branded as “the SDF”, which were also willing to “help” Afrin. However, the Syrian Army did not allow this very column to reach the YPG-held area.
The YPG has repeatedly rejected Damascus proposals to reach a wide-scale reconciliation agreement, which would return Afrin under the formal government control and to integrate local YPG members into Syrian security. However, all proposals have been rejected by the YPG. This has put the group into a very complicated situation because it cannot stop the Turkish advance itself.
Washington Post, 5 passengers dead after helicopter plunges into New York City’s East River; the pilot survived, Samantha Schmidt and Kristine Phillips, March 12, 2018. A helicopter plunged into the frigid waters of New York’s East River on Sunday night, killing five of the six people on board.
Global Media: Russia
Russian President Vladimir Putin is interviewed on March 1 by NBC’s Megyn Kelly
Consortium News, Opinion: NBC’s Clueless Boost for Putin, Ray McGovern, March 12, 2018. With the Russian president in the heat of a re-election campaign, Putin sat down to talk with NBC’s Megyn Kelly for an interview that enabled him to burnish his credentials to the Russian electorate, Ray McGovern explains.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s team swept a doubleheader on March 1, with his mid-day speech claiming strategic parity with the U.S., and then the nightcap duel with NBC’s Megyn Kelly. Any lingering doubt that Putin is a shoo-in for another term as President is now dispelled. Putin might consider sending NBC a thank-you note.
Megyn Kelly interviews Vladimir Putin on March 1, 2018.
As I watched NBC’s special, “Confronting Putin,” Friday evening, I asked myself — naively — what possessed President Putin to subject himself again to what NBC calls a Megan Kelly “grilling,” replete with supercilious questions and less-than-polite interruptions, just nine months after his first such “grilling.” It then hit me that “grilling” is in the eye of the beholder.
Reviewing the original Russian tape of the interviews, it became clear that the tête-à-tête showed a Putin looking patiently but supremely presidential to Russian viewers who could see the whole interviews, not just the selective selected excerpts aired by NBC and “interpreted” by Russophobe-de-jour Richard Haas. (A close adviser to Secretary of State Colin Powell, Haas was among those who told him it was a swell idea to invade Iraq. When the anticipated “cakewalk” turned rather bloody, with no WMD to be found, Haas quit in July 2003 and became President of the Council on Foreign Relations where he is now well into his 15th year.)
Washington Post, ‘Where is Ivanka?’ First daughter seeks control in dual role as White House aide, Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker, March 11, 2018. Ivanka Trump (shown at right) tried to travel to South Korea as the president’s envoy — but she could not escape also being his celebrity daughter. Ivanka Trump likes to be in complete control — over-prepared and deliberate — in contrast to her freewheeling and impulsive father.
But at the moment, Ivanka — whose first name has become a brand identity — controls increasingly little of the world she inhabits. The White House is careening from crisis to crisis. Her colleagues are leaking damaging anecdotes about her and husband Jared Kushner. Tensions between the couple and Chief of Staff John F. Kelly are intensifying. And all the while, the dark legal cloud hanging over her family is threatening to unleash a downpour.
Moon of Alabama, Analaysis: Syria — The Fall Of Two Cities, B, March 11, 2018. The Turkish proxy Takfiris have nearly encircled the Kurdish held city of Afrin. The water supply to the city is cut off. It will fall within a few days. This is the direct result of gigantic miscalculations by the YPG Kurds who controlled the Afrin area.
They had a clear offer from the Syrian and Russian government: Hand over the administration to the legitimate Syrian government and the Syrian army will come and defend your land. They rejected that offer multiple times. They thought they could withstand an attack by a numerical superior enemy which has abundant air and artillery support.
Meanwhile the U.S. is on the verge of giving away the Kurdish held Manbij to the Turks. The Syrian Arab Army has split east-Ghouta next to Damascus into two and soon three parts.
New York Times, Out of Public View, Trumps and Kushners Are Talking Business, Ben Protess, Steve Eder and Jesse Drucker, March 10, 2018. The Trump and Kushner families are stepping up their real estate collaborations, blurring the line between family, business and politics. Jared Kushner’s family company recently began construction on an oceanfront development in this Jersey Shore city, a project that has the strong backing of local officials, who agreed to support it with $20 million in bonds.
But unknown to Long Branch officials, the Kushners have been in talks to team up with another family-run company that has an even bigger presence in the White House: the Trump Organization.
The Kushners are in private discussions to have President Trump’s company manage at least one hotel at the center of the development known as Pier Village, according to people briefed on the previously unreported talks. The Kushner Companies and the Trump Organization have signed a letter of intent, though no deal is final and the Kushners are not required to inform city officials.
The long-running talks blur the line between family, business and politics in ways that lack precedent: Both Mr. Trump and Mr. Kushner, the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law (shown at right), retain financial interests in their family businesses. The Trump Organization’s outside ethics adviser has raised questions about a potential deal — one reason the two-year-long discussions have not been completed.
DC School Scandal With National Implications
Washington Post, It was hailed as the national model for school reform. Then the scandals hit, Emma Brown, Valerie Strauss and Perry Stein, March 10, 2018. Data suggested that the District was a national model. Sometimes, data can mislead.
Michelle Rhee was new to town. It was 2007, she had just been named to run the District’s public schools, and she had an alluringly simple message about what it would take to transform a system known for crumbling buildings, chaotic classrooms and students who graduated without being able to read.
She would use data. It was a new era of accountability, she promised, and numbers would reveal whether teachers were effective and students were learning. Data would tell the truth.
Yet a cascade of D.C. school scandals in recent months has shown that data can sometimes mislead. In the decade after the city dissolved its elected local school board and turned management of the schools over to the mayor, Rhee and her successor, Kaya Henderson, created a system that demanded ever-higher accomplishments — higher test scores, higher graduation rates. They used money as an incentive: Principals and teachers were rewarded financially if they hit certain numbers.
And with only weak oversight from the D.C. Council and other city education agencies — which report to the same mayor who is politically liable for the schools — there was no strong check on any impulse to gloss over shortcomings and pump up numbers.
City lawmakers repeatedly boasted that the District’s schools had become the fastest-improving in the nation. Philanthropic dollars poured in. President Barack Obama offered praise. And one of the most dysfunctional school systems in America became known as a model for education reform efforts nationwide.
Suppressed JFK Records
Kennedys and King, Opinion: Ricochet of a Lie: And Kennedy’s Throat Wound, Milicent Cranor, March 10, 2018. Milicent Cranor addresses the question of JFK’s throat incision, bringing to light the fact that it was, and is, standard procedure to make a fairly wide incision when penetrating trauma to the throat is observed. She also reports a very interesting lie Commander James Humes told to JAMA — and its significance.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (File photo)
New York Times, Kim Offers Nuclear Talks; Trump Accepts, Mark Landler, March 9, 2018. Would Be 1st Sitting President to Meet With North Korea. The invitation from North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, is an audacious diplomatic overture for two world leaders who have exchanged threats of war, as well as personal insults.
North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has invited President Trump to meet for negotiations over its nuclear program, an audacious diplomatic overture that would bring together two strong-willed, idiosyncratic leaders who have traded threats of war.
The White House said that Mr. Trump had accepted the invitation, and Chung Eui-yong, a South Korean official who conveyed it, told reporters that the president would meet with Mr. Kim within two months.
Jobs, Tariffs, Trade Wars
New York Times, U.S. Added 313,000 Jobs Last Month, Exceeding Estimates, Patricia Cohen, March 9, 2018. The data is the last major economic report before the Federal Reserve decides whether to increase the benchmark interest rate later this month.
Washington Post, U.S. allies express anger, confusion as Trump signs tariffs order, Anna Fifield and Michael Birnbaum, March 9, 2018 (print edition). Bewilderment rippled across countries that figured, no matter the bumps in relations with Washington, they would be on the same side against China in any trade dispute. Japan, which is not just led by a friendly politician but also is a key security ally of the United States, looks likely to be slapped with tariffs on its steel exports to the United States. And to add insult to injury, the reason, Trump says, is rooted in national security.
New York Times, Opinion: Oh, What a Trumpy Trade War! Paul Krugman (shown at right), March 9, 2018 (print edition). There’s near-universal consensus among both economists and business leaders that Donald Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum are a bad idea, and that the wider trade war those tariffs could trigger would be very destructive. But the chances of heading off this policy disaster are small, because this is a quintessential example of Trump being Trump.
In fact, the tariffs are arguably the Trumpiest thing Trump has done so far. After all, trade (like racism) is an issue on which Trump has been utterly consistent over the years. He has spent decades railing at other countries that, he claims, hurt America by taking advantage of our relatively open markets. And if his views are based on zero understanding of the issues or even of basic facts, well, Trumpism is all about belligerent ignorance, across the board.
But wait, there’s more. There’s a reason we have international trade agreements, and it’s not to protect us from unfair practices by other countries. The real goal, instead, is to protect us from ourselves: to limit the special-interest politics and outright corruption that used to reign in trade policy.
New York Times, Analysis: What History Has to Say About the ‘Winners’ in Trade Wars, James B. Stewart, March 9, 2018 (print edition). Has President Trump studied the Smoot-Hawley act of 1930? Or the McKinley tariff act of 1890? Maybe he should.
With President Trump ordering steep new tariffs on imported steel and aluminum on Thursday, and with America’s trading partners threatening to retaliate, it looks as if Mr. Trump will get the trade war that he seems to want and that he thinks will be “easy” for the United States to win. “Trade wars aren’t so bad,” he had said at the White House on Wednesday.
Which made me wonder: What trade wars does Mr. Trump have in mind? The most prominent trade war of the 20th century was ignited by the Smoot-Hawley Tariff act of 1930, which imposed steep tariffs on roughly 20,000 imported goods. Led by Canada, America’s trading partners retaliated with tariffs on United States exports, which plunged 61 percent from 1929 to 1933. The tariffs were repealed in 1934.
Inside Trump Town
Washington Post, ‘It’s killing the agency’: Ugly power struggle paralyzes Trump’s plan to fix veterans’ care, Lisa Rein, March 9, 2018. David Shulkin (shown at right), who by most accounts tallied multiple wins in his first year as Veterans Affairs secretary, is fighting to regain his standing amid a mutiny. In a sign of how deeply Shulkin’s trust in his senior staff has eroded, an armed guard now stands outside his office.
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin is managing the government’s second-largest bureaucracy from a fortified bunker atop the agency’s Washington headquarters.
He has canceled the morning meetings once attended by several of President Trump’s political appointees — members of his senior management team — gathering instead with aides he trusts not to miscast his remarks. Access to Shulkin’s 10th-floor executive suite was recently revoked for several people he has accused of lobbying the White House to oust him. He and his public-affairs chief have not spoken in weeks.
Washington Post, Scandal continues to burn the U.S. Forest Service, Darryl Fears, March 9, 2018 (print edition). In an email to workers, agency Chief Tony Tooke acknowledged that he had lost the confidence needed to execute his duties. The agency faces claims of inappropriate behavior, gender discrimination, sexual harassment and rape.
Schools, Crime, Courts
New York Times, Ex-Leader of Baltimore County Schools, a Tech Booster, Pleads Guilty to Perjury, Natasha Singer, March 9, 2018 (print edition). The former official, Dallas Dance, has been at the center of questions about the relationships between school officials and education technology companies.
A former superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools, the 25th-largest district in the United States, pleaded guilty on Thursday to four counts of perjury related to payments totaling about $147,000 that he received for consulting and speaking engagements.
The state said the former superintendent, Shaun Dallas Dance (shown at right), had made false statements on his financial disclosure forms “to conceal the nature and extent of his outside business interests and conflicts of interest.” Among other sources of income, the state said, Mr. Dance received payments from a school leadership training company that he had helped win an $875,000 no-bid contract from his school district.
After his financial relationship with that school vendor became known, the state said, Mr. Dance falsely told a Baltimore County Public Schools ethics panel that he had not been paid by the company while it was doing business with the district. He also provided the ethics panel with what the state described as a “sham” service agreement with the company supporting his false claims.
Global News: U.S. War Against Syria?
Strategic Culture.org via SouthFront, Analysis: The US Ponders a Strike Against Syrian Government Forces: What’s Behind This Aggressive Approach? Peter Korzun, March 9, 2018. The US is considering the option of military action against Syria. The alleged use of chemical weapons (CW) by the Syrian government, which is not backed by any solid evidence, is to serve as the pretext. Syrian President Assad is going to be “punished.” On March 6, US President Trump and Israeli PM Netanyahu discussed the threat posed by Iran’s presence in Syria and ways to counter it.
Chemical weapons? But why should Syria’s President Assad use them if he has had no trouble winning with conventional weapons wherever he goes? Couldn’t the rebels be using CW? Instances of that have been uncovered and confirmed. But no, US officials don’t even bother to give a passing thought to such “unimportant and irrelevant” considerations.
Inventing a reason to use force against Syria is a way to fight Iran and roll Russia back. This is a very dangerous policy. As a result, Syria will become a battlefield where powerful actors clash in their pursuit of strategic goals. That will be much worse than fighting jihadists.
StoneZone, Roger Stone Says JFK Cover Continues, Roger Stone, March 9, 2018. Bestselling author and political operative Roger Stone told a conference of JFK researchers that “the cover-up continues, even today.” Stone (shown at right) referred to the recent National Archive release of long-held secret documents and records on the Kennedy assassination, the release of which was mandated by Congress in the 1992 JFK Records Act.
“Huge portions of the material that President Trump ordered released was unreasonably redacted or withheld by the Intelligence agencies,“ said Stone, making much of the material useless to reporters and researchers.
President Trump has ordered that redactions in the records he ordered released must regard someone who is still living. “Given the failure of the National Archives to justify their black out of so much material it is impossible to determine if the President’s orders are being countermanded by Deep State bureaucrats,“ said Stone.
Stone pointed out that the 1992 law which required the JFK documents be released also required the agency redacting records to justify their redactions in writing and that those explanations be published in the Federal Register. “The Government has not done so – the Deep State cover-up continues,” said Stone, author of “The Man Who Killed Kennedy- the Case Against LBJ” which makes a compelling case that Vice President Lyndon Johnson worked with the CIA, organized crime and Big Texas oil to orchestrate the Dallas, Texas murder of President John F. Kennedy.
Stone, the subject of a hit Netflix documentary “Get Me Roger Stone,” said he would contact Sen. Charles Grassley, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Rep. Walter Jones to seek enforcement of the requirement that the redactions in the recently release documents be explained.
MIT Study of Fake Twitter Messages
Science Magazine, Lies spread faster than the truth, Soroush Vosoughi, Deb Roy, Sinan Aral, March 9, 2018. ,There is worldwide concern over false news and the possibility that it can influence political, economic, and social well-being. To understand how false news spreads, Vosoughi et al. used a data set of rumor cascades on Twitter from 2006 to 2017. About 126,000 rumors were spread by ∼3 million people. False news reached more people than the truth; the top 1% of false news cascades diffused to between 1000 and 100,000 people, whereas the truth rarely diffused to more than 1000 people. Falsehood also diffused faster than the truth. The degree of novelty and the emotional reactions of recipients may be responsible for the differences observed.
Abstract: We investigated the differential diffusion of all of the verified true and false news stories distributed on Twitter from 2006 to 2017. The data comprise ~126,000 stories tweeted by ~3 million people more than 4.5 million times. We classified news as true or false using information from six independent fact-checking organizations that exhibited 95 to 98% agreement on the classifications.
Falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information, and the effects were more pronounced for false political news than for false news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends, or financial information. We found that false news was more novel than true news, which suggests that people were more likely to share novel information. Whereas false stories inspired fear, disgust, and surprise in replies, true stories inspired anticipation, sadness, joy, and trust. Contrary to conventional wisdom, robots accelerated the spread of true and false news at the same rate, implying that false news spreads more than the truth because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it.
Politics / Democratic Veracity?
Washington Post, Fact Checker: DNC vice chair Keith Ellison and Louis Farrakhan: ‘No relationship’? Glenn Kessler, March 9, 2018. The vice chair of the Democratic National Committee hasn’t told the full story about his interactions with Louis Farrakhan.
“We’re talking about something that happened in 1995. This was the year that the Million Man March took off. People were attacking the march at the time. . . . Man, I’m telling you back in 2006 and before, I disavowed them. That’s the ridiculous thing about this, that we keep on having to answer this kind of stuff.”
— Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), (shown at right) interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Dec. 14, 2016
“Ellison’s spokesperson noted to CNN that ‘President Obama, Stevie Wonder, Maya Angelou, and many others also attended the March’ and said he ‘had no additional involvement with March organizer Louis Farrakhan or his organizations, has long since denounced him, and rejects all forms of anti-Semitism.’”
— CNN news report, Dec. 1, 2016
Ellison, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee and one of two Muslim members of Congress, faced questions about his association with Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, when he sought the chairmanship of the DNC in 2017.
Ellison, who had defended Farrakhan against charges of anti-Semitism as a law student, publicly renounced the Nation of Islam in 2006 when he first ran for Congress, but the issue re-emerged after a CNN exploration about his decade-long involvement in the group.
New York Times, Opinion: The Stormy Daniels Scandal Gets Serious, Michelle Goldberg, March 9, 2018. In January we learned, thanks to The Wall Street Journal, that Michael Cohen, a lawyer for Donald Trump, arranged a $130,000 hush money payment to the pornographic film star known as Stormy Daniels in the closing days of the 2016 presidential campaign. The payment was to stop Daniels from speaking out about an alleged affair she’d had with Trump shortly after Melania Trump, his third wife, gave birth to their son, Barron.
As this drama unfolds, it’s becoming clear that, for all its sordid details, it isn’t really a sex scandal. It’s a campaign finance scandal, a transparency scandal and potentially part of an ongoing national security scandal. It’s salacious and absurd, but we should take it seriously. Trump’s team certainly seems to; Cohen recently obtained a temporary restraining order to silence Daniels.
Let’s start with the campaign finance piece. On Jan. 22, the nonpartisan government watchdog group Common Cause filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission and the Department of Justice claiming that the $130,000 payment to Daniels constituted an in-kind contribution to Trump’s presidential campaign, in violation of federal campaign law.
In response, Cohen claimed that the payment was a private transaction that he was able to “facilitate” with his own personal funds. (It was made through a limited liability company Cohen created called Essential Consultants.) “Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly,” Cohen said in a statement to The Times.
Paul Seamus Ryan, vice president for policy and litigation at Common Cause, told me that even if Cohen didn’t tell Trump what he did, Trump was still responsible, since “the actions of agents are attributable to their principals.” But the release of the NDA makes clear that Trump himself was a party to the agreement. If Trump authorized the $130,000 payment, it’s harder to explain away his campaign’s failure to disclose it, as required by law. The White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, all but confirmed Trump’s involvement on Wednesday, when she said that a recent arbitration proceeding — the one that resulted in the temporary restraining order — was “won in the president’s favor.”
Norman Eisen, the chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and Barack Obama’s former ethics czar, points out another potential violation on Trump’s part. He calls it the “Al Capone problem.” The Daniels NDA refers repeatedly to “property” that she agreed to turn over to Trump, including video images, still images, emails and text messages. Eisen argues that Trump was required to report ownership of this property, as well as any obligations he might have had to reimburse Cohen for the $130,000, in his federal financial disclosure forms.
“The asset here is this incredibly valuable agreement with Stormy,” Eisen told me. “Imagine what she could get if she has texts or images. Imagine the millions she could command! So there’s this incredibly valuable agreement, and the L.L.C., Essential Consultants, which Trump now appears to be a beneficiary of. That’s an asset.” But it’s an asset Trump didn’t reveal.
Washington Post, Trump to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Anna Fifield, March 8, 2008. President Trump accepted the offer from Kim and agreed to meet him “by May,” said South Korea’s national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, who delivered the invitation from North Korea to the White House. Kim also committed to stopping nuclear testing, Chung said. President Trump has agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for talks by May, an extraordinary development following months of heightened nuclear tension during which the two leaders exchanged frequent military threats and insults.
Kim has also committed to stopping nuclear and missile testing, even during joint military drills in South Korea next month, Chung Eui-yong, the South Korean national security adviser, told reporters at the White House on Thursday. Chung extended the invitation from Kim to meet while briefing Trump on the four-hour dinner he had with the North Korean leader in Pyongyang on Monday.
After a year in which North Korea fired intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching all of the United States and tested what is widely thought to have been a hydrogen bomb, such a moratorium would be welcomed by the United States and the world.
But there is also significant risk for Trump in agreeing to a meeting apparently without the kind of firm preconditions sought by previous U.S. administrations.
There has never been a face-to-face meeting, or even phone call, between sitting leaders of the two nations because American presidents have been wary of offering the Kim regime validation of a leaders-level summit on the global stage. Kim Jong-Un and Chung Eui Yong (Photo by Korean Central News Agency, March 5, 2018)
New York Times, Opinion: President Trump’s North Korea Gamble, Nicholas Kristoff, March 8, 2008. For many years, over several trips to North Korea, I’ve argued for direct talks between the United States and North Korea, and it’s certainly better to be engaging the North than bombing it. If the choice is talk versus missiles, I’ll go with the talk.
But the proper way to hold a summit is with careful preparation to make sure that the meeting advances peace — and certainly that it serves some purpose higher than simply legitimizing Kim’s regime. Kim and Trump are both showmen with a flair for the dramatic and unexpected. That would make a summit thrilling — but creates great risks if everything turns out wrong.
Washington Post, American allies see Trump’s tariffs on metals as an insult, Anna Fifield and Michael Birnbaum, March 8, 2008. Bewilderment, anger and frustration rippled across the capitals of countries that figured, no matter the bumps in relations with Washington, they would be on the same side against China in any trade dispute.
Washington Post, Mueller gathers evidence that 2017 meeting was effort to establish back channel to Kremlin, Sari Horwitz and Devlin Barrett, March 8, 2018 (print edition). A witness cooperating with the special counsel has said the meeting in Seychelles was set up so that a representative of the Trump transition team could meet with an emissary from Moscow to discuss U.S.-Russia relations — apparently contradicting statements made to lawmakers by one of its participants, people familiar with the matter said.
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III (right) has gathered evidence that a secret meeting in Seychelles just before the inauguration of Donald Trump was an effort to establish a back channel between the incoming administration and the Kremlin — apparently contradicting statements made to lawmakers by one of its participants, according to people familiar with the matter.
In January 2017, Erik Prince (shown in a file photo), the founder of the private security company Blackwater, met with a Russian official close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and later described the meeting to congressional investigators as a chance encounter that was not a planned discussion of U.S.-Russia relations.
A witness cooperating with Mueller has told investigators the meeting was set up in advance so that a representative of the Trump transition could meet with an emissary from Moscow to discuss future relations between the countries, according to the people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.
George Nader (shown at right), a Lebanese American businessman who helped organize and attended the Seychelles meeting, has testified on the matter before a grand jury gathering evidence about discussions between the Trump transition team and emissaries of the Kremlin, as part of Mueller’s investigation into Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 election.
See related story: The Intercept, George Nader, Cooperating Witness in Mueller Probe, Was Arrested for Child Pornography in the 1980s, Ryan Grim and Clayton Swisher, March 8, 2018. In July 1986, just ahead of a jury trial, the charges were dismissed, according a docket sheet from the U.S. District Court in Washington.(Amplified below and on special sections “Trump Probes” and “#MeToo” via buttons on JIP home page.
School Shootings Reaction
Washington Post, Bucking the NRA, Fla. lawmakers pass gun-control bill after Parkland shooting, Michael Scherer, March 8, 2018 (print edition). Approval of the bill, which would impose a waiting period for most purchases of long guns and raise the minimum age for purchasing those weapons to 21, signaled a major shift for a state known as a legal laboratory for gun rights activists.
Global News: Saudis
Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman (File photo)
Washington Post, Analysis: Saudi crown prince sees a new axis of ‘evil’ in the Middle East, Ishaan Tharoor, March 8, 2018. Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s comments about Iran, Turkey and Islamic extremist groups seemed to echo the notorious bluster of the George W. Bush administration.
Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), Beware of Saudis bearing mega-city projects, March 8, 2018. Saudi Arabia’s 32-year old Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is on a whirlwind tour of Egypt, Britain, and the United States. What he is selling is a Middle East that should worry everyone on the planet, but most of all, the Palestinian people.
Global News: Kurds, Turks, Syrians
Washington Post, Syrian rebels are using the Turkish offensive to take revenge against Kurds, Louisa Loveluck and Zakaria Zakaria, March 8, 2018 (print edition). Syrian rebels who have joined Turkey’s cross-border offensive against a Kurdish enclave say they see the assault as a way to settle personal scores, and reports are mounting of looting and summary executions carried out by the Syrian fighters.
Backed by Turkish troops and warplanes, thousands of Syrian rebels are now tightening their grip on the Kurdish-controlled Afrin enclave in northern Syria as part of an offensive that Turkey has framed as a matter of its national security.
Turkey has been fighting a decades-old war against Kurdish militants at home, who are closely allied with the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, just across the border in Afrin.
South Front, Syrian Army Liberates Key Town, Advances Further In East Ghouta, Staff report, Mach 8, 2018 (2:09 min, video). The Syrian Arab Army (SAA), the Tiger Forces and their allies liberated the town of Bayt Siwa, the Tank Base around Hawsh al-Ash’ari and imposed fire control over the town of Misraba in the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta on March 7.
Next day, the SAA advanced further on militant positions in Misraba, where clashes erupted. Pro-government rallies (circumstances of video not confirmed) were reported in the villages of Hammuuriyah and Kafr Batna. Locals are especially upset with a decision by militant groups to reject a Russian evacuation proposal for Eastern Ghouta.
Stormy Daniels Scandal Implications
Washington Post, Opinion: Stormy Daniels beat Trump at his own game, Eugene Robinson, March 8, 2008. The president who boasted of treating women like sex objects is being outplayed at his own tabloid-warfare game by a porn star. Maybe there’s justice in the world after all.
You might have missed it in the ceaseless fusillade of news, but on Wednesday the White House all but confirmed the story that actress and director Stormy Daniels is dying to tell: Shortly before the election she was paid $130,000 in hush money to keep quiet about an “intimate relationship” she had with Donald Trump in 2006, soon after Melania Trump gave birth to the couple’s son, Barron. They are shown together in a file photo.
New York Times, Stormy Daniels Suit Opens Door to More Trouble for Trump, Jim Rutenberg and Mike McIntire, March 8, 2008. The actress’s case, seeking to break an agreement to keep silent about an alleged affair with the president, could lead to his having to testify in a deposition.
#MeToo and Yale Rape Claim Acquittal
New York Times, Yale Student Is Found Not Guilty of Rape, Vivian Wang and Cheryl P. Weinstock, March 8, 2018 (print edition). Defense lawyers worked relentlessly to discredit the accuser’s account, resulting in a verdict that showed the divides in a national reckoning around sexual consent and assault.
A Yale student who had been suspended by the university was found not guilty on Wednesday of sexually assaulting a fellow student, in a rare college rape accusation to be tried in the courts. The verdict laid bare seemingly gaping divides in the national reckoning around sexual consent and assault.
Over several grueling days on the witness stand in a New Haven courtroom, the woman described what she said was her rape by the accused student, Saifullah Khan, 25, on Halloween night 2015. The testimony, in open court, offered a glimpse into the kinds of encounters that are more often described behind closed doors, to university panels or among friends.
Mr. Khan’s lawyers worked relentlessly to discredit the account of the woman, who was not identified by name in the arrest warrant application. They asked repeatedly how much she had to drink, and how she could claim not to remember certain details, such as how she arrived back at her dorm room, but remembered others, such as the alleged assault itself. They parsed her text messages with Mr. Khan, asking if she had not been flirting with him in the days before the incident. They showed off her Halloween costume, a black cat outfit, and asked her why she had not chosen a more modest one, such as “Cinderella in a long flowing gown.”
Laura Palumbo, a spokeswoman for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, called the defense’s line of questioning “all victims’ worst fears in coming forward.”
Media Criticism, Propaganda, Net Neutrality
Washington Post Op-Ed by Jessica Rosenworcel, illustated with photo of Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai
Moon of Alabama, Opinion: No, Russians Do Not Hack The FCC’s Public Comments, b, March 8, 2018. A [former] member of the Federal Communications Commission, Jessica Rosenworcel (right), wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post. It is unlikely that the headline was chosen by the author of the op-ed. The editors of the Washington Post opinion page wrote it. I also doubt that she would have chosen a picture of the FCC head to decorate her piece. For the record: The headline is false.
The op-ed is about a request for comments the Federal Communications Commission issued last year in preparation of its net-neutrality decision. Anyone, and anything, could comment multiple times. Various lobbying firms, political action groups and hacks abused the public comment system to send copy-paste comments via single-use email accounts or even without giving any email address.
Historical / Scientific News
Washington Post, Bones discovered on a Pacific island belong to Amelia Earhart, a new forensic analysis claims, Marwa Eltagouri, March 8, 2018 (print edition). Amelia Earhart’s story is revolutionary: She was the first woman to fly alone across the Atlantic Ocean, and might have been the first to fly around the world had her plane not vanished over the Pacific Ocean in 1937.
A new scientific study claims that bones found in 1940 on the Pacific Island of Nikumaroro belong to Earhart (shown above in a 1937 photo with her Lockheed plane four months before her Pacific flight), despite a forensic analysis of the remains conducted in 1941 that linked the bones to a man.
JFK Assassination Records Release Deadline
National Archives Building in Washington, DC
JFKFacts.org, Later this month, Trump will decide on release of 23,000 secret JFK files, Jefferson Morley, March 8, 2018. The final countdown for disclosure of the last of the U.S. government’s JFK assassination files begins next Monday with prospects for full disclosure, as mandated by law, still in doubt.
On March 12, the CIA, NSA, and FBI, and other federal agencies are due to submit to the National Archivist a list of any JFK assassination files they wish to keep fully or partially secret. Under the terms of an order issued by President Trump last fall, archivist David Ferreiro has two weeks to review the requests.
By March 26, Ferreiro, appointed by President Obama in 2009, must advise President Trump about “whether the specific information within particular records identified by agencies warrants continued withholding from public disclosure after April 26, 2018.”
Trump has tweeted that he hopes all JFK files will be made public, except for the names of living informants by April 26. The list of still-secret JFK files is not short. Tens of thousand of files have been released since last October, including more than 200 previously unknown files from the National Security Agency.
More on Mueller Probe
The Intercept, George Nader, Cooperating Witness in Mueller Probe, Was Arrested for Child Pornography in the 1980s, staff report, March 8, 2018. George Nader, reportedly a cooperating witness in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into collusion between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia, was arrested in 1985 on child pornography charges.
A frequent visitor to the Trump White House in 2017, Nader is the latest enigmatic character to saunter onto the stage as part of Mueller’s inquiry. A New York Times story last weekend said that Mueller was looking into whether Nader, a Lebanese-American with access to Persian Gulf elites, had helped funnel foreign money toward Trump’s campaign. On Tuesday, the paper said that Nader was cooperating with Mueller’s investigation.
The 1985 criminal case against Nader on child pornography charges was eventually dismissed, according to court documents obtained by The Intercept. The existence of the charges was first reported by The Atlantic.
“The court found that Mr. Nader’s constitutional rights had been flagrantly violated, and the case was thrown out in its entirety before trial,” a representative for Nader told The Intercept. “Mr. Nader vigorously denies the allegations now, as he did then.”
The 1985 criminal case against Nader on child pornography charges was eventually dismissed.
According to prosecutors, as relayed in the U.S. District Court judge’s ruling on a motion to suppress evidence in the case, Nader received a package that included both a film of young boys engaged in sexual acts and pictures depicting nude boys. Authorities conducted a search based on a warrant, and similar material was found in a room that Nader rented in a Washington home, according to the court documents. The evidence discovered in the home was ruled inadmissible when the warrant was challenged, but the material delivered in the original package was not ruled inadmissible at the time.
The Atlantic, An Operative With Trump Ties Was Once Indicted on an Obscenity Charge, Natasha Bertrand, March 8, 2018. George Nader was accused of importing photographs of nude boys “engaged in a variety of sexual acts.” The 1985 charges were dismissed after key evidence was thrown out.
A political operative who frequented the White House in the early days of President Trump’s administration, George Nader, was indicted in 1985 on charges of importing to the United States obscene material, including photos of nude boys “engaged in a variety of sexual acts,” according to publicly available court records. Nader pleaded not guilty, and the charges against him were ultimately dismissed several months after evidence seized from Nader’s home was thrown out on procedural grounds. “Mr. Nader vigorously denies the allegations now, as he did then,” a lawyer representing Nader said.
Nevertheless, the indictment raises questions about what the White House knew, if anything, about Nader’s past while senior officials were meeting with him. The Trump administration is already under fire for failures to vet members of the president’s inner circle.
Courts and Crime: Alabama
Al.com, Former Jefferson County DA Charles Todd Henderson sentenced for perjury conviction, Kent Faulk, March 8, 2018. Charles Todd Henderson, the man elected Jefferson County’s district attorney in 2016 but never served, was sentenced today to serve six months in jail for his conviction on a perjury charge.
Henderson (shown at right), who was found guilty by a jury of first degree perjury in October 2017, was sentenced by Chilton County Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds, who was specially appointed to preside over the case. The judge ordered Henderson to serve two-year split sentence, but suspended it with six months to serve in the county jail, followed by 12 months supervised probation. The judge also ordered Henderson to pay a $10,000 fine and another $1,000 to the state crime victims fund.
Henderson’s attorneys say he will appeal his conviction. But the judge ordered him to jail pending an order to allow him to post an appeal bond. As of 10 p.m. Thursday, Henderson was being held in the jail with no bail set.
Henderson was indicted on the perjury charge and suspended the week before he was to take office in early January 2017. The charge relates to his testimony in a divorce case in 2016 when he was questioned about his role as guardian ad litem and whether he had a romantic relationship with the mother in the case.
Joe Espy, one of Henderson’s attorneys, told the judge that the event that led to the charge is inconsistent with Henderson’s life. He worked his way through college and law school, was an Eagle Scout, he said.
Report: U.S. Troops ‘Prepared To Die For Israel’
Jerusalem Post, U.S. and IDF troops, in major joint drill, simulating battle on 3 fronts, Anna Ahronheim, March 8, 2018. Juniper Cobra, the largest joint US-Israeli air-defense exercise, is under way, with thousands of troops deployed across the country simulating scenarios where Israel faces missile barrages simultaneously on various fronts.
In the two years since the last Juniper Cobra exercise, Israel’s enemies have changed. And while 2017 was a relatively quiet year for Israel, the IDF’s Aerial Defense Division successfully intercepted drones in the North, as well as rockets fired from the Gaza Strip and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
The environment in which Israel find itself is “explosive,” said Brig.-Gen Zvika Haimovitch, head of the Aerial Defense Division, adding that “at the beginning of the next war the enemy will use more fire in the opening barrage.”
Some 2,000 IDF Aerial Defense troops will be participating alongside 2,500 US troops – some 1,400 Marines and 1,100 sailors – in the largest joint exercise with the US military’s European Command.
The Americans have also deployed the USS Iwo Jima and USS Mount Whitney as well as their Patriot missile-defense system, Aegis ballistic missile-defense system, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, TPY-2 radar system, communication systems, 25 aircraft and three hovercraft.
Over the course of the two-week-long exercise troops will practice challenging and complex scenarios adapted to Israel’s operational reality such as missile threats in various sectors simultaneously as well as the threat posed by precise missiles that Iran is trying to produce for Hezbollah.
Simulations during the exercise will include the use of the Arrow missile-defense system, the Iron Dome, the Patriot system and, for the first time, the David’s Sling system, which was declared operational in April 2017.
“Juniper Cobra 2018 is another step in improving the readiness of the IDF and the IAF in particular to enhance their operational capabilities in facing the threat posed by high-trajectory missiles,” Haimovitch said.
While “the exercise demonstrates the close and strategic cooperation between the IDF and the US armed forces,” Haimovitch continued, Israel has the capabilities to protect the country from threats posed by its enemies.
Nevertheless, “you want to have all the capabilities and the Americans bring additional strengths.”
According to Haimovitch, Israel’s Air Defense Division is “better equipped and better prepared” as opposed to the last Juniper Cobra, which took place in June 2016, as new missile defense systems have become operational, including David’s Sling and the Naval Iron Dome.
Millions of dollars have been spent on the exercise, with preparations for it beginning some 24 months ago. While the main Juniper Cobra drill will occur from March 4-15, additional joint exercises between Israeli and American troops will continue after the completion of the drill through the end of March.
“The United States and Israel enjoy a strong and enduring military-to-military partnership built on a trust that has been developed over decades of cooperation,” said USAF Third Air Force commander Lt.-Gen. Richard Clark, who also serves as the commander for the deploying Joint Task Force – Israel.
“The Juniper Cobra exercises continue to strengthen this relationship, providing us with the opportunity to bolster interoperability and develop seamless integration with our Israeli partners.”
According to Clark, the US and Israeli troops will work side-by-side under each other’s relevant chain of command.
“As far as decision-making, it is a partnership,” he continued, stressing nonetheless that “at the end of the day it is about the protection of Israel – and if there is a question in regards to how we will operate, the last vote will probably go to Zvika [Haimovitch]” (emphasis added).
Washington and Israel have signed an agreement which would see the US come to assist Israel with missile defense in times of war and, according to Haimovitch, “I am sure once the order comes we will find here US troops on the ground to be part of our deployment and team to defend the State of Israel.”
And those US troops who would be deployed to Israel, are prepared to die for the Jewish state, Clark said (emphasis added).
“We are ready to commit to the defense of Israel and anytime we get involved in a kinetic fight there is always the risk that there will be casualties. But we accept that – as every conflict we train for and enter, there is always that possibility,” he said.
Trump Tariff Chaos
Washington Post, Trump may exempt Canada and Mexico from steel and aluminum tariffs, David J. Lynch and Damian Paletta, March 7, 2018. The White House confirmed that President Trump (shown in an Apprentice publicity photo) plans to move forward with the new tariffs this week, despite objections by many economists, businesses and GOP lawmakers.
Washington Post, Carl Icahn denies he knew about steel tariff announcement before dumping stocks, Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Marwa Eltagouri, March 7, 2018. Billionaire activist-investor Carl Icahn (shown above in a file photo) said Wednesday that he knew nothing about President Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports before deciding to sell shares in a company that makes cranes for heavy construction.
“We don’t generally comment on rumors, but the recent media speculation regarding our sale of Manitowoc stock calls for a response,” Icahn, a former Trump adviser, said in a short statement on his website.
“We state for the record: Any suggestion that we had prior knowledge of the Trump administration’s announcement of new tariffs on steel imports is categorically untrue. We reduced our position in Manitowoc for legitimate investment reasons having nothing to do with that announcement.”
Trump’s tariff decision March 1 took many by surprise — particularly investors, with the Dow Jones industrial average closing the day’s trading down more than 400 points, or 1.7 percent, at 24,608.
Icahn dumped roughly a million shares tied to the steel industry a week before the president announced 25 percent tariffs for foreign-made steel.
Washington Post, Kurds pull back from ISIS fight in Syria, saying they feel let down by U.S., Liz Sly, March 7, 2018 (print edition). The forces cite the United States’ warming ties with Turkey in announcing the move, jeopardizing the fight against the militants.
U.S.-allied forces in eastern Syria said Tuesday that they are withdrawing from the front lines of the war against the Islamic State in order to battle the United States’ NATO ally Turkey elsewhere in the country, jeopardizing the fight against the militants.
Citing disappointment with the United States, the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said they were pulling fighters off the front lines in the province of Deir al-Zour, where Islamic State fighters have been putting up a fierce fight in a pocket of territory on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River. The holdouts there are thought to include some of the most senior leaders of the organization who escaped the cities of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria last year, U.S. officials say.
The move follows an effort by the Trump administration to assuage Turkish ire over the U.S. military’s close relationship with Syrian Kurdish forces.
Porn Star Sues Trump
Washington Post, Porn actress Stormy Daniels sues Trump, says hush agreement is null because he didn’t sign it, Beth Reinhard, Frances Stead Sellers and Emma Brown, March 7, 2018 (print edition). The lawsuit filed in Los Angeles alleges that President Trump, then the Republican presidential nominee, never approved a $130,000 settlement arranged by his personal attorney, making it invalid.
Stormy Daniels, the porn star who says she was paid to keep quiet about her alleged affair with Donald Trump, sued the president Tuesday, asking the court to declare that her nondisclosure agreement before the 2016 election is void because Trump did not sign it.
In the lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, Daniels — whose real name is Stephanie Clifford — said she had wanted to go public with the story of her alleged decade-old affair with Trump in the weeks leading up to the election. The lawsuit was first reported by NBC News.
Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen (shown in a file photo at Trump Tower), and Daniels’s attorney at the time, Keith Davidson, negotiated what the lawsuit calls a “hush agreement” in which she would be paid $130,000. After delays and even a cancellation of the contract by Daniels on Oct. 17, the payment arrived on Oct. 27, 12 days before the election, according to e-mails reviewed by The Washington Post. Cohen said recently that he had used his own money to “facilitate” the payment.
New York Times, Trump’s Lawyer Got Restraining Order to Silence Porn Star, Jim Rutenberg and Peter Baker, March 7, 2018. The order was obtained last week to keep the porn star quiet about her alleged affair with Mr. Trump. President Trump’s lawyer secretly obtained a temporary restraining order last week to prevent a pornographic film star from speaking out about her alleged affair with Mr. Trump (shown with her twelve years or so ago), according to legal documents and interviews.
The order, issued by an arbitrator in California and reviewed by The New York Times, pertained to the actress Stephanie Clifford, who had been paid $130,000 shortly before the 2016 election in what she calls a “hush agreement.” In recent weeks, she had prepared to speak publicly about Mr. Trump, claiming his lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, had broken the agreement.
The details of the order emerged on Wednesday after the White House’s spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said that Mr. Trump’s lawyer had won an arbitration proceeding against Ms. Clifford, who goes by the name of Stormy Daniels.
Ms. Sanders’s statement put the White House in the middle of a story that Mr. Trump and his lawyer had been trying to keep quiet for well over a year. The turn of events created the spectacle of a sitting president using legal maneuvers to avoid further scrutiny of salacious accusations of an affair and a payoff involving the porn star.
Inside Trump Town
ProPublica, Trump Town: Tracking White House Staffers, Cabinet Members and Political Appointees Across the Government, Derek Kravitz, Al Shaw and Claire Perlman, March 7, 2018. The Trump administration has appointed hundreds of staffers to powerful positions across the federal government. Some are old policy hands from conservative D.C. think tanks. Others have little-to-no government experience and come straight from the industries they are now tasked to regulate and oversee.
We’ve collected personnel records for thousands of these appointees. Use this database to search for them by name, former employer and agency. In This Database:
- 2,475 Appointees
- 187 Are Former Lobbyists
- 125 Worked at Conservative Think Tanks
- 254 Worked for Trump Campaign Groups
New York Times, How the Spoils Were Doled Out to Trump Campaign Workers and Allies, Eric Lipton and Danielle Ivory, March 7, 2018. Presidents have 4,000 federal jobs to fill. Mr. Trump has turned to campaign staff, lobbyists and conservatives, some lacking relevant experience, a ProPublica tally shows.
One appointee went from “battleground states” director for the Trump presidential campaign to a role at the State Department that sent him to South Africa to meet with health officials.
Another traded in her campaign experience as a field director in Virginia for a federal job promoting nuclear energy sales abroad.
And another, who spent four months on the campaign in New York after graduating from college, landed a job as an aide to the commerce secretary with a résumé that included work as a receptionist at an animal hospital and a summer job at a country club’s golf shop.
The three newly minted federal employees are among the nearly 260 or so former Trump campaign and inauguration workers who have gotten jobs reserved for political appointees in the administration, according to public records compiled by ProPublica and analyzed by The New York Times.
A database of the employees, assembled through hundreds of open records requests, has been posted online by ProPublica. It offers a comprehensive look at how Mr. Trump is influencing the direction of the federal government, beyond high-profile cabinet appointments and other Senate-confirmed posts, and how he has rewarded people who have been loyal to him or share his priorities.
In all, more than 2,475 political appointees have joined the federal government since President Trump took office, including at least 187 former lobbyists and also 125 people with ties to conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, the records show.
Korean Tensions Easing
Kim Jong-Un and Chung Eui Yong (Photo by Korean Central News Agency, March 5, 2018)
New York Times, Kim Jong-un, a Mystery to the World, Surprises in Diplomatic Debut, Choe Sang-Hun, March 7, 2018. When senior South Korean envoys sat down this week with North Korea’s reclusive leader, Kim Jong-un, they had a series of talking points in hand for a man whose diplomatic experience was limited to meetings with officials from China, Cuba and Syria.
It was a rare chance to make the case for nuclear disarmament directly to Mr. Kim, but it was also an unusual opportunity to size up a young dictator who has remained an enigma even as his weapons tests have terrified the world.
Even so, South Korean officials said, the envoys were not prepared for how “forthcoming and daring” Mr. Kim was over the course of more than four hours on Monday.Mr. Kim, who is just 34, surprised the much older South Korean diplomats not only by accepting joint South Korean-United States military drills but also by expressing his willingness to start negotiations with Washington on ending his nuclear weapons program. He also told them he would suspend all nuclear and ballistic missile tests while talks were underway.
Washington Post, Trump says North Korea is ‘sincere’ on reported offer to hold nuclear talks, Karen DeYoung and Anna Fifield, March 7, 2018 (print edition). Word of North Korea’s willingness to hold talks came from South Korean officials, returning from what they described as productive meetings in the North. The White House responded with cautious optimism Tuesday to North Korea’s reported proposal to hold “candid talks” with the United States and South Korea, and to put its nuclear weapons and missile testing programs on hold while engaged in dialogue.
New York Times, Analysis: On North Korea, Trump Is in Familiar Predicament, Mark Landler and David E. Sanger, March 7, 2018 (print edition). North Korea’s offer to put its nuclear weapons on the bargaining table opens the door to negotiations of unpredictable length and inevitable complexity, putting President Trump in the same position as his predecessors.
From the day he took office, President Trump has vowed not to repeat what he regarded as the cardinal error of his predecessors in dealing with North Korea. He would not get drawn into a lengthy negotiation in which the United States offers concessions that keep the North Korean regime alive, while the North Koreans retain the key elements of their nuclear arsenal.
High-Stakes Pentagon Contracting: Amazon.com As Favorite?
The Pentagon Against the Washington, DC skyline (U.S. Defense Department photo)
Washington Post, Pentagon kicks off a winner-take-all among tech companies for multibillion-dollar cloud-computing contract, Christian Davenport and Aaron Gregg, March 7, 2018. followed months of industry speculation that Amazon.com might have the inside track to the contract award.
After months of scrutiny, complaints and at least one legal action, a group of Pentagon leaders sought to assure the country’s top technology companies Wednesday that the competition to build an Internet cloud network for the Defense Department would be an open and fair competition.
Speaker after speaker in a packed hotel ballroom in Pentagon City stressed that the Defense Department needs to upgrade its often-antiquated technology as a matter of urgent national security, and they insisted the program had the attention of the agency’s top leaders.
“This is not another IT project,” Air Force Brig. Gen. David Krumm said during the meeting, known as an “industry day.” This is going to make a difference like few things have — to get data to our warfighters when and where he or she needs it.”
Given the high stakes, the Pentagon’s plans to pick a single winner have alarmed industry officials who fear the losers could be locked out of a multibillion-dollar program for a decade or more.
“The Pentagon would never limit the Air Force to flying only cargo planes for every mission,” said Sam Gordy, the general manager for IBM U.S. Federal. “Locking the entire U.S. military into a single, restrictive cloud environment would be equally flawed.”
In a statement, Microsoft expressed disappointment that the Pentagon would be pursuing “a single cloud solution.”
In a call with reporters after the meeting, Tim Van Name, the deputy director of the Defense Digital Service, said that having a single cloud provider is the best approach because having several “would exponentially increase the overall complexity.” With several providers, the Pentagon “would have to manage the seams between the applications,” making it riskier and more difficult to manage.
He vowed it would be an open and fair competition, despite some concerns in industry that Amazon’s web services unit, which holds a $600 million cloud contract from the Central Intelligence Agency, has an advantage: “We want the best solution for the department. We have no favorites.”
Michelle Obama and Parker Curry, 2, via Instagram
Washington Post, Michelle Obama meets the 2-year-old who was captivated by her portrait, Michael S. Rosenwald, March 7, 2018 (print edition). The Internet went crazy at the sight of the former first lady and Parker Curry, age 2, talking and dancing together.
New York Times, Analysis: An Important Voice for Free Trade Advocates Goes Silent, Peter Baker, March 7, 2018 (print edition). Gary D. Cohn (shown at right) is a Democrat, but his resignation as President Trump’s top economic aide underscores the divide between Mr. Trump and his fellow Republicans as he seeks new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Mr. Cohn’s departure deprives free trade proponents of perhaps their strongest voice inside the president’s inner circle.
Washington Post, Businessman with ties to United Arab Emirates is cooperating with Mueller probe, Devlin Barrett, Sari Horwitz and Rosalind S. Helderman, March 7, 2018 (print edition). Investigators are interested in the role that George Nader, a Lebanese American businessman, played in a January 2017 meeting in the Seychelles, and whether any foreign money aided the Trump campaign.
A Lebanese American businessman who has acted as an adviser to the United Arab Emirates has been cooperating with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, after he was hit with a subpoena upon arriving in the United States in mid-January, according to people familiar with the matter.
The businessman, George Nader (shown at right on a C-SPAN appearance), was served with a grand jury subpoena shortly after landing at Dulles International Airport, these people said. Investigators are interested in Nader’s role at a January 2017 meeting in the Seychelles between Erik Prince, a supporter of President Trump, and a Russian official close to President Vladimir Putin, according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.
Nader — and the Seychelles meeting — are of interest to Mueller’s team as it examines whether any foreign money or assistance fueled the Trump campaign, and how Trump officials during the transition and early days of the administration communicated with foreign officials. One person described Nader as an important witness in Mueller’s efforts — one who has spoken repeatedly to investigators since his arrival in the United States.
New York Times, Trump Spoke to Inquiry Witnesses, Ignoring Lawyers, Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman, March 7, 2018. President Trump asked key witnesses in the Russia inquiry about matters they discussed with the special counsel. Experts say the conversations likely do not constitute witness tampering. The special counsel in the Russia investigation has learned of two conversations in recent months in which President Trump asked key witnesses about matters they discussed with investigators, according to three people familiar with the encounters.
In one episode, the president told an aide that the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, should issue a statement denying a New York Times article in January. The article said Mr. McGahn told investigators that the president once asked him to fire the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. Mr. McGahn never released a statement and later had to remind the president that he had indeed asked Mr. McGahn to see that Mr. Mueller was dismissed, the people said.
In the other episode, Mr. Trump asked his former chief of staff, Reince Priebus (shown in a Gage Skidmore portrait), how his interview had gone with the special counsel’s investigators and whether they had been “nice,” according to two people familiar with the discussion.
The episodes demonstrate that even as the special counsel investigation appears to be intensifying, the president has ignored his lawyers’ advice to avoid doing anything publicly or privately that could create the appearance of interfering with it.
More GOP Sex Scandal
Pornographic actress Stormy Daniels alleges she had an affair with President Donald Trump during the months after first lady Melania Trump gave birth to their son, Barron Trump. The Trumps are shown in a White House photo during the Inaugural in 2017.
Roll Call, Stormy Daniels Lawsuit Raises Election Law Questions for Trump, Griffin Connolly, March 7, 2018. Democratic lawmakers have asked FBI to investigate payments from president’s lawyer to porn actress. As Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller (shown below left in a graphic adapted from a photo) continues to probe members of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for possible collusion with Russia, some lawmakers have raised ethical concerns over the president’s alleged preemptive coverup of an affair with porn actress Stormy Daniels.
Reps. Kathleen Rice of New York and Ted Lieu of California, both former prosecutors, have asked the FBI to investigate payments from Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, to Daniels, who filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the president in Los Angeles Superior Court. NBC News first reported the lawsuit.
Lieu and Rice believe the alleged “hush” agreement — which involved a $130,000 payment from Cohen to Daniels — violates federal election laws. “[The] hush agreement & side letter attached to Stormy Daniels’ filing essentially shows coordination between @realDonaldTrump, Cohen & Daniels,” Lieu tweeted Tuesday night. “That means the $130k payment from Cohen to Daniels to silence her during the campaign violated federal election law.” The penalty, he added, is a five-year felony sentencing.
In the lawsuit complaint filed Tuesday, Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, states that her nondisclosure agreement regarding her alleged 2006 affair with Trump is invalid because Trump never actually signed the document — only Cohen and Daniels did. According to the lawsuit, Daniels’ affair with Trump lasted “well into 2007.”
The suit alleges that Cohen has tried to intimidate Daniels into silence on the matter as recently as Feb. 27. “To be clear, the attempts to intimidate Ms. Clifford into silence and ‘shut her up’ in order to ‘protect Mr. Trump’ continue unabated,” the suit claims. “On or about February 27, 2018, Mr. Trump’s attorney Mr. Cohen surreptitiously initiated a bogus arbitration proceeding against Ms. Clifford in Los Angeles.” The suit also alleges Trump must be aware of Cohen’s attempts to silence Daniels since New York bar rules require Cohen to keep his client informed at all times.
The president has not publicly commented on the alleged affair, which is said to have occurred in the months after his third wife, Melania Trump, gave birth to their son Barron. White House spokesman Raj Shah told members of the press he had never asked the president about the alleged relationship, NBC reported. Cohen has acknowledged the payment, but has not publicly said what the payment was for. He has also said he paid out of his own pocket and was never reimbursed.
Legal Schnauzer, Analysis: Three Republicans deal with legal fallout of sex scandals in one 24-hour news cycle, giving new meaning to the term GOP (Gross Old Perverts), Roger Shuler, March 7, 2018. Republicans put on quite a display of their “family values” recently, according to an article at the Wayne Madsen Report (WMR). In one 24-hour news cycle, three Republicans were hit with legal issues connected to sexual misconduct. And that did not include another GOPer’s use of public funds to help pay for trysts with a prostitute — in one of our most conservative states. That missed the list only because it came just before the infamous news cycle.
Gee, imagine how bad it would be if conservatives weren’t so virtuous. Madsen dubbed them the GOP (Gross Old Perverts), and the phrase seems to fit. From the article at WMR:
“Within a 24-hour news cycle, three top Republican officials in three states were mired in legal trouble stemming from sex scandals. One, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens, was arrested. Rhode Island State Senator Nicholas Kettle (shown at right) resigned as he faced certain expulsion from the body. In Louisiana, Secretary of State Tom Schedler was accused of sexual harassment and stalking.”
As for the Gross Old Pervert who fell outside the news cycle, that would be Utah Rep. Jon Stanard (shown at left), who resigned his position on Feb. 6. From a Salt Lake City Tribune article on Feb. 8:
“A British newspaper reported Thursday that Rep. Jon Stanard, R-St. George, resigned abruptly Tuesday after he met a Salt Lake City call girl twice for sex, and it released racy texts that it says he sent to her.”
SouthFront, Syria’s Operation In Eastern Ghouta Does Not Contravene UN Resolution – Russian Diplomat, Staff report, March 7, 2018. Moscow does not see the Syrian army’s operation in Eastern Ghouta as a move running counter to the latest UN Security Council resolution on Syria, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova (shown in file photo) said on Wednesday.
She recalled that the Syrian army had launched a large-scale counterterrorism operation in Eastern Ghouta in response to daily artillery bombardments of the central districts of Damascus “with a view to eliminating he threat to local residents’ security emanating from there.” “Russia does not view Damascus’ counterterrorism operation as contravening the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 2401 passed recently and supports the fight against terrorists in Eastern Ghouta by the actions of its Aerospace Forces,” Zakharova stressed.
“Paragraph 2 of this resolution clearly states that the cessation of hostilities does not extend to military operations against ISIL (former name of the Islamic State terror group), Al Qaeda, Jabhat al-Nusra (these terrorist organizations are outlawed in Russia) and other terror groups labeled as such by the UN Security Council,” she noted. “Simultaneously, in coordination with the Syrian authorities, all possible measures ae taken to avoid casualties among civilians who are used by terrorists as a human shield.”
Militants continue to control 80 square kilometers in Eastern Ghouta or about one-third of this area located along the Damascus-Homs highway. On March 4, a spokesman for the Syrian armed forces told the SANA news agency that government troops continue military operations against terrorists during the breaks between the humanitarian pauses declared at Russia’s initiative. They are in effect from 09:00 (10:00 Moscow time) to 14:00 (15:00 Moscow time) local time. They are called to “facilitate civilians’ evacuation from the districts controlled by armed gangs,” he stressed.
On Sunday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told reporters in Damascus that “the Syrian army would pursue terrorists in Easten Ghouta but, at the same time, will observe the agreed humanitarian pauses for civilians’ evacuation.”
JFK Assassination Research
JFKFacts.org, Who you going to believe on JFK? Jefferson Morley (shown at right), March 7, 2018. On the perennial, perhaps boring, question of a JFK assassination conspiracy, the question may boil down to: who do you believe?
Fidel Castro, leader of Cuba in the 1960s, was a tireless Latin revolutionary. Charles de Gaulle, president of France, was a conservative continental statesman. They both came to the conclusion that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated by right-wing enemies within his own government.
To be sure, Castro (shown at left) and De Gaulle were themselves both targets of CIA-sponsored assassination attempts–or so they believed. Some say Castro and De Gaulle were “anti-American.” If so, they owed their long lives to prescience about the ways of the American power. Despite 638 documented assassination attempts, Castro died peacefully his bed
At the time of JFK’s assassination in 1963, Richard Helms (shown on a Time Magazine cover) was deputy director of the CIA. According to his biographer, he was the man who kept the secrets in Washington, Arlen Specter was a District Attorney from Philadelphia who became the senior senator from Pennsylvania.
Both Helms and Specter asserted, for the record and under oath, that Kennedy was killed by a lone gunman whose motives were unknown.
The Obvious Question: If you had to decide the JFK conspiracy question based solely on the judgement of these four men, who would you believe?
World Socialist Web Site, The CIA Democrats: Introduction, Patrick Martin, March 7, 2018 (Three parts). An extraordinary number of former intelligence and military operatives from the CIA, Pentagon, National Security Council and State Department are seeking nomination as Democratic candidates for Congress in the 2018 midterm elections.
The potential influx of military-intelligence personnel into the legislature has no precedent in US political history.
If the Democrats capture a majority in the House of Representatives on November 6, as widely predicted, candidates drawn from the military-intelligence apparatus will comprise as many as half of the new Democratic members of Congress. They will hold the balance of power in the lower chamber of Congress.
RollCall, Report: Trump Economic Adviser Gary Cohn to Resign, Staff report, March 6, 2018. President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser Gary Cohn (shown right) plans to resign, putting a fresh top on a growing list of high-profile White House departures. White House officials said there was no one factor behind Cohn’s departure, according to the New York Times, which first reported the news.
However, internal disagreement both in the administration and the Republican party over steel and aluminum tariffs became the subject of recent controversy. “Gary has been my chief economic adviser and did a superb job in driving our agenda, helping to deliver historic tax cuts and reforms and unleashing the American economy once again,” Mr. Trump said in a statement to the Times.
Flight From Disaster-Ridden Puerto Rico
Washington Post, Exodus from Puerto Rico grows as island struggles to recover from Hurricane Maria, Arelis R. Hernández, March 6, 2018. The savage storm devastated the U.S. territory five months ago, weakening the island’s already-faltering economy and accelerating a migration to the mainland that experts expect will surpass 200,000 residents this year.
More On Jobs, Tariffs, Trump Policy
New York Times, Trump ‘Not Backing Down’ on Tariffs as G.O.P. Pushes Back, Ana Swanson, Mark Landler and Maggie Haberman, March 6, 2018 (print edition). Republicans intensified pressure on President Trump to relent on his steel and aluminum tariffs, while the president indicated he might provide exemptions for certain countries.
Washington Post, How the Washington establishment is losing the battle over tariffs, Damian Paletta and Josh Dawsey, March 6, 2018. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis (shown at right) and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, along with House Speaker Paul Ryan and trusted Trump economics adviser Gary Cohn, all suddenly found themselves in a losing battle with a small posse of trade advisers who have nurtured President Trump’s long-running skepticism of foreign trade.
Palmer Report, Opinion: The real reason behind Gary Cohn’s resignation today paints a roadmap for Donald Trump’s demise, Bill Palmer, March 6, 2018. White House Chief Economic Adviser Gary Cohn has spent the better part of the past year attacking his boss Donald Trump in public and private, while repeatedly vowing to resign. Today, Cohn finally officially pulled the trigger.
As long as Cohn saw a chance to get in there and steer Trump toward helping out corporations and the wealthy at the expense of the working class, he was willing to hold his nose. Then Trump finally did something that might cost Cohn and his ilk some money, and Cohn drew the line. So did normally spineless Paul Ryan, who’s suddenly standing firm against Trump over tariffs.
New York Times, North Korea Is Open to Ending Nuclear Efforts, South Says, Choe Sang-Hun, March 6, 2018. North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un (shown in a file photo) has told South Korean envoys that his country is willing to begin negotiations with the United States on abandoning its nuclear weapons and to suspend all nuclear and missile tests during such talks. The two Koreas also agreed to hold a summit meeting between Mr. Kim and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea in late April.
New York Times, Trump’s Hopes to Be Neutral in Mideast Seem Long Gone, Peter Baker and David M. Halbfinger, March 6, 2018 (print edition). Hosting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, the president (shown above in a file photo with the visitor) said he still had “a good chance” of forging peace, but a deal seems further away than ever.
New York Times, Visiting U.S., Netanyahu Is Stalked by Troubles at Home, Israel Kershner, March 6, 2018 (print edition). A former top aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel turned state’s witness on Monday, the third close associate to agree to testify against him in a corruption scandal that threatens to end his career.
The deal came after days of feverish speculation in Israel that Mr. Netanyahu, beleaguered by police investigations and facing possible bribery charges, might call a snap election in hopes of a quick validation of public support.
School Shooting Aftermaths
WhoWhatWhy, What Gun Background Checks Can’t Detect: Stupidity, Milicent Cranor, March 6, 2018. While you are reading this, a baby boy may be replacing the pacifier in his mouth with the barrel of a gun someone left lying around and forgot about. Or, more typically, someone will be killed cleaning a loaded gun, or showing off a loaded gun to a friend.
If you go to the Gun Violence Archive section titled “Accidental Shootings,” you will see an impressive, ever-expanding list of people shot for nothing — every day. As of March 5, there have been 289 unintentional shootings this year. Not all resulted in death — but they easily could have. And think of all the accidents that weren’t reported because no one was hurt.
Every one of these accidents was infinitely preventable. According to a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Survey, 54 percent of gun owners do not lock up their guns or even use trigger locks — and in 34 percent of their homes, there were children under the age of 18.
Trump Cuts To Consumer Protections
Washington Post, Trump is systematically backing off consumer protections, to delight of corporations, Renae Merle and Tracy Jan, March 6, 2018. President Trump and the regulators he appointed are taking a far less aggressive approach to consumer protection than their predecessors, delaying key regulations and imposing fewer penalties against financial institutions and other corporations accused of wrongdoing, according to a Washington Post review of available data and interviews with consumer advocates and government officials.
At the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, for example, enforcement actions have dropped from an average of three-to-five each month during the past four years down to zero since a Trump appointee took charge of the agency in late November. The Labor Department has delayed full implementation of a rule requiring financial advisers to act in their clients’ best interest.
Another Trump Team Ethics Violation?
Roll Call, White House Denies Kellyanne Conway Violated Hatch Act, John T. Bennett, March 6, 2018. Trump aide accused of advocating for political candidates while on government business. The White House denies a special counsel’s finding that White House aide Kellyanne Conway (shown above in a file photo) violated the Hatch Act by advocating for political candidates while conducting official government business. The special counsel, Henry Kerner, told President Donald Trump in a letter that during television interviews late last year Conway “impermissibly mixed official government business with political views about candidates in the Alabama special election.”
Kerner pointed to interviews Conway did in November and December with CNN’s “New Day” and Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends” programs. The interviews came during a special election in the Yellowhammer State in which Democrat Doug Jones defeated controversial Republican Roy Moore. In one interview with the Fox show, Conway said of Jones: “He’ll be a vote against tax cuts. He’s weak on crime, weak on borders. He’s strong on raising your taxes. He’s terrible for property owners.”
The 1939 Hatch Act prohibits most executive branch employees — except the president, vice president and a handful of others — from conducting political business while in their official capacity. A report accompanying Kerner’s letter details several occasions on which the White House Counsel’s Office, either in group ethics training sessions or direct correspondence to Conway, spelled out what the Hatch Act prohibits.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley denied Conway did anything wrong, despite her own words in the Fox interview.
More on Trump Probes
Palmer Report, Opinion: Roger Stone gives away that he’s going to be arrested, Bill Palmer, March 6, 2018. One day after Sam Nunberg made a mess for himself and his friend Roger Stone by giving one unhinged television interview about the Trump-Russia scandal after another, Stone tried to step to the plate today to put the fire out. Instead he made things worse for himself. When Stone appeared on MSNBC today, he revealed that he hasn’t heard a peep from Mueller thus far. No subpoenas. No requests for interviews or testimony. Stone seems to think this means he’s in the clear. Based on Mueller’s patterns, it means the precise opposite.
New York Times, Can This Judge Solve the Opioid Crisis? Jan Hoffman, March 6, 2018. The Ohio federal judge overseeing hundreds of opioid lawsuits wants a swift settlement with solutions. But first he must tame skeptical legal lions.
Another Government Sex Scandal: Nashville
Daily Beast, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry Resigns Over Scandalous Affair With Ex-Bodyguard, Olivia Messer, March 6, 2018. The Democrat pleaded also pleaded guilty on Tuesday for felony theft over the misuse of city funds. Nashville Mayor Megan Barry’s soap opera-like affair with her former police bodyguard—marked by early-morning private cemetery trips and nude cellphone photos—on Tuesday culminated in a felony guilty plea and a resignation for the Democrat.
More #MeToo, Corruption Scandal
New York Times, Harvard Professor Resigns Amid Allegations of Sexual Harassment, Stephanie Saul, March 6, 2018. A prominent government professor at Harvard who has been accused of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior by as many as 18 women over several decades resigned on Tuesday following a decision by the university to place him on leave.
The professor, Jorge I. Domínguez, 72, was the subject of a Feb. 27 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that reported that at least 10 women had accused him of sexual harassment. A subsequent article, published on Sunday, reported that additional women — including Harvard professors, students and staff members — had come forward alleging inappropriate behavior by Dr. Domínguez, bringing the total to 18.
The reaction to disclosures about Dr. Domínguez — many just now coming to light despite occurring years ago — reflects a marked shift in the type of behavior tolerated in the workplace since the reports last year regarding inappropriate sexual behavior by high-profile men like Bill O’Reilly and Harvey Weinstein.
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, a first-term Republican, is shown meeting Vice President Mike Pence in a file photo
Legal Schnauzer, Already under indictment for felony charges related to a sex scandal, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens now faces questions about campaign-finance irregularities, Roger Shuler, March 6, 2018. Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, already under felony indictment for invasion of privacy related to an extramarital affair, now faces allegations of possible campaign-finance violations. Federal law prohibits use of nonprofits in political campaigns, but it appears Greitens might have violated that ban.
On top of that, St. Louis circuit attorney Kim Gardner has procured the services of Harvard law professor Ronald S. Sullivan to assist with the Greitens prosecution, and former FBI agent Anthony Box has been hired as chief investigator.
Reports in recent weeks indicate investigators are looking at more than just the Greitens sex scandal. A recent Associated Press report shows the probe extends to campaign-finance issues. From AP: Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (shown at right) used an email address for a veterans charity he founded to arrange political meetings as he prepared to launch his first bid for public office, despite a federal ban on nonprofits participating in political campaigns, according to records obtained by The Associated Press.
Greitens, who was on the board of directors of The Mission Continues at the time, sent meeting invitations from the charity’s email address to three political consultants. He asked them to join him for a series of meetings over two days in January 2015 with more than a dozen state lawmakers, a lobbyist and an anti-abortion activist, according to copies of the emails obtained by the AP.
Media Criticism: The New Yorker
Moon of Alabama, The New Yorker Attempts But Fails To Boost The Steele Dossier, b, March 6, 2018. Yesterday The New Yorker published a 15,000- word piece about Christopher Steele, the former British spook who created the “dossier” about alleged Russian interference with Trump. Written by Jane Mayer (shown above in a file shot) the piece is designed to let Steele shine in the very best light. A civil servant who only followed his conscience when he peddled his made-up dirt to the FBI, the media and Congress.
That a private investigator, highly paid by the Clinton campaign to find dirt about Trump, was acting out of decency, would be unbelievable in the best case. But the piece is way worse. There are at least six factual errors in it which anyone who has followed the affair can easily detect. Some new allegations in the piece are so thinly sourced that any decent editor would have thrown them out.
New JFK Assassination Tape
JFK Facts.org, Spy vs. Spy: Soviet defector Yuri Nosenko confronted CIA accuser James Angleton, Jefferson Morley (shown at right), March 6, 2018. A new JFK assassination tape found among the new JFK files in the the National Archives yields the previously unknown coda of one of the most famous espionage controversies of the 20th century.
Yuri Nosenko (shown at left), a KGB officer accused of being a Soviet mole by CIA counterintelligence chief James Angleton, confronted his accuser after being exonerated by the CIA. Angleton told the story to congressional investigators in June 1978. A researcher found the tape in the National Archives and shared it with JFK Facts, which published a transcript for the first time.
Commentary On Hollywood Awards
Fort Russ, Opinion: The Oscars are propaganda for globalism and imperialism, Paul Antonopoulos, March 6, 2018. What counts is the offer of more “representativeness” and “empowerment” of “minorities,” the defense of “diversity” and anything other than rewarding quality: everything under the Oscars is “too white,” “too masculine,” or “too much hetero.” It would be a waste of time to cite specific cases, but we can say that the last Oscars was the most politically propagandistic of all.
Washington Post, Former Trump aide Sam Nunberg called before grand jury, says he will refuse to go, Josh Dawsey, March 5, 2018. In an interview with The Washington Post, Nunberg said he was asked to come to Washington to appear before the grand jury on Friday. The subpoena includes requests for a wide range of documents related to President Trump and his associates.
“Let him arrest me,” Nunberg told The Washington Post in his first stop on a media blitz, saying he does not plan to comply with a subpoena from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to hand over emails and other documents related to President Trump and nine current and former Trump advisers.
“Mr. Mueller should understand I am not going in on Friday” to the grand jury, he added. It is unclear what actions Mueller might take if Nunberg does not appear.
In a remarkable act of rebellion, Nunberg seized the national media spotlight for much of Monday afternoon to denounce Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt” and to detail what he said he had learned about the probe from his private interview last month with Mueller’s team. He at times sounded nervous and self-doubting, openly questioning his legal fate. Update: A day later, the witness said he would testify on Friday.
Washington Post, Analysis: Mueller is casting a wide net. We now know the target is Trump, Greg Sargent, March 5, 2018. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is now directly gunning for President Trump — and not just on one front. It appears that Mueller is investigating whether Trump himself committed misconduct or possible criminality on two fronts, and possibly more.
NBC News is now reporting that Mueller (shown in a file photo) has sent a subpoena to an unnamed witness that appears to hint at just how wide a net Mueller has cast. NBC reports that the subpoena suggests Mueller is focused, among other things, on determining what Trump himself knew about Russian sabotage of the 2016 election as it was happening.
The subpoena demands a range of documents that involve Trump himself, in addition to nine of his top campaign advisers and associates. The documents solicited include emails, text messages, work papers and telephone logs dating back to November 2015, about four months after Trump declared his presidential candidacy.
This builds on NBC’s previous report that Mueller’s investigators are asking witnesses questions that indicate that Mueller is examining whether Trump knew Democratic emails had been hacked before that became public, and whether he was somehow involved in their “strategic release.”
Wall Street Journal, Trump Lawyer’s Payment to Stormy Daniels Was Reported as Suspicious by Bank, Joe Palazzolo and Michael Rothfeld, March 5, 2018. The bank used by President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer to wire $130,000 to a former adult-film actress (shown above) flagged the transaction as suspicious and reported it to the Treasury Department, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The lawyer, Michael Cohen (shown in a file photo), wired the money to a lawyer for former actress Stephanie Clifford, known professionaly as Stormy Daniels, form an an account at First Republic Bank.
Palmer Report, Opinion: Robert Mueller just officially dragged nearly every big name into the Trump-Russia scandal, Bill Palmer, March 5, 2018. Thus far we’ve seen Special Counsel Robert Mueller focus on certain individuals in the Trump-Russia scandal in a manner that’s spilled over into clear public view: Paul Manafort (shown in a screenshot). Rick Gates. George Papadopoulos. Michael Flynn. We’ve also long been seeing scattered media reports that he’s focusing on various other players. But now suddenly just about everyone has officially been dragged into the scandal, thanks to a flurry of grand jury subpoenas.
Multiple media outlets including Axios and NBC News have obtained copies of a grand jury subpoena that was recently sent to an unnamed witness in the Trump-Russia scandal. That subpoena demands access to all conversations between that witness and a whole lot of key players in the scandal.
Is Mueller targeting these people because they’re criminal suspects, or because they’re uncooperative witnesses? That remains to be seen. But everyone on the list should have trouble sleeping tonight, and for that matter, so should everyone else involved with the scandal.
The list itself is remarkable: Steve Bannon. Michael Cohen. Rick Gates. Hope Hicks and Corey Lewandowski (shown together in a file photo). Paul Manafort. Carter Page. Keith Schiller. Roger Stone. And some guy named Donald Trump. Imagine learning that Mueller is so focused on your role in the Trump-Russia scandal, that he’s subpoenaing other people simply because you talked to them.
New Yorker, Christopher Steele, the Man Behind the Trump Dossier: How the ex-spy tried to warn the world about Trump’s ties to Russia, Jane Mayer, March 5, 2018 (March 12 print edition). Steele (shown at right in a file photo) told friends that Trump supporters were using him as a “battering ram” to “take down the whole intelligence community.”
In January, after a long day at his London office, Christopher Steele, the former spy turned private investigator, was stepping off a commuter train in Farnham, where he lives, when one of his two phones rang. A friend in Washington, D.C., was calling with bad news: two Republican senators, Lindsey Graham (shown below at left) and Charles Grassley, had just referred Steele’s name to the Department of Justice, for a possible criminal investigation. They were accusing Steele — the author of a secret dossier that helped trigger the current federal investigation into President Donald Trump’s possible ties to Russia — of having lied to the very F.B.I. officers he’d alerted about his findings.
The details of the criminal referral were classified, so Steele could not know the nature of the allegations, let alone rebut them, but they had something to do with his having misled the Bureau about contacts that he’d had with the press. For nearly thirty years, Steele had worked as a close ally of the United States, and he couldn’t imagine why anyone would believe that he had been deceptive. But lying to an F.B.I. officer is a felony, an offense that can be punished by up to five years in prison.
The accusations would only increase doubts about Steele’s reputation that had clung to him since BuzzFeed published the dossier, in January, 2017. The dossier painted a damning picture of collusion between Trump and Russia, suggesting that his campaign had “accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals.”
It also alleged that Russian officials had been “cultivating” Trump as an asset for five years, and had obtained leverage over him, in part by recording videos of him while he engaged in compromising sexual acts, including consorting with Moscow prostitutes who, at his request, urinated on a bed.
Pro Publica, ‘Trump, Inc.’ Podcast Extra: The Trump Organization Ordered Golf Course Markers With the Presidential Seal. That May Be Illegal, Katherine Sullivan, March 5, 2018. The president’s company has ordered a set of presidential seal replicas for its golf course tee markers, raising more ethics questions. Under federal law, the seal’s use is permitted only for official government business. Misuse can be a crime.
Banks, Jobs, Trade
Washington Post, Ryan splits with Trump on trade as GOP lawmakers move to block tariffs, Erica Werner, Damian Paletta and David J. Lynch, March 5, 2018. Congressional Republicans say President Trump’s planned tariffs on steel and aluminum imports run counter to the core of their economic agenda and could cause political problems heading into the 2018 midterms.
Congressional Republicans are maneuvering to stop President Trump from levying harsh tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, arguing that the move runs counter to the core of their economic agenda and could even cause political problems heading into the 2018 midterms.
“We are extremely worried about the consequences of a trade war and are urging the White House to not advance with this plan,” AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis., shown above right), said in a statement Monday. “The new tax reform law has boosted the economy and we certainly don’t want to jeopardize those gains.”
Members of the House Ways and Means Committee were also circulating a letter criticizing the tariffs, while high-ranking Senate Republicans voiced their own opposition. “My constituents are worried about the cost of their beer cans. It’s a concern,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.). “The price of cars. A tariff obviously is going to get passed on to the consumer eventually in the price of goods and that ought to be everybody’s concern.”
Washington Post, 10 years after financial crisis, Senate prepares to roll back banking rules, Erica Werner and Damian Paletta, March 5, 2018 (print edition). The Senate is preparing to scale back the sweeping banking regulations passed after the 2008 financial crisis, with more than a dozen Democrats ready to give Republicans the votes they need to weaken one of President Barack Obama’s largest legislative achievements.
Congress’s appetite for pulling back bank regulations shows the renewed clout of the financial sector in Washington, not just in the GOP but also among Democrats. Eight years after nearly every Senate Democrat backed a sweeping set of new rules for financial firms large and small, the party is now split, with moderates, several of them facing tough midterm election contests, working with the opposing party.
Washington Post, Trump says Canada and Mexico will only escape new tariffs if they make NAFTA concessions, Damian Paletta, March 5, 2018. President Trump on Monday further expanded his personal trade war, telling Canada and Mexico that he would consider lifting possible tariffs on steel and aluminum only if they concede to White House demands for renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Like almost every broadside over trade war so far, his latest message was sent in a Twitter post with little explanation. He also demanded that Mexico do more to prevent drugs from entering the United States as one of the conditions for lifting upcoming steel and aluminum tariffs announced last week.
The measures are expected to hit Canada particularly hard. It is the top exporter to U.S. markets of both steel and aluminum. Canada is also the biggest importer of U.S. steel and aluminum. The three NAFTA partners — Canada, Mexico and the United States — have been locked in talks aimed at possibly revamping the trade deal, but no clear framework has emerged. The latest round of negotiations is expected to wrap up Monday in Mexico City.
New York Times, Brain Surgery No Match for Reign at HUD, Carson Says, Glenn Thrush, March 5, 2018. Ben Carson (shown at right) has been whipsawed by a job he has found puzzling, with his goals undermined by his indecisiveness, his staffing mistakes and a president indifferent to his department’s mission.
Trump Business In Panama
Washington Post, The Trump Panama hotel showdown may have just ended, with the ouster of the Trump Organization, Ana Currud and David A. Fahrenthold, March 5, 2018. The apparent end of the Trump-branded hotel illustrated how — in some areas — Trump’s divisive presidency appears to have damaged the fortunes of his businesses.
Global News: Italy, Nigeria
New York Times, Election in Italy Gives Big Lift to Far Right and Populists, Jason Horowitz, March 5, 2018 (print edition). The most likely result of the election, which had no outright winner but handed a majority of votes to hard-right and populist forces, will be a government in Italy that is significantly less invested in the project of a united Europe.
New York Times, 4 Takeaways From a ‘Throw the Bums Out’ Italian Election, Steven Erlanger, March 5, 2018. In Italy’s first national vote in five years, much of the country’s political landscape was overturned. Here’s why.
New York Times, In Nigeria, Pressure Mounts on President to Bow Out of Race, Donne Searcey and Taony Iyare, March 5, 2018 (print edition). Nigeria’s presidential election is next year but already calls are out for President Buhari to stand down from a second term
Washington Post, With Trump now a candidate, further restrictions on political activities apply to federal employees, Eric Yoder, March 5, 2018. While on duty or in the workplace, federal employees are now forbidden from such activities as using particular hashtags on social media or displaying non-official pictures of the president.
Washington Post, Sen. Cochran (R-Miss.) to resign after 4 decades in Congress, vacating post as appropriations chair, Sean Sullivan and Paul Kane, March 5, 2018. Thad Cochran (shown at right) said he will resign when the spending-bill process is completed, saying his health “has become an ongoing challenge.”
The 80-year-old was elected to the Senate in 1978, the first Republican in more than 100 years to win a statewide election in Mississippi. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) will resign from the Senate on April 1, he announced Monday, ending a four-decade congressional career and triggering a fall election that could carve new divisions in the Republican Party and put the GOP Senate majority at greater risk.
Cochran, 80, has been suffering from health problems in recent months. He missed several weeks in the Senate last fall while recuperating from a urinary tract infection. He has appeared frail since his return and has been keeping a low public profile.
“I regret my health has become an ongoing challenge,” Cochran said in a statement. “I intend to fulfill my responsibilities and commitments to the people of Mississippi and the Senate through the completion of the 2018 appropriations cycle, after which I will formally retire from the U.S. Senate.”
First elected to the Senate in 1978 after a stint in the House, Cochran is one of the longest-serving members of Congress in history.
New York Times, Here Come the Fake Videos, Too, Kevin Roose, March 5, 2018 (print edition). Artificial intelligence video tools make it relatively easy to put one person’s face on another person’s body with few traces of manipulation. I tried it on myself. What could go wrong?
In the room was Michelle Obama, or someone who looked exactly like her. Wearing a low-cut top with a black bra visible underneath, she writhed lustily for the camera and flashed her unmistakable smile.
Then, the former first lady’s doppelgänger began to strip.
The video, which appeared on the online forum Reddit, was what’s known as a “deepfake” — an ultrarealistic fake video made with artificial intelligence software. It was created using a program called FakeApp, which superimposed Mrs. Obama’s face onto the body of a pornographic film actress. The hybrid was uncanny — if you didn’t know better, you might have thought it was really her.
Until recently, realistic computer-generated video was a laborious pursuit available only to big-budget Hollywood productions or cutting-edge researchers. Social media apps like Snapchat include some rudimentary face-morphing technology.
War In Syria — And By Words
Battle map of Syria’s historic section of East Gouta as of March 5, with rebel-held areas in green and a dotted line marking recent government gains. Just 3.5 kilometers separated government forces advancing from the east in dividing the pocket into two. Syrian auhorities say terrorists, led by an al Qaeda affiliate, are holding civilians as human shields, preventing escape during five-hour time slots and corridors. Western officials, including the Trump White House, have denounced as inhumane the rapid government advance over areas held more than five years by rebels who bomb the country’s capital city of Damascus (Map by PetoLucem via South Front).
SouthFront, Government Forces Liberate Rayhan From Militants In Eastern Ghouta, Staff report, March 5, 2018. Following previous advanced in Eastern Ghouta, Syrian government forces have continued developing momentum in the eastern part of the militant-held pocket, liberated the village of Rayhan and entered the village of Muhammadiyah.
An intense fighting is now also ongoing in the vicinity of Beit Sawa and Mersaba. The advance followed an end of daily humanitarian pause in the area, which had been set to allow civilians to leave the combat area. However, Ahrar al-Sham, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra), Jaish al-Islam and Faylaq al-Rahman prevented a major part of the civilians attempting to leave from evacuating the area.
The Syrian Red Crescent said 46 truckloads of food parcels were delivered to 27,500 people, along with health items for more than 70,000 people in the town of Douma (Red Crescent photo via Twitter and BBC).
BBC, Syria war: Aid reaches Eastern Ghouta despite air strikes, Staff report, March 5, 2018. An aid convoy with urgently needed supplies has reached the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area of Syria, for the first time since mid-February. Shelling and gunfire were heard despite a supposed five-hour truce. At least 719 people have been killed in recent weeks, many of them children.
SouthFront, Washington Is Concerned About ‘Ceasefire’ In Eastern Ghouta As Terrorists’ Defense Collapses There, Staff report, March 5, 2018. As the terrorists’ defense collapses in the Syrian region of Eastern Ghouta, Washington has increased its diplomatic acivity blaiming and shaming the Syrian-Iranian-Russian alliance for combating terrorist groups [Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra), Ahrar al-Sham and others] in the area.
White House Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on March 4 that Moscow had ingored the terms of the UN resolution on a ceasefire in Syria causing deaths among civilians in Eastern Ghouta. However, Sanders forgot to mention that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and other militant groups linked to it and cooperating with it closely are exlcuded from the terms of the ceasefire.
Leonid Slutsky, a chairman of the Russian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said that Sanders’ statement “is another unproven lie not backed by any facts.”
Honduran Assassination Scandal
WhoWhatWhy, CEO Behind Murder of Environmental Activist Arrested, Oliver Crook, March 5, 2018. When masked gunmen killed renowned Honduran environmentalist Berta Cáceres in her home two years ago, many believed the murder was connected to her protests against the construction of a dam on a river sacred to an indigenous tribe.
The arrest last week of Roberto David Castillo was a major break in the investigation of the crime. At the time of the murder, Castillo was the CEO of Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA), the construction company that initiated the dam project.
Castillo was arrested at the airport as he attempted to leave the country. He is the ninth person to be charged in connection with the murder — the others are already serving varying sentences — and his arrest suggests that the order for the killing came from the very top.
Washington Post, ‘Pure madness’: Dark days inside the White House as Trump shocks and rages, Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey, March 4, 2018 (print edition). Aides in the White House over the past week have described an air of anxiety and volatility — with an uncontrollable commander in chief at its center. Some worry just how much deeper President Trump (shown above in a White House photo with a MAGA hat) and his administration may plunge into unrest and malaise before they start to recover. As one official put it: “We haven’t bottomed out.”
Washington Post, In his expanding war over global trade, Trump aims harsh rhetoric at close U.S. allies, Steven Mufson and Damian Paletta, March 4, 2018 (print edition). On Twitter, he vowed to strike back at European leaders who said they would retaliate for his promised tariffs on aluminum and steel. The country that escaped Trump’s tweeting ire was China, the very nation the president has wanted to hit hardest.
Probe Of White House Broadens
New York Times, Mueller Signals Wider Inquiry With Focus on U.A.E. Adviser, Mark Mazzetti, David D. Kirkpatrick and Maggie Haberman, March 4, 2018 (print edition). March 4, 2018 (print edition). Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, has asked about the role of the adviser, George Nader, in White House policymaking. The focus on Mr. Nader could also prompt an examination of how money from multiple countries has flowed through and influenced Washington during the Trump era.
George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman, has hovered on the fringes of international diplomacy for three decades. He was a back-channel negotiator with Syria during the Clinton administration, reinvented himself as an adviser to the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, and last year was a frequent visitor to President Trump’s White House.
Mr. Nader is now a focus of the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel. In recent weeks, Mr. Mueller’s investigators have questioned Mr. Nader and have pressed witnesses for information about any possible attempts by the Emiratis to buy political influence by directing money to support Mr. Trump during the presidential campaign, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.
The investigators have also asked about Mr. Nader’s role in White House policymaking, those people said, suggesting that the special counsel investigation has broadened beyond Russian election meddling to include Emirati influence on the Trump administration. The focus on Mr. Nader could also prompt an examination of how money from multiple countries has flowed through and influenced Washington during the Trump era.
School Shooting Aftermaths
Washington Post, Inside the mind of an alleged school shooter: A plot to kill ‘50 or 60,’ John Woodrow Cox, March 4, 2018 (print edition). Jesse Osborne, accused of opening fire on a South Carolina school playground in 2016 and killing a 6-year-old, detailed his motives in dozens of online messages, in his 46-page confession and in interviews with doctors. He had been researching other school shooters and, determined to outdo them, learned exactly how many people they’d murdered.
Washington Post, Fla. Senate rejects assault weapons ban, then holds moment of silence for shooting victims, Katie Zezima, March 4, 2018 (print edition). The Florida Senate on Saturday voted down a bill to ban assault weapons, then immediately pivoted to a moment of silence for victims of the shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school last month.
Many student survivors of the Valentine’s Day shooting that left 17 people dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School flocked to the State House in the days after the attack to lobby legislators to ban assault weapons and take other measures on gun control.
The bill to ban assault weapons, including the AR-15 used in the school shooting, failed by a 20-to-17 vote. After the vote, Senate President Joe Negron (R) asked senators to take their seats. He said that by the proclamation of Gov. Rick Scott (R), shown at right, there would be a moment of “silence and reflection” for the Parkland victims.
Daily Mail Online, Political science professor, 58, shoots his two sons dead and turns the gun on himself, Staff and wire reports, March 4, 2018. Bodies are discovered in family’s Illinois home after cops received welfare request from estranged wife.
According to property tax records, the home is owned by renowned political science professor P.S. Ruckman Jr. Police arrived to the home at around 7.10am Saturday morning to perform a welfare check. Upon entering the premises, authorities said that they found the man and two boys in separate bedrooms with gunshot wounds. Professor at Rock Valley College and an instructor at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, P.S. Ruckman is an expert on presidential pardons.
Fort Russ, Did terrorists really think a simple trench could stop the advancing Syrian Army in East Ghouta? Paul Antonopoulos, March 2, 2018. It appears that terrorist forces in East Ghouta, to the east of Damascus city center, thought that a simple water-filled trench, effectively a moat, could stop the advancement of the Syrian Army. Terrorist forces had years to prepare their defenses in East Ghouta, and some of the most commonly found defense infrastructure and the constructed trenches.
Panama Dispute Over Trump Hotel
New York Times, Thugs, Leeches and Shouting at Trump Hotel in Panama, Kirk Sempple, Ben Protess and Steve Eder, March 4, 2018 (print edition). The new owner of the Trump International Hotel in Panama City wants the Trump brand gone. The president’s family business refuses. The standoff has not been pretty.
New York Times, Opinion: Donald Trump Sure Has a Problem With Democracy, Editorial board, March 4, 2018. The president’s praise of Xi Jinping’s authoritarian rule goes against basic American principles.
Investigative reporter and political commentator Wayne Madsen responds on Twitter to President Trump’s self-congratulatory Tweet following the annual Gridiron Club dinner with elite journalists in Washington, DC. Madsen’s Tweet showed a federal prison located in North Carolina
New York Times, Around the World, Threats of Retaliation Against U.S. Exorts, Ana Swanson, March 3, 2018 (print edition). Be it Europe, Canada or Asia, other countries said they would respond to Mr. Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs with restrictions of their own. A day after President Trump took a swing at United States trading partners by threatening stiff and sweeping tariffs on steel and aluminum, they hit back. They promised to retaliate against quintessential American goods like Kentucky bourbon, bluejeans and Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
That is likely to turn into a wave of protest aimed at American products as other countries, including traditional allies, respond to Mr. Trump’s plan to clamp down on imports of metals from overseas.
Canada, China and the European Union have already said they would respond with tariffs of their own that could lead to billions of dollars in American export losses. Those levies would harm the farmers and business interests that the Trump administration has promised to protect and would fuel a trade fight that could undermine the president’s goal of strengthening American industry.
Li Xinchuang, the vice chairman of the China Iron and Steel Association, called the president’s move “stupid,” saying, “Trump’s decision does no good to everyone except a few American steel enterprises.”
Washington Post, Days before the election, Stormy Daniels threatened to cancel deal to keep alleged affair with Trump secret, Beth Reinhard, Frances Stead Sellers and Emma Brown, March 3, 2018 (print edition). The account of how the agreement came together — and how it briefly fell apart — adds a dimension of brinkmanship to the public understanding of the transaction.
Washington Post, ‘I don’t envy them’: Hope Hicks and other White House women struggle to defend Trump in the #MeToo era, David Nakamura, March 3, 2018 (print edition). President Trump’s team of White House defenders is a nearly all-female lineup that to a degree has helped inoculate him by their gender from criticism amid the national conversation over the #MeToo movement.
While the public reckoning over sexual harassment and assault swiftly knocked out captains of industry, media stars, Hollywood moguls and politicians, Trump has survived. Now one of those defenders is leaving — communications director Hope Hicks, the loyal, mostly silent one. Among those left are his daughter Ivanka Trump, senior adviser Kellyanne Conway and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Women in such those rightly or wrongly can defuse the criticism aimed at Trump, who has been accused by 19 women of sexual misconduct.
Media: Start-up To Report On ‘Fake News’
Washington Post, A journalistic fix for fake news? A new venture seeks to take on the epidemic, Paul Farhi, March 3, 2018. Media entrepreneur Steven Brill thinks there’s something missing from all the efforts to separate fake news from the real kind: Some smart and discerning humans. Faced with the waves of mis- and disinformation lapping up on social media, Brill is proposing to apply some reader-beware labels to Internet news sources. His idea: ratings, as determined by teams of independent journalists, that would enable readers to understand where their news — or “news” — is coming from.
Brill, a veteran journalist and founder of American Lawyer, Court TV and the late Brill’s Content magazine, has turned the idea into a fledgling company. NewsGuard is backed by about $6 million in venture funds from the likes of Publicis Groupe, a multinational ad agency, and the Knight Foundation, which has launched many journalism initiatives.
As Brill and his business partner, former Wall Street Journal publisher and columnist Gordon Crovitz, describe it, the New York-based company aims to assign a “reliability” rating — green for generally trustworthy, yellow for consistently biased or inaccurate, or red for deliberately deceptive — to some 7,500 sources of online news, based on an assessment by its teams of journalists. The rating would cover each site’s overall track record as a news purveyor. It wouldn’t apply to any specific article or journalist. The ratings would be supplemented by what Brill and Crovitz call “nutrition labels” — a longer description of each site’s history, journalistic track record and ownership. The information would enable a reader to learn instantly that, say, a popular news site such as RT.com is a Kremlin-funded adjunct of the Russian government.
If “platform” giants such as Facebook and Google play ball — and so far NewsGuard has no commitment that they will — these assessments would be incorporated in search results, on YouTube videos and on the Facebook or Twitter postings that share the articles. Alternatively, individual users may someday be able to add a plug-in that would display ratings for each news site they accessed. The Good Housekeeping-type seals hold out the promise of appealing to marketers and ad agencies — hence, Publicis’s involvement — in that they could be used to form a “whitelist” of approved sites to keep advertisers from linking their brands to toxic content.
“Our goal isn’t necessarily to stop [fake news] but to arm people with some basic information when they’re about to read or share stuff,” Brill said. “We’re not trying to block anything.”
NewsGuard aims to roll out its system in time for the midterm elections this year, but Brill and Crovitz acknowledge they have their work cut out for them. The venture has assessed and rated only about 100 of the 7,500 sites it hopes to tackle.
The project also faces head winds from the platforms that would figure to be its largest potential customers — most of which have undertaken their own media-rating initiatives amid the public and government outcry over fake news. Google, for example, adjusted its search algorithms last summer to push down “low-quality” content, such as Holocaust-denial pages.
NewsGuard’s initial team of journalists includes Brill, Crovitz and executive editor James Warren, the former managing editor of the Chicago Tribune; and managing editor Eric Effron, formerly of Reuters, the Week and Legal Times. Brill said he expects to hire “three or four dozen” staffers and freelancers.
Trump Promises Trade Wars
Washington Post, Trump insists ‘trade wars are good, and easy to win’ after vowing steel tariffs, Damian Paletta, March 2, 2018. President Trump continued to buck advisers and GOP leaders by acknowledging for the first time that he could be triggering a global trade war by imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum. Meanwhile, some top U.S. trading partners are denouncing the move and planning their own strategies.
In a series of Twitter posts, the first of which was launched before 6 a.m., Trump argued that the United States was being ripped off by other countries because the U.S. imports more goods than it exports from many countries.
Background opinion from 2017: MadAbout Trade, Analysis: Section 232 study more about protecting U.S. steel industry than national security, Daniel Griswold, April 20, 2017. Senior Research Fellow and Co-Director, Program on the American Economy and Globalization, Mercatus Center at George Mason University, Arlington, VA. President Trump announced today that his administration will launch an investigation into whether steel imports are damaging national security. While the outcome of the investigation is uncertain, the objective answer is almost certainly no.
Probes Of Trump, Kushner
The Intercept, Jared Kushner’s Real-Estate Firm Sought Money Directly From Qatar Government Weeks Before Blockade, Clayton Swisher and Ryan Grim, March 2 2018. The real estate firm tied to the family of presidential son-in-law and top White House adviser Jared Kushner (shown at right) made a direct pitch to Qatar’s minister of finance in April 2017 in an attempt to secure investment in a critically distressed asset in the company’s portfolio, according to two sources. At the previously unreported meeting, Jared Kushner’s father Charles, who runs Kushner Companies, and Qatari Finance Minister Ali Sharif Al Emadi discussed financing for the Kushners’ signature 666 Fifth Avenue property in New York City.
The 30-minute meeting, according to two sources in the financial industry who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the potential transaction, included aides to both parties, and was held at a suite at the St. Regis Hotel in New York.
A follow-up meeting was held the next day in a glass-walled conference room at the Kushner property itself, though Al Emadi did not attend the second gathering in person.
The failure to broker the deal would be followed only a month later by a Middle Eastern diplomatic row in which Jared Kushner provided critical support to Qatar’s neighbors.
Led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a group of Middle Eastern countries, with Kushner’s backing, led a diplomatic assault that culminated in a blockade of Qatar. Kushner, according to reports at the time, subsequently undermined efforts by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (shown at left) to bring an end to the standoff.
Officials in four countries discussed ways to manipulate Jared Kushner, President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law
Washington Post, ‘Jared has faded’: Inside the 28 days of tumult that left Kushner badly diminished, Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey, March 2, 2018. They were the ascendant young couples of the Trump White House: Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, and Rob Porter and Hope Hicks. They enjoyed rarefied access to the president and special privileges in the West Wing. Glamorous and well-connected, they had an air of power and invincibility. They even double-dated once.
But an unlikely cascade of events — set in motion by paparazzi photos of Porter and Hicks published Feb. 1 in a British tabloid — crashed down on Kushner this week. The shortest month of the year delivered 28 days of tumult that many inside and outside the White House say could mark the fall of the House of Kushner.
Once the prince of Trump’s Washington, Kushner is now stripped of his access to the nation’s deepest secrets, isolated and badly weakened inside the administration, under scrutiny for his mixing of business and government work and facing the possibility of grave legal peril in the Russia probe.
Kushner’s tensions with chief of staff John F. Kelly have spilled into public view, while other dormant rivalries have resurfaced.
New York Times, Opinion: Ivanka Trump’s Brand Building at the White House, Editorial Board, March 1, 2018. Why would any policymaker with the agenda or values she espouses work for a president so determined to lay waste to them? This is the third part of an editorial series on nepotism in the White House. Read more on the history of nepotism and politics here, and on Jared Kushner’s role here.
Syrian Warning: Rebels Plan ‘False Flag’
SouthFront, Militants Prepare To Stage Chemical Attack In Eastern Ghouta – Syrian Media, Staff report, March 2, 2018. The Ahrar al-Sham Movement, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and Faylaq al-Rahman are planning to stage a chemical attack in the Eastern Ghouta pocket to blame the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) for it, the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported on March 1.
A military official told SANA that according to recently received information these armed groups have been ordered to carry out an attack with “toxic materials” against civilian areas near the front lines with the SAA in the East Ghouta pocket. So that the US, the UK and other Western countries will be able to accuse the SAA of conducting “a chemical attack”.
The official added that the SAA Higher Command stresses yet again that the SAA has no chemical weapons and that it is not planning to produce or use such weapons.The so-called Syrian opposition had accused the SAA of using “chemical weapons” against civilians in the East Ghouta pocket many times during over the last few months. However, these groups didn’t provide any evidence what so ever to support their claims.
According to local sources, militants in the East Ghouta pocket likely believe that such propaganda move could provoke a US-led military action against the SAA. Such a military action by the US is seen by many Syrian opposition activists as the only way to stop the SAA advance on their last strongholds near the Syrian capital, Damascus.
BC News via Washington Press, Opinion: Trump just got caught on video abandoning Melania in the freezing wind as he fled for cover, Natalie Dickinson, March 2, 2018 (1:05 mins. video). The president of the United States put his self-obsession on full display this morning when he nearly sprinted up the steps to Air Force One in the freezing wind, leaving his wife Melania shivering alone on the tarmac as they boarded the jet in order to travel to the funeral of notorious bigot and radical Christian cleric Billy Graham.
WhoWhatWhy, Opinion: How Trump’s Controversies Distract from America’s Real Problems, Barrett Brown, March 2, 2018. Barrett Brown and filmmaker Alex Winter remind us that all of our broken institutions needed reform before Trump — and will need even more reform after he is gone.
In this wide-ranging podcast, Barrett Brown (shown at right) and actor and documentary filmmaker Alex Winter talk about the complacency that ails so much of American society. They also discuss how, instead of fixing the systemic problems that plague the US, people across the political spectrum are focusing on the sideshow that President Donald Trump provides. In the meantime, however, all the institutions that are in dire need of reform are neglected — making the job of fixing them in the future even more difficult.
Yet because we are now relying on some of those same institutions — like the FBI and the national security apparatus — to protect us, we might easily forget some of the institutional excesses and missteps that got us here. What we have, according to Brown and Winter, is a massive lack of appreciation for nuance, which may come to haunt us later.
Washington Post, After furniture fuss, Ben Carson wants to cancel order for $31,000 dining set, Samantha Schmidt, March 2, 2018. A day after news broke that the Department of Housing and Urban Development purchased a dining set worth $31,000, Secretary Ben Carson told his social media followers to “rest assured” that he had done no wrong. He asked for “God’s guidance to do what is right.”
Now Carson (shown at right) wants to cancel the $31,000 order, he said in a statement Thursday. “I was as surprised as anyone to find out that a $31,000 dining set had been ordered,” Carson said. Because of the contracts involved, and the money already spent on the order, it might not be possible for the agency to get a full refund.
The secretary’s statements followed days of uproar over money his office spent on the lavish furniture, prompted by news of a complaint filed by a former HUD chief administrative officer, Helen Foster. She accused the agency of demoting her in retaliation for concerns she raised about office expenses.
Shortly before Donald Trump’s inauguration, acting secretary Craig Clemmensen told Foster that Carson’s wife, Candy Carson, wanted her husband’s office upgraded, Foster wrote in her complaint. When Foster replied that the department could not spend more than $5,000 on the refurbishment without congressional approval, Clemmensen instructed her to “find money,” Foster wrote.
Washington Post, Ex-FBI deputy director approved media disclosure, misled inspector general, report expected to say, Matt Zapotosky and Karoun Demirjian, March 2, 2018. President Trump, who has attacked Andrew McCabe (shown above in a file photo), is likely to seize on findings from the Justice Department’s inspector general.
Washington Post, FBI interviewed top Clinton aide Huma Abedin after saying probe of her boss had concluded, Matt Zapotosky, March 2, 2018. The interview is important because it shows that even after the bureau had intimated publicly that its probe into Hillary Clinton was over, the FBI knew it still had work to do with one of her close aides. It is also notable for one of the people advocating it: FBI Agent Peter Strzok, a key figure in both the Clinton probe and the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, whose anti-Trump texts have come under scrutiny.
Palmer Report, Opinion: Alec Baldwin fires back after Donald Trump’s “Alex Baldwin” meltdown, Bill Palmer, March 2, 2018. Donald Trump got people talking for all the wrong reasons this morning when he went on an unhinged tirade about someone named Alex Baldwin. It turned out Trump was attacking Alec Baldwin, the actor who portrays Trump on Saturday Night Live. Trump ended up deleting the tweet out of embarrassment, but not until after “Alex Baldwin” had begun trending on Twitter, and millions of people had begun making fun of Trump. Now Alec Baldwin is firing back at Trump in response.
Trump kicked it all off with this bizarrely misspelled tweet at five-something this morning: “Alex Baldwin, whose dieing mediocre career was saved by his impersonation of me on SNL, now says playing DJT was agony for him. Alex, it was also agony for those who were forced to watch. You were terrible. Bring back Darrell Hammond, much funnier and a far greater talent!” Alex who? Eventually, Alec (not Alex) Baldwin responded: “Agony though it may be, I’d like to hang in there for the impeachment hearings, the resignation speech, the farewell helicopter ride to Mara-A-Lago. You know. The Good Stuff. That we’ve all been waiting for.” But then Baldwin kept going.
Alec Baldwin (who published a book last year You Can’t Spell America Without Me) piled on with this sarcastic tweet: “Looking forward to the Trump Presidential Library. A putting green. Recipes for chocolate cake. A live Twitter feed for visitors to post on. A little black book w the phone numbers of porn stars. You’re in and out in five minutes. Just like…” He never did finish the thought, leaving it to the imagination.
Then finally Alec Baldwin went for the ultimate zinger: “And Mr President… please ask your wife to stop calling me for SNL tickets. (Hey, Melania…we’ve got Charles Barkley this Saturday!” We’re going to award the victory in this feud to Alec Baldwin. Consolation prize goes to anyone out there whose real name might be Alex Baldwin.
Washington Post, Mueller digs into Trump’s attempt to force Sessions to quit, Devlin Barrett, Josh Dawsey and Rosalind S. Helderman, March 1, 2018 (print edition).Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III (shown at right) has been investigating a period of time last summer when President Trump seemed determined to drive Attorney General Jeff Sessions from his job, according to people familiar with the matter.
New York Times, Opinion: Jared Kushner Flames Out, Editorial Board, March 2, 2018 (print edition). Bad advice, shady deals and incompetence define the presidential son-in-law’s tenure at the White House. This is the second part of an editorial series on nepotism in the White House. Read more on the history of nepotism and politics here, and on Ivanka Trump’s role here.
For a Middle East negotiator, President Trump could have chosen a seasoned envoy trusted by all stakeholders and fluent in the region’s nuance. Instead he appointed the heir to an opaque Manhattan real estate empire with deep ties to Israel who boasts that, as a businessman, “I don’t care about the past.”
So one year in, what has Mr. Kushner accomplished? The answers point to why, from the nation’s founding to the present day, the architects of American democracy have tried so mightily to restrict the hiring of presidential relatives. Mr. Kushner’s achievements have not only been paltry, but he is directly implicated in some of the president’s most destructive — and self-destructive — decisions, as well as in some of the most serious accusations of self-dealing that have been made against the administration.
Washington Post, Opinion: Never have we seen such chaos and corruption, Eugene Robinson, March 2, 2018 (print edition). None of what’s happening is normal, and none of it should be acceptable. I spent years as a foreign correspondent in Latin America. To say we are being governed like a banana republic is an insult to banana republics. It’s that bad, and no one should pretend otherwise. Editor’s Note: Trump is shown on a Time Magazine cover dated Feb. 27 of last year when the chaos was apparent even then.
More On School Massacres
New York Times, Trump Wants to Arm Teachers. These Schools Already Do, Erica L. Green and Manny Fernandez, March 2, 2018 (print edition). Hundreds of school districts across the country have given staff access to guns, seeing the weaponry not as a political statement but a practical response to a potent threat.
Washington Post, Putin claims Russia has nuclear arsenal capable of avoiding missile defenses, Anton Troianovski, March 1, 2018. Russian President Vladimir Putin (shown above in a 2016 file photo) said his country plans to bolster its arsenal with nuclear-powered cruise missiles capable of hitting any point on the globe. In a speech, Putin also warned that Moscow would consider any nuclear attack, of any size, on it or its allies an attack on Russia that would lead to an immediate response.
Gun Control / Mass Shootings
The Hill, Opinion: Florida’s student-survivors: The new face of law and lobbying in America, Nicholas W. Allard (shown below left), March 1, 2018. Overnight, the student-survivors and allies are taking on the arguably most powerful influence-brand in the nation, the NRA.
Lobbyists and their sponsors should neither underestimate nor fear this student-movement. Rather, they must understand and embrace the students’ motivation, concerns and genuine commitment. The professional lobbying community certainly can learn from these youthful teachers. We all must understand what truly resonates with these impressive young people — and how and why their approach so strongly resonates with us all.
Nicholas W. Allard is president, Joseph Crea Dean and professor of law at Brooklyn Law School. He serves as senior counsel in the public policy and regulation practice at Dentons, a global law firm. He worked on Capitol Hill for the late Sens. Edward Kennedy and Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
New York Times, Trump Stuns Lawmakers With Calls for Gun Control, Michael D. Shear, March 1, 2018. In a televised meeting, President Trump embraced gun control measures long opposed by the N.R.A. and many Republicans. “It would be so beautiful to have one bill that everyone could support,” Mr. Trump said. “It’s time that a president stepped up.”
New York Times, Trump Contradicted Himself on Guns. We Checked His Claims, Linda Qiu, March 1, 2018. Mr. Trump mixed facts and falsehoods while discussing gun policy and potential solutions with legislators. Related story: New York Times, Kroger Raises Age Limits on Gun Sales, Joining Walmart and Dick’s.
Washington Post, Mueller digs into Trump’s attempt to force Sessions to quit, Devlin Barrett, Josh Dawsey and Rosalind S. Helderman, March 1, 2018 (print edition).Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III (shown at right) has been investigating a period of time last summer when President Trump seemed determined to drive Attorney General Jeff Sessions from his job, according to people familiar with the matter.
Palmer Report, Analysis: Why Robert Mueller can’t hurry, Bill Palmer, March 1, 2018. “Robert Mueller, Please Hurry” has become a popular and understandable rallying cry for the Resistance. Recent events have reminded us that it’s probably not the best advice.
This week Mueller informed a federal judge that he’s ready to start the trial against Paul Manafort right now, and yet the judge assigned a September start date anyway. It’s just how these things work. The trial, if it happens, may last for years. By that time Trump’s fate will likely have already been decided. Manafort was always going to be inclined to take his chances at trial, because he can afford the kind of high priced attorneys who just might be able to find creative way to beat the rap.
In fact, Mueller arrested Manafort’s sidekick Rick Gates (shown at far right with Manafort in file photos) in the hope of getting him to flip on Manafort, which might cause Manafort to realize that he’s going to have to cut a deal after all. That plan is now in the process of working, and we’ll see if Manafort flips or not. But it’s a reminder that if Manafort does go to trial, then whether Manafort wins or loses that trial, he’ll end up being no use to Mueller at all.
Keep in mind that Paul Manafort is facing one of the most broad and serious collections of criminal charges ever brought against any American, and yet he’s still hesitating about cutting a deal. To get people closer to Donald Trump to flip on him, the ones who can truly take him down, Robert Mueller has to put together some of the scariest sets of criminal charges in history.
If Mueller moves on people like Jared Kushner or Hope Hicks too quickly, before he’s built those criminal cases into pure nightmare fuel, and they decide to simply take their chances at trial, then that’ll be a fail for Mueller. He needs to scare them into cutting deals, and it takes time to dig through every dark corner of these people’s lives in order to find all of their skeletons. If Mueller tries to hurry up the process, he may blow it forever. He only gets one shot at these people. You don’t want him cutting corners. You want him getting it right.
New York Times, Senate Intelligence Panel Blames House G.O.P. for Leak, Nicholas Fandos, March 1, 2018. In an unusual confrontation, the bipartisan leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee told the House speaker that his members had leaked a senator’s texts that were published on Fox News.
The Senate Intelligence Committee has concluded that Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee were behind the leak of private text messages between the Senate panel’s top Democrat and a Russian-connected lawyer, according to two congressional officials briefed on the matter.
Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina (shown at right), the committee’s Republican chairman, and Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat, were so perturbed by the leak that they demanded a rare meeting with Speaker Paul D. Ryan last month to inform him of their findings. They used the meeting with Mr. Ryan to raise broader concerns about the direction of the House Intelligence Committee under its chairman, Representative Devin Nunes of California (shown below left), the officials said.
To the senators, who are overseeing what is effectively the last bipartisan investigation on Capitol Hill into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, the leak was a serious breach of protocol and a partisan attack by one intelligence committee against the other. The text messages were leaked just days after the same House Republicans had taken the extraordinary step of publicly releasing, over the objections of the F.B.I., a widely disputed memorandum based on sensitive government secrets. Taken together, the actions suggested a pattern of partisanship and unilateral action by the once-bipartisan House panel.
New York Times, Kushner’s Business Got Loans After White House Visits, Jesse DCrucker, Kate Kelly and Ben Protess, March 1, 2018. Apollo, the private equity firm, and Citigroup made large loans last year to the family real estate business of Jared Kushner (shown right), President Trump’s senior adviser. Early last year, a private equity billionaire started paying regular visits to the White House.
Joshua Harris, a founder of Apollo Global Management, was advising Trump administration officials on infrastructure policy. During that period, he met on multiple occasions with Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, said three people familiar with the meetings. Among other things, the two men discussed a possible White House job for Mr. Harris. The job never materialized, but in November, Apollo lent $184 million to Mr. Kushner’s family real estate firm, Kushner Companies. The loan was to refinance the mortgage on a Chicago skyscraper.
Palmer Report, Opinion: Donald Trump’s Taj Mahal money laundering bust looms large in Trump-Russia scandal, Virginia Kugel, March 1, 2018. If you think it’s a “wild coincidence” that Robert Mueller has charged thirteen Russians in absentia and is now shining a spotlight on potential money laundering by the NRA and questionable family loans in connection with the Trump-Russia probe, here’s a leftover nugget from Trump’s Taj Mahal to consider.
“The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) today imposed a $10 million civil money penalty against Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort (Trump Taj Mahal), for willful and repeated violations of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). In addition to the civil money penalty, the casino is required to conduct periodic external audits to examine its anti-money laundering (AML) BSA compliance program and provide those audit reports to FinCEN and the casino’s Board of Directors.”
CNN, Rick Gates tells judge he’s canceling trip due to threat invoking Russian mafia, Katelyn Polantz, March 1, 2018. Former Trump campaign deputy Rick Gates told a federal court Thursday afternoon that he and his wife believe it’s “not prudent” for them to take their four children on a trip to Boston, after feeling threatened by an online commenter who invoked the Russian mafia.
Washington Post, Hicks resignation jolts a West Wing besieged by internal tumult, Russia probe, Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker, March 1, 2018 (print edition). Hope Hicks, the White House communications director, is one of President Trump’s longest-serving advisers. But her special relationship with Trump has ensnared her in the wide-ranging investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Washington Post, Opinion: Hope Hicks told the truth about lying for Trump. Now she’s gone, Dana Milbank, March 1, 2018 (print edition). On Tuesday, White House communications director Hope Hicks did what for the Trump White House was extraordinary, if not unprecedented: She admitted to lawmakers that working for President Trump required her to lie. On Wednesday, she announced her resignation.
Washington Post, Opinion: Conservatives are using the Supreme Court to destroy unions, E.J. Dionne Jr., March 1, 2018 (print edition). Many conservatives believe in the untrammeled rights of employers. Consequently, they despise unions. They also can’t stand that organized labor usually backs Democrats, and they especially detest public employee unions which, by their very nature, advocate for government.
For decades, these same conservatives criticized the politicization of the courts, accusing liberals of “inventing rights,” “making new law” and indulging in “judicial activism.”
And one more thing: Conservatives of late have charged that liberals refuse to acknowledge the importance of allowing revered and useful social institutions to thrive and maintain their organizational integrity. So, for example, the right insists that organizations affiliated with religious groups opposed to contraception must, under no circumstances, be required to cover birth control in their health plans.
This bundle of contradictions is on open display in the case of Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Argued this week before the Supreme Court, the suit is an effort to overturn 41 years of settled precedent for the purpose of crippling the American labor movement.
Tariffs, Trade War, Stock Prices
Roll Call, GOP Reaction to Trump Tariffs is Fast, Furious and Negative, Joe Williams, March 1, 2018. Republicans fret about retaliatory action, effect on agricultural trade.
The Hill, Opinion: Stocks sink after Trump tariff announcement, Sylvan Lane, March 1, 2018. U.S stocks sunk Thursday just moments after President Trump announced new, steep tariffs on steel and aluminum to be imposed next week. Trump said Thursday he would announce a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum from all countries that send metals to the U.S. The move is expected to lead to retaliation by trade partners.
Washington Post, Opinion: Trump just started a trade war. Any recession will be on him, Jennifer Rubin (shown at right0, March 1, 2018. Both in process and substance, President Trump’s announcement on steel and aluminum tariffs reflects his willful ignorance and the utter failure of those around him to curb his grave defects.
Reacting to Trump’s horrendous trade decision, the Dow Jones