December 2018 News Reports


Editor’s Choice: December 2018 news and views

Note: Excerpts are from the authors’ words except for subheads and occasional “Editor’s notes” such as this. 

christmas wreath

Happy New Year!

Dec. 31

2018 Retrospective

bill palmerPalmer Report, Opinion: What was all that back there? Bill Palmer (right), Dec. 31, 2018. Now that we’ve reached the end of 2018, it’s fair to say that it was a year for the ages. And by “ages” I mean the garbage dump.

bill palmer report logo headerLet’s not mince words here: this was, by any objective measure, a historically terrible year for America, for the world, and for the human race. But we can also learn from everything that’s gone wrong, and use it as a roadmap for finding our way back.

U.S. Supreme Court

SCOTUSblog, The chief justice’s 2018 year-end report: The federal judiciary and #MeToo, Amy Howe, Dec. 31, 2018. Chief Justice John Roberts released his annual report on the john roberts ofederal judiciary today, focusing on the judiciary’s response to allegations of sexual misconduct in the workplace. Roberts had discussed this issue in his 2017 report, after several female law clerks accused Judge Alex Kozinski – then a prominent judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit – of inappropriate sexual conduct.

A working group created to review the safeguards in place to protect law clerks and other employees concluded, Roberts reported, that “inappropriate workplace conduct is not pervasive within the Judiciary, but it is also not limited to a few isolated instances involving law clerks” and “frequently goes unreported.” Roberts endorsed the recommendations made by the group, which included making changes to the codes of conduct for both judges and employees to make clear that both harassment and retaliation against employees who report misconduct are prohibited.

Roberts observed that he was “pleased” that the judiciary has “mobilized to ensure that” it is “the exemplary workplace that we all want,” but he added that “the job is not finished until we have done all that we can to ensure that all of our employees are treated with fairness, dignity, and respect.”

Foreign Policy

ny times logoNew York Times, Investigation: C.I.A.’s Afghan Forces Leave a Trail of Abuse and Anger, Mujib Mashal, Dec. 31, 2018. Regional Afghan forces overseen by the C.I.A. have managed to hold the line in the war’s toughest spots. But the units have also used brutal tactics that officials say are terrorizing the public and undermining the U.S. mission.

CIA LogoRazo Khan woke up suddenly to the sight of assault rifles pointed at his face, and demands that he get out of bed and onto the floor.

Within minutes, the armed raiders had separated the men from the women and children. Then the shooting started.

As Mr. Khan was driven away for questioning, he watched his home go up in flames. Within were the bodies of two of his brothers and of his sister-in-law Khanzari, who was shot three times in the head. Villagers who rushed to the home found the burned body of her 3-year-old daughter, Marina, in a corner of a torched bedroom.

The men who raided the family’s home that March night, in the district of Nader Shah Kot, were members of an Afghan strike force trained and overseen by the Central Intelligence Agency in a parallel mission to the United States military’s, but with looser rules of engagement. Ostensibly, the force was searching for militants. But Mr. Khan and his family had done nothing to put themselves in the cross hairs of the C.I.A.-sponsored strike force, according to investigators.

Troop Withdrawal From Syria

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. troops are ‘slowly’ being sent home from Syria, Trump says, John Wagner​, Dec. 31, 2018. The American Flagpresident’s morning tweets added to the uncertainty about the action’s timetable. Earlier this month, his plans for a quick military withdrawal drew widespread criticism.

Privacy Invasions / #MeToo

washington post logoWashington Post, Fake-porn videos are being weaponized to harass women: ‘Everybody is a potential target,’ Drew Harwell, Dec. 31, 2018. “Deepfake” creators are making disturbingly realistic, computer-generated videos with photos taken from the Web, and ordinary women are suffering the damage.

The video showed the woman in a pink off-the-shoulder top, sitting on a bed, smiling a convincing smile.

It was her face. But it had been seamlessly grafted, without her knowledge or consent, onto someone else’s body: a young pornography actress, just beginning to disrobe for the start of a graphic sex scene. A crowd of unknown users had been passing it around online.

She felt nauseous and mortified: What if her co-workers saw it? Her family, her friends? Would it change how they thought of her? Would they believe it was a fake?

• How fake-porn opponents are fighting back
• Video: How the technology works

U.S. Federal Shutdown

us house logoRoll Call, House Democrats to Vote Thursday on Spending Package to Reopen Government, Lindsey McPherson, Dec. 31, 2018. House Democrats will vote Thursday, the first day of the new Congress in which they’ll be in the majority, to reopen the government with six full-year appropriations bills and a short-term continuing resolution for the Department of Homeland nancy pelosiSecurity, according to a senior Democratic aide.

The first votes of the new Congress will be to elect a speaker — expected to be longtime Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (left) — and then to adopt a rules package. The rules package will make the aforementioned appropriations legislation in order so that the Rules Committee does not have to adopt a separate rule to bring up the bill for debate.

Democrats’ appropriations package to reopen government, which has been partially shut down for 10 days, is expected to be filed Monday afternoon. The House will vote on it Thursday, sometime after the speaker and rules package votes.

TrumpWorld: Environment

washington post logoscott pruitt epa o CustomWashington Post, Scott Pruitt: After the high life, a job hunt, Juliet Eilperin, Brady Dennis and Josh Dawsey, Dec. 31, 2018 (print edition). Forced to resign as the Environmental Protection Agency administrator amid ethics investigations, the former Oklahoma attorney general (shown at right in an official photoO is among those whose rise was derailed after joining the Trump administration.

U.S.-China Cultural Relations

ny times logoNew York Times, China Thwarts U.S. Effort to Promote American Culture on Campuses, Jane Perlez and Luz Ding, Dec. 31, 2018 (print edition). The Chinese authorities blocked activities of centers run by American universities and financed by the State Department. After 10 years, none are left.

The American ambassador to China, Terry Branstad, wanted to make what in most nations would have been a routine trip.

One of his favorite schools, Iowa State University, had opened a center to promote American culture in an inland Chinese province, and the laid-back former governor of Iowa was eager to take questions from Chinese students.

The center’s program, largely financed by the State Department, was deliberately benign so as not to offend Chinese government sensibilities. Politics was off the agenda. English lessons focused on fashion, music and sports. An essay-writing contest was called “Bald Eagle & Panda” after well-known fauna in both countries.

But Henan Normal University, a campus set on the Yellow River with a prominent statue of Mao Zedong out front, denied Mr. Branstad permission to visit the center this fall — and offered no explanation.

The rebuff underscored how the United States and China compete not only in trade and technology, but also over the values and beliefs that define their societies, an echo of the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

In China, such programs provided a window into American culture outside the filter of the Communist Party, and their unwinding could deepen the divide between the societies of the world’s two largest economies.

Inside DC

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump claims there’s a 10-foot wall around the Obamas’ D.C. home. Neighbors say there’s not, Michael Brice-Saddler​, ​Dec. 31, 2018. The 8,200-square-foot house has several security features but is completely visible from the street.

Some found the president’s tweet irresponsible. Fred Guttenberg, the father of one of students killed in the Parkland school shooting, tweeted, “Are you seriously trying to put our former President at risk?”

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. troops are ‘slowly’ being sent home from Syria, Trump says, John Wagner​, Dec. 31, 2018. The president’s morning tweets added to the uncertainty about the action’s timetable. Earlier this month, his plans for a quick military withdrawal drew widespread criticism.

Dec. 30

U.S. Shutdown / Migrant Standoff

ny times logofelipe gomez alonzo croppedNew York Times, Trump Blames Democrats Over Deaths of Migrant Children in U.S. Custody, Maggie Haberman, Dec. 30, 2018 (print edition). President Trump’s tweets were his first public remarks on the deaths of two children in detention at the southwest border this month. Many of the circumstances surrounding the boy’s death remain unknown, and the father of the girl has disputed the claim that she had been dehydrated before being detained.

In pointing to Democrats and their immigration policies, the president overtly injected politics into the children’s deaths and mischaracterized the reasons cited for them, as well as their families’ reactions.

washington post logoWashington Post, Lawyer: Investigators gathered evidence of undocumented immigrants who say they worked at Trump club, Emily Wax-Thibodeaux, Dec. 30, 2018 (print edition). The interest by the FBI and New Jersey officials indicates they may be launching a probe into the hiring practices at the president’s club.

Trump World

Los Angeles Times, John F. Kelly says his tenure as Trump’s chief of staff is best measured by what the president did not do, Molly O’Toole, Dec 30, 2018. In an exclusive interview with The Times, outgoing White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly argued that his tenure is best measured by what President Trump did not do when Kelly was at his side.

In August 2017, shortly after John F. Kelly became White House chief of staff, he convened crucial meetings on Afghanistan at President Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, N.J. Top officials from the Pentagon and the CIA, the director of national intelligence, diplomats and lawmakers huddled with Trump as Kelly and others urged him not to give up in Afghanistan.

“When I first took over, he was inclined to want to withdraw from Afghanistan,” Kelly recounted during an exclusive two-hour interview with the Los Angeles Times.

“He was frustrated. It was a huge decision to make … and frankly there was no system at all for a lot of reasons — palace intrigue and the rest of it — when I got there.”

john f kelly homeland security general wThe retired four-star Marine general (shown during his military career) will leave the administration on Wednesday. First as Homeland Security chief and then in 18 months at the White House, he presided over some of the Trump administration’s most controversial immigration and security policies.

In the phone interview Friday, Kelly defended his rocky tenure, arguing that it is best measured by what the president did not do when Kelly was at his side.

It was only after Kelly’s departure was confirmed Dec. 8, for example, that Trump abruptly announced the pullout of all U.S. troops from Syria and half the 14,000 troops from Afghanistan, two moves that Kelly had opposed.

Kelly’s supporters say he stepped in to block or divert the president on dozens of matters large and small. They credit him, in part, for persuading Trump not to pull U.S. forces out of South Korea, or withdraw from NATO, as he had threatened.

Kelly served 46 years in the Marines, from the Vietnam War to the rise of Islamic State, making him the U.S. military’s longest-serving general when he retired in January 2016.

When Trump picked him to head Homeland Security, and then serve as White House chief of staff, officials from the Pentagon to Capitol Hill expressed hope that Kelly would be one of the “adults in the room” to manage a mercurial president.

washington post logojohn kelly o dhsWashington Post, John Kelly paints yet another dim portrait of Trump, Aaron Blake, Dec. 30, 2018. In an exit interview with the Los Angeles Times, the departing White House chief of staff (right) echoes what other top Trump administration officials have said publicly and privately: President Trump is someone who needs containing.

washington post logoWashington Post, Whitaker’s role in immigration raid previewed aggressive stance as acting attorney general, Michael Kranish, Dec. 30, 2018 (print edition). A 2006 federal raid of a meat-processing plant in Iowa became one of the highest-profile and most controversial actions of Matthew G. Whitaker’s five-year career as a prosecutor.

Major New Book On JFK Death

The Inheritance – Poisoned Fruit of JFK’s Assassination – How One Man’s Custody of Bobby Kennedy’s Hidden Evidence Changed Our Past and Continues to Shape Our Future. (TrineDay, Walterville, Oregon, Published on Nov. 22, 2018, by Christopher and Michelle Fulton; Introduction by Dick Russell).

LBJ: Master of Deceit, A Review of an Incredible Book: “The Inheritance,” Phillip Nelson (author, lecturer, whose most recent book’s cover is shown at right), Dec. 30, 2018. This book is taking the “JFK Assassination Research Community” (if one can seriously refer to it phil nelson mlk coveras such) by storm. Like men scurrying around a ship in distress looking frantically for safe harbor – in this case, words that will sustain the test of time – many old-time researchers are scrambling with the dilemma presented to an established institution by a “newbie” who has burst onto the scene with what appears, at least to some of them, to be a veritable solution to a fifty-five-year-old puzzle: “Who really killed JFK?”

For the naysayers, the vetting of Christopher and Michelle Fulton’s story is so conflicted that even the 120 pages of photos and documents, and as importantly, the numerous citations to sworn affidavits of key witnesses contained within the narrative (including many verbatim copies of other original materials) do not seem to mitigate the shock of those whose contrary opinions have been entrenched for many decades.

But more about that aspect of the “Crime of the Century” later.

* * *

Christopher Fulton’s life was forever altered when he acquired, in 1995, a gold Cartier watch that was worn by JFK on the last day of his own life.

Little did he know that the watch had once been covered by the slain president’s blood and brain matter, nor that the finely shattered lines – Fulton called them “striations” – on the crystal, were caused by a shock wave impacting it from the fatal shot to JFK’s head. That occurred just as he held his hands toward his neck, instinctively reacting to an earlier shot to his throat, and those striations would collect not only JFK’s bodily tissues, but traces of the mercury that had been infused into the bullet to ensure his death (p. 119).

christopher fulton michelle fulton cover What Fulton would find out later, from Robert Bouck – who, in 1963, had been in charge of the Secret Service’s Protective Research Section – revealed that Robert F. Kennedy had obtained absolute proof of a conspiracy with a number of shooters and many more shots than the official reports had stated. But that information would only come to him years later, though its provenance was a forensics examination done in the mid-1960s that RFK had obtained from a private entity, done specifically to keep it away from the FBI and Secret Service laboratories, where Kennedy knew it would never be properly analyzed.

When he had originally purchased the watch, Fulton had no reason to believe that it was material evidence directly related to the murder of President Kennedy that would have absolutely proved the existence of a conspiracy, had there ever been an honest investigation of the crime.

Nor did Fulton realize, until much later, that it was Robert Kennedy who had discovered that truth and had taken steps to preserve it, and other such incriminating evidence, out of the reach of either the government – or, to ensure their safety, his own family – when he entrusted much of it to JFK’s secretary Evelyn Lincoln for safe-keeping. Likewise, Fulton later discovered that Robert Kennedy had also taken precautionary steps to ensure that other evidence, proving the truths of his brother’s murder, would be kept safe for discovery by future generations; he did that by burying them with JFK’s casket when it was reinterred on March 14, 1967 at Arlington National Cemetery. These items included photographs of the watch, the original watch strap, the president’s brain, blood reports, and copies of the x-rays and autopsy photos.

Robert Kennedy (shown below at right) probably selected Mrs. Lincoln’s assistance because of his knowledge that she had already acquired, on the day after the robert f. kennedy 1964 wassassination, many other mementos of JFK and her time working in the Oval Office (undoubtedly made more numerous due to her anger with Lyndon Johnson, who had demanded that she complete the task of removing JFK’s property in less than one hour; her complaint to RFK about it succeeded in extending the deadline another two hours.[1] Johnson then claimed in his memoirs that he didn’t take over the office until three days later [forcing his future biographer Robert Caro to go along with it] among the many other lies contained within Johnson’s tome).

Fulton had walked innocently into the middle of the morass when he bought the watch from the man to whom Mrs. Lincoln had gifted it in her will, Robert L. White of Catonsville, Maryland, a collector of presidential memorabilia, after she had become friends with him through years of correspondence and visits; two years after she died, once the government discovered the existence of the hidden secrets, Fulton would begin experiencing a decade-long, nearly unbelievable, gestapo-like government-induced torture program including visits to some of the worst prisons in the country that almost defies description. But Fulton attempted to do just that by devoting nearly half of the book’s narrative to his personal long-term nightmare that essentially destroyed his previous life, as well as his wife’s and his mother’s, even the lives of his four rescue dogs. In all of their cases: Literally, destroyed.

In Fulton’s writing about such painful memories, he has laid bare the awful truth of the lengths to which the government will go to protect the original lies – now devolved into apparently permanent myths – that were meant to portray its own innocence as the original plotters cunningly replaced their own blame for the assassination of the 35th president onto a “lone nut” simpleton / malcontent.

The “lone nut malcontent” façade became another pattern to be twice repeated five years later with similar other “misfits” blamed for the murders of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. Both of them had already become national heroes yet their public popularity had caused them to become feared by the plotters as being potential threats to the existence of those same myths that protected the truths from being exposed.

Mr. Fulton’s travails exposed still another long-buried, very plausible explanation for how and why JFK’s son – John F. Kennedy, Jr. – died. In early 1998, Fulton met with JFK Jr. in Florida and subsequently sold the watch to him, suddenly shifting the object of the government’s wrath with it, from one man to another, yet not releasing its grip on the first of them. Shortly after their meeting, JFK Jr. made the mistake of writing to President Clinton to suggest a proper forensic autopsy of his father, to establish “the truths behind my father’s murder being released to the public.” Those two events led to a series of others, not the least of which was Fulton’s indictment in February, 1998 and his arrest on August 9, 1998, then the beginning of his torture and the loss of his freedom until finally being released in February, 2007.

For JFK Jr., it appears that the interview he conducted with Christopher Fulton at the hotel in Florida was part of his larger plan for a major expose’ in his magazine George, but, as he cautioned Fulton, “I want to keep this under wraps until late next year.” (p. 181). Unfortunately for him, Mr. Kennedy would not live that long. He would die in a mysterious airplane crash on July 16, 1999. There has been a plethora of news articles written since then which suggest still another cover-up has been in place for two decades and counting. One such document is headlined: “HARD EVIDENCE OF CONSPIRACY, COVER-UP IN JFK Jr. DEATH” and includes the following sentences in its eleven (11) pages: [2]

JFK Jr.’s 9:39 PM radio contact was without doubt DELIBERATELY and literally “covered up”: hours of time on the tape archive of WCVB’s July 17 broadcast, during which information on Kennedy’s radio contact was continually reported have been intentionally cut. The record has in fact been FALSIFIED.

FAA Flight Specialist Edward Meyer of LaGuardia Airport in Queens N.Y., . . . stated in the report that visibility in the region was AT LEAST very good on the evening of July 16. Meyer himself became SO distressed by endless spewing of erroneous disinformation about these weather conditions by government agencies and mass media, he took the unprecedented step of issuing a public statement ON HIS OWN–which THOROUGHLY SLAMMED this onslaught of disinformational noise as complete, total NONSENSE. . . . To quote from Meyer’s personal statement as released to mass media: “The weather along his flight was just fine. A little haze over eastern Connecticut.”

* * *

There have been many other “dots connected” within the Fultons’ book which will be discovered by the careful reader. Ergo, we need not tabulate all of them within this paper, however a hint at some of them may be intuited from some of the following material as we return to the issues raised in the opening paragraphs. They relate to the paradox of how some of the most “experienced” researchers have not fully embraced the revelations contained within this extraordinary personal account, and how Christopher Fulton’s original desire to own a key piece of history, JFK’s watch, turned his world upside-down.

Link to full review here.

Russia Scandal

Palmer Report, Commentary: We’ve reached the Russian arms dealer stage of Donald Trump’s Russia scandal, Bill Palmer, Dec. 30, 2018. / We did receive one crucial tidbit this weekend which could help explain a lot about the nature of the Trump-Russia scandal.

bill palmer report logo headerWe now know that during the 2016 election, Donald Trump’s campaign chairman wasn’t merely reaching out to his Kremlin overlords to try to use his position to erase the millions of dollars he owed them. According to a lengthy new expose from Time Magazine (Russian Ex-Spy Pressured Manafort Over Debts to an Oligarch), Team Kremlin was actively putting pressure on Manafort to make good on his debt.

In fact Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska sent a Russian arms dealer named Victor Boyarkin (below left) to try to collect from Manafort. victor boyarkin twitter july 2007Notably, these efforts go back to 2014.

So now we know that at the time Donald Trump hired Paul Manafort (shown in a file photo) to run his 2016 campaign, Manafort wasn’t just a guy who essentially owed millions of dollars to the Kremlin. He was a guy who was being pressured by a Russian arms dealer to find a way to make up for it.

paul manafort face nationThis means Manafort didn’t merely catch a lucky break when Trump hired him; Manafort was actively seeking out a way to help the Russians at the time he took the job.

This of course leaves the big question: can it be proven that Donald Trump knew he was hiring an indebted Russian asset to run his campaign? Paul Manafort cut a cooperating plea deal and then famously tried to sabotage it, so he’s presumably been no help in proving that Trump knew. But Manafort’s former longtime sidekick Rick Gates was right in the thick of this, and he’s been thoroughly making good on his plea deal.


roger stone hands waving no credit from stone cold Custom

Washington Examiner, Roger Stone turns on Jerome Corsi: He worked with Mueller to ‘sandbag me,’ Daniel Chaitin, Dec. 30, 2018. Political trickster Roger Stone (shown above in a file photo) appears to have turned on Jerome Corsi. In an Instagram post Sunday, Stone said the man he has called a “friend” was working with special counsel Robert Mueller to trap him with a perjury charge.

“So Jerry Corsi was working with Mueller to sandbag me on a fabricated perjury charge,” Stone said in a post Sunday morning along with a photo of Corsi.

“Mueller’s minion even promised Corsi no jail time if he would lie and say he gave me John Podesta’s stolen e-mails (which he did NOT) Then they were going to say I passed them on to Trump (which I did NOT),” Stone added. “Jerry was willing to LIE about me but not himself! Now Jerry is lying about legitimate research he did for me regarding the Podesta brothers lucrative business in Russia.”

jerome corsiAsked to clarify why he was suddenly lashing out at Corsi, Stone referred to interviews Corsi (right) has done in recent weeks in which he claimed he had told Stone and “many” others that he had figured out WikiLeaks had obtained emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta, which were stolen by Russian intelligence officers.

“The assertion made by Dr. Corsi in a number of interviews that he told me that Podesta‘s emails had been stolen prior to their publication is false and there is no evidence to support it,” Stone told the Washington Examiner.

Both Stone and Corsi, who have made appearances on conspiracy theory website InfoWars, are being scrutinized by Mueller’s team.

Stone piqued the interests of Mueller’s team with an August 2016 tweet that said, “it will soon [be] Podesta’s time in the barrel.” In October 2016, WikiLeaks began publishing thousands of emails hacked from Podesta’s personal account. Stone has claimed that statement was in reference to his own investigations of Podesta and his brother, Tony.

New U.S. Congress

ny times logoNew York Times, Too Old to Be a Freshman in Congress? Donna Shalala Doesn’t Care, Emily Cochrane, Dec. 30, 2018. Representative-elect Donna Shalala of Florida, a former secretary of health and human services, concedes that her new junior status will be a challenge.

The Georgetown waterfront apartment where Donna Shalala has spent part of the last two decades is half sanctuary, half résumé.

donna shalala knight foundationThere is a signed photo of Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state, walking with Ms. Shalala when both were in Bill Clinton’s cabinet. A gold coffee table is adorned with the visages of the kings of Persia, a reminder of her time in pre-revolutionary Iran as a Peace Corps volunteer. Against a bookshelf a set of golf clubs rests in a bag emblazoned with the trademark orange and green “U” from the University of Miami, the 17,000-student private institution where she was president until 2015.

The shoulder bag left on a chair by the door with a different seal — the House of Representatives — seems like a bit of a letdown. But nevertheless, as she will repeatedly tell you, Ms. Shalala is excited for the next chapter in a career spanning decades: backbench freshman.

us house logoTaking office a little over a month before her 78th birthday, Ms. Shalala, who once presided over a sprawling bureaucracy and budget as secretary of health and human services, will take on a new role: the oldest freshman in her class and one of the oldest true freshmen in congressional history. (Representative James Bowler of Illinois, elected at 78 in 1953, still maintains the distinction of being the oldest first-term freshman.)

Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), Opinion: Historical Perspective — Nazis, the Klan, and Trumpers: Natural Allies, Dec. 30, 2018. Trump’s racist and xenophobic base of the current era is not the first time disloyal Americans attempted to turn the United States into a dystopian fascist state with entangling links to foreign powers. There were tens of thousands of Americans who were more than willing to sell out to an Axis occupation force that would forever end America’s experiment in democracy.Dec. 29

U.S. Shutdown / Migrant Standoff

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump retreats from public view as shutdown continues over border wall fight, David Nakamura, Dec. 29, 2018 (print djt handwave fileedition). While lawmakers left town, the president emphasized his decision to cancel a trip to Florida and stay in Washington, but he has not used this time to engage in negotiations or seize the public stage and make his case for funding the border wall. Instead, he’s filled the silence with tweets.

washington post logoWashington Post, While Washington focuses on the wall, Mexico fears its own border crisis, Mary Beth Sheridan, Dec. 29, 2018 (print edition). Officials in Mexican border cities like Tijuana said they are unprepared to handle the overwhelming number of migrants awaiting American asylum decisions.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Donald Trump’s wall shutdown continues to cave in on him, Robert Harrington, Dec. 29, 2018. The shutdown will continue at least until January 3rd, when it will be two weeks old, and will become the fourth longest government shutdown in US history. After bill palmer report logo headerthat it will require only eight more days to become the longest.

Polls indicate that more people by far blame Trump for the shutdown than anyone else. This is only proper, as he insistently demanded he take the blame for it during his Oval Office meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer on the 11th of December.

U.S. Pullout From Syria

AMN (Al-Masdar News), Turkey to work with Iran, Russia to achieve settlement in Syria, Staff report, Dec. 29, 2018. Turkey intends to continue mevlut cavusoglu turkeyclose cooperation with Russia and Iran in Syria, Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu, right, said on Saturday after negotiations in Moscow.

“Ankara and Moscow share the opinion that it is necessary to destroy all terrorist organizations in Syria. We will continue close cooperation with Russia and Iran on Syria and regional issues,” Anadolu Agency quoted the foreign minister as saying.

Ankara remains committed to Syria’s territorial integrity and is ready to counter attempts to undermine it, he said.

syria map manbij 12 28 2018 global event map
The Syrian army enters Manbij as Trump follows through on withdrawal: Iraq is next

Middle East Politics via Southfront, Opinion: The Syrian army enters Manbij as Trump follows through on withdrawal: Iraq is next, Elijah J. Magnier, Dec. 29, 2018. The US presidential plane landed in the darkness of the Iraqi military base of Ayn al-Assad in west Anbar with Donald Trump onboard. But by the time his plane took off three hours later, Trump left behind a protocol-political-parliamentary storm in Mesopotamia as Iraqi members of parliament requested the departure of the 5200 US forces from the country.

syrian flag wavingNone of the three Iraqi leaders (Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, Speaker Mohammad al-Halbusi, President Barham Salih) came to receive Trump as all three rejected US conditions for such a meeting. Trump seems determined to leave Syria without interfering with who will control the territory behind him: this morning the Syrian Army entered the outskirt of the city of Manbij following a deal between Kurdish leaders and the government of Damascus. Will he also end up leaving Iraq before the end of his term in January 2021?

Trump’s disregard for protocol when landing in a sovereign foreign country has infuriated local politicians, heads of organisations and members of parliament. They felt insulted and have called for the withdrawal of US forces from the country. Others threatened to force US troops out of the country.

Qais al-Khaz’ali, the head of a parliamentary coalition and leader of “Asaeb Ahl al-haq” (responsible for killing US soldiers during their occupation of Iraq between 2003 and 2011), said “Iraq will respond (to the Trump insult) through a parliamentary demand that you pull out your troops and if you don’t leave, we have the (warfare) experience to force you out.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Syria’s Kurds, Abandoned by U.S., Ask Assad Government for Protection, Ben Hubbard, Dec. 29, 2018 (print edition). The most powerful Kurdish militia asked for troops to be sent to ward off a possible attack by Turkey. It was the first move in a looming scramble for control of Syria’s east since President Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops.

Feeling betrayed by the United States, its Kurdish allies in Syria asked the Syrian government on Friday to protect them from possible attack by Turkey.

kurd flag wavingThe request appeared to help open the way for the forces of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, backed by Russia and Iran, to start retaking the Kurdish-held part of the country near Turkey’s border. That would be a big step toward Mr. Assad’s goal of reclaiming all of Syria, upended by almost eight years of war.

The request amounted to a United States ally calling on an enemy of the United States to protect it from another American ally, Turkey.

Analyzing Murder Probes

washington post logoWashington Post, Investigation: To catch a killer, the first days are crucial. After a year, chances of an arrest are only 5 percent, Kimbriell Kelly and Steven Rich, Dec. 29, 2018 (print edition). A Washington Post examination of 8,000 homicide arrests across 25 major U.S. cities since 2007 found that in half of the cases, an arrest was made in 10 days or fewer. The longer the case drags on without an arrest, the less likely the killer will be brought to justice.

Russia Scandal

time logo ogTime, Investigation: Russian Ex-Spy Pressured Manafort Over Debts to an Oligarch, Simon Shuster, Dec. 29, 2018. When the U.S. government put out its latest sanctions list on Dec. 19, the man named at the top did not seem especially important. Described in the document as a former Russian intelligence officer, he was accused of handling money and negotiations on behalf of a powerful Russian oligarch. The document did not mention that the man, Victor Boyarkin, had links to the 2016 campaign of President Donald Trump.

victor boyarkin twitter july 2007A months-long investigation by TIME, however, found that Boyarkin, a former arms dealer with a high forehead and a very low profile, was a key link between a senior member of the Trump campaign and a powerful ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In his only interview with the media about those connections, Boyarkin (shown at left in a Twitter photo) told Time this fall that he was in touch with Trump’s then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, in the heat of the presidential race on behalf of the Russian oligarch. “He owed us a lot of money,” Boyarkin says. “And he was offering ways to pay it back.”

The former Russian intelligence officer says he has been approached by the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Boyarkin’s response to those investigators? “I told them to go dig a ditch,” he says.

When he joined the campaign in the spring of 2016, Manafort was nearly broke. The veteran political consultant had racked up bills worth millions of dollars in luxury real estate, clothing, cars and antiques. According to allegations contained in court records filed in the U.S. and the Cayman Islands, he was also deeply in debt to Boyarkin’s boss, the Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, who was demanding money from Manafort over a failed business deal in Ukraine and other ventures. Boyarkin says it fell to him to collect the debt from Manafort.

U.S. Pension Injustice

washington post logoWashington Post, Investigation on ‘Profits of Misfortune’: As a grocery chain is dismantled, investors recover their money. Worker pensions are short millions, Peter Whoriskey, Dec. 28, 2018. Private-equity firm Sun Capital has taken five companies into bankruptcy in 10 years, while leaving behind debts of about $280 million owed to employee pensions,

marsh logoOnce the Marsh Supermarkets chain began to falter a few years ago, its owner, a private-equity firm, began selling off the vast retail empire, piece by piece. The company sold more than 100 convenience stores. It sold the pharmacies. It closed some of the 115 grocery stores, having previously auctioned off their real estate. Then, in May 2017, the company announced the closure of the remaining 44 stores.

Marsh Supermarkets, founded in 1931, had at last filed for bankruptcy.

sun capital partners logo“It was a long, slow decline,” said Amy Gerken, formerly an assistant office manager at one of the stores. Sun Capital Partners, the private-equity firm that owned Marsh, “didn’t really know how grocery stores work.” 

The anger arises because although the sell-off allowed Sun Capital and its investors to recover their money and then some, the company entered bankruptcy leaving unpaid more than $80 million in debts to workers’ severance and pensions.

For Sun Capital, this process of buying companies, seeking profits and leaving pensions unpaid is a familiar one. Over the past 10 years, it has taken five companies into bankruptcy while leaving behind debts of about $280 million owed to employee pensions.

The unpaid pension debts mean that some retirees will get smaller checks. Much of the tab will be picked up by the government’s pension insurer, a federal agency facing its own budget shortfalls.

U.S. Politics

ny times logoNew York Times, Fears of Republican Power Grab in Michigan Fade as Governor Vetoes Bill, Dec. 29, 2018 (print edition). Just a few weeks ago, protesters marched through the Michigan Capitol claiming that Republicans were trying to subvert the will of voters and seize power from the Democrats who had just been elected governor, attorney general and secretary of state.

rick snyder 2013The protesters’ worst fears did not come to fruition.

On Friday, Gov. Rick Snyder {shown in a 2013 file photo), a Republican whose eight-year tenure ends next week, vetoed a bill that would have allowed lawmakers to intervene in court cases, a measure seen as an effort to dilute the authority of the new Democrats. Other legislation that would have stripped power from incoming officials never made it to a floor vote.

republican elephant logoThe results gave Michigan Democrats some measure of relief, though they were not at all thrilled with what had happened in recent weeks. Mr. Snyder also signed or vetoed dozens of other bills this week passed by lawmakers during their busy, contentious lame-duck session.

In recent years, lame-duck bills to strip authority from newly elected Democrats have become part of the partisan playbook in Republican-controlled states. But Mr. Snyder’s approach to those measures contrasted sharply with that of Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who proudly signed farther-reaching legislation this month, and of former Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina, who approved similar bills in 2016.

“Some of the ones that he vetoed, we are a little surprised that he vetoed,” State Representative Adam Zemke, a Democrat, said. “And so that’s a positive thing.”

Dec. 28

2018 News In Review

Yahoo News, 8 important stories that were overlooked in 2018, Dylan Stableford, Dec. 28, 2018. In the unrelenting news cycle that has come to define President Trump’s administration, plenty of news went largely overlooked or was otherwise lost in the blur of 2018. Here are eight important stories that you might have understandably missed or that deserved more coverage than they received.

  • The expanded U.S. drone program
  • The death toll in Puerto Rico
  • The police killing of Antwon Rose Jr.
  • The mass shooting at Santa Fe High School
  • The dire warnings about climate change
  • The progressive initiatives passed by red states
  • The White House connection to Jeffrey Epstein
  • The drop in U.S. life expectancy

U.S. Shutdown Stalemate

ny times logoNew York Times, With No Votes Scheduled, a Shutdown Will Greet the Democratic House, Nicholas Fandos and Catie Edmondson, Dec. 28, 2018 (print edition). Republican leaders gave up hope on Thursday of reopening the government before the new year, leaving the border wall impasse to House Democrats as they assume the majority next week — and presenting Representative Nancy Pelosi with her first major challenge as speaker.

us house logoHouse Democrats, who assume control on Wednesday, are weighing three approaches to getting funds flowing, none of which would include additional money for President Trump’s proposed wall along the southwestern border. Whichever path they choose, party leaders said they would vote promptly on Jan. 3, hoping to project the image of Democrats as a steadying hand in Washington even as Republicans try to blame the shutdown and lax border control on Ms. Pelosi and her party.

nancy pelosi“We will vote swiftly to reopen government and show that Democrats will govern responsibly in stark contrast to this chaotic White House,” Ms. Pelosi (left) said in a statement.

Ms. Pelosi is determined to prevent the shutdown brinkmanship from interfering with the Democrats’ assumption of power and her ceremony-soaked return to the speakership. But it appeared almost certain that the careful rollout of Democrats’ legislative agenda — including a sweeping anticorruption and voting rights bill — would be at least partly eclipsed by the funding crisis. The shutdown has affected about a quarter of the government, left 800,000 federal workers furloughed or working without pay, and on Thursday entered its sixth day.

House Democratic leaders plan to pass a stopgap measure to fund the government into February, another stopgap measure that would fund it through September, or the bipartisan, yearlong spending bills for everything but the Department of Homeland Security. That department, which handles the border, would be funded by a separate stopgap measure that maintains current financing levels and policies.

A vote on any of the bills would probably take place next Thursday, after Ms. Pelosi is expected to be elected speaker and make her first speech to the House. Democrats still plan to make a wide-ranging anticorruption and voting rights bill their opening legislative priority. They will introduce the first bill of the Democratic House — which includes changes to campaign finance law, outlaws gerrymandering, and restores enforcement authority to the Voting Rights Act — on Wednesday, followed with a marquee unveiling ceremony on Friday on the steps of the Capitol.

Syrian News Headlines

Note: The following headlines focus on major developments in Syria today, with fuller excerpts below:

President Trump with U.S. Army Major Gen. Michael Howard, center, with Defense Sec. Jim Mattis, left, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford at Arlington National Cemetery on May 29, 2017 (Department of Defense photo).

President Trump with U.S. Army Major Gen. Michael Howard, center, with Defense Sec. Jim Mattis, left, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford at Arlington National Cemetery on May 29, 2017 (Department of Defense photo).

Trump Lies To Troops On Pay

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump bragged to service members in Iraq about a 10 percent raise they haven’t been given, Eli Rosenberg, Dec. 28, djt in iraq maga hat signing dec 25 20182018 (print edition). Speaking to members of the military during his surprise trip overseas this week, President Trump spoke about the raises they received. “You haven’t gotten one in more than 10 years — more than 10 years,” he said Wednesday. “And we got you a big one. I got you a big one. I got you a big one.”

He continued: “They said: ‘You know, we could make it smaller. We could make it 3 percent. We could make it 2 percent. We could make it 4 percent.’ I said: ‘No. Make it 10 percent. Make it more than 10 percent.’ ”

The problem with those statements? They’re not true. As The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Paul Sonne reported, the pay raise Trump authorized this year amounted to 2.6 percent, not 10 percent. And the troops have received a pay raise every year for decades.

Migrant Boy’s Death

ICE logo

washington post logoWashington Post, Official: Guatemalan boy who died in U.S. custody tested positive for influenza B, final cause of death remains under investigation, Maria Sacchetti, Dec. 28, 2018. Word spread through the impoverished village in the western highlands of Guatemala: Migrants traveling with a child are likely to make it past the Border Patrol and into the United States.

felipe gomez alonzo croppedAgustin Gomez Perez was 47 and in debt, and that path would only deepen his obligations. But like others in the rural farming village of Yalambojoch, he decided that traveling with a child was the only way out.

He and his wife chose 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo for the journey because he was one of three sons, and the couple had only one daughter together.

Felipe [shown in an undated photo by a family member distributed by the Associated Press] was eager to go, an older stepsister who also lived with them said in a phone interview Thursday. He was excited to attend school, find a new home and buy clothes for his siblings. He also wanted a new bicycle, like a boy in the village purchased with money sent after his father went to work in the United States.

“It was his dream,” said the sister, Catarina Gomez Lucas, 21.

Father and son ended up in a holding cell in Alamogordo, N.M., on Christmas Eve after days of being shuttled from one Border Patrol facility to another. They expected that the U.S. government was about to release them to await a deportation hearing, just as the smugglers had promised.

Instead, the little boy vomited and spiked a fever. He died at a New Mexico hospital, the second child fatality in U.S. immigration custody in under a month.

The deaths have triggered ­finger-pointing between the White House and Democrats over border security, and allegations that the Trump administration is endangering migrant children by detaining them for days in cells meant as way stations for adults.

U.S. Election Frauds

washington post logoWashington Post, Hoyer says House will not seat a North Carolina Republican amid questions about integrity of election, Felicia Sonmez and Eli Rosenberg, Dec. 28, 2018. Incoming House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said Friday that Democrats next week will not seat a North Carolina Republican amid allegations of election fraud in the state’s 9th Congressional District.

steny hoyer omark harris north carolina congress“Given the now well-documented election fraud that took place in NC-09, Democrats would object to any attempt by [Mark] Harris [left] to be seated on January 3,” Hoyer [right] said in a statement to The Washington Post. “In this instance, the integrity of our democratic process outweighs concerns about the seat being vacant at the start of the new Congress.”

The statement came after North Carolina dissolved its elections board Friday without certifying the results of the election, leaving the fate of the seat in doubt days ahead of the start of the new Congress.

Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, told CNN on Friday that the elections board “failed in their duty” to certify Harris and suggested that the state GOP may take legal action.

Wayne Goodwin, chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party, countered by calling Republicans’ behavior “shocking” and accusing them of “trying to steal” a congressional seat.

It remains unclear whether there will be an interim board of elections to serve between now and Jan. 31, when a new board is expected to be seated. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said Friday that he intends to appoint a temporary five-member board, but Republicans have decried the idea of an interim panel as “unconstitutional” and a “sham.”

Syrian News (Continued)

syria map 12 28 2018

Moon of Alabama, Opinion: Syria Sitrep [Situation Report] — Army To Regain Northeastern Territory, Political Isolation Ends, b, Dec. 28, 2018. The fallout from U.S. president Trump’s decision to retreat from Syria develops as expected.

syrian flag wavingTrump had announced a rapid draw down of U.S. troops in Syria. Later he spoke of a controlled process that would allow Turkey to take over the U.S. occupied areas in northeast Syria. That plan, probably initiated by National Security Advisor John Bolton, is totally unrealistic. Such an wide ranging occupation, which would be resisted by many powerful forces, is not in Turkey’s interest.

recep erdogan with flagNevertheless, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan [left] will use the threat of a Turkish invasion to press for a dismantling of the Kurdish YPG forces which the U.S. trained and equipped.

This morning the Syrian Arab Army (SAA, shown in red) announced that it entered Manbij, west of the Euphrates. It established itself on the contact line between the Turkish supported forces (green) and the U.S. supported Kurdish YPG (yellow). The Syrian flag was raised in Manbij city. The move comes after U.S. troops and their Kurdish proxy forces voluntarily retreated from the area. Manbij was threatened by the Turkish military and its Jihadi proxy forces. To prevent a Turkish onslaught, the local armed groups, who collaborated with the U.S. military, invited the Syrian army to take over. This pattern will repeat elsewhere.

A Turkish delegation is also in Moscow and tomorrow Erdogan will visit there. Russia spoke out against the U.S. plan to let Turkey take Syria’s northeast or even parts of it. Erdogan will not get Russian or Iranian support for any such move. Moreover, he will be pressed to leave the other areas of Syria Turkey currently occupies.

To cover the withdrawal from Syria the U.S. military established two new bases in Iraq. These are also blocking positions designed to prevent over land traffic between the Levant and Iran. It is unlikely that the U.S. will occupy those bases for long. The Iraqi parliament is already moving to again throw out all U.S. forces from its country.

Yesterday the United Arab Emirates reopened its embassy in Damascus. Bahrain will follow next. Kuwait will reopen its embassy in January. Oman never closed its embassy in Damascus. Of the Gulf countries only Qatar, allied with Turkey, and Saudi Arabia have jet to announce a revival of their relations with Syria.

Underlying the UAE move is a strategy of countering Turkey’s neo-ottoman ambition. The Arab move is also perceived as a counter to Iranian influence in Syria. In this it will fail. Syria was rescued from the all-out attack on it by Iran’s intervention. It was the Iranian General Soleimani who convinced Russia to commit troops to Syria. It was Iran that spent billions to prop up the Syrian government while the Gulf Arabs spent even more to take it down. Syria will not forget who are its foes and who are its real friends.

An Israeli air attack on Syrian military installments on December 26 largely failed. The Israeli jets fired some 16 stand-off bombs from Lebanese air space. They cowardly hid behind two commercial airliners, which were on their way from the Gulf to Europe. This made it impossible for the Syrian air defense to directly attack the Israeli jets.

Most of the Israeli projectiles were destroyed by the Syrian short-range air defenses. A Syrian missile was fired against Israel proper. It was a reminder that new rules of engagement, as announced, have been established. Attacks on Syria will be replied to by direct attacks on Israel. The missile shot ended the Israeli attack.

Southfront, Army Troops Entered Town Of Manbij: Syrian Defense Ministry, Staff report, Dec. 28, 2018. Troops of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) entered the town of Manbij in the northern part of Aleppo province and raised Syrian flag over the town on December 28, the country’s state-run news agency SANA reported citing a statement by the Syrian General Staff.

kurd flag wavingOn the same day, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) released a statement inviting the SAA to take control of northern Syria areas from which YPG units had allegedly withdrawn. The reason of the decision is a threat of Turkish military operation in the area, which would be aimed against Kurdish armed groups.

Earlier, Russian and Syrian troops deployed in the village of Arima west of Manbij.

All these areas had been controlled by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which mostly consist of YPG units. The SDF’s political wing, the Syrian Democratic Council, is mostly controlled by the YPG’s political wing, the YPD, and other YPG-linked entities.

That the SAA had entered Manbij does not mean that members of the SDF’s Manbij Military Council will be expelled from the area. According to reports, the sides had agreed to establish a join control of the area in order to prevent a Turkish invasion. Pro-government sources say that the Manbij agreement is only a first step of a wider deal between the SAA and the YPG (SDF, PYD, SDC) on the situation in northern Syria, which could be reached soon.

Southfront, Turkish-Backed Militants March Towards Syria’s Manbij, Staff report, Dec. 28, 2018. The Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) announced on December 28 that its convoys, along with Turkish forces, are moving towards the frontlines with Manbij in order to “liberate” the northern city.

Despite the NSA’s claims, local observers believe that the upcoming hours will not witness any military confrontation around Manbij because U.S. forces are yet to withdraw from the city and a high-level Turkish-Russian meeting will be held in Moscow in the upcoming days.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Trump’s Syria decision was essentially correct. Here’s how he can make the most of it, Robert S. Ford (shown below at right in an official photo as U.S. ambassador to Syria from 2011 to 2014), Dec. 28, 2018 (print edition). robert s ford state dept 2011President Trump’s Dec. 23 tweet promising a “slow and highly coordinated” withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria may ease the gnashing of teeth among officials and analysts in Washington, but it won’t end the criticism of his decision.

That is precisely why the president should view the hullabaloo that erupted after he announced the Syrian pullout as an opportunity to take a number of steps to make the most of his essentially correct, but widely unpopular, move.

Many observers have asserted that the withdrawal gives victory in Syria to Russia, Iran and the Syrian government. That’s absurd. Bashar al-Assad’s regime already controls about two-thirds of Syria, including all of the major cities. The portion of Syria that U.S. forces control alongside their Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) allies is mostly either desert or drought-prone plains.

Stability, not a deeply embattled Syrian Kurdish autonomous zone, is the vital long-term U.S. interest in northeastern Syria.ISIS

oenearthlogoOpEdNews, Opinion: Trump Critics of Syria Withdrawal Fueled Rise of ISIS, Max Blumenthal, Dec. 28, 2018. President Donald Trump’s announcement of an imminent withdrawal of US troops from northeastern Syria summoned a predictable paroxysm of outrage from Washington’s foreign policy establishment.

Yet few of those thundering condemnations of the president’s move seemed able to explain just why a few thousand U.S. troops had been deployed to the Syrian hinterlands in the first place. If the mission was to destroy ISIS, then why did ISIS rise in the first place? And why was the jihadist organization still festering right in the midst of the U.S. military occupation?

There are now real reasons to fear that a Turkish advance will ignite a resurgence of ISIS (with some fighters shown above in a file photo). Turkey was not only a source of aid and oil sales to the jihadist group, it currently oversees a mercenary force of Salafi militiamen that includes droves of former Islamic State fighters. If the Turkish onslaught proves destabilizing, Iran and its allied Shia militias could ramp up their deployment in Syria, which would trigger a harsh reaction from Israel and its Beltway cut-outs.

Then again, the Kurdish YPG is in high level negotiations with Damascus and may team up with the Syrian military to fill the void. From an anti-ISIS standpoint, this is clearly the best option. It is therefore the least popular one in Washington.

Whatever happens in Syria, those who presided over U.S. policy towards the country over the past seven years are in no position to criticize. They set the stage for the entire crisis, propelling the rise of ISIS in a bid to decapitate another insufficiently pliant state. And though they may never face the accountability they deserve, the impending withdrawal of American troops is a long overdue and richly satisfying rebuke.

 President Trump with U.S. Army Major Gen. Michael Howard, center, with Defense Sec. Jim Mattis, left, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford at Arlington National Cemetery on May 29, 2017 (Department of Defense photo).

President Trump with U.S. Army Major Gen. Michael Howard, center, with Defense Sec. Jim Mattis, left, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford at Arlington National Cemetery on May 29, 2017 (Department of Defense photo).

American Conservative, Trump Scores, Breaks Generals’ 50-Year War Record, Gareth Porter (below at left), Dec. 28, 2018. His national security team had been trying to box him in like every other president. But he called their bluff.

The mainstream media has attacked President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria as impulsive, blindsiding his own national security team. But detailed, published accounts of the policy process over the course of the year tell a very different story. They show that senior national security officials and self-interested institutions have been playing a complicated political game for months aimed at keeping Trump from wavering on our indefinite presence on the ground in Syria.

gareth porter trnn screenshotThe entire episode thus represents a new variant of a familiar pattern dating back to Vietnam in which national security advisors put pressure on reluctant presidents to go along with existing or proposed military deployments in a war zone. The difference here is that Trump, by publicly choosing a different policy, has blown up their transparent schemes and offered the country a new course, one that does not involve a permanent war state.

The relationship between Trump and his national security team has been tense since the beginning of his administration. By mid-summer 2017, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joseph Dunford had become so alarmed at Trump’s negative responses to their briefings justifying global U.S. military deployments that they decided to do a formal briefing in “the tank,” used by the Joint Chiefs for meetings at the Pentagon.

But when Mattis and Dunford sang the praises of the “rules-based, international democratic order” that has “kept the peace for 70 years,” Trump simply shook his head in disbelief.

By the end of that year, however, Mattis, Dunford, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo believed they’d succeeded in getting Trump to use U.S. troops not only to defeat Islamic State but to “stabilize” the entire northeast sector of Syria and balance Russian and Iranian-sponsored forces. Yet they ignored warning signs of Trump’s continuing displeasure with their vision of a more or less permanent American military presence in Syria.

U.S. Supreme Court

SCOTUSblog, Civility and collegiality continued to be a theme in the Supreme Court justices’ appearances this month. Victoria Kwan, Dec. 28, 2018. On a December 7 visit to Duquesne University, Justice Sonia Sotomayor recounted a conversation about civility with the other justices. Previous justices were at times openly hostile to one another, and the court’s current era of collegiality is perhaps more of an exception than the rule.

sandra day oconnor oAccording to Sotomayor, retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (right) was in large part responsible for this change, initiating traditions such as justice lunches and making sure to speak to Chief Justice John Roberts, before she left the bench, about the importance of maintaining collegiality. Coverage of the event comes from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

While recent headlines about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg have focused on her health – namely, her recovery from a fall that resulted in three broken ribs, followed by an operation to remove cancerous nodules from her lungs – the justice still found time for multiple public appearances this month, including two events to promote the new biopic “On the Basis of Sex.” On December 11, Ginsburg participated in a Q&A session with NPR reporter Nina Totenberg prior to a screening of the film at the National Archives Museum in Washington. “I’m feeling just fine,” she reassured the audience, according to Variety. “I am meeting with my personal trainer tomorrow.” Additional coverage comes from The Hollywood Reporter.

On December 18, Justice Samuel Alito (left) gave a lecture on globalization and the enforcement of human rights at the Europa Institut at the samuel alitoUniversity of Zurich. Alito spoke of the collision of abstract rights and tradition in the Supreme Court’s rulings on “liberty,” comparing the outcomes of the court’s assisted suicide and same-sex marriage cases.

Asked to comment on the perception of warring conservative and liberal wings of the Supreme Court, Alito answered: “There are cases in which we divide five to four… but when that happens, it’s based on differences in our ideas about how the Constitution should be interpreted and how statutes should be interpreted. It’s certainly not based on the party of the President who appointed us.” The University of Zurich posted video of Alito’s talk online.

Mueller’s First SCOTUS Test

cnn logoCNN, Government files sealed response to Supreme Court in mystery grand jury case, Mary Kay Mallonee, Dec. 28, 2018. The federal government responded Friday to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’ issuance of a temporary pause on an order holding an unnamed, foreign government-owned company in contempt over a mystery court case related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

The government response was filed under seal ahead of Monday’s deadline.

The company asked the Supreme Court to intervene after a federal appeals court ruling that ordered the company to comply with the subpoena, which required it to turn over “information” about its commercial activity in a criminal investigation. The Supreme Court action also paused fines the company was facing for every day of noncompliance.

Roberts could now refer the matter to the full court to determine the next step.

robert mueller full face fileIt would take votes from five justices to keep in place the pause of the contempt citation if the Supreme Court decides to take up a full review of the lower court rulings.

The company’s challenge of the subpoena appears to have begun in September. In its ruling this past week, the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia offered few clues about the company and its country of origin or what Mueller’s team sought.

This is the first known legal challenge apparently related to Mueller’s investigation to make its way to the Supreme Court.

Roberts’ original order put on hold the contempt citation issued by a DC federal judge against the company for refusing to comply with a grand jury subpoena, but only long enough for the justices to decide whether they want to intervene.

U.S. Environment

ny times logoNew York Times, E.P.A. Proposes Rule Change That Would Let Power Plants Release More Toxic Pollution, Lisa Friedman, Dec. 28, 2018. The Trump administration announced on Friday a plan designed to make it easier for coal-fired power plants, after nearly a decade of restrictions, to release into the atmosphere more mercury and other pollutants linked to developmental disorders and respiratory illnesses.

epa general logoThe limits on mercury, set in 2011, were the first federal standards to restrict some of the most hazardous pollutants emitted by coal plants and were considered one of former President Barack Obama’s signature environmental achievements. Since then, scientists have said, mercury pollution from power plants has declined more than 80 percent nationwide.

President Trump’s new proposal does not repeal the regulation, known as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, but it would lay the groundwork for doing so by weakening a key legal justification for the measure. The long-term impact would be significant: It would weaken the ability of the E.P.A. to impose new regulations in the future by adjusting the way the agency measures the benefits of curbing pollutants, giving less weight to the potential health gains.

Dec. 27

ny times logoNew York Times, Special Section: This Is Our Reality’: The Costs of Trump’s Retreat on the Environment, Eric Lipton, Steve Eder, John Branch and Gabriella Demczuk, Dec. 27, 2018 (print edition). In just two years, President Trump has unleashed a regulatory rollback with little parallel in the past half-century. His approach to the environment is unfolding in consequential ways for the health and safety of Americans.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Trump Imperils the Planet, Editorial Board, Dec. 27, 2018 (print edition). Endangered species, climate change — djt official Smallthe administration is taking the country, and the world, backward.

The health and environmental effects of the Trump rollbacks, as documented by a Times investigation published this week, are far-reaching and potentially devastating.

 Trump Troop Visit

djt maga hat iraq screenshot 2018 12 25

cnn logoCNN, Troops’ signed hats may violate military rule, Eli Watkins, Dec. 27, 2018. White House says it didn’t distribute MAGA hats Trump signed in Iraq, Germany. President Donald Trump made his first visit to a war zone on Wednesday, receiving an enthusiastic reception from many US troops there — some of whom may have run afoul of military rules. Video footage and the written report of Trump’s visit with service members in Iraq showed the President signing “Make America Great Again” hats and an embroidered patch that read “Trump 2020.”

A US military official told CNN the MAGA hats that Trump signed at the Ramstein Air Base event in Germany were personal and brought Department of Defense Sealthere by military personnel in hopes of getting an autograph. The official contended that it was not a campaign event and that the hats were used as support for Trump, not as a statement of political support.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told CNN the hats were personal items brought by the troops in Iraq and Germany. Sanders said the White House did not distribute them.

donald trump make great logoDepartment of Defense guidelines say that “active duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause.”

The questions arose because the hats, emblazoned with the President’s signature political slogan, appeared to be brand new and because there are rules against military personnel participating in political activities while in uniform.

The Defense Department guidelines have the same intent as mirror the Hatch Act restrictions on political activities for civilian federal officials. In the Trump Era, officials have deemed hashtags and hats potential rule violations.

djt melania iraq 12 26 2018

cnn logoCNN, Iraqi politicians, lawmakers denounce Trump visit, US troop presence, Mohammed Tawfeeq, Dec, 27, 2018. Several lawmakers and political parties in Iraq on Thursday demanded the departure of American troops from their country. The outcry came after the surprise visit by US President Donald Trump on Wednesday.

djt in iraq maga hat signing dec 25 2018The President and first lady quietly swept in to Iraq to pay a holiday visit to US troops — the first trip Trump has made to a war zone. That visit and the US troop presence were denounced on Thursday by parliament members, major Iraqi political parties and key players in the current Iraqi government.

“Trump should know that Iraq is not an American state and Iraqi prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi should bear responsibility,” Iraqi lawmaker Faleh al-Khazali said in a statement. “We demand all US troops to leave Iraq and Iraqi government should consider them as occupiers.”

Ahmed al-Assadi, another Iraqi lawmaker, said that “the demand for the withdrawal of American forces has become a basic requirement that must be implemented as soon as possible.”

iraq afghanistan mapA meeting between Trump and Abdul-Mahdi scheduled to take place in Baghdad on Wednesday was canceled because of a “variation of views,” Iraqi Prime Minister’s media office said in a statement released Wednesday.

“There was supposed to be a formal reception and a meeting between Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi and the US President, but a variation of views to organize the meeting led it to be replaced by a telephone conversation on developments in the situation,” the statement read.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that for security reasons, the White House was only able to invite the prime minister two hours before the scheduled time of the meeting and that the prime minister was in a different part of Iraq and unable to attend.

The Iranian-backed Islamic Dawa Party, Mahdi’s political party, said in a statement released Thursday that President Trump’s visit to one of Iraq’s military bases occurred “in a way that has no respect for the country sovereignty or the norms of diplomacy.”

U.S. Border Death

ny times logoNew York Times, ‘A Breaking Point’: Second Child’s Death Prompts New Procedures for Border Agency, Miriam Jordan, Dec. 27, 2018 (print edition). A Guatemalan boy who died on Christmas Eve while in United States custody was moved among at least four crowded facilities at the border over the six days from his apprehension until his death.

That chronology, provided by government officials, underscores how stretched the facilities and their staff are in handling the surge of Central American families reaching the southwest border, particularly minors.

kirstjen nielsen oKirstjen M. Nielsen (left), the secretary of homeland security, acknowledged on Wednesday that the “dramatic increase” had pushed the system to “a breaking point.”

She said she had ordered her agency to bolster medical screenings of children at the southwest border and had enlisted the medical corps of the United States Coast Guard to assist. The secretary also said that she would travel to the border this week to personally observe the screenings.

Most of the circumstances surrounding the boy’s death remain unknown. It is not clear whether his health deteriorated jakelin amei rosmery caal maquinbecause of neglect by personnel in the facilities, the perilous journey, or a combination of these factors.

The boy, who had entered the United States with his father, was identified by Guatemalan authorities as Felipe Gomez Alonso. Nearly three weeks earlier, Jakelin Caal Maquin, right, also traveling with her father, died in Border Patrol custody.

Election Honesty

whowhatwhy election integrity feed

WhoWhatWhy, Investigations: WhoWhatWhy’s Top Election Integrity Stories of 2018, Staff report, Dec. 27, 2018. This year WhoWhatWhy [which designed the graphic above] spent considerable resources shining a light on election vulnerabilities, and how bad actors both foreign and domestic are trying to undermine our most precious resource, democracy. We think some of these outstanding pieces deserve a second look.

There is probably not another news outlet in the US that dedicated such a high share of its resources to covering election integrity. This year alone, we published more than 100 articles on this vital issue.

Why are we doing this? Because we understand that the right to vote — and fair elections — are under assault. The stories below illustrate how far-reaching these threats to democracy are.

Story No. 1: WhoWhatWhy, Investigation: How the Threat of Exposure Killed Trump’s ‘Voter Fraud’ Commission, Sean Steinberg, Jan. 11, 2018. Commission May Be Gone, But Its Hidden Agenda — Voter Suppression — Could Live On

 Trump Scandal / ‘Apprentice’

daily beast logoDaily Beast, Trump’s ‘Apprentice’ Journey in Reality: ‘Wouldn’t You Like to F*ck Her?,’ Olivia Messer, Dec. 27, 2018. A speed read of a New Yorker profile of Mark Burnett reveals more about the existence (or not) of new Trump tapes, and the man who saw the presidency as just another game for TV,

donald trump apprentice color nbcDoes the N-word tape exist? How did Trump [shown in a publicity photo for The Apprentice] go from “carnival barker” to leader of the free world? Will Russian President Vladimir Putin ever become a full-fledged reality-TV star?

Patrick Radden Keefe tries to answer those questions for The New Yorker in his new profile of Mark Burnett, portraying the deeply tanned British chairman of MGM Television as a figure who views the U.S. presidency as a game, which began with the resurrection of Donald Trump in the role as host of The Apprentice.

The Survivor creator once described Trump as his “soulmate,” and Keefe’s profile reveals behind-the-scenes information about the existence (or not) of more Trump tapes, while revealing Burnett as a man who saw potential in the real-estate mogul’s then-crumbling empire.

Burnett’s chief legacy, Keefe writes, “is to have cast a serially bankrupt carnival barker in the role of a man who might plausibly become the leader of the free world.”

Here are the four juiciest excerpts from the long read.

More #MeToo

Miami Herald, An Epstein sex case is settled; Dershowitz denies latest allegation, Julie K. Brown, Dec. 19, 2018, updated Dec. 27. Accused sex traffickers Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell have settled a federal civil lawsuit filed by a woman who says she was ordered under threat of violence to have sex with them and other influential individuals when she was in her early 20s, sources confirmed Wednesday.

Sarah Ransome, who now lives in Barcelona, claimed that she was recruited and trafficked for sex by the pair in 2006 and 2007 — at the same time that Epstein, a wealthy New York hedge fund manager, was under federal investigation for molesting dozens of underage girls at his Palm Beach mansion.

According to a recent court transcript, among those people Ransome claims she was directed to have sex with was Epstein’s lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, who helped negotiate a controversial plea deal that gave the eccentric multimillionaire — and co-conspirators employed by Epstein — federal immunity in 2008.

Dershowitz, 80, told the Miami Herald that he has never met Ransome nor has he ever had sex with her. He accused Ransome’s attorney, powerhouse lawyer David Boies, of inventing the story and using her and another woman, Virginia Roberts, to frame him. Roberts asserted in a federal court affidavit in 2015 that Epstein forced her to have sex with Dershowitz when she was 16 years old.
Nowhere in the court case or the transcript does Ransome or anyone else allege that Ransome had sex with Dershowitz — only that she was directed to.

The Ransome settlement, which is confidential, comes two weeks after Epstein settled another lawsuit in Palm Beach, filed by an attorney who represented several women who said they were coerced into sex acts with Epstein when they were underage. As part of the settlement, Epstein, 65, issued an apology to Fort Lauderdale attorney Bradley Edwards, admitting that he leveled false claims in a lawsuit as part of an effort to intimidate Edwards into abandoning his aggressive advocacy for the women, who are now in their late 20s and early 30s.

The developments follow a series of stories published by the Miami Herald in late November that detailed how state and federal prosecutors worked with Epstein’s lawyers to conceal the extent of Epstein’s crimes, and secretly negotiated an unusual plea agreement that allowed him to escape federal sex trafficking charges that could have sent him to prison for life. The agreement, by design, was kept from his victims so that they could not appear at his sentencing.

Last week, more than two dozen lawmakers in Washington demanded a federal investigation into that plea deal, which was negotiated, signed and sealed by former Miami U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta, now President Donald Trump’s secretary of labor.

Acosta has not commented on the Herald story or on the calls for a probe into how he handled the Epstein case.
Ransome claimed that, in her early 20s, she was recruited to work as a masseuse for Epstein who, in exchange, promised he would help her get into fashion design in New York, according to her civil lawsuit, filed in January 2017. Epstein and Maxwell then kept her passport and threatened to ruin her life and physically harm her if she didn’t have sex with them and others in 2006 and 2007, Ransome said in the complaint.

The complaint alleges that this all occurred at the same time as Epstein’s lawyers were negotiating with Acosta and other federal prosecutors for a deal to avoid federal sex trafficking charges in connection with a scheme in which he lured underprivileged girls, mostly 13 to 16, to his home in Palm Beach under the pretense that he would pay them $200 to $300 for massages. Instead, police in Palm Beach found that he had been molesting and sexually abusing dozens of girls between 2001 and 2007.

Dershowitz, in interviews with the Herald, and in recent public statements, said he has never met Ransome. He also said she initially tried to interest the New York Post in her story, but a reporter whom he said he spoke with told him Ransome was not credible. He said he has a trove of emails between Ransome and the reporter that prove she is a “lunatic.’’

“There are hundreds of emails in which she claimed to have sex with everybody in the world and also claimed she has video of Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and others having sex with underage girls — but she never ever accused me in these emails,’’ Dershowitz said.

The emails are under seal, he said, and therefore cannot be made public. Dershowitz said he has asked the court to unseal them but his efforts thus far have been unsuccessful.

U.S. Shutdown

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump claims without evidence that ‘most of the people not getting paid’ in partial government shutdown are Democrats, Felicia Sonmez, Dec. 27, 2018. President Trump on Thursday claimed that “most of the people not getting paid” in the partial government shutdown are Democrats, days after he contended that many federal workers support his call for more border wall funding.

Trump (shown below in a Gage Skidmore photo) made the claim in a morning tweet as the shutdown entered its sixth day, with hundreds of thousands of federal workers furloughed without pay amid signs pointing toward a prolonged standoff.

donald trump gage skidmore“Have the Democrats finally realized that we desperately need Border Security and a Wall on the Southern Border,” Trump said in the tweet. “Need to stop Drugs, Human Trafficking, Gang Members & Criminals from coming into our Country. Do the Dems realize that most of the people not getting paid are Democrats?”

The message contrasted with Trump’s claim in an Oval Office appearance on Christmas morning that “many of those workers” had told him to continue to shut down the government “until you get the funding for the wall.”

About 25 percent of the federal government has been shut down since Saturday, with roughly 800,000 workers affected, including an estimated 350,000 who are on furlough at home without pay.

Guardian, Top Amazon boss privately advised US government on web portal worth billions to tech firm, Stephanie Kirchgaessner, Dec. 27, 2018. A top Amazon executive privately advised the Trump administration on the launch of a new internet portal that is expected to generate billions of dollars for the technology company and give it a dominant role in how the US government buys everything from paper clips to office chairs.

amazon logo smallEmails seen by the Guardian show that the Amazon executive Anne Rung communicated with a top official at the General Services Administration (GSA) about the approach the government would take to create the new portal, even before the legislation that created it – known to its critics as the “Amazon amendment” – was signed into law late last year.

Amazon and the Trump administration appear to have an antagonistic relationship because of the president’s frequent Twitter jeffrey bezos washington postattacks on the Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos (left), who also owns the Washington Post. But the behind-the-scenes lobbying by Amazon officials underscores how the company has quietly amassed an unrivalled position of power with the federal government.

The 2017 correspondence between Rung – a former official in the Obama administration credited with transforming the federal government’s procurement policies before she joined Amazon – and Mary Davie at the GSA, offers new insights into how Amazon has used key former government officials it now employs – directly and as consultants – to gain influence and potentially shape lucrative government contracts.

It has not yet been determined which companies will build the US government’s new e-commerce portal, but Amazon is widely expected to take on a dominant role, giving it a major foothold in the $53bn market for federal procurement of commercial products.

Amazon is also the frontrunner to win a separate $10bn cloud computing contract with the Pentagon, known as Jedi, which will in effect move the defense department’s data on to a commercially run cloud computing system.

Appeal In Boston Marathon Case

Associated Press via MSN, Boston Marathon bomber’s lawyers want death sentence tossed, Alanna Durkin Richer, Dec. 27, 2018. Attorneys for ap logoBoston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told a federal appeals court Thursday that his convictions or death sentence should be tossed because the judge refused to move the case out of the city where the bombs exploded, making it impossible for him to get a fair trial.

dzhokhar tsaraev hsIn a 500-page brief filed in the 1st U.S. District Court of Appeals, Tsarnaev’s legal team outlined a host of other problems with his 2015 trial, including issues with jurors, certain testimony from surviving victims and the defense’s inability to tell jurors about links between Tsarnaev’s brother and an unsolved triple killing in 2011.

The lawyers argued the trial court’s “first fundamental error” was denying the defense’s repeated requests to move the case out of a city that was “traumatized by the bombings, ordered to shelter in place during the manhunt, saturated by prejudicial publicity and united in the Boston Strong movement.”

“Tsarnaev stood accused of notorious crimes. The bombings were the subject of constant and widespread publicity, which included coverage of matters that would never be admitted at trial,” the lawyers wrote. “Virtually every single prospective juror was familiar with that publicity, had been personally affected by the crimes and their aftermath, and thus had formed negative, entrenched preconceptions about Tsarnaev’s guilt and the appropriate sentence,” they said.

Tsarnaev was sentenced to death just over two years after he and his brother set off two shrapnel-packed, pressure-cooker bombs near the Boston Marathon’s finish line on April 15, 2013, killing three people and wounding more than 260.

He was convicted of all 30 charges against him, including conspiracy and use of weapon of mass destruction, after a months-long trial in which his attorneys admitted he and his older brother carried out the attack. The defense had sought to portray Tsarnaev as an impressionable teenager who was lured by his brother into participating in the deadly plot.

tamerlan tsarnaev HSTsarnaev, now 25, is behind bars at the supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. His 26-year-old brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev (left), died in a gunbattle with police a few days after the bombing.

Tsarnaev’s lawyers pushed several times to move the trial, arguing the intense media scrutiny and number of people touched by the bombings in Boston would taint the jury pool. But U.S. District Judge George O’Toole refused, saying he believed a fair and impartial jury in the city could be found.

A three judge panel of the 1st Circuit agreed, noting that other high-profile terrorism cases such as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing took place in the cities where the attacks occurred.

Among the dozens of other issues Tsarnaev’s lawyers are raising on appeal include the judge’s refusal to allow the defense to tell the jury about evidence tying Tamerlan to the killing of three people in the Boston suburb of Waltham in 2011. The defense sought to raise the issue of the killings to underscore their argument that Tsarnaev was under the influence of his more culpable older brother.

Prosecutors have said a friend of Tamerlan, Ibragim Todashev, implicated him in the killings of three men whose bodies were found sprinkled with marijuana, their throats cut. Todashev was shot to death by an FBI agent after authorities said he charged another investigator with a pole while being questioned about the Tsarnaevs.

Media / Justice News

oenearthlogoOpEdNews, Opinion: This Is What Happens When a Court Decides Whether You Get Justice or Get Destroyed, Ted Rall (below right), Dec. 27, 2018. More care goes into the making of a sandwich. That’s what I was thinking last Thursday as I watched oral arguments in the California Court of Appeals in Los Angeles.

ted rallCase after case came before a three-judge panel. They concerned a variety of matters.

And there was me, former editorial cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, defending myself from an “anti-SLAPP” motion that, if successful, would end my lawsuit before it began and bankrupt me with a court order for methe victimto pay the Times hundreds of thousands of dollars for their legal fees.

It ought to be illegal for a police department to own a newspaper. But it’s not. In 2015 the LAPD pension fund was a major tribune publishing logoshareholder of Tribune Publishing, owner of the Times.

Annoyed at my cartoons about him, then-LAPD Chief Charlie Beck asked the Times then-publisher Austin Beutner, now LA schools superintendent, to fire me as a political favor. He did. Beck also wanted my reputation destroyed so I could never work again, in order to send a message to journalists: don’t mess with the LAPD.

Beutner (shown below at right via his Twitter photo), Beck’s political ally and a man with ambitions to become mayor or governor, complied by ordering that the paper publish two libelous articles about me portraying me as a liar.

austin beutner twitterThe second one was published after I proved I had told the truth. I sued for defamation and wrongful termination in 2016.

Since then Times attorney Kelli Sager, who also represents the National Enquirer in its smear of gay icon Richard Simmons, has waged a scorched-earth litigation campaign designed to intimidate, harass and delay my quest to clear my name.

Sager filed the anti-SLAPP, a law designed to be used by individuals to defend themselves against powerful corporate entities, against me. She convinced the court to force me to pay $75,000 just to be able to continue my case for something called a “Section 1030″a law whose intent is to discriminate against out-of-state plaintiffs (I live in New York.) Last week, during oral arguments in open court, she compared me to a “pedophile.”

Last summer the lower court in L.A. ruled against me on the anti-SLAPP, saying that even though I showed that I was truthful and the Times was not, I must pay $330,000 (as of then) in legal fees to the Times. I appealed, which is why I was in court last Thursday.

We knew it was going to be tough. Shortly beforehand the court issued a “tentative opinion” that indicated the Court of Appeals planned to buy Sager’s arguments lock, stock and barrel. Those arguments were lengthy and complicated but they could be summarized as: the First Amendment allows newspapers to publish anything they want, the truth doesn’t much matter and if you slap a veneer of officialdom on libel  in this case, the Times claimed, it was merely reporting on what the LAPD said about meit becomes “privileged,” i.e. inactionable.

Mueller Probe

McClatchy News, Investigation: Cell signal puts Cohen outside Prague around time of purported Russian meeting, Peter Stone and Greg Gordon, Dec. 27, 2018. A mobile phone traced to President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen (right) briefly sent signals ricocheting michael cohen ap file croppedoff cell towers in the Prague area in late summer 2016, at the height of the presidential campaign, leaving an electronic record to support claims that Cohen met secretly there with Russian officials, four people with knowledge of the matter say.

During the same period of late August or early September, electronic eavesdropping by an Eastern European intelligence agency picked up a conversation among Russians, one of whom remarked that Cohen was in Prague, two people familiar with the incident said.

The phone and surveillance data, which have not previously been disclosed, lend new credence to a key part of a former British spy’s dossier of Kremlin intelligence describing purported coordination between Trump’s campaign and Russia’s election meddling operation.

The dossier, which Trump has dismissed as “a pile of garbage,” said Cohen and one or more Kremlin officials huddled in or around the Czech capital to plot ways to limit discovery of the close “liaison” between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The new information regarding the recovery of Cohen’s cell phone location doesn’t explain why he was apparently there or who he was meeting with, if anyone. But it adds to evidence that Cohen was in or near Prague around the time of the supposed meeting.

Both of the newly surfaced foreign electronic intelligence intercepts were shared with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, people familiar with the matter said. Mueller is investigating Russia’s 2016 election interference and whether Trump’s campaign colluded in the scheme. Mueller also is examining whether Trump has obstructed the sweeping inquiry.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Here’s how Michael Cohen can be telling the truth about Prague and the Trump-Russia dossier can be right anyway, Bill Palmer, Dec. 27, 2018. Michael Cohen is still insisting today that he’s never been anywhere near Prague, even after reports that his cellphone bill palmer report logo headerwas used near Prague during the timeframe in which the Steele dossier claims he was there meeting with the Russians. Cohen has confessed to numerous Trump-related crimes, and he’s going to prison for them – so why would he deny this one if it’s true? There’s a perfectly logical explanation.

Back when the FBI was raiding Michael Cohen’s offices, it seized sixteen different cellphones. It always felt like that was too many phones for one person, even a packrat like Cohen, and that some of the phones had to have belonged to other people. So whose phones would be in Cohen’s possession? For now, only he and Robert Mueller know. But we suspect this might come down to two words: burner phones.

Dec. 26

Trump, War Zones

djt fred trump daily bast photo illustation

Donald Trump, left, with his father Fred Trump (Daily Beast graphic)

ny times logoNew York Times, Queens Podiatrist’s Family Says He Helped Trump Avoid Vietnam, Steve Eder, Dec. 26, 2018. The details of Donald Trump’s medical exemption from the military during the Vietnam War have long been a puzzle. A doctor who rented his office from the Trumps may be a missing piece.

In the fall of 1968, Donald J. Trump received a timely diagnosis of bone spurs in his heels that led to his medical exemption from the military during Vietnam.

For 50 years, the details of how the exemption came about, and who made the diagnosis, have remained a mystery, with Mr. Trump himself saying during the presidential campaign that he could not recall who had signed off on the medical documentation.

Now a possible explanation has emerged about the documentation. It involves a foot doctor in Queens who rented his office from Mr. Trump’s father, Fred C. Trump, and a suggestion that the diagnosis was granted as a courtesy to the elder Mr. Trump.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Of course President Trump dodged the draft. Should we still care? Paul Waldman, Dec. 26, 2018. Let’s talk about President Trump’s feet, shall we? Before you click away, let me assure you that this is a story worth considering, as it has to do with the privileges of wealth, the way we judge politicians for the decisions of their youth and the cultural legacy of the 1960s, a period of disorder that still influences so much of American life today.

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Makes Surprise Visit to Iraq to See American Troops, Annie Karni, Mark Landler and Thomas Gibbons-Neff
Dec. 26, 2018. President Trump made his first visit to U.S. troops in a combat zone amid a government shutdown and days after his Pentagon chief resigned. Iraq is the one theater of war where Mr. Trump has not promised a rapid withdrawal. Plans to exit Syria and Afghanistan have infuriated allies.

President Trump visited American military forces in Iraq on Wednesday, a surprise trip and the first visit to troops stationed abroad in a combat zone by a commander in chief who has made withdrawing the United States from foreign wars a signature issue.

The trip, shrouded in secrecy, came in the midst of a partial government shutdown and less than a week after Mr. Trump disrupted America’s military status quo and infuriated even some of his staunchest political allies by announcing plans to withdraw all troops from Syria and about half of those stationed in Afghanistan. The president’s decision on Syria, made over the objections of American military generals and civilian advisers, led to the resignation of Mr. Trump’s defense secretary, Jim Mattis, and fueled tensions within the national security establishment.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Donald Trump idiotically exposes secret Navy SEAL mission during his Iraq visit, Bill Palmer, Dec. 26, 2018. Just when you think Donald Trump’s desperate and stunt-like visit to Iraq can’t get any worse, it has. Trump finally visited U.S. troops in a conflict zone for the first time ever, in an effort to distract from his worsening bone spurs scandal and the resignation of General James Mattis.

bill palmer report logo headerAnd yes, Trump told the troops they’d gotten a big pay raise that doesn’t exist. But he also managed to expose a secret military mission by being careless on Twitter.

It turns out the Iraq trip was so poorly and carelessly slapped together by Donald Trump and his White House, they followed no protocols about which troops he was seen visiting with. In a self-congratulatory video posted to Trump’s Twitter account, he’s seen mingling with members of SEAL Team Five. The trouble: according to a lengthy expose by Newsweek tonight, SEAL Team Five’s presence in Iraq was classified. But it didn’t stop there.

2nd Migrant Child Dies

ICE logo

washington post logoWashington Post, Migrant child, 8, dies in U.S. custody in New Mexico, Lenny Bernstein, Philip Rucker and Robert Moore​, Dec. 26, 2018 (print edition). Authorities said the cause of death was not known but that the child had been treated for a cold and fever.

ny times logoNew York Times, Border Patrol Promises Medical Checks for Detained Children After Second Death, Niraj Chokshi, Dec. 26, 2018.  United States Customs and Border Protection said that it would begin conducting medical checks of all children in its care, with a focus on those under the age of 10, after a second migrant child died in its custody.

jakelin amei rosmery caal maquinThe agency announced the move on Tuesday night, less than a day after the death of an 8-year-old boy from Guatemala, identified in a statement from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus as Felipe Alonzo-Gomez. Weeks earlier, a 7-year-old girl from the same country, Jakelin Caal Maquin (right), died in Border Patrol custody. Her funeral was held in Guatemala this week.

In addition to the medical checks, Customs and Border Protection said that it was reviewing its policies regarding children in its custody and exploring ways to “relieve capacity” in New Mexico and part of Texas. Those options include supervised release and working with nonprofit groups to place children in temporary housing.

Trump Justice Pick

wsj logoWall Street Journal, Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker Incorrectly Claims Academic All-American Honors, Mark Maremont, Dec. matthew whitaker headshot recent26, 2018. Claim from Whitaker’s University of Iowa football days listed on résumé and government documents. Mr. Whitaker (right), who was a tight end of the Iowa team from 1990 to 1992, claimed to have abeen an Academic All-American in his gogrpahy on his former law firm’s website and on a résumé.

Call For Reforms

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: A Gutted I.R.S. Makes the Rich Richer, Editorial Board, Dec. 26, 2018 (print edition). With enforcement enfeebled, as much as 20 percent of potential tax revenues go uncollected. the nation’s tax collector today is an enfeebled enforcer.

irs logoIts budget has been bled dry by a Republican Congress in service to wealthy donors and businesses aggressively pursuing tax avoidance, leaving uncollected 18 percent to 20 percent of potential tax revenues annually. That’s the conclusion in articles by the journalism site ProPublica, co-published by The Atlantic and The Times.

Loopholes are beyond the means of most Americans who earn salaries or are paid hourly wages, and are exploited by those who derive significant income from investments or business revenue. Although we’d all like to pay less, relative to most developed nations our tax burden is a pretty good deal.

It’s an even better deal for the richest Americans, who have benefited the most from President Trump’s tax cuts. The rich are different: They’re more likely to cheat, according to one study of I.R.S. data. And the I.R.S. has about as many auditors now as it did 60 years ago, when there were half as many Americans.

The undermining of the I.R.S.’s enforcement capability coincides nicely with the Republican playbook: Enrich wealthy individuals and corporations with tax giveaways that balloon the deficit, justifying spending cuts for health care, education and infrastructure, then amplify the process by not holding high-end taxpayers accountable for the amounts they owe.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Federal Prosecutors Need a Watchdog, Too, Editorial Board, Dec. 26, 2018 (print edition). Lawyers at the Justice Department get little oversight from their own inspector general. That’s a problem.

fbi logoBecause of a quirk in the Inspector General Act of 1978, federal prosecutors and other lawyers working for the Department of Justice — which also houses the F.B.I., the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Marshals Service — don’t get the same kind of independent oversight required in other government agencies.

Justice Department log circularInstead, what misbehaving lawyers there get and have gotten for the past 30 years is referral to the Office of Professional Responsibility, which was created in 1975 and whose director reports to the attorney general. The office claims independence, but in practice it can be overruled — as when the Justice Department ignored an O.P.R. conclusion that the two lawyers who wrote the Bush-era torture memos had committed “professional misconduct.”

michael horwitz headshotUnder this anomalous regime, allegations of misconduct by the F.B.I. director or his agents would be handled by Inspector General Michael Horowitz (right) — as he did in his recent review examining the F.B.I.’s actions in the run-up to the 2016 election, including how James Comey handled the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

But similar allegations of wrongdoing against lawyers in the F.B.I.’s general counsel’s office or line prosecutors bringing cases in federal court would be shielded from Mr. Horowitz’s purview.

Yemen War/Famine Disaster

yemen map 6 11 2018

ny times logoNew York Times, Arms Sales to Saudis Leave U.S. Fingerprints on the War in Yemen, Declan Walsh and Eric Schmitt, Dec. 26, 2018 (print edition). Errant Saudi-led airstrikes have killed more than 4,600 civilians in Yemen (shown in green, pink and gray on map above), according to a monitoring group. In Washington, that toll has stoked debate about the pitfalls of America’s alliance with Saudi Arabia, which relies on U.S. support to keep its warplanes in the air.

Related Story: New York Times, The Tragedy of Saudi Arabia’s War, Declan Walsh, Photographs by Tyler Hicks. Oct. 26, 2018. The conflict in Yemen has pushed millions to the brink of starvation. Our journalists documented the crisis in October.

Law & Home Evictions

washington post logoWashington Post, Evictions and complaints: What happened when a big-city firm took over Memphis’s homes,Todd C. Frankel and Dan Keating, Dec. 26, 2018 (print edition). Since the 2008 financial meltdown, a New York private equity firm specializing in distressed assets has purchased foreclosed homes across the country. The result? “A second wave of exploitation,” says a public interest lawyer in Memphis.

Trump & Media

ny times logoNew York Times, ‘Stupid Questions,’ Rarer Briefings, No Holiday Party: Trump’s Year With the Press, Michael M. Grynbaum, Dec. 26, 2018. The rituals of reporting on the White House, and the place of journalism in American life, continued to shift in 2018 under President Trump.

Presidents usually hold a holiday reception for the Washington press corps (even Mr. Trump acquiesced to one in 2017); this year’s edition was canceled. Presidents usually avoid criticizing American journalists on foreign soil; visiting Britain, Mr. Trump called NBC News “dishonest” and refused to take a question from Jim Acosta of CNN. (“Music to the ears of dictators and authoritarian leaders,” said an official at the Committee to Protect Journalists.)

Mr. Trump is reinventing relations between the president and the press. Next year may reveal if the changes are a blip, or permanent.
On Twitter, President Trump has used the term “Fake News” 174 times in 2018. It can be easy to forget that, two years ago, the White House press briefing took place nearly every day. The president refrained from insulting reporters on live television. And correspondents did not lose their access for showing insufficient “respect.”That’s the thing about traditions — they tend to be sacrosanct until they aren’t.

Campaign Collusion?

richard nixon headshot Custom

President Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974)

washington post logoshane osullivan headshotWashington Post, The national security adviser who colluded with foreign powers — decades before Michael Flynn, Shane O’Sullivan, right, Dec. 26, 2018 (print edition). Documents show Nixon’s 1968 campaign colluded with a foreign government more deeply than historians thought.

The delayed sentencing of former national security adviser Michael Flynn — for lying to investigators about “sensitive matters” richard allendiscussed with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the Trump presidential transition — leaves unanswered questions about alleged collusion between Flynn and the Russians during the 2016 campaign.

It also evokes parallels with another former national security adviser, Richard Allen, left. Allen played a leading role in the anna chenault headshotAnna Chennault affair, a secret plan formed by Richard Nixon’s campaign to collude with the South Vietnamese government during the 1968 presidential campaign and sabotage Vietnam peace talks in Paris to ensure a Nixon victory.

The Chinese-born widow of a U.S. Air Force general, Anna Chennault (right) was the Nixon campaign’s conduit to the government in Saigon during the 1968 campaign through her friendship with Bui Diem, the South Vietnamese ambassador in Washington and Saigon’s representative at the peace talks.

shane osullivan watergate cover

Shane O’Sullivan is a documentary filmmaker, senior lecturer in filmmaking at Kingston University, London and author of the new book, “Dirty Tricks: Nixon, Watergate and the CIA.”

Trump Tweets

ny times logoNew York Times, On Christmas, Trump Again Lobbies for Border Wall, Emily Cochrane, Dec. 26, 2018 (print edition). President Trump marked Christmas by again lobbying for a wall at the southern border, underscoring his unwillingness to acquiesce to Democrats over money to pay for border security.

With funding now lapsing for nine departments and numerous federal agencies, the president canceled his 16-day vacation to his Florida estate and instead remained in Washington. On Twitter, he stewed over criticism and his perceived enemies, and lamented his loneliness djt official portraitduring the holidays.

Mr. Trump and lawmakers have remained at loggerheads since the partial government shutdown began at midnight Friday, with each side refusing to budge from their strongly held positions on border security and wall funding.

The president, speaking to reporters after a teleconference to offer holiday greetings to American military personnel, gave no indication of when the shutdown might end.

Media / Political News


ny times logoNew York Times, LinkedIn Co-Founder Apologizes for Deception in Alabama Senate Race, Scott Shane, Dec. 26, 2018. Reid Hoffman, the tech billionaire whose money was spent on Russian-style social media deception in a Senate race last year, apologized on Wednesday, saying in a statement that he had not approved the operation and did not support such tactics in American politics.

Mr. Hoffman said he had no idea that political operatives whose work he had financed had used fakery on Facebook and Twitter in the special Senate election a year ago in Alabama. But he had an obligation to track how his money was spent, he said, and he promised to exercise more care in the future.

The New York Times and The Washington Post reported last week that $100,000 from Mr. Hoffman was spent on a deceptive social media campaign to aid Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate, who barely defeated the Republican, Roy Moore. The money went to a small group of social media experts that included Jonathon Morgan, the chief executive of New Knowledge, a cybersecurity firm.

They created a Facebook page intended to look like the work of conservative Alabamians, and used it to try to split Republicans and promote a conservative write-in candidate to take votes from Mr. Moore.

They also used thousands of Twitter accounts to make it appear as if automated Russian bot accounts were following and supporting Mr. Moore, according to an internal report on the project. The apparent Russian support for Mr. Moore drew broad news media coverage.

Democratic political strategists say the small Alabama operation — which accounts for a minuscule share of the $51 million spent in the contest — was carried out as a debate about tactics intensified within the party.

The Alabama operation is among the first examples to come to light of such underhanded methods on social media in American politics. But because such efforts are generally very easy to hide and very difficult to trace, it is possible that other instances have gone undetected.

In 2017, through a fund called Investing in Us, Mr. Hoffman gave money to a small company, American Engagement Technologies. The company’s leader, Mikey Dickerson, is a former Google employee who founded the United States Digital Service during the Obama administration to try to upgrade the federal government’s use of technology.

Dec. 25

Western Markets Fall

ny times logoNew York Times, Markets Drop as Trump Picks on Fed While Mnuchin Offers Unexpected Assurances of ‘Ample Liquidity,’ Emily Flitter, Dec. 25, 2018 (print edition). Wall Street added to its run of recent losses on Monday as President Trump continued to lash out at the Federal Reserve and investors reacted to an unusual weekend statement about the health of America’s financial system by Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary.

jerome powellStocks are suffering their worst decline since the financial crisis a decade ago, as investors worry about everything from slowing corporate profits to the impact of the trade war on the economy. But Mr. Trump has become increasingly focused on the idea that the Fed chairman, Jerome H. Powell (right), is to blame after the central bank raised interest rates last week and indicated it might keep doing so next year because the United States economy is strong.

“The only problem our economy has is the Fed,” Mr. Trump said in a tweet during Monday’s trading session, a day after his aides scrambled to assure the public Mr. Trump would not try to fire Mr. Powell.

Before Mr. Trump’s tweet, investors were already weighing Mr. Mnuchin’s statement late on Sunday. He said he had contacted the chief executives of six major banks to ensure that their operations were running smoothly, and that they had “ample liquidity available for lending.” Washington officials typically make such assurances only at times of financial crisis.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: The Ghost of Trump Chaos Future, Paul Krugman, right, Dec. 25, 2018 (print edition).The reality that presidential paul krugmanunfitness matters for investors seems to have started setting in only about three weeks (and around 4,000 points on the Dow) ago. First came the realization that Trump’s much-hyped deal with China existed only in his imagination. Then came his televised meltdown in a meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, his abrupt pullout from Syria, his firing of Jim Mattis and his shutdown of the government because Congress won’t cater to his edifice complex and build a pointless wall. And now there’s buzz that he wants to fire Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Oh, and along the way we learned that Trump has been engaging in raw obstruction of justice, pressuring his acting attorney general (who is himself a piece of work) over the Mueller investigation as the tally of convictions, confessions and forced resignations mounts.

But let’s play devil’s advocate here: Does all this Trump chaos matter for the economy, or for the stock market (which isn’t at all the same thing)? At first sight, it’s not all that obvious.

There isn’t an obvious crisis-level threat looming at the moment. But growth is slowing, and as the bumper stickers don’t quite say, stuff happens. And if and when it does, the people who would be supposed to deal with it are the gang that can’t think straight. Merry Christmas.

ny times logosteven mnuchin wNew York Times, Trump Renews Attack on Fed as Mnuchin Tries to Calm Markets, Alan Rappeport, Dec. 25, 2018 (print edition). Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (right) spent the weekend trying to calm jittery markets but his statements and efforts seemed to do little but exacerbate concern on Wall Street.

With stocks extending their slide Monday, President Trump took another swipe at the Federal Reserve, writing on Twitter that the “only problem our economy has is the Fed” as he continued to blame the central bank for recent volatility in the financial markets.

But Mr. Trump’s comments only exacerbated the sell-off on Wall Street, and stocks were on track for their worst year since 2008 and the largest December decline since the 1930s. The S&P 500 closed down 2.7 percent after a shortened trading session because of the Christmas holiday.

Trump ‘All Alone’

ny times logoNew York Times, ‘All Alone’ in the White House, a Christmas Eve Twitter Storm, Katie Rogers, Dec. 25, 2018 (print edition). President Trump retooled a campaign slogan on Monday to defend his worldview, declaring that “AMERICA IS RESPECTED AGAIN!” during a four-hour Twitter tirade as foreign allies braced for the potentially destabilizing effects of his policy decisions on national security.

Democratic leaders accused the president of “plunging the country into chaos” on Christmas Eve.

Ensconced in the White House with no official plans other than hosting a meeting on border security and tracking Santa Claus on military radar, Mr. Trump showed no sign of slowing a Twitter storm amid a government shutdown, the fallout over his defense secretary’s resignation and a cratering stock market.

In the midst of posting, he even lamented, “I am all alone (poor me).”

Global Affairs

washington post logoWashington Post, In Venezuela, Russia pockets key energy assets in exchange for cash bailouts, Anthony Faiola and Karen DeYoung, Dec. 25, 2018 (print edition). has taken control of oil and gas fields and has a lien on a major share of Citgo, Venezuela’s oil company in the United States.

CNN, After the shock of Mattis’ resignation, some see a different narrative, Barbara Starr, Dec. 24, 2018. Gen. James Mattis’ resignation triggered an outpouring of anxiety and anger and a steady stream of kudos for the 68-year-old, but as the shock of his departure begins to ebb, another narrative about the “warrior monk” is emerging.

Even as Mattis is being hailed as a “national treasure” and praised for his moral compass and “sound judgment,” conversations with multiple US defense officials reflect a frustration with the outgoing defense secretary.

james mattis oWhile some of these frustrations are being overshadowed by President Donald Trump’s decision to push Mattis out of his post on January 1, two months earlier than originally planned, these sources suggest that the general’s tendency to exert tight control may have contributed to the crisis surrounding Trump’s precipitous decision Wednesday to end the US military presence in Syria and scale it back in Afghanistan.

One defense official pointed to an essential part of Mattis’ departure, saying the secretary’s exit might be a relief for some.

Mattis restricted access to information and put a chill on members of the military services talking publicly. Some might be relieved to see him go if they are now freer to push publicly for their agendas, the official said.

Mattis also discouraged senior officers from interacting directly with the President, worried that Trump might suddenly issue them orders — senior officers would have had no option but to do as Trump wished, according to a defense official.

Senior battlefield commanders who have had a chance to meet with the President have been dismayed that he had no questions for them and showed a lack of interest, CNN can confirm.

Mattis’ own strategy for dealing with Trump eventually ran out of runway. He avoided speaking publicly for fear of getting crosswise with Trump or being seen in contradiction. He also tried delaying tactics on issues such as the Syria withdrawal, which had been on the table all year.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Remaining U.S. military officials are now cutting off all contact with Donald Trump, Bill Palmer, Dec. 24, 2018. When bill palmer report logo headerDonald Trump decided to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria in order to please his personal puppet masters in Russia and Turkey, it did more than just prompt Secretary of Defense James Mattis to resign in protest. It turns out U.S. military officials are now cutting off all contact with Trump, and it’s coming at Mattis’ instruction.

In a startling revelation, military leaders are now going out of their way to avoid “interacting directly” with Donald Trump, according to a new CNN report, for fear he might issue them an impulsive and destructive order.

philip giraldiThe Unz Review: Opinion: Syria Withdrawal Enrages the Chickenhawks, Philip M. Giraldi, right, Dec. 25, 2015. The real story, lost in the wailing and gnashing to teeth, is that even after conceding that Donald Trump’s hyperbolic claim that the United States had defeated ISIS as the motive for the withdrawal is nonsense, there is still no good reason for Washington to continue to keep troops in Syria.

The U.S. in reality did far less in the war against the terrorist groups infesting the region than did the Russians, Iranians or the Syrians themselves and, as a result, it will have less say in what kind of Syria emerges from the carnage. That is almost certainly a good thing for the Syrian people.

But let’s assume for sake of argument that the U.S. invasion really was about ISIS. Well, ISIS continues to hold on to a small bit of territory near the Euphrates River and is reported to have between one and two thousand remaining fighters. There are other estimates suggesting that between 10,000 and 20,000 followers have dispersed and gone underground awaiting a possible resurgence by the group.

The argument that ISIS will reorganize and re-emerge as a result of the American withdrawal assumes that it is the 2,000 strong U.S. armed forces that are keeping it down, which is ridiculous. The best remedy against an ISIS recovery is to support a restored and re-unified Syria, which will have more than enough resources available to eliminate the last bits of the terrorist groups remaining in its territory.

Dec. 24

Palmer Report, Opinion: Donald Trump tanks the stock market with idiotic tweet, Bill Palmer, Dec. 24, 2018. Donald Trump’s massive economic bill palmer report logo headerincompetence and failed trade wars have finally caught up to him, sending the stock market off a cliff over the past few donald trump twittermonths.

Trump {shown in a Palmer Report graphic] can’t accept the blame for any of his failures, so naturally, he’s had to pick a designated scapegoat.

After he attacked his own handpicked Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, suffice it to say that investors weren’t happy.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down roughly 200 points for the day at the time of Donald Trump’s tweet. After he reminded investors that he has no idea how economics works, they began selling off further, and the DJIA quickly dropped another two hundred points (Update: now down 650 points at close). This guy is wrecking the economy in real time.

Federal Shutdown

washington post logoWashington Post, Government shutdown could last into new year, Erica Werner, David Weigel and Philip Rucker, Dec. 24, 2018 (print edition).  White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said the administration is now offering to open the government for less than the $5 billion in wall funding President Trump had demanded.

Mattis Dismissed Early

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump, Angry Over Mattis’s Rebuke, Removes Him 2 Months Early, Helene Cooper and Katie Rogers, Dec. 24, 2018 (print edition). Less than two hours after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis went to the White House on Thursday to hand a resignation letter to President Trump, the president stood in the Oval Office and dictated a glowing tweet announcing that Mr. Mattis was retiring “with distinction” at the end of February.

djt james mattis dod hqBut Mr. Trump [shown in a file photo with the defense secretary] had not read the letter.

As became apparent to the president only after days of news coverage, a senior administration official said, Mr. Mattis had issued a stinging rebuke of Mr. Trump over his neglect of allies and tolerance of authoritarians. The president grew increasingly angry as he watched a parade of defense analysts go on television to extol Mr. Mattis’s bravery, another aide said, until he decided on Sunday that he had had enough.

In a tweet later that morning, the president announced that he was removing Mr. Mattis from his post by Jan. 1, two months before the defense secretary had planned to depart. Mr. Trump said that Patrick M. Shanahan, Mr. Mattis’s deputy and a former Boeing executive, would serve as the acting defense secretary, praising him as “very talented” and adding that “he will be great!”

Mr. Trump’s sudden announcement that he was firing a man who had already quit was the exclamation point to a tumultuous week at the Pentagon, where officials have been reeling from day after day of presidential tweets announcing changes in American military policy.

Disaster Toll Worsens

washington post logoWashington Post, Death toll surpasses 370 after tsunami in Indonesia as search for survivors continues, Stanley Widianto and Simon Denyer​, indonesia flagDec. 24, 2018. The death toll from a tsunami that hit the coast of Indonesia after a volcanic eruption rose above 370 on Monday, as rescuers dug through rubble with heavy machinery and bare hands along an expanding section of coastline affected by the deadly waves.

More than 120 people are still missing, and more than 1,400 were injured when the tsunami struck the Indonesia islands of Java and Sumatra almost without warning late Saturday, shortly after the Anak Krakatau volcano erupted in the Sunda Strait dividing the islands.

U.S. Supreme Court Politics

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: Roberts, Leader of Supreme Court’s Conservative Majority, Fights Perception That It Is Partisan, Adam Liptak, Dec. 24, 2018 (print edition). “We don’t work as Democrats or Republicans,” he has said, a theme he has returned to while trying to strike a delicate balance as the chief justice.

In his first 13 years on the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s main challenge was trying to assemble five votes to move the court to the right, though there were only four reliably conservative justices.

Now he faces a very different problem. With the retirement of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and his replacement by Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, the chief justice has the votes he needs on issues like abortion, racial discrimination, religion and voting. At the same time, he john roberts ohas taken Justice Kennedy’s place as the swing vote at the court’s ideological center, making him the most powerful chief justice in 80 years.

But all of that new power comes at a dangerous time for the court, whose legitimacy depends on the public perception that it is not a partisan institution. “We don’t work as Democrats or Republicans,” Chief Justice Roberts (right) said in 2016, and he reiterated that position in an extraordinary rebuke of President Trump last month.

He seemed to underscore that point again on Friday, joining the court’s four-member liberal wing, all appointed by Democratic presidents, to reject a request from the Trump administration in a case that could upend decades of asylum policy. This month, he drew sharp criticism from three conservative colleagues for voting to deny review in two cases on efforts to stop payments to Planned Parenthood.

Israel Sets April Voting

ny times logoNew York Times, Israel to Hold Early Elections in April, Isabel Kershner, Dec. 24, 2018. The leaders of the parties in Israel’s governing coalition said on Monday that they had unanimously agreed to dissolve Parliament and that the country would hold elections in early April — an abrupt turnaround that could bring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s long rule to an end, or alternatively, empower him with a renewed mandate for four more years in office.

benjamin netanyahu frownMr. Netanyahu (right), who is expected to run for a fourth consecutive term in office, and a fifth over all, had previously said he wanted the government to complete its full term, which was scheduled to end in November 2019.

But Mr. Netanyahu’s government has been increasingly beleaguered since the hard-line defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, resigned and pulled his party from the governing coalition last month, leaving it with a majority of just one seat in the 120-seat Parliament.

Mr. Netanyahu has been further challenged by the fact he faces possible bribery charges in three corruption cases. The attorney general is expected to decide by the spring whether to prosecute him, and if so, on what charges.

Mass Shooting Clues

ny times logoNew York Times, Red Flag Before a Mass Shooting: Credit Card Spending, Andrew Ross Sorkin, Dec. 24, 2018. Many of the killers built their stockpiles of weapons with the convenience of credit. Should financial institutions report such suspicious activity? The New York Times reviewed hundreds of documents from a decade of mass shootings.

Law, Disorder

Daily Beast, Is Chicago Millionaire Pat Arbor the World’s Most Spiteful Ex-Husband? Barbie Latza Nadeau, Dec. 24, 2018. He’s in jail for the holidays because he hasn’t paid his ex-wife an $18 million divorce judgment. The first time Antoinette Vigilante asked her wealthy husband Patrick Arbor for a divorce was around 2003, citing serial adultery on his part over their 10 years together.

patrick arbor mugArbor [shown in a mug shot while he is being held], the former head of Chicago’s Board of Trade, had other ideas.

He bought her expensive jewelry, including a $17,000 necklace from the Italian island of Capri, and convinced her to stay married. She agreed—on the condition he stop sleeping around and give her his email passwords and a complete list of his bank accounts. She was 56 and he was 71 at the time.

“He was very charming, persuasive and cunning,” Vigilante told The Daily Beast in a telephone interview. “He’s a politician — one of the best Chicago has ever seen.”

Nine years — and what Vigilante contends were countless extramarital affairs — later, she asked for a divorce again. That’s when he started emptying the bank accounts and selling off his investments, she says. He did agree to the divorce, apparently having an exit plan underway that would cut his soon-to-be ex-wife out of a fortune she says they built together.

Arbor seemed destined to live out a comfortable expat retirement in Europe with his alleged fortunes. But Vigilante had her own plan.

She tipped off the feds that her ex-husband had always kept secret investments in foreign accounts — up to $55 million by some tallies — leading to a massive tax evasion crisis for him. He was then forced to admit through his lawyers that he had indeed evaded taxes for more than 30 years as his overseas investments grew. He had to pay hefty fines and back-taxes to avoid losing his extensive property portfolio in the United States.

otto warmbier press conference

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. judge orders North Korea to pay $500 million to parents of Otto Warmbier, who died after being detained there, Susan Svrluga and Rachel Weiner, Dec. 24, 2018.A federal court judge on Monday ordered North Korea to pay the parents of Otto Warmbier more than $500 million, for what she called barbaric treatment in custody that led to the 2017 death of the University of Virginia student (shown above at a press conference before his death).

The case attracted international attention because of the horrific circumstances of his death, and because Warmbier was seized by North Korea at a time of escalating tensions with the United States. Warmbier was visiting the country in January, 2016 when he was prevented from leaving, accused of attempting to steal a propaganda sign, and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in a sham trial.

In a strongly worded opinion, Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said the large award was necessary to punish and deter North Korea.

Looking Ahead

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: This is what we were afraid of, Paul Waldman, Dec. 24, 2018. When the new year begins next week, President Trump will have an acting chief of staff, an acting secretary of defense, an acting attorney general, an acting EPA administrator, no interior secretary, and no ambassador to the United Nations. The officials originally in all those positions have either been fired or have quit in various measures of disgust or scandal.

His former campaign chairman, deputy campaign chairman, national security adviser and personal lawyer have all pleaded guilty to crimes. His campaign, his transition, his foundation and his business are all under investigation. The United States’ allies are horrified at the chaos Trump has brought to our foreign policy.

The stock market is experiencing wild swings as investors are gripped with fear over what might be coming and what Trump might do to make it worse — a situation alarming enough that the treasury secretary felt the need to call up the CEOs of major banks to assure them that everything is under control.

And, oh yeah, the government is [partially] shut down.

This, my friends, is exactly what we were afraid of when Trump somehow managed to get elected president two years ago. This is what we warned you about.

If anything, Trump has shown himself to be even more of a despicable human being than he appeared then, and utterly incapable of growing into the office. He is just as petty, just as impulsive, just as narcissistic, just as dishonest and, perhaps, even more corrupt than we realized. Not only does he seem to be using every available opportunity to exploit the presidency to enrich himself and his family, but a recent, meticulously documented investigation showed that Trump, his father, and his siblings engaged in a years-long scheme to commit tax fraud on an absolutely massive scale, a story that, in the endless waves of White House madness, has been almost forgotten.

It is true that Trump has not yet started World War III. And if you’re a Republican, he has done many things that pleased you, such as cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy, or slashing regulations that protect workers, consumers, and people who enjoy breathing air and drinking water.

But in so many ways, he has shown himself again and again to be not just as bad as we thought, but worse. As as we look forward to the next two years, we must realize that there will be no stability, no settling down, no period of calm. The best we can hope for are brief moments when the lunacy pouring from the White House is more comical than terrifying. But most of the time, they’ll probably be both.

U.S. Elections

ny times logoNew York Times, Maine Republican Drops Challenge to State’s New Vote System, Conceding House Race, Jared Golden. Kate Taylor, Dec. 24, 2018. Representative Bruce Poliquin of Maine, the only Republican House member from New England, said Monday that he was dropping his challenge to the state’s ranked-choice voting law, conceding that he lost his seat to his Democratic opponent, Jared Golden.

His decision means that Mr. Poliquin, a two-term incumbent, was the first choice of the most voters on Election Day in Maine’s heavily rural Second Congressional District but loses his race in the first federal general election decided by ranked-choice voting.

Under the system, voters can rank the candidates instead of just picking one. If no candidate gets a majority of the first-choice votes, the candidate who came in last is eliminated and those votes are redistributed to voters’ second-choice candidates. The process keeps going until someone has a majority.

republican elephant logoIn Mr. Poliquin’s race, there were two independent candidates, in addition to Mr. Poliquin and Mr. Golden. Although Mr. Poliquin led on Election Day, he did not receive a majority. When the two independent candidates were eliminated and their votes redistributed, Mr. Golden won by roughly 3,500 votes out of more than 280,000 originally cast.

The decision in Maine means Democrats picked up 40 seats in this year’s House races with one, the disputed election in North Carolina’s Ninth District, still to be decided.

A week after the election, even before all the ballots had been counted, Mr. Poliquin sued Maine’s secretary of state, seeking to stop the vote count and challenging the constitutionality of Maine’s system, which voters approved in ballot measures in 2016 and 2018.

Privacy Issues

ny times logoNew York Times, Sharing Data for Deals? More Like Watching It Go With a Sigh, Sapna Maheshwari, Dec. 24, 2018. The diapers ad that shows up on your computer when you are expecting a child. The coupon on your smartphone for a fast-food chain you just walked past. The sneaker offer appearing in your mailbox after you sign up to run a race.

For years, marketers and technology companies have crept further into the homes and habits of Americans, arguing all the while that there is a fair and voluntary exchange taking place. The more we know about you, the argument goes, the more we can show you products you actually want instead of ads that just annoy you. Consumers, they say, are happily trading very specific information about their lives in order to receive this kind of personalized advertising and marketing — relevant ads, as the industry calls them.

Joseph Turow, a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, has studied the topic for years and vigorously disagrees with that interpretation. Research by Professor Turow and his colleagues has found that most Americans give up data for relevant ads not because of convenience, but resignation. Rather than participating in a rational exchange, he argues, consumers are giving up their personal information with “a feeling of futility.”

“People are very uncomfortable with surveillance, but they don’t know what to do,” Professor Turow said about the research, which involved a telephone survey of about 1,500 people across the country this year and in 2015. “In the real world, not having a frequent shopper card at the supermarket means you’re going to lose 15 to 20 percent on purchases. It’s very difficult for people to give up Facebook if all their friends are on Facebook.”

Professor Turow is among the academics, privacy advocates and regulators who have long been critical of how companies extricate vast amounts of personal information from consumers in the digital world. In 2018, it became harder for the tech and media industries to ignore those voices, with more consumers and lawmakers discovering how extensive, secretive and unstoppable data collection can be.

Former Pakistani PM Sentenced

ny times logoNew York Times, Nawaz Sharif, Former Pakistani Prime Minister, Is Sentenced to 7 Years, Salman Masood, Dec. 24, 2018. A court in Islamabad on Monday sentenced the former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif to seven years in prison on corruption-related charges, just months after he was released on bail in another graft case and a year after he was ousted from power.

nawaz sharif pakistani pm muslim league 2017 via apMr. Sharif, left, a once towering figure in Pakistan’s politics who served as prime minister three times, was led out of the courtroom, once again a prisoner.

He has been accused of money laundering, tax evasion and receiving kickbacks, but his latest trial centered on allegations that he possessed foreign assets greater than his known source of income — a government salary. Mr. Sharif was out of prison on bail to stand trial in two cases. He was acquitted in the second case by the same court.

Dec. 23

Mattis Ousted By Jan. 1

james mattis oRoll Call, Trump Forces Mattis Out Early as Defense Secretary, Staff report, Dec. 23, 2018. President Donald Trump tweeted Sunday morning that Defense Secretary James Mattis, right, will be replaced Jan. 1 by his deputy — nearly two months before his planned departure.

Mattis issued a resignation letter earlier this week to Trump, stating that he had grown too disillusioned by his boss’s treatment of other U.S. allies and his “America first” philosophy.

He had planned to remain in place through February to give time for an orderly transition, then came this latest presidential tweet.

Patrick Shanahan, current deputy secretary of Defense, will become acting head of the Pentagon.

rob kall new screenshot 2018OpEdNews (OEN), Commentary: Shanahan Sec of Defense Appt is Grotesque Joke; It Pierces the Veil, Rob Kall (publisher and editor-in-oenearthlogochief, shown at right), Dec. 23, 2018. The appointment of Patrick Shanahan as acting Secretary of Defense is a grotesque joke, the kind you might see in the Onion. Imagine the Onion headline: “Trump Cuts Out Middleman, Appoints Boeing Exec to Head Defense Dept to Expedite boost of Military Spending”

Shanahan (below left) never served in the military. That could be a really good thing if the right non-military person was appointed. But Shanahan has spent most of his career as a player in the military industrial complex, working at Boeing from 1986 through 2017, when he was appointed by Donald Trump as Assistant Secretary of Defense.

patrick shanahan oIt’s almost like this appointment pierces the veil that the US military serves a purpose other than producing massive profits for companies within the military industrial complex.

At least with James Mattis we had someone who had some experience in the military, some experience of losing soldiers to death. Now we face a situation where we have a businessman running the military. Personally, I’d like to see Secretary of Defense be someone who is known for opposing war. That’s not going to happen. It will be interesting to see how the actual military responds to this appointment.

Finally, it appears that Trump has taken a strategy of avoiding getting congressional approval of appointees by dumping people, then appointing “Acting” replacements. This should be illegal. An “Acting” Department head should only be allowed to be appointed if there is a vacancy, not because the president is firing someone.

Mattis Minority Report: 2016

Truthout, Opinion: James Mattis Is a War Criminal: I Experienced His Attack on Fallujah Firsthand, Dahr Jamail (reporter, author), Dec. 6, 2016. Retired marine General James Mattis, who retired from being the head of CENTCOM in 2013, has become known recently for his stance against what he calls “political Islam.”

More importantly, Mattis, known to some by the nickname of “Mad Dog,” has shown a callous disregard for human life, particularly civilians, as evidenced by his behavior leading marines in Iraq, comments he made about enjoying fighting in Afghanistan because “it’s fun to shoot some people. You know, it’s a hell of a hoot,” and myriad other problems.

Dahr Jamail, a Truthout staff reporter, is the author of “The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan” (Haymarket Books, 2009), and “Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq” (Haymarket Books, 2007). Jamail reported from Iraq for more than a year, as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last 10 years, and has won the Martha Gellhorn Award for Investigative Journalism, among other awards. His third book is “The Mass Destruction of Iraq: Why It Is Happening, and Who Is Responsible,” co-written with William Rivers Pitt. He lives and works in Washington State.

More Indonesian Disaster

ny times logoindonesia flagNew York Times, Tsunami Strikes Indonesia Without Warning, Killing Hundreds, Muktita Suhartono and Richard C. Paddock, Dec. 23, 2018. A tsunami in Indonesia’s Sunda Strait struck two of the country’s islands, killing at least 222 people and injuring more than 800, officials said. It may have been set off by an underwater landslide caused by volcanic activity.

 U.S. Federal Shutdown

washington post logomitch mcconnell2Washington Post, Shutdown to last until at least Thursday, Lawmakers will go home for holidays as federal workers are left in limbo, Paul Kane, David Weigel and Philip Rucker, Dec. 23, 2018 (print edition). Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), right, announced Saturday afternoon that the Senate would shutter for legislative business until Thursday, leaving many federal agencies closed until later next week at the earliest as the fight over funding for border security continues.

Inside Trump World

Donald Trump (Defense Department photo by Dominique Pineiro)

ny times logoNew York Times, For Trump, ‘a War Every Day,’ Waged Increasingly Alone, Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman, Dec. 23, 2018 (print edition). At the midpoint of his term, President Trump has grown more sure of his own judgment and more isolated from anyone else’s than at any point since he took office.

Tumultuous recent events have left the impression of a presidency at risk of spinning out of control, but Mr. Trump’s first two years may ultimately look calm compared to what lies ahead.

washington post logoWashington Post, Treasury secretary’s unusual calls to bank CEOs may backfire, experts say, Damian Paletta and Josh Dawsey, Dec. 23, 2018. Steven Mnuchin startled financial analysts, bankers and economists by issuing a statement declaring that the nation’s six largest banks had ample credit to extend to American businesses and households.

washington post logoWashington Post, The last lines of defense against Trump, Editorial Board, Dec. 23, 2018 (print edition). Many people who viewed Donald Trump as unprepared and temperamentally ill-suited to be president initially reassured themselves that a sober-minded Republican majority in Congress would restrain him.

paul ryan oSpeaker Paul D. Ryan’s (R-Wis.) pitiable farewell this week spotlighted the emptiness of those hopes. Mr. Ryan, right, allowed the president and his allies to corrupt the House Intelligence Committee and treat federal law enforcement as an enemy. Like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and most other ostensible GOP leaders, Mr. Ryan abetted the president as he sought, fruitlessly, to use fear and bigotry to preserve the House Republican majority in the 2018 elections. Fittingly, Mr. Ryan’s final act this week was to indulge the president’s capricious decision to shut down the government rather than accept a budget compromise.

djt james mattis dod hqThe second line of defense was going to be the “grown-ups” in the administration: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis (shown with the president at left), national security adviser H.R. McMaster, economic adviser Gary Cohn, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, intelligence chief Daniel Coats. These are people who understand the value of alliances, the risks of trade wars, the even more unspeakable risks of real wars. Over the past two years, they did at times restrain the president’s worst impulses — in ways we know and likely in ways we have yet to learn.

But with Mr. Mattis’s announcement this week that he will step down in February, almost all the “grown-ups” will be gone.

9/11 Commentary

News From Underground, Opinion: Link to Kevin Ryan’s piece on how to research 9/11, Edited by Mark Crispin Miller, Dec. 23, 2018. Anybody interested in really digging into 9/11 should begin by reading this exemplary how-to by Kevin Ryan, who may know more about that subject — and how to go about researching it effectively — than anyone alive.

Dig Within, Investigating 9/11, Kevin Ryan, Feb. 27, 2016. When people ask me what more can be done to achieve 9/11 truth and justice, I tell them to spend less time calling for a new investigation and more time investigating. Even without subpoena power, independent investigators can make a lot of progress. To help with that effort, here are three steps for an independent investigation and an objective way to evaluate suspects in the 9/11 crimes.

The first step is to ask specific, well-formulated questions.

The second step is to collect information that might help to answer the questions. Interview people who have detailed knowledge about the events. Most of the people who were present at the time of the attacks and during the official investigations are still alive and some of them will answer questions. Additionally, useful information can be obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Direct requests to federal, state, or local agencies using resources like these:

The third step to investigation is to collect the information, analyze it, and then communicate it clearly and objectively. Collecting the information is relatively easy. Analysis might include categorizing or framing the information in ways that help to see linkages. Examples include creating a timeline of events or a matrix of people and events, and considering if the new information fits into the existing body of knowledge. Once new information is ready to communicate to others, there are a lot of venues.

Claims Againt Syria

washington post logoWashington Post, Syria’s once- teeming prison cells being emptied by mass murder, Louisa Loveluck and Zakaria Zakaria, Dec. 23, 2018. Assad’s government is doubling down on the killing of political prisoners as the civil war heads toward its conclusion.

Dec. 22

U.S. Federal Shutdown

washington post logoWashington Post, Shutdown in effect as Congress fails to reach deal, Erica Werner, Damian Paletta and John Wagner, Dec. 22, 2018.  Negotiations expected to continue through weekend. The shutdown intensifies a standoff between the president, who saw the final days of the year as his last chance to try to extract funding for a border wall, and Democrats, who showed no signs of buckling to his demands.

washington post logoWashington Post, ‘He takes no ownership’: Trump eschews responsibility for a shutdown he once craved, David Nakamura, Dec. 22, 2018.  After vowing to “take the mantle,” the president seeks to foist blame on Democrats.

washington post logoWashington Post, What will happen if the government shuts down: Late paychecks, closed museums and more, Mark Berman and Lisa Rein, Dec. 22, 2018 (print edition). With President Trump and Congress at an impasse over federal spending, the country is bracing for a partial government shutdown that would shutter offices, hold up paychecks during the holiday season and affect popular tourist attractions nationwide. Here’s a guide to some of the questions people might have.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Why Trump Needs a Border Wall Shutdown Fight, Philip Klein (executive editor of The Washington Examiner), Dec. 22, 2018 (print edition). It’s a recognition that he is going to sink or swim politically in 2020 by standing with his base. This week is a taste of what’s to come and a sign that partisan warfare is going to get more fierce.

According to a Quinnipiac poll, American voters opposed setting off a shutdown over border wall funding, 62 percent to 34 percent. But Republicans supported the move 59 percent to 33 percent. Poll results were not broken down further, but among Mr. Trump’s core supporters, enthusiasm for a border wall showdown was most likely even stronger.

Global Affairs

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. envoy to anti-ISIS coalition resigns in protest of Trump’s decision on Syria, John Hudson and Ellen Nakashima​, Dec. bret mcgurk22, 2018. Brett McGurk, right, had been planning to leave his post in February 2019, but accelerated his resignation after the president’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria.

McGurk’s departure is effective Dec. 31, an earlier exit than his intended departure in mid-February. In theory, his preference for a modest U.S. role was aligned with Trump’s view, but McGurk disagreed with the president’s assessment that the threat posed by Islamic State had been eliminated.

In recent months, McGurk’s preference for a limited U.S. mission was overruled by other Trump advisers, in particular, National Security Adviser John Bolton, who vowed in September that the U.S. now had new goal in Syria aimed at countering Iran’s influence. “We’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders and that includes Iranian proxies and militias,” he told reporters at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Daily Beast, Bolton’s Hawkish Syria Plan Backfired, Pushing Trump to Get Out, Spencer Ackerman and Kimberly Dozier, Dec. 22, 2018.  The national security adviser expanded U.S. goals in Syria to challenge Iran. But Trump wasn’t on board, senior officials say, and Turkey took an opportunity to push the U.S. out.

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: With the Generals Gone, Trump’s ‘America First’ Could Fully Emerge, David E. Sanger, Dec. 22, 2018 (print edition). The United States and its shaken allies are about to discover the true meaning of “America First,” our correspondent writes. The president appears determined to assemble a new team of advisers who will not tell him what he cannot do, but rather embrace his vision of a powerful America.

With the angry departure of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the United States and its shaken allies are about to discover the true meaning of “America First.”

Mr. Mattis, a retired four-star general, prided himself on spending four decades preparing for war while nurturing the alliances needed to prevent conflict. He was more than the competent grown-up in the Situation Room, quelling talk of unilateral strikes against North Korea. In fact, he was the last senior official in the administration deeply invested in the world order that the United States has led for the 73 years since World War II, and the global footprint needed to keep that order together.

The breaking point was Syria, where Mr. Trump decided over his defense secretary’s objections to pull all Americans troops, and Afghanistan, where the president seems determined to reduce the American presence by half in the next few months. By the time Mr. Trump made clear he would delay those actions no longer, Mr. Mattis was isolated.

He was not alone: Most of the advisers Mr. Trump once called “my generals’’ also believed in the system Mr. Trump has long rejected. And now, headed into his third year in office and more convinced than ever that his initial gut instincts about retreating from a complex world of civil wars and abstract threats was right, Mr. Trump has rid himself of the aides who feared the president was undercutting America’s long-term national interests.

Finance Regulation

Palmer Report, Opinion: Looks like Donald Trump has found somebody new to fire, Bill Palmer, Dec. 22, 2018. Even if you’re not invested in the stock market, it’s been plummeting so badly of late, you’ve surely heard about it. It’s down more than three thousand points in three weeks. It just bill palmer report logo headerkeeps dropping with no end in sight.

After Donald Trump spent so much time bragging about the rising stock market these past two years, he can’t handle the jerome powellfact that it’s collapsing. Worse, he can’t accept the reality that his disastrous trade war, and his destabilizing criminal scandals, are a big part of the reason. So naturally he’s blaming someone else.

Donald Trump is now on the verge of firing Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, according to Bloomberg. Why? In short, Trump is too ignorant to understand why Powell (right) recently raised interest rates even as the market has been falling. The reality is that Powell is trying to stabilize the economy even as Trump is destroying it, but don’t tell Trump that.

Civil Rights

whowhatwhy logoWhoWhatWhy, FBI Continues to Break Its Own Rules by Tracking Protesters, Vanessa Nason, Dec. 22, 2018. Documents obtained by the Guardian show the FBI has, once again, broken protocol by improperly tracking the arrests of nonviolent environmental protesters.

The FBI has, once again, violated department protocol by tracking environmental activists and nonviolent protesters, according to documents the Guardian recently obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit.

Because the FBI withheld all but seven pages of a 32-page file, many questions remain about why and how the Bureau snooped on, a climate-activist organization with a collaborative network that extends to 188 countries.

Why track The ostensible reason is that the FBI sought to assess whether this very large group posed a danger ahead of a series of protests in 2016.’s “Break Free from Fossil Fuels” campaign involved 30,000 people who participated in events on six continents to protest dependence on oil, coal, and natural gas.

The organization’s event in Whiting, IN, occurred on May 15, 2016, and involved about 1,000 protesters who marched on the British Petroleum refinery, BP’s largest refinery in the world.

Inside Trump World

washington post logoWashington Post, ‘A rogue presidency’: The era of containing Trump is over, Philip Rucker​, Dec. 22, 2018. One by one, seasoned advisers seen as bulwarks against his most reckless impulses have been cast aside or resigned. The result? The government is shut down. Markets are in free fall. Allies are voicing alarm. And some GOP lawmakers once afraid of crossing him are now openly critical.

Dec. 21

DC Chaos: Shutdown Looms, Mattis Quits, Mueller Threats

Trump Ups Shutdown Threat

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump warns of a ‘very long’ shutdown if Democrats oppose bill that includes border wall money, John Wagner and Damian Paletta​, Dec. 21, 2018.  President Trump warned Friday that a partial government shutdown would last “for a very long time” if Congress does not meet his demand Friday for billions in funding for his long-promised border wall in a stopgap spending measure.

Donald Trump (Gage Skidmore portrait)In a spate of morning tweets, Trump sought to pin blame on Democrats for a potential shutdown even though he said last week that he would proudly own one if lawmakers did not provide at least $5 billion toward his marquee campaign promise.

And he suggested that Senate rules should be changed if necessary so that Republicans could pass the bill without any Democratic support.

“The Democrats, whose votes we need in the Senate, will probably vote against Border Security and the Wall even though they know it is DESPERATELY NEEDED,” Trump wrote. “If the Dems vote no, there will be a shutdown that will last for a very long time. People don’t want Open Borders and Crime!”

Trump’s warning came ahead of a midnight deadline for the president and Congress to come to terms on a spending bill to avert a partial government shutdown that would affect funding for roughly 25 percent of the federal agencies whose budgets rely on Congress.

Democrats, however, have enough votes in the Senate to keep that bill from advancing and have showed no signs of relenting.

“The bottom line is simple: the Trump temper tantrum will shut down the government, but it will not get him his wall,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters Thursday night.

Defense Secretary Resigns

ny times logoNew York Times, Jim Mattis, Marine General Turned Defense Secretary, Helene Cooper, Dec. 21, 2018 (print edition). Will Leave Pentagon james mattis oin February. Jim Mattis (right), the four-star Marine general turned defense secretary, will retire at the end of February, President Trump said on Thursday.

Mr. Mattis’ departure comes a day after the president announced his decision to withdraw 2,000 American troops from Syria over the objections of senior military officials.

His departure leaves the Trump administration without one of the few officials viewed as standing between a mercurial president and global tumult.

ny times logoNew York Times, Read the Letter Jim Mattis Wrote to Trump, Dec. 21, 2018 (print edition). President Trump on Thursday tweeted that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis would be leaving the Pentagon in February. The news comes a day after the president announced troop withdrawals in Syria. Shortly after Mr. Trump’s post, Mr. Mattis released a letter he wrote to Mr. Trump acknowledging that the president had a right to a defense secretary with views “better aligned” with his. Below is the full text of that letter, as released by the Defense Department.

Global Reactions

washington post logoWashington Post, Turkey delays planned operation against Kurdish forces in Syria, Erin Cunningham and Louisa Loveluck​, Dec. 21, 2018.  President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that he “cautiously” welcomed the U.S. decision to withdraw troops from Syria.

ny times logoNew York Times, Syria Pullout by U.S. Tilts Mideast Power Toward Iran and Russia, Isolating Israel, David M. Halbfinger, Dec. 21, 2018 (print edition). The decision abruptly scrambled the geopolitics of the Middle East, clearing the way for Iran to expand its influence and leaving Israel alone to stop it. It shows that even a relatively small move can have far-reaching consequences in a complex war, leaving allies struggling and adversaries emboldened. The decision shows that even a relatively small move — the United States has only about 2,000 troops in Syria — can have far-reaching consequences in a complex war, leaving allies struggling to cope and adversaries pleased and emboldened.

“Donald’s right, and I agree with him,” said President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, whose influence over Syria can only grow more dominant as the United States exits.

washington post logoWashington Post, Turkey delays planned operation against Kurdish forces in Syria, Erin Cunningham and Louisa Loveluck​, Dec. 21, 2018. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that he “cautiously” welcomed the U.S. decision to withdraw troops from Syria.

Trump White House

ny times logoNew York Times, A Top Aide’s Exit Plan Raises Eyebrows in the White House, Maggie Haberman and Nicholas Fandos, Dec. 20, 2018.
Zachary Fuentes, the deputy White House chief of staff, is said to have planned to lie low and take advantage of a Coast Guard retirement program whose renewal has now been removed from a House bill.

After weeks of discussions about his future, Zachary D. Fuentes, the 36-year-old deputy White House chief of staff, had a plan.

Mr. Fuentes told colleagues that after his mentor, John F. Kelly, left his job as chief of staff at the end of the year, he would “hide out” at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, adjacent to the White House, for six months, remaining on the payroll in a nebulous role. Then, in July, when he had completed 15 years of service in the Coast Guard, Mr. Fuentes — an active-duty officer — would take advantage of an early retirement program.

Inside Trump’s DC

Bloomberg, Trump Discusses Firing Fed’s Powell After Latest Rate Hike, Sources Say, Jennifer Jacobs, Saleha Mohsin and Margaret Talev, Dec. 21, 2018. President Donald Trump has discussed firing Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell as his frustration with the central bank chief intensified following this week’s interest-rate hike and months of stock-market losses, according to four people familiar with the matter.

jerome powellAdvisers close to Trump aren’t convinced he would move against Powell (right) and are hoping that the president’s latest bout of anger will dissipate over the holidays, the people said on condition of anonymity. Some of Trump’s advisers have warned him that firing Powell would be a disastrous move.

Any attempt by Trump to push out Powell would have potentially devastating ripple effects across financial markets, undermining investors’ confidence in the central bank’s ability to shepherd the economy without political interference. It would come as markets have plummeted in recent weeks, with the major stock indexes already down sharply for the year.

It’s unclear how much legal authority the president has to fire Powell. The Federal Reserve Act says governors may be “removed for cause by the President.” Since the chairman is also a governor, that presumably extends to him or her, but the rules around firing the leader are legally ambiguous, as Peter Conti-Brown of the University of Pennsylvania notes in his book on Fed independence.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Nice knowing you, Matt Whitaker, Bill Palmer, Dec. 21, 2018. As a general rule, if you’re already under FBI criminal investigation, and you’re illegally appointed to a job on an acting basis with the mandate that you commit felonies while on the job, and everyone bill palmer report logo headeraround you is just waiting for the chance to nail you for committing those felonies, it’s not going to end well for you.

matthew whitaker agThat brings us to toilet scam artist and Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker (right).

On Friday we learned that, for the past few weeks, Donald Trump has been privately berating Whitaker and demanding that he do more to protect Trump from his various worsening criminal scandals. That’s a problem on too many levels to count.

Supreme Court Update

washington post logoruth bader ginsburg scotusWashington Post, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has surgery for malignant nodules in her lung, Robert Barnes and Laurie McGinley​, Dec. 21, 2018. The 85-year-old Supreme Court justice, right, is “resting comfortably,” and “there was no evidence of any remaining disease” after the surgery, the court said in a news release.

ny times logoNew York Times, Supreme Court Won’t Revive Trump Policy Limiting Asylum, Adam Liptak, Dec. 21, 2018. The Supreme Court on Friday refused to revive a Trump administration initiative barring migrants who enter the country illegally from seeking asylum. Lower courts had blocked the initiative, ruling that a federal law plainly allowed asylum applications from people who had entered the country unlawfully.

The Supreme Court on Friday refused to revive a Trump administration initiative barring migrants who enter the country illegally from seeking asylum.

The court was closely divided, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the four-member liberal wing in turning down the administration’s request for a stay of a trial judge’s order blocking the program.

The court’s brief order gave no reasons for its action. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh said they would have granted the stay.

Inside DC

New York Magazine, Opinion: GOP Leaders Won’t Tolerate Trump’s Chaos for Much Longer, Frank Rich, Dec. 21, 2018. The beginning of the end of the Trump presidency came and went a long time ago. I have never wavered from my oft-stated convictions that (a) Trump will not finish out his term, and (b), the end will be triggered by a presidential meltdown that forces the Vichy Republicans in Washington to mount an insurrection — if only to save their own asses, not the country.

This week was a big step toward that endgame, and surely one of the most remarkable weeks in American history.

What we are likely to see in the meantime: further indictments of Trump family members and other close associates; a complete halt to governance in Washington whether there’s actually a government shutdown or not; new overt and covert threats to national security; a further effort by Trump to destabilize the Federal Reserve and assault its chairman; and perhaps, at last, an intervention by those Vichy Republicans, in the financial sector as well as in the capital, who see their own necks on the line.

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. Allies Fear That Traditional Ties No Longer Matter, Steven Erlanger and Jane Perlez, Dec. 21, 2018. The U.S. is withdrawing about 7,000 troops from Afghanistan. This, and the resignation, are being viewed as watershed moments for allies in Europe and Asia.

America’s allies in Europe and Asia thought they had learned to digest and compensate for the instinctive unpredictability of President Trump. But the bitter resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the abrupt announcement of plans to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan are being viewed as watershed moments for Washington’s relations with the world.

ny times logoNew York Times, A Memo and a Recusal Decision Underscore Potential Threats to the Mueller Inquiry, Charlie Savage and Katie Benner, Dec. 20, 2018. Matthew G. Whitaker, who was installed last month as acting attorney general by President Trump, has cleared himself to supervise the special counsel’s investigation, rejecting the recommendation of career Justice Department ethics specialists that he recuse himself, according to a letter the department sent to Senate leaders on Thursday night.

The development came soon after the disclosure that the president’s nominee for attorney general, William P. Barr, had written a memo this spring in which he strongly criticized one of the main lines of inquiry by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III — whether Mr. Trump had committed obstruction of justice. Disclosure of the memo raised questions about whether Mr. Barr would order Mr. Mueller to shut down that component of the inquiry if the Senate confirmed him.

Together, the developments underscored the potential threats to Mr. Mueller’s ability to complete his work without interference at a time when his inquiry appears to be drawing closer to the White House and the president’s most trusted associates.

Afghanistan Withdrawal

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. to Withdraw About 7,000 Troops From Afghanistan, Officials Say, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Dec. 21, 2018 (print edtiion). The Trump administration is withdrawing roughly 7,000 troops from Afghanistan in the coming months, two defense officials said Thursday, around half of what the American military has there now.

Mr. Trump made the decision at the same time he decided he was pulling American forces out of Syria, one official said. The move is likely one of the first steps to end the United States’ involvement in the 17-year-old war.

The 14,000 American troops currently in Afghanistan are divided between training and advising Afghan forces and a counterterror mission against groups like the Islamic State and Al Qaeda. The reduction, one official said, is in an effort to make Afghan forces more reliant on their own troops and not Western support.

Gender / Sports / Culture

Telegraph, Martina Navratilova in ‘transphobic’ row over comments about women’s sport, Anita Singh, Dec. 21, 2018. Martina Navratilova has angered the transgender community by claiming that people who were born male should not be allowed to compete in women’s sports events. The former Wimbledon champion and LGBT campaigner made the statement on social media, and was swiftly accused of being “transphobic.”

Responding to a question from one of her followers about transgender womenin sport, Navratilova said: “Clearly that can’t be right. You can’t just proclaim yourself a female and be able to compete against women. There must be some standards, and having a penis and competing as a woman would not fit that standard.”

She also said: “For me it’s all about fairness. Which means taking every case individually… there is no cookie cutter way of doing things.”

Her comments were seized upon by Dr Rachel McKinnon, a transgender activist and competitive cyclist who this year controversially won a women’s event at the UCI Masters Track World Championship. McKinnon, a Canadian, was born biologically male but transitioned in her 20s. She told her followers that Navratilova was “transphobic” and called on her to apologize, sending a stream of critical tweets.

She also told Navratilova, who won Wimbledon nine times and is regarded by many as the greatest female tennis player of all time: “You realize I’m a world champion trans woman athlete?”

Initially, Navratilova said: “I am sorry if I said anything anywhere near transphobic – certainly I meant no harm. I will educate myself better on this issue but meantime I will be quiet about it.” She also deleted the original tweet.

However, after receiving a stream of critical messages from McKinnon, Navratilova hit back: “Rachel, you might be an expert on all things trans but you are one nasty human being.”

She added that she did not regret her remark and would not be “bullied” into silence, but would bow out of the conversation “because it seems to be my decades of speaking out against unfairness and inequality just don’t count with you at all”.

An assistant professor at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, McKinnon told the BBC that she received an estimated 100,000 hate messages on Twitter <>after winning the championship title.

A picture of her on the podium, dwarfing third-placed Jen Wagner-Assali, fueled the debate about transgender women in sport. Wagner-Assali said she thought it was unfair that McKinnon was allowed to compete, but later apologized for her comments.

Navratilova’s friend and former coach is Renee Richards, who was born Richard Raskind and competed in the US Open as a man before having gender reassignment surgery and competing as a woman. Navratilova ‘came out’ as a lesbian in 1981 and campaigns for LGBT rights.

In 2017, she wrote an open letter criticizing Margaret Court, the former world number one, for “demonizing trans kids and trans adults” by claiming that gender dysphoria was the work of the devil. Navratilova is also an avowed feminist, saying in one interview: “Of
course! How can a woman not be?”

Dec. 20

Mueller Probe

Attorney General Bill Barr and Vice President Dan Quayle with President George H. W. Bush. (Source: George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)

Attorney General Bill Barr and Vice President Dan Quayle with President George H. W. Bush. (Source: George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)

Lawfare, Bill Barr’s Very Strange Memo on Obstruction of Justice, Mikhaila Fogel and Benjamin Wittes, Dec. 20, 2018. The memo on obstruction of justice by Bill Barr, the once and future attorney general, is a bizarre document—particularly so for a man who would supervise the investigation it criticizes.

As the Wall Street Journal first reported, Barr, whom the president has nominated to succeed Jeff Sessions as attorney general, sent the unsolicited memo—dated June 8, 2018—to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to offer his view of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible obstruction of justice by the president. The document elicited questions over whether Barr would need to recuse himself from overseeing the investigation as attorney general, along with outrage from congressional Democrats: both Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Mark Warner, the ranking member on the Senate intelligence committee, have demanded that Trump withdraw Barr’s nomination. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary described the memo as “troubling.”

But the legal quality of the memo itself is a different question. Over at Just Security, Marty Lederman has what he describes as a “first take” on Barr’s memo, which is to say a detailed critique of it on both constitutional and statutory grounds. On National Review’s website, by contrast, Andrew McCarthy declares the memo a “commendable piece of lawyering” and “exactly what we need and should want in an attorney general of the United States.”

Whatever Barr’s memo is, it is not that. Because whether one agrees with his view of the law (as does McCarthy) or recoils at it (as does Lederman), one thing attorneys general of the United States should certainly not do is make up facts. And ironically for a memo laying out the argument that Bob Mueller has made up a crime to investigate, the document is based entirely on made-up facts.

Afghan Withdrawal

ABC News, Trump administration considering reducing the number of US troops in Afghanistan: officials, Luis Martinez, Elizabeth McLaughlin, abc news logoTara Palmeri, Dec. 20, 2018. The Trump administration is considering reducing the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, with the possibility that some troops begin withdrawing in the coming weeks, according to a U.S. official.
Interested in Trump Administration?

A second official told ABC News that discussions have been underway for several weeks about how to withdraw some U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The president discussed the plan on Wednesday with Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, who all cautioned against the move, according to a third U.S. official and another source with knowledge of the meeting.

Trump believes withdrawing troops from Afghanistan would appeal to his base and fulfill a campaign promise. The consideration comes just one day after Trump announced he was pulling 2,000 U.S. troops out of Syria within 30 days.

New Epstein Victim Deal

New York Post, Billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein settles another lawsuit, Kaja Whitehouse and Lia Eustachewich, Dec. 20, 2018. Pedophile Jeffrey Epstein settles one case, avoiding victim testimony. Billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein has settled yet another lawsuit — this time with a woman who claimed she was recruited by the renowned pedophile as a sex slave more than a decade ago.

The woman, Sarah Ransome, sued Epstein and alleged madam Ghislaine Maxwell in Manhattan federal court last year for forcing her into sex acts in 2006 and 2007, when she was in her 20s.

She more recently claimed they directed her to have sex with Epstein’s powerful friends, including notable lawyer and Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, the Miami Herald reported. Ransome, who now lives in Barcelona, withdrew the lawsuit on Thursday due to the settlement, the terms of which were not disclosed.

“We are pleased with the settlement. It provides as much compensation as money can provide for the horrific damage done by sex trafficking,” said her lawyer, David Boies.

Epstein, a wealthy hedge fund manager, is a registered sex offender tied to his 2008 conviction for soliciting an underage girl for prostitution.
Before his conviction and since, he has been accused of sexually abusing dozens of mostly underage girls at his mansion in Palm Beach

Dershowitz represented Epstein in the 2008 plea deal with Florida federal prosecutors that resulted in 13 months in jail. On Thursday, he denied Ransome’s allegations. “Of course she didn’t have sex with me. I never had sex with anyone except my wife,” Dershowitz told The Post. “I’ve never met this woman, I don’t know her, I never heard of her. She just made it up completely.”

Ransome’s lawsuit said Epstein and Maxwell promised her paid tuition to the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan in exchange for her “continued sexual cooperation with Epstein,” the complaint said.

Maxwell had hired Ransome to give Epstein massages at his townhouse in New York and his private island in the US Virgin Islands — and the two threatened the young woman if she didn’t comply, the suit said.

“Each time she was so instructed she was also required to perform a sexual act with Epstein,” court papers said.

Roger Stone-LaRouche Ties

Mother Jones, Commentary: Lyndon LaRouche Is Still Alive and He’s Been Hobnobbing with Roger Stone, Shilpa Jindia, Dec. 21, 2018. The international cult leader has longstanding ties to Russia — and Robert Mueller.

Eleven days after President Donald Trump’s election, Roger Stone, a longtime self-proclaimed GOP dirty trickster and Trump adviser, invited an unusual guest on his short-lived radio show, Stone Cold Truth, and began the interview with a question about former President Bill Clinton. “Well, I think the question of Bill Clinton is sometimes confused. Bill was framed,” Lyndon LaRouche replied. “And he was framed by the Queen of England.”

It was typical fare from LaRouche, the 96-year-old leader of a fascist political cult group that has long pitched a variety of dark conspiracy theories, including his pet notion that a Zionist British aristocratic oligarchy secretly orchestrates world events.

Stone’s recent association with LaRouche is consistent with his decades-long evolution from a mainstream GOP operative to an advocate and ally of the conspiratorial and political fringe.

Stone is reportedly being investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is examining his possible interactions during the 2016 campaign with WikiLeaks ahead of its releases of emails stolen by Russian government hackers. (Mueller himself is no stranger to LaRouche; he was a key player in the 1980s investigation that sent LaRouche to jail.)

Despite all the scrutiny over Stone’s role in the 2016 campaign, his alignment with a political group that the Heritage Foundation once described as a “strange asset for the KGB’s disinformation effort” remains a little-examined aspect of his recent activities.

Dec. 20

Mattis Resignation

washington post logoWashington Post, Mattis, once one of ‘my generals,’ loses clout with Trump, Anne Gearan and Josh Dawsey, Dec. 20, 2018 (print edition). President Trump’s move to pull all U.S. troops from Syria is a clear rebuke of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who has been repeatedly overruled in recent months and left out of key discussions.

Reuters, France says Islamic State not defeated, troops to remain in Syria, John Irish, Jean-Baptiste Vey, Dec. 20, 2018. France will keep troops in northern Syria for now because Islamic State militants have not been wiped out, contrary to the U.S. view, and has started talks with the United States on the conditions and calendar of its withdrawal, officials said.

Politico, Analysis: Why Mattis Had to Go, Blake Hounshell, Dec. 20, 2018 .The defense secretary could no longer serve a president who no longer thinks he needs to listen to anybody, When I met Mattis for the first time, at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, the retired Marine general was still fuming over his treatment by the Barack Obama administration—he was fired as Central Command chief, basically, for urging a more aggressive Iran policy—and though our conversation wasn’t on the record, it was clear he was somebody who wasn’t to be trifled with.

Now, he’s aiming his considerable capacity for outrage at a different occupant of the Oval Office, with the stakes far higher given that the president today is, well, Donald Trump.

Mueller Probe

NBC News, Mueller may submit report to attorney general as soon as mid-February, say sources, Pete Williams and Ken Dilanian, Dec. 20, 2018. nbc news logoMueller may submit report to attorney general as soon as mid-February, say sources. “They clearly are tying up loose ends,” said a lawyer who has been in contact with the Mueller team. Where the Mueller investigation stands and what may be coming next.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is nearing the end of his historic investigation into Russian election interference and is expected to submit a confidential report to the attorney general as early as mid-February, government officials and others familiar with the situation tell NBC News.

“They clearly are tying up loose ends,” said a lawyer who has been in contact with the Mueller team.

robert mueller kit fox medill flickr croppedThe sources either did not know or would not say whether Mueller, right, has answered the fundamental question he was hired to investigate: Whether Trump or anyone around him conspired with the Russian intelligence operations to help his campaign.

Mueller has not made public any evidence proving such a conspiracy, though he has rebutted in court filings the president’s assertion that neither he nor any of his top aides had met or talked with Russians during the 2016 race. They did, according to Mueller; and, in the case of his lawyer’s negotiations over a Trump Tower in Moscow, Trump knew about it, court filings say.

Mueller has also examined the question whether the president obstructed justice, and is expected to address that matter in his report. Whether the special counsel will accuse the president of wrongdoing on that score is unclear.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Robert Mueller’s final countdown officially begins, Bill Palmer, Dec. 20, 2018. For some time now, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s incremental moves have strongly suggested that he was looking to time his big endgame moves against Donald Trump to the Democratic Party takeover of the House. Now, on an evening in which the nation is in total chaos due to Trump’s increasing instability, word is surfacing about Mueller’s official countdown clock for taking Trump down.

bill palmer report logo headerOnce the Democrats take power in the House on January 3rd, Robert Mueller can begin using court filings to drop some of his biggest bombs, thus allowing the House Democrats to use public hearings to amplify and flesh out those findings. The question has been when Mueller would then reach his big finale, releasing his final report on Donald Trump’s crimes, and enabling the House to begin impeachment hearings if Trump doesn’t resign. Now we have a date, or at least a rather firm date range.

NBC News is reporting tonight that, according to inside sources, Robert Mueller is set to file his final report on Donald Trump in mid-February. That makes sense, as it’ll give Mueller and the Democratic House about five weeks to air out the worst of Trump’s dirty laundry before the final report is filed. Trump has committed so many dozens of different kinds of felonies, it’s best to spread these things out a bit, so each of his crimes gets the proper attention.

Of course this is really about convincing Donald Trump that he and his kids are going to lose all their assets and spend the rest of their lives in prison if he doesn’t very quickly negotiate a resignation deal in exchange for some kind of reduced criminal charges. Keep in mind that NBC couldn’t have gotten this timeframe tonight unless Robert Mueller decided to put it out there. Mueller is announcing to Trump that his life is over in seven weeks if he doesn’t surrender before then.

Justice Expert Urges Whitaker Recusal

washington post logoWashington Post, Justice Dept. ethics official told Whitaker’s team he should recuse from Mueller probe, Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky​, Dec. 20, 2018. Earlier, a department official had said the ethics office advised acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker he need not step aside. Hours later, people familiar with the situation disclosed that a senior ethics official told Whitaker advisers that he should recuse to avoid the appearance of a conflict.

matthew whitaker agA senior Justice Department ethics official concluded acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker, left, should recuse from overseeing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe examining President Trump, but advisers to Whitaker recommended the opposite and he has no plans to step aside, according to people familiar with the matter.

The latest account of what happened underscores the high stakes and deep distrust — within Congress and in some corners of the Justice Department — surrounding Whitaker’s appointment to become the nation’s top law enforcement official until the Senate votes on the nomination of William P. Barr to take the job.

Earlier Thursday, a different official, who spoke on the condition they not be named, said ethics officials had advised Whitaker need not step aside, only to retract that account hours later.

Palmer Report, Opinion: DOJ now says Rod Rosenstein, not Matt Whitaker, is in charge of Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation, Bill Palmer, Dec. 20, 2018. The saga of Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker keeps getting stranger as the day goes on – but it all keeps coming back to him having no real power over Special Counsel Robert Mueller. We’re now on the third iteration of the story so far this afternoon, and let’s just say that it’s not going the way Donald Trump was hoping when he illegitimately appointed Whitaker to the position.

bill palmer report logo headerFirst came reports that the DOJ Ethics Committee had told Matt Whitaker that he did not need to recuse himself from the Trump-Russia investigation. Palmer Report pointed out that this wasn’t really a big deal one way or the other, because it would still be a felony if Whitaker messed with Mueller, so this was still going to come down to whether Whitaker wanted to risk going to prison to help Trump.

Justice Department log circularThen the Washington Post reported that the DOJ had advised Whitaker to recuse himself, but he refused to. Palmer Report explained that this was probably Whitaker trying to split the difference between not outraging Trump, and not getting in legal trouble. Now comes the part that matters, which is good news for Mueller, and bad news for Trump.

Nicolle Wallace of MSNBC is now reporting that a Department of Justice official has informed her that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and not Matthew Whitaker, will continue to oversee Robert Mueller going forward. This means that, even though Whitaker isn’t officially recusing himself, he’s clearly not involved in any of this. Mueller is going to keep doing what he’s doing, Rosenstein is going to keep greenlighting him, Whitaker is going to hide in the bathroom, and Trump is going to whine about it all.

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump’s Attorney General Nominee Criticized Russia Investigation, Charlie Savage, Dec. 20, 2018. In a memo to top Justice Department officials in June, the nominee, William Barr, objected to the notion that President Trump may have committed the crime william barr o 1992of obstruction of justice. William P. Barr, President Trump’s nominee to be attorney general, wrote an unsolicited memo to top Justice Department officials in June objecting to the notion that Mr. Trump may have committed the crime of obstruction of justice.

In a 19-page memo, Mr. Barr sharply criticized an apparent aspect of the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, that Mr. Trump may have committed a crime by trying to get the F.B.I. director at the time, James B. Comey, to quash the criminal investigation into his first national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, and later by firing Mr. Comey.

Government Shutdown Vote

Roll Call, Trump Will Not Sign Senate-Passed Stopgap Funding Bill, Paul Ryan Says, John T. Bennett, Dec. 20, 2018. Shutdown starts getting paul ryan ocloser with no path to passage. President Donald Trump has rejected a stopgap funding bill passed by the Senate, Speaker Paul D. Ryan said following a meeting at the White House. He said House GOP leaders will try to add border security to the Senate measure before a Friday night deadline.

“He will not sign this bill,” Ryan, right, said outside the executive mansion.

He said House GOP leaders will try to add border security to the Senate measure before a Friday night deadline at which time the Homeland Security, Justice, Interior and other departments would run out of funds and be shuttered.

Roll Call, Ahead of Shutdown, GOP Senator Floats ‘Nuclear’ Option to Build Trump’s Border Wall, Niels Lesniewski, Dec. 20, 2018. Sen. Steve Daines pitched rules change after House GOP voted to amend spending stopgap. When senators make their way back to the Capitol Friday to go back to the drawing board on government funding, there are sure to be some calls to change the rules to help get President Donald Trump the border wall.

Maybe even from Trump himself.

Sen. Steve Daines, a member of the Appropriations Committee, is floating using the “nuclear option” to effectively change the Senate’s rules to make it easier to agree to the latest House-passed spending bill that provides in excess of $5 billion in funds for the wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has long said the support does not exist for extending the simple-majority threshold to limit debate to the legislative calendar, and back in January a senior Senate GOP aide said the votes did not exist within the Republican Conference for such a move.

The “nuclear option” is so named because it involves having a majority of senators change Senate precedents in order to effectively change the rules without the two-thirds that would be required to invoke cloture on changes to the standing rules themselves.

republican elephant logowashington post logoWashington Post, Wary House Republicans seek word from Trump on whether he will back spending bill, Erica Werner and Damian Paletta, Dec. 20, 2018. House lawmakers had hoped to pass a short-term spending bill today so they could leave town, but prospects for that dimmed quickly amid confusion over President Trump’s position and whether enough Republicans were on board.

Syrian Decision

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump defends Syria decision amid backlash from lawmakers, fresh praise from Putin, John Wagner​, Dec. 20, 2018. The president said it was time for others to step up against the Islamic State and other hostile forces.

Department of Defense SealIn morning tweets, Trump selectively quoted lawmakers and political pundits who agreed with him and argued that the withdrawal was the fulfillment of a campaign pledge and that the United States should not play the role of “Policeman of the Middle East.”

“Getting out of Syria was no surprise. I’ve been campaigning on it for years, and six months ago, when I very publicly wanted to do it, I agreed to stay longer,” Trump said in his tweets, adding: “Do we want to be there forever?”

ny times logoNew York Times, Kurdish Fighters Discuss Releasing Almost 3,200 ISIS Prisoners, Hwaida Saad and Rod Nordland, Dec. 20, 2018. America’s Kurdish allies in Syria are discussing the release of 3,200 Islamic State prisoners, a prominent monitoring group and a Western official of the anti-Islamic State coalition said on Thursday, a day after President Trump ordered the withdrawal of all American troops from the country.

Top officials of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Kurdish-led and American-supported militia fighting the Islamic State in eastern Syria, met on Wednesday to discuss the option of releasing about 1,100 Islamic State fighters and 2,080 relatives of the group’s members, according to Rami Abdul Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory on Human Rights.

Mostapha Bali, the spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, or S.D.F., denied that there had been any discussion of releasing prisoners from the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. “Any news coming from such sources is not reliable and is not coming from us,” he said.

But a Western official from the United States-led coalition fighting in Syria, which includes more than a dozen countries, confirmed that such discussions had taken place.

Inside Washington

health and human services logo

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump administration aims to toughen work rules for food stamps, bypassing Congress, Danielle Paquette and Jeff Stein, Dec. 20, 2018. The plan would force hundreds of thousands of people to hold jobs if they want to keep receiving food stamps, pursuing through executive powers what the administration could not achieve in Congress.

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Administration to Lift Sanctions on Russian Oligarch’s Companies, Kenneth P. Vogel, Dec. 20, 2018 (print edition). The Trump administration announced on Wednesday that it intends to lift sanctions against the business empire of Oleg V. Deripaska, below left, one of Russia’s most influential oligarchs, after an aggressive lobbying campaign by Mr. Deripaska’s companies.

oleg deripaskaThe decision by the Treasury Department, which had been postponed for months, was both politically and economically sensitive, and drew criticism from some Democrats and foreign policy analysts that the administration was sending the wrong signal to Moscow about its conduct toward its neighbors and the United States.

The companies are among the biggest in the aluminum industry, and questions about their fate had roiled global metals markets. And Mr. Deripaska’s stature in Russia made any decision seen to be in his favor tricky for the administration at a time when President Trump is under investigation by the special counsel in connection with Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Mr. Deripaska himself would remain on the sanctions list.

Senate Staffer Sentenced For Lying

james wolfe cspan

Former Senate staffer James A. Wolfe (shown in a file photo from an appearance on C-SPAN)

washington post logoWashington Post, Ex-Senate Intelligence Committee aide sentenced to two months in leak probe, Spencer S. Hsu and Rachel Weiner, Dec. 20, 2018. A longtime aide to the Senate Intelligence Committee was sentenced Thursday to two months in prison for lying to FBI agents about his contact with reporters during a federal leak investigation, a punishment imposed after pleas for leniency by the committee’s chairman and two top-ranking members.

James A. Wolfe, 58, pleaded guilty in October to one count of lying about using encrypted messaging in October 2017 to tell a journalist identified in court filings only as “Reporter #3” about a subpoena issued by the committee. He also admitted to lying about speaking with three other reporters.

For three decades, he was the Senate committee’s director of security, whose duties included overseeing the handling of secret and top-secret information turned over to the panel by the intelligence community for oversight purposes.

“I am beyond embarrassed, beyond humiliated,” Wolfe told U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson in Washington federal court. Repeatedly pausing to gather his composure, he said through tears that his disclosures to journalists began after he engaged in an extramarital affair with a New York Times reporter.

“I compounded the lapse in judgment by sharing information with reporters after that relationship ended,” he said. “I lied to protect my wife, my sons, and selfishly I lied to protect myself and my job.”

But, Wolfe added, he “never compromised classified information, never jeopardized national security.”

Wolfe had asked for probation.

Media / Trafficking / Law

sacha baron cohen as gio monaldo in who is america

Sacha Baron Cohen in character as Gio Monaldo (Showtime)

Newsweek, Sacha Baron Cohen’s ‘Who Is America?’ deleted scene may have exposed elite, Andrew Whalen, Dec. 20, 2018. In Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest series, Who Is America?, the character comedian and provocateur nudged former and current Republican members of Congress into endorsing armed kindergartners, revealed anti-Muslim racism and got Dick Cheney to autograph a waterboarding kit. But there was one scene the Showtime series captured on camera that was too dark and extreme, even for Baron Cohen.

In a new interview with Deadline, Baron Cohen describes how the election of Donald Trump inspired him to get back into costume (“I realized, I have to do something else to deal with this kind of anger and total disgust at what was going on”) and explained the agonizing detail that went into fictional characters like former Mossad agent Erran Morad and far-right conspiracy theorist Billy Wayne Ruddick.

Along the way, Baron Cohen was astounded by the increase in open American racism. “When we were shooting Borat, if somebody said something anti-Semitic or homophobic, we were surprised and we knew that it would make the cut,” Baron Cohen told Deadline. “Now, going out all these years later, you realize that the political dialogue that’s come from the top has made an extremely negative impact on other politicians and to the populace. People are saying things that they never would have dreamed of saying publicly, prior to Trump.”

The interview also gives some new insight into how Baron Cohen gained Cheney’s confidence. “I think he felt happy and almost excited to sit in a room next to my character, because I had done the one thing that he hadn’t actually done. He’d ordered people to be killed but he never actually killed someone with his bare hands,” Baron Cohen said. “It’s a bit like a virgin sitting next to a womanizer and being enamored by them.”

But more than Cheney or the man he convinced to “murder” three people at the Women’s March (the interview subject triggered a fictional bomb), Baron Cohen’s most shocking encounter came when, in character as Italian playboy Gio Monaldo, he convinced a concierge to help him find an underaged boy to molest.

“We wanted to investigate how does someone like Harvey Weinstein gets away with doing what…get away with criminality, essentially. And the network that surrounds him. We decided that Gio would interview a concierge in Las Vegas,” Baron Cohen describes.

During the interview, believing the admission would drive the concierge from the room, Baron Cohen, as Gio, reveals that he’s molested an eight-year-old boy.

“This guy starts advising Gio how to get rid of this issue. We even at one point talk about murdering the boy, and the concierge is just saying, ‘well, listen, I’m really sorry. In this country, we can’t just drown the boy. This is America we don’t do that,’” Baron Cohen describes.

After the concierge offers to put Gio in touch with a lawyer who can help “silence the boy,” Baron Cohen asked for his help securing a date for the night.

“He says, ‘what do you mean, a date?’ I go, you know, like a young man. He says, ‘well, what kind of age?’ I say, lower than Bar Mitzvah but older than eight. And he says, ‘yeah, I can put you in touch with somebody who can get you some boys like that.’”

Rather than airing the segment, Baron Cohen and his production team turned the footage over to the FBI, “because we thought, perhaps there’s a pedophile ring in Las Vegas that’s operating for these very wealthy men. And this concierge had said that he’d worked for politicians and various billionaires.”

While Baron Cohen judged the interview too “dark” and “extreme” to be included in the show, it’s a revealing look at how the powerful can get away with decades-long sexual abuse, including pedophile sexual abuse, such as in the massive cover-up of the crimes of Jeffrey Epstein, orchestrated by President Trump’s Labor Secretary, Alexander Acosta.

Smithsonian Transition

washington post logoWashington Post, Smithsonian Secretary David J. Skorton to step down from top spot in June, Maura Judkis and Peggy McGlone, Dec. 20, 2018.  A board-certified cardiologist, Skorton will go on to head the Association of American Medical Colleges. He announced his resignation Thursday after only 3½ years on the job.

david skorton cornellSmithsonian Secretary David J. Skorton, right, who successfully completed the largest fundraising campaign in the institution’s history, announced his resignation Thursday after only 3½ years on the job.

A board-certified cardiologist, Skorton, 69, will become president of the Association of American Medical Colleges in June. His last day at the Smithsonian is June 15.

Skorton said leading the Smithsonian was a “dream experience” but that he missed working in health care.

“The possibility of trying to contribute something to the national challenges of health care is important to me,” he said in an interview. “This means going back and combining two passions of mine — higher education and health care.”

Announced just days before the Christmas holiday, the move came as a surprise to some at the Smithsonian.

Supreme Court Revelation

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: A Supreme Court Divided. On the Right, Linda Greenhouse, Dec. 20, 2018. Is there a split among conservatives between ideology and the court’s long-term legitimacy? The Supreme Court’s docket-setting process, by which it selects less than 1 percent of the appeals that reach it every year, is a black box. The justices almost never explain at the time why they agree to hear one appeal or turn down another.

But in the case of the efforts by Louisiana and Kansas to “defund” Planned Parenthood — shorthand for disqualifying a health care provider from reimbursement eligibility under a state-administered Medicaid program for low-income individuals — the court’s three most conservative justices did us a great favor.

In a dissenting opinion that can only be described as snarky, Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch did more than permit some light to enter the black box. They trained a spotlight on the court’s most private proceeding, the weekly closed-door conference at which the justices, unaccompanied by law clerks or secretaries, meet to set the country’s legal agenda.

Based on the court’s online docket, we could deduce during the run-up to last week’s action that the cases were controversial inside the court….In other words, we have three conservative justices calling out two other conservative justices as wimps at best, unprincipled strivers for public approval at worst. And this may be just the tip of the iceberg.

More On Syria Pullout

Moon of Alabama, Opinion: Why Trump Decided To Remove U.S. Troops From Syria, b, Dec. 20, 2018. (“b” is the pen-name for a German national blogger on global affairs who often focuses on the Middle East.) Last Friday, President Trump had another long phonecall with the Turkish President Erdogan. Thereafter he overruled all his advisors and decided to remove the U.S. boots from Syria and to also end the air war.

This was the first time Trump took a decisive stand against the borg, the permanent neoconservative and interventionist establishment in his administration, the military and congress, that usually dictates U.S. foreign policy. It was this decision, and that he stuck to it, which finally made him presidential.

mike pompeo portraitTrump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton, his Secretary of Defense ‘mad dog’ Mattis and his Secretary of State Pompeo (right) were all against this decision. The specialist working on Syria, the lunatic (vid) special representative for Syria engagement James Jefferey and Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy for the global coalition to defeat ISIS, were taken by surprise. They had worked diligently to install a permanent U.S. presence in a Kurdish ruled proxy state in northeast Syria.

While these people first tried to change Trump’s decision, their resistance has now ceased. “The push back from DOD, State and NSC stopped [Tuesday] night,” said one regional expert who consults with the US administration, referring to the Department of Defense, the State Department and the National Security Council.

Back in January we already explained why the neoconservative project of a Kurdish proxy state in northeast Syria was doomed from its start:

In this new big game Syria’s northeast is just a sideshow and not worth a significant involvement. Trump decided that to prevent Turkey from leaving NATO, and from joining a deeper alliance with Russia, China and Iran, was more important than to further fool around at the margins of the Middle East. It is the right decision.

Trump Antics On Farm Bill Signing

djt green acres megan mullally 2006 emmies

Palmer Report, Opinion: Donald Trump goes berserk, posts bizarre video of himself singing, Bill Palmer, Dec. 20, 2018. Donald Trump is having one of his worst days yet, the government and the economy are arguably on the verge of collapse, and no one can even figure out what’s happening amid the chaos. The only thing that could make things even stranger, and more alarming, would be if Trump posted a video of himself singing while wearing overalls and holding a pitchfork. So naturally, that’s precisely what happened. No, really.

bill palmer report logo headerSomewhere in all the chaos today, which saw the stock market plummet, the Secretary of Defense resigning in disgust, and the government preparing to shut down, Donald Trump decided to sign a farm bill. He announced it by posting this video of himself, ahem, performing:

For those wondering, the video is from the 2006 Emmy Awards, back when Donald Trump was merely seen as an ignorant buffoon, and not the psychotic traitor he’s since revealed himself to be. Actress Megan Mullally, who is also in the video [and shown above], has made clear in recent years that she detests Trump. After he posted the video, she tweeted “if you guys need me, i’ll be in a hole in the ground.”

The responses to Donald Trump’s bizarre video tweet – particularly on a day like this – drew negative responses across the board. Some respondents on Twitter asked if he was trying to create a distraction, or if he was trying to lay the groundwork for an insanity defense. Even Fox News host Shepard Smith asked on air why Trump was dressed up in “heehaw regalia.”

Media Honesty

ny times logoNew York Times, After German Journalism Scandal, Critics Are ‘Popping the Corks,’ Katrin Bennhold, Dec. 20, 2018. He told the story of a Syrian boy who believed he had helped start the country’s civil war with a prank. He profiled an American woman who traveled around the United States to watch executions. He brought to life, in astoundingly granular detail, the anguish of a would-be suicide bomber in Iraq.

claas relotius portrat cropClaas Relotius (left), a star writer at Der Spiegel, Germany’s most respected newsmagazine, won many awards for his reporting on the most important stories of the day.

Except, it turns out, much of it was invented.

Der Spiegel fired Mr. Relotius and published a lengthy apology to its readers this week. But the failure of a magazine long considered the leader in Germany for hard-hitting investigations could have cascading consequences for the news media, analysts and senior journalists said.

“Spiegelgate,” as it has been dubbed on social media, is one of Germany’s biggest postwar journalism scandals, potentially spanning seven years and many dozens of articles. Coming at a moment when public trust in journalism is already low, it could hardly have arrived at a worse time.

Untruths and half-truths circulate liberally on social media platforms, and populists on both sides of the Atlantic have been aggressively trying to discredit and intimidate the mainstream media.

President Trump routinely accuses the media of producing “fake news.” In Germany, members of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, describe mainstream outlets as the “Lügenpresse,” or “lying press,” a term used by the Nazis in the 1920s before they rose to power.

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Dec. 19

More Facebook Scandal

ny times logoNew York Times, Investigation: Facebook Gave Tech Giants More Intrusive Data Access Than It Disclosed, Gabriel J.X. Dance, Michael LaForgia and Nicholas Confessore, Dec. 19, 2018 (print edition). Internal records show that the social network had arrangements with Microsoft, Amazon and others, effectively exempting some partners from its usual privacy rules. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is shown in a file photo.

facebook logoFor years, Facebook gave some of the world’s largest technology companies more intrusive access to users’ personal data than it has disclosed, effectively exempting those business partners from its usual privacy rules, according to internal records and interviews.

The special arrangements are detailed in hundreds of pages of Facebook documents obtained by The New York Times. The records, generated in 2017 by the company’s internal system for tracking partnerships, provide the most complete picture yet mark zuckerberg G8 summit deauville wof the social network’s data-sharing practices. They also underscore how personal data has become the most prized commodity of the digital age, traded on a vast scale by some of the most powerful companies in Silicon Valley and beyond.

The exchange was intended to benefit everyone. Pushing for explosive growth, Facebook got more users, lifting its advertising revenue. Partner companies acquired features to make their products more attractive. Facebook users connected with friends across different devices and websites. But Facebook also assumed extraordinary power over the personal information of its 2.2 billion users — control it has wielded with little transparency or outside oversight.

Facebook allowed Microsoft’s Bing search engine to see the names of virtually all Facebook users’ friends without consent, the records show, and gave Netflix and Spotify the ability to read Facebook users’ private messages.

washington post logocambridge analytica facebook logosWashington Post, D.C. attorney general sues Facebook over Cambridge Analytica data scandal, Tony Romm, Craig Timberg and Aaron C. Davis, Dec. 19, 2018. The lawsuit marks the first major effort by U.S. regulators to penalize the social media giant for its entanglement with the firm.

U.S. Troops To Leave Syria

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. plans to pull troops from Syria immediately, official says, Missy Ryan​, Dec. 19, 2018. The Trump administration is planning to pull all U.S. troops out of Syria, a defense official said on Wednesday, as President Trump declared victory against the Islamic State. The president, in a message on Twitter, said the United States had “defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”

 Department of Defense SealAmerican FlagHis statement came shortly after news organizations reported that the White House had made a decision on Tuesday to abruptly remove the entire U.S. force of more than 2,000 troops from Syria and end the extended American ground campaign against the Islamic State.

Trump has long promised to conclude the campaign against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, and has questioned the value of costly and dangerous military missions overseas. But U.S. troops, working alongside Syrian partner forces, have struggled to eradicate remaining pockets of militants in central Syria. An abrupt American withdrawal would raise questions about whether the militants would be more easily able to regain strength.

The unexpected White House move comes as tensions increase sharply with NATO ally Turkey, which has promised to launch a military offensive against the U.S. partner forces in Syria, which Ankara considers part of a Kurdish terrorist group. Losing their U.S. ground partner will be a major blow to the Syrian Kurdish forces.

Related stories:

Wall Street Journal, U.S. Military Preparing for a Full Withdrawal of Its Forces From Syria, Dion Nissenbaum and Nancy A. Youssef, Dec. 19, 2018. Move throws campaign against Islamic State into question. In an abrupt reversal, the U.S. military is preparing to withdraw its forces recep tayyip erdogan o presidentfrom northeastern Syria, people familiar with the matter said Wednesday, a move that throws the American strategy in the Middle East into turmoil.

U.S. officials began informing partners in northeastern Syria of their plans to begin immediately pulling American forces out of the region where they have been trying to wrap up the campaign against Islamic State, the people said. The move follows a call last week between President Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, who has threatened to launch an assault on America’s Kurdish partners in Syria.

james mattis oReuters, U.S. weighs complete withdrawal of troops from Syria: U.S. officials, Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart, Dec. 19, 2018. Such a decision, if confirmed, would upend assumptions about a longer-term U.S. military presence in Syria, which U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, right, and other senior U.S. officials had advocated to help ensure Islamic State cannot reemerge. The timing of the withdrawal was not immediately clear and U.S. officials who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity did not disclose details about the deliberations, including who was involved. It was unclear how soon a decision could be announced.

us soldiers in Syria army photo

U.S. forces conducted a precision airstrike near Sarmada in northwest Syria Nov. 18 that Pentagon says killed a senior al-Qaida leader. (Army photo by 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson)

Consortium News, Opinion: Don’t Hold Your Breath on US Troop Withdrawal from Syria, Patrick Lawrence, Dec. 19, 2018. It would be nice to think the president has final say on foreign policy, given the U.S. Constitution. But the misleading troop withdrawal announcement, followed by Trump’s boastful tweet, suggests the exact opposite.

The announcement on Wednesday that the U.S. will withdraw all remaining troops from Syria within the next month looked at first like a rare victory for Donald Trump in his admittedly erratic opposition to senseless wars of adventure. “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there,” the president tweeted with an unmistakable air of triumph.

Don’t get your hopes up. Just about everything in these initial reports is either wrong or misleading. One, the U.S. did not defeat the Islamic State: The Syrian Arab Army, aided by Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah militias did. Two, hardly was ISIS the only reason the U.S. has maintained a presence in Syria. The intent for years was to support a coup against the Assad government in Damascus—in part by training and equipping jihadists often allied with ISIS. For at least the past six months, the U.S. military’s intent in Syria has been to counter Iranian influence.

us raqqa troops army photo 2017Last and hardly least, the U.S. is not closing down its military presence in Syria. It is digging in for an indefinite period, making Raqqa the equivalent of the Green Zone in Baghdad. By the official count, there are 503 U.S. troops stationed in the Islamic State’s former capital. Unofficially, according to The Washington Post and other press reports, the figure is closer to 4,000—twice the number that is supposed to represent a “full withdrawal” from Syrian soil.

It would be nice to think Washington has at last accepted defeat in Syria, given it is preposterous to pretend otherwise any longer. Damascus is now well into its consolidation phase. Russia, Iran, and Turkey are currently working with Staffan de Mistura, the UN’s special envoy for Syria, to form a committee in January to begin drafting a new Syrian constitution.

It would also be nice to think the president and commander-in-chief has the final say in his administration’s policies overseas, given the constitution by which we are supposed to be governed. But the misleading announcement on the withdrawal of troops, followed by Trump’s boastful tweet, suggest something close to exactly the opposite.

As Trump finishes his second year in office, the pattern is plain: This president can have all the foreign policy ideas he wants, but the Pentagon, State, the intelligence apparatus, and the rest of what some call “the deep state” will either reverse, delay, or never implement any policy not to its liking.

Blackwater / Iraq

washington post logoWashington Post, Blackwater security guard convicted in 2007 mass shooting of unarmed Iraqi civilians, Spencer S. Hsu and Tom Jackman​, Dec. 19, 2018. In his third U.S. trial, Nicholas A. Slatten, 35, was found guilty of first-degree murder, ending the Justice Department’s long pursuit of accountability for the Baghdad attack that drew international condemnation during the Iraq War.

Judge Stuns Flynn, Supporters

washington post logoWashington Post, Flynn’s sentencing delayed; judge tells ex-Trump adviser, ‘Arguably, you sold your country out,’ Spencer S. Hsu, Matt emmet sullivan 2012Zapotosky and Carol D. Leonnig​, Dec. 19, 2018 (print edition). The judge said he could not guarantee he would spare Michael Flynn from prison — a stunning development as it had appeared that President Trump’s former national security adviser would be able to avoid time behind bars for lying to the FBI. Related story: The Fix: Trump backers just had their anti-Mueller hopes dashed.

A federal judge on Tuesday postponed the sentencing for Michael Flynn after he lambasted President Trump’s former national security adviser for trying to undermine his own country and said he could not guarantee he would spare Flynn from prison.

The stunning development means that Flynn will have to be sentenced at a later date, when he can possibly convince a judge more thoroughly of how his cooperation has benefited law enforcement.

Flynn’s attorneys asked for the delay after U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan (right) accused Flynn of acting as “an unregistered agent of a foreign country, while serving as the national security adviser to the president of the United States” — an allegation he later walked back. Sullivan granted the request and asked for a status report in 90 days, though he said he was “not making any promises” that he would view the matter differently in three months.

After reviewing some of the allegations against Flynn, including that he worked to advance the interests of the Turkish government in the United States during the 2016 presidential campaign, the judge pointed to an American flag behind him in the courtroom and said heatedly, “Arguably, that undermines everything this flag over here stands for. Arguably you sold your country out.

“The court’s going to consider that,” the judge said. “I cannot assure you, if you proceed today, you will not receive a sentence of incarceration.”

Flynn, standing straight and flanked by attorneys on either side, looked shaken, his jaw clenched. Sullivan declared a recess to let Flynn consider whether he wanted to proceed and let the judge impose a punishment, or to delay and cooperate more with the special counsel in hopes of leniency.

Mueller Probe Overview

Palmer Report, Opinion: Donald Trump just had his worst day ever – and it’s about to get even worse for him, Bill Palmer, Dec. 19, 2018. Three strikes and you’re out – unless you’re Donald Trump, in which case the first three hundred strikes didn’t count against you, because the Republican Congress was covering for you for the first two years. But now Trump is in real trouble, and he just had the kind of three-strike day that few have ever had. Now it’s about to get even worse for him.

bill palmer report logo headerBy now you’ve heard about the “big three” storylines from Tuesday. First the Trump Foundation was shut down and its assets were forfeited. Then a judge set Michael Flynn on fire, going so far as to ask if Flynn committed treason. Then Robert Mueller won that mysterious long-running appeals court battle against Trump. You’d think that would be bad enough, right? Nah, more is imminently coming down the pike.

Now that the Trump Foundation’s assets have been forfeited, there’s nothing to stop the Trump Organization’s assets from being forfeited as well. Now that Robert Mueller is done with Michael Flynn, we’re much closer to seeing what Flynn gave up on Donald Trump.

Inside Congress

ny times logoNew York Times, Senate Passes Bipartisan Criminal Justice Bill, Nicholas Fandos, Dec. 19, 2018 (print edition). The Senate overwhelmingly approved on Tuesday the most substantial changes in a generation to the tough-on-crime prison and sentencing laws that ballooned the federal prison population and created a criminal justice system that many conservatives and liberals view as costly and unfair.

us senate logoThe First Step Act would expand job training and other programming aimed at reducing recidivism rates among federal prisoners. It also expands early-release programs and modifies sentencing laws, including mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, to more equitably punish drug offenders.

But the legislation falls short of benchmarks set by a more expansive overhaul proposed in Congress during Barack Obama’s presidency and of the kinds of changes sought by some liberal and conservative activists targeting mass incarceration.

House leaders have pledged to pass the measure this week, and President Trump, whose support resuscitated a yearslong overhaul effort last month, said he would sign the bill.

mitch mcconnell2Roll Call, Mitch McConnell Files Continuing Resolution, Senators gear up for a quick exit on Wednesday, Niels Lesniewski, Dec. 19, 2018. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is making it official: Congress plans to kick the contentious border wall spending debate until February.

The Kentucky Republican announced on the Senate floor that the next stopgap for the departments and agencies not already funded for the rest of the fiscal year would run through Feb. 8, 2019. And President Donald Trump appeared to concede defeat in this round of the battle over his desired $5 billion in funding for construction of a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

washington post logopaul ryan oWashington Post, Paul Ryan’s farewell to Congress triggers a fierce debate over his legacy, even within the GOP, Robert Costa and Mike DeBonis, Dec. 19, 2018.  The Wisconsin Republican often spoke of the imperative of fiscal discipline, but the nation’s red ink has grown since Ryan became speaker. Meanwhile, his brand of aspirational conservatism has shown little currency in the face of President Trump’s brash populism.

Free Speech Suit In Texas

Daily Beast, ACLU Sues Texas AG, Universities Over Law Barring Anti-Israel Boycotts, Pilar Melendez, Dec. 19, 2018. The civil-liberties org takes aim at Texas schools and officials over a state law it says forces people ‘to choose between their livelihoods and their First Amendment rights.’

One day after a Texas elementary-school speech pathologist claimed she lost her job after refusing to sign a pro-Israel oath, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed its own lawsuit, claiming the state’s anti-boycott law violates the Constitution by forcing workers to choose between their job and their First Amendment rights.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday night in Austin, alleged that current law requiring contractors to certify they will not boycott Israel or Israeli-controlled territories violates the First Amendment. The complaint named as defendants State Attorney General Ken Paxton, two school districts, and two universities.

“This lawsuit is about our fundamental First Amendment rights,” Edgar Saldivar, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday. “Our goal is for the courts to declare this law unconstitutional so people do not have to go through political and ideological litmus test just to get a state contract.”

Deep State Perspectives

Midnight Writer News Podcast, ‘Presidential Puppetry’ with Andrew Kreig, Host S.T. Patrick, Dec. 19, 2018 (Episode 105). Andrew Kreig, the midnight writer news st patrickdirector of the Justice Integrity Project and the author of Presidential Puppetry, joins S.T. Patrick to discuss presidential politics of the last 40 years. What should we have known about George H.W. Bush, Bill & Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, John Kerry, John Edwards, and John McCain?

Kreig takes a non-partisan approach to dissecting the pros, cons, misdeeds, and motivations of American presidential and vice-presidential candidates, dating back decades. In the interview, Kreig covers the Bush dynasty, why Reagan chose Bush in 1980, presidential puppetry 2Bush and the October Surprise, the Willie Horton ad, The Election of 1992, Ross Perot’s deficiencies, what Fletcher Prouty still teaches us, the legitimacy of Bob Dole’s 1996 nomination, the value of Jack Kemp, Bush v Gore, The Two Johns: Kerry & Edwards, the real John McCain, and much more.

Kreig also discusses current events with us, including the Corsi/Stone vs Mueller situation and the unbelievable resolution of the Jeffery Epstein trial in Palm Beach. Andrew Kreig can be read and followed at the Justice Integrity Project.

Future of Freedom Foundation, Opinion: The Change of Official Enemies under George H.W. Bush, Jacob G. Hornberger, right, Dec. 19, 2018. Missing from all the accolades heaped on former President H.W. Bush, who passed away a few weeks ago, was the fact that Bush presided over the jacob hornberger headshotbiggest transition of official enemies of our country in the 70-year-old history of the U.S. national-security state.

From the time the U.S. government was converted from a limited-government republic to a national-security state after World War II, the official enemy of the United States was the Soviet Union, a confederation of nations led by Russia. The reason given for selecting the Soviet Union as America’s official enemy was that it was led by a communist regime that was supposedly hell-bent on conquering and ruling the world, including the United States.

Not surprisingly, during the 45 years of the Cold War, the tax-funded largess flowed into the coffers of the Pentagon, CIA, NSA, and FBI. No amount of tax-money largess was too much to prevent America from falling to the Reds.

In 1989, however, the Soviet Union suddenly and unexpectedly declared an end to the Cold War. In 1989, the U.S. national-security establishment lost its official enemy, and it was panicked. It knew that it needed an official enemy to keep Americans scared. If Americans weren’t scared of some official enemy, they might start asking an uncomfortable question: Why do we need a national-security state and why can’t we have our limited-government republic back?

That’s when H.W. came to the rescue. When Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait to settle an oil-drilling dispute, Bush declared that the United States now had a new official enemy, one who Bush and his national-security establishment said was as another Adolf Hitler. Amidst much pomp, fanfare, and fear, Bush ordered his army to invade Iraq to reverse Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait.

george hw bush HRBut Bush, left, stopped short of removing Saddam from power, which enabled the U.S. national-security establishment to have a new official enemy for the next 11 years. “Saddam! Saddam! Saddam!” That’s all that Americans exclaimed during the entire 1990s. U.S. officials made certain that Americans were convinced that Saddam was coming to get them, especially with mustard gas, Anthrax, mushroom clouds, and other weapons of mass destruction. Americans were as afraid of Saddam as they had been of the communists.

Of course, in the process everyone forgot that Saddam had been a close partner and ally of the Pentagon and the CIA during the 1980s, when they were partnering together to kill Iranians in the Iran-Iraq War. Everyone also forgot that it was the United States that furnished Saddam with those WMDs in the first place, so that he could kill Iranians with them.

More Priest Scandal 

washington post logoWashington Post, Ill. attorney general slams Catholic Church, says it found 500 more sex-abuse allegations, Michelle Boorstein, Dec. 19, 2018. Lisa Madigan accused Catholic officials of dramatically lowballing the scope of allegations of clergy sex abuse. But the church, which has said it found 185 credible cases, argues that Madigan’s list includes hundreds of mere accusations.

U.S. Interest Rate Hike

 washington post logoWashington Post, Federal Reserve cuts its outlook for U.S. economy; stocks plunge, Heather Long, Dec. 19, 2018. The Fed raised short-term interest rates to a range of 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent, a move President Trump has called “foolish.” The central bank downgraded its economic outlook for 2019.

Probe Target Roger Stone

washington post logoWashington Post, Mueller seeks Roger Stone’s testimony to House intelligence panel, Carol D. Leonnig, Ellen Nakashima, Rosalind S. Helderman and Manuel Roig-Franzia, Dec. 19, 2018. The special counsel’s interest in obtaining the official transcript, confirmed by people roger stone fox shotfamiliar with his request, is a sign that prosecutors could be moving to charge Stone (shown in a file photo).

Rolling Stone, Political Mastermind Roger Stone Is Selling Home Depot Rocks With His Name on Them, Ryan Bort, Dec. 19, 2018. The former Trump adviser just settled a defamation suit, and is now staring down a potential indictment from Special Counsel Mueller. But first, he’s making a little cash.

Add one more item to the #MAGA Christmas gift guide. Roger Stone, the “dirty trickster” of Republican politics and former adviser to Donald Trump, has autographed an untold number of rocks and is selling them on his website. “Here’s your chance to own your very own ‘Roger’ Stone paperweight- signed by the New York Times Bestselling author, legendary political operative and Trump intimate himself,” the listing reads. “LIMITED EDITION. The perfect Christmas Gift for the Trump supporter, InfoWarrior or Stonetrooper. David made good use of a similar artifact against Goliath. Order yours today!”

As Stone notes on Instagram, the “paperweights” are being sold to help shore up his legal bills, which are mounting as he contends with a number of legal issues, including a potential indictment from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office. Mueller has been scrutinizing Stone’s potential pre-election relationship with WikiLeaks, and whether he may have informed Trump that the organization planned to release Democratic emails hacked by Russia. Last month, Jerome Corsi, a conspiracy theorist and friend of Stone’s, reportedly rejected a plea deal offered to him by Mueller. Corsi reportedly lied to investigators about whether he had prior knowledge of WikiLeaks’ plan to release the emails. He later said that he learned of the plan, which he then relayed to Stone, through “divine intervention.” Stone said earlier this year that he is “prepared” to be indicted by the special counsel’s office.

Dec. 18

Flynn Sentencing

Palmer Report, Analysis, Commentary: “You sold your country out” — sentencing judge rips Michael Flynn to pieces, Bill Palmer, Dec. 18, 2018. 
After a lengthy court hearing today, Judge Emmet Sullivan offered Michael Flynn the opportunity to further delay his sentencing on the chance that his ongoing cooperation might result in a more lenient sentence, and Flynn took him up on it. But the story ended up being what Flynn and the judge said to each other before agreeing to the delay.

bill palmer report logo headerThe remarkable fireworks came in part thanks to Michael Flynn’s decision to falsely accuse the FBI of having treated him maliciously. Flynn seemed to think the judge might be tempted to send him to prison even after Robert Mueller recommended no prison time, and Flynn was right. But the judge had no interest in Flynn’s attacks on the FBI, and instead forced Flynn to admit in court that the FBI hadn’t done anything wrong. Then came the historic fireworks.

michael flynn prison palmer graphicThe judge asked Mueller’s team if Flynn [shown in a Palmer Report graphic] would have been charged in yesteday’s indictments involving Turkey if he hadn’t cut a deal. The answer was yes. The judge then said to Flynn, “you arguably sold your country out!” The judge then asked Mueller’s team if treason charges could have been applied to Flynn.

This led to a recess, and afterward, the judge made clear that he wasn’t accusing Michael Flynn of treason, he was just asking the question. Nonetheless, that word is now in the public dialogue. We’ll see what happens to Flynn when he’s sentenced later. But the real story is that Donald Trump’s top guy Flynn sold out America – and if Trump knew about it, he’s guilty of whatever Flynn is guilty of.

washington post logomichael flynn microphoneWashington Post, Trump wishes Michael Flynn ‘good luck’ in court as former national security adviser faces sentencing, Matt Zapotosky and Spencer S. Hsu​, Dec. 18, 2018. Today’s court proceeding for Flynn (right), who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his dealings with a Russian ambassador, could be complicated by his attorneys’ recent suggestion that he was duped by law enforcement.

Russian Cyber-Attack Reports robert mueller screenshot washington post

Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, the former FBI director appointed by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama (file photo)

washington post logoWashington Post, Russians targeted Mueller on social media, says report prepared for Senate, Craig Timberg, Tony Romm and Elizabeth Dwoskin, Dec. 18, 2018 (print edition). Having worked to help get President Trump into the White House, Russian operatives turned their efforts to neutralizing the biggest threat to his staying there, according to a new report, and unloaded on special counsel Robert S. Mueller III via fake accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and beyond.

Months after President Trump took office, Russia’s disinformation teams trained their sites on a new target: special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Having worked to help get Trump into the White House, they now worked to neutralize the biggest threat to his staying there.

us senate logoThe Russian operatives unloaded on Mueller through fake accounts on Facebook, Twitter and beyond, falsely claiming that the former FBI director was corrupt and that the allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election were crackpot conspiracies. One post on Instagram — which emerged as an especially potent weapon in the Russian social media arsenal — claimed that Mueller had worked in the past with “radical Islamic groups.”

Such tactics exemplified how Russian teams ranged nimbly across social media platforms in a shrewd online influence operation aimed squarely at American voters. The effort started earlier than commonly understood and lasted longer while relying on the strengths of different sites to manipulate distinct slices of the electorate, according to a pair of comprehensive new reports prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee and released Monday.

One of the reports, authored by Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project and network analysis firm Graphika, became public when The Washington Post obtained it and published its highlights Sunday. The other report was by social media research firm New Knowledge, Columbia University and Canfield Research.

 ny times logofacebook logoNew York Times, Russian Effort to Influence 2016 Election Targeted African-Americans, Scott Shane and Sheera Frenkel, Dec. 18, 2018 (print edition). In some cases, Facebook ads were targeted at users who had shown interest in particular topics, including black history, the Black Panther Party and Malcolm X. The operation also tried to suppress Democratic turnout and unleashed a blizzard of posts on Instagram that rivaled or exceeded its Facebook operations, according to a report for the Senate Intelligence Committee.

mike pence oPalmer Report, Opinion: Robert Mueller has Mike Pence nailed, Bill Palmer, Dec. 18, 2018. The events of the past twenty-four hours have sealed it: Special Counsel Robert Mueller has Mike Pence nailed. We received a pretty strong hint two weeks ago when Mueller used his Michael Flynn sentencing memo to make a point of not redacting the fact that the Trump transition team was dirty.

The head of the transition team? Mike Pence (right), of course. It sure sounded like Pence had a problem – we just didn’t know precisely what that problem was. But now it’s become much more clear.

bill palmer report logo headerYesterday we saw the arrest of Michael Flynn’s business partner, Bijan Kian.

The only reason to wait this long to bust a low level guy like Bijan Kian is if you’re building a larger case against larger targets involved in that same crime, and you don’t want to give away your gameplan too early. So who would be the bigger targets here? It turns out Bijan Kian was a member of the – get this – Trump transition team.

Inside DC

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump retreats from shutdown threat; White House vows to find border funds elsewhere, Erica Werner, Damian Paletta and John Wagner, Dec. 18, 2018. The president has demanded $5 billion for his border wall, which Democrats refuse to give. But White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that “at the end of the day, we don’t want to shut down the government.”

But Democrats immediately rejected Republicans’ follow-up offer, leaving the two sides still at impasse as hundreds of thousands of federal sarah huckabee sandersworkers await word on whether they will be sent home without pay just before Christmas.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders (shown in a file photo) on Tuesday said Trump did not want a government shutdown and that the administration had identified “other ways” to fund a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Sanders’ comments Tuesday reflect a significant shift from when Trump last week told Democratic leaders he would be “proud” to shut down the government to get border wall funding.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump to shut down his charity amid allegations that he used it for personal and political benefit, David A. Fahrenthold​, Dec. 18, 2018. President Trump has agreed to shut down his embattled personal charity and to give away its remaining money amid allegations that he used the foundation for his personal and political benefit, New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood announced Tuesday.

barbara underwoodUnderwood (right) said that the Donald J. Trump Foundation is dissolving as her office pursues its lawsuit against the charity, Trump and his three eldest children.

The suit, filed in June, alleged “persistently illegal conduct” at the foundation, which Trump began in 1987. Underwood is continuing to seek more than $2.8 million in restitution and has asked a judge to ban the Trumps temporarily from serving on the boards of other New York nonprofit organizations.

Underwood said Tuesday that her investigation found “a shocking pattern of illegality involving the Trump Foundation — including unlawful coordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and willful self-dealing, and much more.”

washington post logomartha mcsally oWashington Post, Arizona Republican Martha McSally named to fill open Senate seat once held by John McCain, Sean Sullivan​, Dec. 18, 2018. McSally, right, who lost a close race for the state’s other Senate seat in November, is expected to run in a 2020 special election. She replaces Sen. Jon Kyl, who will step down at the end of the year.

ny times logoNew York Times, Report on School Safety Plays Down Role of Guns, Katie Rogers and Erica L. Green, Dec. 18, 2018. Unveiling a report commissioned by President Trump in the aftermath of a mass shooting last winter at a Florida high school, administration officials on Tuesday played down the role of guns in school violence while focusing instead on rescinding Obama-era disciplinary policies, improving mental health services and training school personnel in the use of firearms.

The report — by the Federal Commission on School Safety, which consists of four cabinet officials and is led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — drew on months of research marked by political conflict and mixed messaging from the administration on how to handle violent events like the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Seventeen students and staff members were killed and 17 others were injured in the shooting.

Media News

washington post logoWashington Post, More companies pull ads from Tucker Carlson’s show in growing backlash over immigrant comment, Deanna Paul and Alex Horton, Dec. 18, 2018. Fox News advertisers face pressure to quit. Again. Fox News host Tucker Carlson lost yet another advertiser after suggesting that immigrants make the U.S. “dirtier” on Dec. 13.

tucker carlson djtThe growing backlash against Tucker Carlson’s anti-immigrant rhetoric has prompted multiple companies to pull advertisements from the air during his prime-time Fox News show, including IHOP and During his Thursday evening opening monologue, the host (shown in a file photo with one of President Trump adjoining) suggested that immigrants make the United States “poorer and dirtier.”

“Our leaders demand that you shut up and accept this,” Carlson said, as he name-checked House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and ran footage of trash along the border purportedly from caravans of Central fox news logo SmallAmerican migrants. “We have a moral obligation to admit the world’s poor, they tell us, even if it makes our own country poorer and dirtier and more divided. Immigration is a form of atonement.”

On Tuesday, more companies took a position, even as Fox reported that no revenue has been lost. A count by The Hollywood Reporter reached 16 companies as of 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, with TD Ameritrade, Just For Men and the United Explorer credit card joining the ranks of companies who had previously announced their intentions.

9/11 Truth Analyzed On Radio

steve bhaerman wiki politiki

Wiki Politiki, The Latest REAL News on the 9/11 Attacks and Finding Truth in a Sea of Lies, Steve Bhaerman, 5 p.m., Dec. 18, 2018. An Interview with Andrew Kreig, Author, Attorney, Broadcaster and Founder of the Justice Integrity Project. Did you know that In a letter dated November 7, 2018, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York notified the Lawyers’ Committee for 9/11 Inquiry that he would comply with the provisions of 18 U.S.C. § 3332 requiring him to present to a special grand jury the Lawyers’ Committee’s reports filed earlier this year of unprosecuted federal crimes at the World Trade Center?

You didn’t? That’s because mainstream media makes it its business to insure that anything that points to the nefarious doings of the real deep state is “none of its business.” The misinformation, disinformation and missing information that pollute corporate news have created the perfect field for “real” fake news to flourish.

Which is why this latest development might be a genuine breakthrough. It means a 23-member grand jury, vested with subpoena power and the authority to take sworn testimony, will hear the voluminous evidence of the World Trade Center’s demolition and will have the ability to conduct a thorough investigation that could result in indictments against suspected individuals — in other words, what the 9/11 Truth Movement has been working toward for 17 years.

Our guest this week on Wiki Politiki, journalist and author Andrew Kreig (pronounced “Craig”) will discuss his own involvement with the Lawyers Committee, as well as his work through his own organization, the Justice Integrity Project.

Visit Justice Integrity, and you will find a refreshingly broad, transpartisan and bluntly truthful site that isn’t afraid to take on both the deep state and the Trumpist disinfo machine. Their mission is “to report misconduct, primarily in the justice and political systems, that harms individuals, communities and democratic values. The project is non-partisan and supported by advertising revenue and paid subscriptions.”

Global Finance Scandal

ny times logoNew York Times, Goldman Sachs Hit With Criminal Charges in Malaysian Scandal, Alexandra Stevenson and Sharon Tan, Dec. 18, 2018 (print edition). Charges against three subsidiaries accuse the bank of making false and misleading statements. The Malaysian authorities also charged four individuals. The developments come in the wake of a scandal that brought down the former prime minister.

Virginia Serial Rapist

washington post logoWashington Post, Man sentenced to 357 years for 1995 sexual assault on four Va. women, Justin Jouvenal​, Dec. 18, 2018. A Fairfax County jury sentenced a 50-year-old man to 357 years in prison Tuesday for a brutal 1995 sexual assault targeting four roommates in Reston, a prosecutor said. Jude Lovchik, formerly of Springfield, Va., was convicted of 17 counts of abduction, sodomy and other charges on Monday, following a two-week trial that featured harrowing accounts of the women’s ordeal.

The crime went unsolved for over two decades, before Lovchik’s ex-wife went to authorities in 2016 and told them he had confessed to sexually assaulting about 20 women when he was younger. The woman testified Lovchik asked her to re-enact the attacks and she obliged. DNA evidence later tied Lovchik to the Reston case.

Banking Whistleblowing

brad birkenfeldCNN Money (Switzerland), Banking whistleblower Bradley Birkenfeld’s next move, Frédéric Lelièvre, Dec. 18, 2018 (24:21 mins.). Six years after receiving a $104 million reward from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Bradley Birkenfeld, right, tells CNN about his plans to create an organization to support other whistleblowers.

In an interview from Paris, CNN Money Switzerland also asked him about the UBS tax fraud trial in France and a potential new reward from the IRS.

New Lockerbie Evidence?

MailOnline US, Vital Lockerbie evidence ‘was made AFTER the doomed flight crashed’: Circuit board used to convict Libyan over 1988 bombing wasn’t manufactured until 1991, documentary claims amid calls for a public inquiry, Marcello Mega, Dec. 16, 2018. Evidence used in the trial of the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing is unconnected to the case, it has been claimed.

A circuit board used in the case against Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi was probably made after the atrocity, investigators say. The claims are backed by testimony from a British expert and by tests at a police forensics lab in Zurich.

Documentary-maker Bill Cran and his lead investigator George Thomson, a former Scottish police officer, are re-examining the 1988 bombing and later court case for a forthcoming film. Thomson, 73, was part of Megrahi’s defence team who were preparing the appeal abandoned by the Libyan agent in 2009 to secure his release on compassionate grounds.

Dec. 17

washington post logoWashington Post, Russia used every major social media platform to help elect, support Trump, report says, Craig Timberg and Tony Romm​, Dec. 17, 2018 (print edition). The new report, prepared for the Senate and a draft of which was obtained by The Post, provides the most comprehensive analysis yet of the Russian disinformation campaign around the 2016 election that leveraged nearly all social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

russian flag wavingThe research — by Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project and Graphika, a network analysis firm — offers new details on how Russians working at the Internet Research Agency, which U.S. officials have charged with criminal offenses for meddling in the 2016 campaign, sliced Americans into key interest groups for targeted messaging. These efforts shifted over time, peaking at key political moments, such as presidential debates or party conventions, the report found.

Turkish Plot

washington post logoWashington Post, Michael Flynn’s ex-business partner charged with illegally lobbying for Turkey, Rachel Weiner​, Dec. 17, 2018. Bijan Kian is accused of acting as an agent of a foreign government for attempting to get Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen extradited from the United States. A former business partner of Michael Flynn is being charged with acting as an agent of a foreign government and conspiracy for attempting to get Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, below left, extradited from the United States.

turkey flagfetullah gulen 2016Bijan Kian made his first appearance in Alexandria federal court Monday morning. According to the indictment, Kian conspired with Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin to illegally lobby U.S. government officials and influence public opinion in the U.S. against Gulen.

Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin is accused of directing and funding Kian and Flynn’s work, and then lying in U.S. filings about his role. He is charged with the same crimes as Kian, as well as making false statements, but he remains in Turkey.

Flynn, who served as President Trump’s national security adviser during his first weeks in office, is identified in the indictment as “Person A.” Flynn is soon to be sentenced for lying to FBI agents as part of the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Prosecutors asked for no prison time for Flynn, citing his “substantial assistance.”

The Turkish government blames Gulen, who is living in exile in Pennsylvania, for instigating a failed coup in 2016.

Palmer Report, Commentary: Donald Trump is trying to hurry up and cash out before he’s ousted, Bill Palmer, Dec. 17, 2018. If federal prosecutors have just implicated you for two felony counts, and they’re gearing up to implicate you in dozens more, there are two ways to bill palmer report logo headerrespond.

One is to distance yourself as far as possible from the kinds of behaviors being alleged, and try to make the argument that you’re not the kind of person who would have committed such crimes. The other is to realize that you’re screwed, conclude that your remaining time is short, and use that time to carry out whatever additional crimes you can.

fetullah gulen 2016Two weeks ago, Special Counsel Robert Mueller strongly hinted in a mostly redacted document that Michael Flynn had given him all the details of a bizarre plot involving Turkey. The scheme consisted of Flynn and his then-business partner Bijan Kian taking half a million dollars from a Turkish government liaison in exchange for targeting a Turkish dissident named Fethullah Gulen, right. The plot reportedly involved discussions of kidnapping Gulen from his home in Pennsylvania and shipping him off to Turkey.

So what did Donald Trump do when he learned that Mueller was about to blow the entire plot wide open? According to the government of Turkey, Trump decided to step in and try to extradite Gulen to Turkey himself. Really? Does this sound like a smart move – if Trump is trying to paint himself as being innocent of everything that Mueller’s investigation is alleging?

Of course not. But it’s not hard to figure out that the corrupt government of Turkey is now offering to personally compensate Donald Trump if he hands Gulen over to them. And so Trump is looking to hurry up and take the big payoff, while he still can, even though it helps make him look guilty.

Donald Trump is a guy who thinks his time is up soon. He’s facing everything from impeachment, to imprisonment, to asset forfeitures. He’s doomed and he knows it, and one more crime isn’t going to change his fate. So he’s decided to cash in on the offer from Turkey.

The remarkable part is that he didn’t get there in time. Mueller’s allies arrested Kian this morning, and indicted the Turkish government liaison. Now Trump can’t pull it off – and he’s further exposed himself as guilty for having tried.

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: The ‘Michael Flynn is an innocent hero’ conspiracy theory suffers a major setback, Aaron Blake, Dec. 17, 2018. Trump backers last week found their (latest) smoking gun in a supposedly vast law-enforcement conspiracy to take down President Trump: A judge asked for more information about Michael Flynn’s guilty plea after Flynn’s attorney implied his client had been tricked into lying.

michael flynn flickr gage skidmore phoenix 10 29 2016This was quickly and prematurely hailed as the event that could lay bare the whole tawdry affair. The Wall Street Journal editorial board and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) suggested that Flynn (shown at left in a Gage Skidmore 2016 campaign photo) had been “entrapped.” Fox News’s Jeanine Pirro lauded Judge Emmet G. Sullivan as the man who could soon expose “prosecutorial misconduct” and throw out Flynn’s guilty plea. Mike Huckabee told Pirro that the Justice Department had been “sucker-punching a wonderful, fine public servant and military hero like General Flynn. It’s disgusting.”

Just two days later, the Flynn-as-innocent-dupe narrative suffered a major setback. In a newly unsealed document that comes a day before Flynn is due to be sentenced, Flynn’s business partner Bijan Kian has been charged with illegally acting as an agent of Turkey.

Kian has also been charged with conspiracy for an effort to get Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, a critic of Turkish recep erdogan thronePresident Recep Tayyip Erdogan, extradited from the United States. Erdogan (at right) has accused Gulen of fueling a 2016 coup attempt against him.

In other words: This isn’t just about Flynn having lied about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador; there is a pattern of behavior that suggests he wasn’t just some heroic general who misspoke once or twice and has been railroaded. At the worst, it suggests someone who was doing quite a bit of double-dealing and saw the need to cover it up by lying repeatedly. –

Trump Probes

washington post logo

Washington Post, Opinion: It’s the beginning of the end for the gun lobby’s power, E.J. Dionne Jr., Dec. 17, 2018 (print edition). Sometimes, dramatic shifts in American politics go unnoticed. They are buried under other news or dismissed because they represent such a sharp break from long-standing assumptions and expectations.

So please open your mind to this: Taken together, the events of 2016 and the results of the 2018 election will be remembered as the beginning of the end of the gun lobby’s power.

nra logo CustomSupporters of reasonable gun regulation have been so cowed by National Rifle Association propaganda over the past quarter-century that we are reluctant even to imagine such a thing. No matter how many innocents are slaughtered, no matter how many Americans organize, demonstrate and protest, we assume the NRA and its allies will eventually overpower us.

And let’s concede up front that the vast overrepresentation of rural states in the Senate tilts the system, undemocratically, toward those who claim that government is powerless to take meaningful steps against mass killings. The fact that Wyoming and Idaho have as many Senate votes as New York and California underscores the challenges that remain.

Tabloid Media Power

ny times logoNew York Times, More Powerful Than a Russian Troll Army: The National Enquirer, Jim Rutenberg, Dec. 17, 2018 (print edition). The most powerful print publication in America might just be The National Enquirer. It functioned as a dirty-tricks shop for Donald J. Trump in 2016, which would have been the stuff of farce — the ultimate tabloid backs the ultimate tabloid candidate — if it hadn’t accomplished its goal.

The Enquirer’s power was fueled by its covers. For the better part of the campaign season, Enquirer front pages blared sensational headlines about Mr. Trump’s rivals from eye-level racks at supermarket checkout lanes across America. This stroke-of-genius distribution apparatus was dreamed up by the man who made The Enquirer the nation’s david pecker croppedbiggest gossip rag: its previous owner, Generoso Pope Jr.

The Enquirer’s racks, under the current chief, David J. Pecker, right,were given over to the Trump campaign. This was a political gift even more valuable than the $150,000 that The Enquirer paid in a “catch-and-kill” deal with the former Playboy model Karen McDougal for her story of an affair with Mr. Trump.

Wondering what The Enquirer’s covers were worth to the Trump campaign, I called Regis Maher, a co-founder of Do It Outdoors, the national mobile and digital billboard company. He said a campaign with that level of national prominence would cost $2.5 million to $3 million a month.

Trump / Military Justice

ny times logoNew York Times, Twist in Green Beret’s Extraordinary Story: Trump’s Intervention After Murder Charges, Helene Cooper, Michael Tackett and Taimoor Shah, Dec. 17, 2018 (print edition). President Trump tweeted that he would review the case of Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn, using language aired just minutes before by “Fox & Friends.” With that tweet, Mr. Trump stepped into a complicated legal and ethical case that goes to the heart of the fraught politics of the military’s rules of engagement.

Donald Trump (Gage Skidmore portrait)The long and winding case of Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn had all the elements of a story that would seize President Trump’s attention. A Green Beret charged by the Army in the killing of a man linked to the Taliban. Thorny questions about America’s longstanding entanglement in Afghanistan. And a Fox News program that lauded the officer as a war hero.

And so, on Sunday, Mr. Trump announced on Twitter that he would examine the case of Major Golsteyn, using, verbatim, language aired just minutes before by his favorite program, “Fox & Friends.”

“At the request of many, I will be reviewing the case of a ‘U.S. Military hero,’ Major Matt Golsteyn, who is charged with murder,” Mr. Trump wrote. “He could face the death penalty from our own government after he admitted to killing a Terrorist bomb maker while overseas.”

With that tweet, Mr. Trump made another extraordinary intervention into the American judicial system. A president who just last week threatened to stop a Justice Department effort to extradite a Chinese tech executive and who spends most days vilifying the special counsel had now stepped into a complicated legal and ethical case that goes to the heart of the fraught politics of the military’s rules of engagement.

Inside Congress

rod blumRoll Call, Ethics Office Report Released on Lame Duck Rod Blum, Katherine Tully-McManus, Dec. 17, 2018. House Ethics jurisdiction will expire when Iowa Republican leaves Congress. The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) released its report on allegations against Iowa Republican Rod Blum Monday, while the House Ethics Committee announced that it is continuing its own inquiry, but likely not for long.

In February, the Associated Press reported that Blum violated House ethics rules by failing to disclose his ownership role in a new company and that his top federal staffer was featured in a false testimonial promoting the company’s services.
“The Board finds that there is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Blum misused official House resources to support a business endeavor,” says the OCE report.

republican elephant logoBlum was listed as a director of the Tin Moon Corp when it was incorporated in May 2016. One of the services the company offers is helping businesses rebound after Food and Drug Administration safety violations by burying warning letters under positive internet search results. After being questioned about Blum’s role, Tin Moon removed a photo of Blum wearing his congressional pin and changed his title from CEO to “majority shareholder.”

Blum was one of the most vulnerable House Republicans heading into November’s midterm elections and was knocked off by Democrat Abby Finkenauer in Iowa’s 1st District. The House Ethics Committee typically does not continue inquiries into members after they have left Congress, which means that the Blum probe is likely headed nowhere.

#MeToo Scandals

 james grazioplenewashington post logoWashington Post, A soldier rose to become a general. His daughter says he abused her for years, Dan Lamothe, Dec. 17, 2018 (print edition). For retired Maj. Gen. James J. Grazioplene, right, getting arrested and photographed in an orange jumpsuit in Northern Virginia this month was the latest humiliation following a lengthy military investigation in which the Army charged him with rape, only to have the case dismissed on a technicality.

For his daughter and military prosecutors, it was something else: a second chance at seeing whether a court will convict Grazioplene of rape.

Jennifer M. Elmore, 47, said in an interview that she first reported to the Army in 2015 that her estranged father had sexually abused her when she was a child. The service investigated for two years before bringing a case against Grazioplene in April 2017.

“Sometimes, it’s just easier to shut your mouth,” said Elmore, a senior vice president with Abbot Downing, a division of Wells Fargo focused on wealthy clients. “But if I stay silent and the next person opts for that, and the next person opts for that, and the next person opts for that, where are we?”

washington post logoWashington Post, Jesuit order names priests ‘credibly accused’ of sexually abusing children since the 1950s, Julie Zauzmer​, Dec. 17, 2018. The Maryland Province of Jesuits, a Catholic religious order with priests serving from Pennsylvania to Georgia, named five living Jesuits, three who left the order, and five who have died.

ny times logoNew York Times, CBS Says Les Moonves Will Not Receive $120 Million Severance, Edmund Lee and Rachel Abrams, Dec. 17, 2018. The CBS Corporation, battered by cbs logoscandal and facing a leadership vacuum, said its former chief executive, Leslie Moonves, misled the company about multiple allegations of sexual misconduct and tried to hide evidence as he made a frenzied attempt to save his legacy and reap a lucrative severance. As a result, the company said Mr. Moonves would not receive his $120 million exit payout.

Dec. 16

Climate Change

climate change credits mellimage montree hanlue nasa site shutterstock

ny times logoNew York Times, Climate Negotiators Reach Deal to Keep Paris Pact Alive, Brad Plumer, Dec. 16, 2018 (print edition). Diplomats from nearly 200 countries reached a deal on Saturday to keep the Paris climate agreement alive by adopting a detailed set of rules to implement the pact. The deal, struck after an all-night bargaining session, will ultimately require every country in the world to follow a uniform set of standards for measuring their planet-warming emissions and tracking their climate policies. And it calls on countries to step up their plans to cut emissions ahead of another round of talks in 2020.

It also calls on richer countries to be clearer about the aid they intend to offer to help poorer nations install more clean energy or build resilience against natural disasters. And it builds a process in which countries that are struggling to meet their emissions goals can get help in getting back on track.

The United States agreed to the deal despite President Trump’s vow to abandon the Paris Agreement. Diplomats and climate change activists said they hoped that fact would make it easier for the administration to change its mind and stay in the Paris Agreement, or for a future president to embrace the accord once again. The United States cannot formally withdraw from the agreement until late 2020.

Trump Probes

washington post logoWashington Post, With nearly every organization Trump has led under investigation, legal threats could dominate his third year in office, David A. Fahrenthold, Matt Zapotosky and Seung Min Kim​, Dec. 16, 2018 (print edition). The ultimate consequences for the president are still unclear. But for now, Trump has been forced to spend his political capital — and that of his party — on his own defense.

djt handwave fileTwo years after Donald Trump won the presidency, nearly every organization he has led in the past decade is under investigation.

Trump’s private company is contending with civil suits digging into its business with foreign governments and with looming state inquiries into its tax practices.

Trump’s 2016 campaign is under scrutiny by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, right, whose investigation into Russian interference has already led to guilty pleas by his campaign chairman and four advisers.

Trump’s inaugural committee has been probed by Mueller for illegal foreign donations, a topic that the incoming House Intelligence Committee chairman plans to further investigate next year.

Trump’s charity is locked in an ongoing suit with New York state, which has accused the foundation of “persistently illegal conduct.”

The mounting inquiries are building into a cascade of legal challenges that threaten to dominate Trump’s third year in the White House. In a few weeks, Democrats will take over in the House and pursue their own investigations into all of the above — and more.

washington post logorobert mueller kit fox medill flickr croppedWashington Post, Robert Mueller is the most unknowable man in Washington, Roxanne Roberts, Dec. 16, 2018. It is impossible to spend a day in this town without hearing or reading special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s name. He will go down in history as one of the pivotal figures of the Trump era. All this for a man who seldom speaks and is rarely seen. [Shown at right], he is omnipresent and absent, inescapable but elusive.

 Wayne Madsen Report (WMR): Video Investigative Graphic: “Trump Mafia,” Wayne Madsen, Dec. 16, 2018 (24:25 mins).

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: ‘Stop,’ ‘I wasn’t there,’ ‘I don’t know anything about that’: Republicans dodge or dismiss Trump’s legal woes, Seung Min Kim, Dec. 16, 2018 (print edition).  Senate Republicans struggled to account for President Trump’s behavior and not-so-consistent statements after his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, was sentenced to three years in prison.

us senate logoA reporter hadn’t even finished asking about President Trump and the sentencing of his former lawyer Michael Cohen when Republican Sen. James E. Risch indicated he would have none of it.

“Oh, I don’t do interviews on any of that stuff,” Risch said when questioned about Trump’s shifting explanations on efforts to buy the silence of women who claimed sexual dalliances with him.

Well, why not?

“I don’t do any interviews on anything to do with Trump and that sort of thing, okay?” Risch (Idaho) responded curtly before quickly slipping into the Senate chamber.

Inside DC

Dec. 16

whowhatwhy logoWhoWhatWhy, FCC Blasted for Opening the Door to Text Message Censorship, Austen Erblat, Dec. 16, 2018. The FCC voted to allow cellular carriers to block text messages at their discretion. In a move that Democrats and electronic-rights groups worry could lead to censorship of political messages, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted this week to allow wireless carriers to block unwanted or spam text messages. The vote was split along party lines in the commission, with the three Republicans supporting and the lone Democrat opposing.

fcc logoRepublicans said the move reaffirms a tradition of allowing wireless carriers to block spam or scam text messages before they get to consumers’ phones, but Democrats and electronic- rights activists say this allows carriers to censor or block text messages, removing consumers’ right to decide for themselves.

ajit pai headshot custom“The FCC shouldn’t make it easier for spammers and scammers to bombard consumers with unwanted texts,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, left, said in a statement. “And we shouldn’t allow unwanted messages to plague wireless messaging services in the same way that unwanted robocalls flood voice services.”

But who decides what is “unwanted?”

The lone Democrat on the commission, Jessica Rosenworcel, said the decision means consumers “no longer have the final say on where your text messages go and what they said. That means your carrier now has the legal right to block your text messages and censor the very content of your messages.”

Electronic-rights groups claim the decision will continue to allow carriers to block fundraising campaign text messages and political messages, preempting consumers’ ability to decide whether they want to receive the messages.

“This decision does nothing to curb spam, and is not needed to curb spam,” Harold Feld, senior vice president at Public Knowledge, said in a statement. “It is simply the latest example of Chairman Pai’s radical agenda that puts companies ahead of consumers.”

washington post logoWashington Post, GOP women are sounding the alarm after their crushing election losses. It’s unclear whether Republican men agree, Elise Viebeck and Felicia Sonmez, Dec. 16, 2018. The party’s poor performance with women this election cycle has exposed sensitive fault lines within the party over identity politics and how to win elections.

washington post logoWashington Post, Retropolis: The police officer who arrested a president, Michael S. Rosenwald, Dec. 16, 2018. Amid President Trump’s mounting legal problems, TV talking heads and bar-stool philosophers from Boise to Britain have been pondering one of the great mysteries ulysses grantof the U.S. Constitution.

Can the president of the United States actually be indicted? Arrested, handcuffed, the whole deal. Possible? The prevailing answer is this: Nobody is sure.

But that’s not entirely true. President Ulysses S. Grant (left) knows — err, knew. In 1872, while president, Grant was arrested at the corner of 13th and M streets in Washington. This was not a high crime, but it was — at least theoretically speaking — a misdemeanor. The man who led the North to victory in the Civil War was busted for speeding in his horse-drawn carriage.

The Guardian, Former fossil fuels lobbyist to head interior department as Zinke exits, Emily Holden, Dec. 16, 2018. Former fossil fuels lobbyist to head interior department as Zinke exits. Ryan Zinke’s exit as interior secretary elevates a former lobbyist to the job, meaning the top two US environmental agencies will now be run by people previously paid by industry.

The deputy secretary, David Bernhardt, will take over at least temporarily when Zinke steps down at the end of the year. He also could be in the running to head the department permanently. And at the Environmental Protection Agency, the acting administrator, Andrew Wheeler, who was a coal lobbyist, will be nominated to keep the post.

Bernhardt was a fossil fuels and water industry lobbyist at the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck before he joined the Trump administration. He was previously the chief lawyer at the interior department under the George W Bush administration .

Dec. 15

American Health Care

ny times logohealth and human services logoNew York Times, Ruling Striking Down Obamacare Moves Health Debate to Center Stage, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Robert Pear and Abby Goodnough, Dec. 15, 2018. The decision by a federal judge in Texas to strike down all of the Affordable Care Act has thrust the volatile debate over health care onto center stage in a newly divided capital, imperiling the insurance coverage of millions of Americans while delivering a possible policy opening to Democrats.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: What the Lawless Obamacare Ruling Means, Jonathan H. Adler and Abbe R. Gluck, Dec. 15, 2018. It’s not based on a solid legal argument. It’s an exercise in raw judicial power.

In a shocking legal ruling, a federal judge in Texas wiped Obamacare off the books Friday night. The decision, issued after business hours on the eve of the deadline to enroll for health insurance for 2019, focuses on the so-called individual mandate. Yet it purports to declare the entire law unconstitutional — everything from the Medicaid expansion, the ban on pre-existing conditions, Medicare and pharmaceutical reforms to much, much more.

reed oconnor 2017A ruling this consequential had better be based on rock-solid legal argument. Instead, the opinion by Judge Reed O’Connor (right) is an exercise of raw judicial power, unmoored from the relevant doctrines concerning when judges may strike down a whole law because of a single alleged legal infirmity buried within.

We were on opposing sides of the 2012 and 2015 Supreme Court challenges to the Affordable Care Act, and we have different views of the merits of the act itself. But as experts in the field of statutory law, we agree that this decision makes a mockery of the rule of law and basic principles of democracy — especially Congress’s constitutional power to amend its own statutes and do so in accord with its own internal rules.

The individual mandate is the law’s controversial requirement that all Americans maintain qualifying health insurance coverage or pay a penalty. In 2012, the Supreme Court upheld this penalty as an exercise of Congress’s taxing power. In 2017, unable to get the votes to repeal the entire law, Congress just zeroed out the penalty.

In this case, Texas and 19 other states argue that with zero penalty, the mandate lacks a constitutional basis because it will no longer be enforced like a tax. If that were all there was, the case would have little consequence because starting in 2019, the mandate is unenforceable.

But audaciously, the states argued — and Judge O’Connor agreed — that the rest of Obamacare must fall, too. They claim that the mandate is so central to the A.C.A. that nothing else in it can operate without it.

That’s not how the relevant law works. An established legal principle called “severability” is triggered when a court must consider what happens to a statute when one part of it is struck down. The principle presumes that, out of respect for the separation of powers, courts will leave the rest of the statute standing unless Congress makes clear it did not intend for the law to exist without the challenged provision. This is not a liberal principle or a conservative principle. It is an uncontroversial rule that every Supreme Court justice in modern history has applied.

Jonathan Adler is a professor of law at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law. Abbe R. Gluck is a professor of law and the faculty director of the Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy at Yale Law School.

Baby Powder Cancer Threat?

ny times logoNew York Times, Asbestos Opens New Legal Front in Battle Over Baby Powder, Roni Caryn Rabin and Tiffany Hsu, Dec. 14, 2018. Johnson & Johnson says its product is safe. But asbestos, a carcinogen that can exist underground near talc, was a concern inside the company for decades.

johnsons baby powder Custom 2The memos were concise and direct. An executive at Johnson & Johnson said the main ingredient in its best-selling baby powder could potentially be contaminated by asbestos, the dangerous mineral that can cause cancer. He recommended to senior staff in 1971 that the company “upgrade” its quality control of talc.

Two years later, another executive raised a red flag, saying the company should no longer assume that its talc mines were asbestos-free. The powder, he said, sometimes contained materials that “might be classified as asbestos fiber.”

The carcinogen, which often appears underground near talc, has been a concern inside the company for decades. In hundreds of pages of memos, executives worried about a potential government ban of talc, the safety of the product and a public backlash over Johnson’s Baby Powder, a brand built on a reputation for trustworthiness and health.

johnson johnson logoExecutives proposed new testing procedures or replacing talc outright, while trying to discredit research suggesting that the powder could be contaminated with asbestos, according to corporate documents unearthed by litigation, government records obtained by The New York Times through the Freedom of Information Act, and interviews with scientists and lawyers.

Those efforts are now forming the crux of a new legal front in a long-running battle over Johnson’s Baby Powder, potentially leaving the company exposed in nearly 12,000 lawsuits across the country claiming that the product can cause cancer.

This summer, 22 women with ovarian cancer successfully sued the company, arguing that Johnson & Johnson knew about the connection between talc and asbestos. A jury in St. Louis awarded them $4.69 billion, one of the largest personal injury verdicts ever.

The company lost two other cases this year, in California and New Jersey, brought by people with mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of internal organs that is associated with asbestos.

See related story below:

whowhatwhy logoWhoWhatWhy via Salon, Did Kavanaugh’s father advocate for a product that he knew was carcinogenic to mothers and fetuses? Doug Vaughan, Oct. 10, 2018. Sooner or later, one of these cases is likely to come to the Supreme Court — Kavanaugh, right, will have to weigh on it. Now that Justice Brett Kavanaugh has been confirmed by the Senate, sooner brett kavanaughor later he may be asked to weigh some damning evidence — that his own father advocated for a product that he knew was carcinogenic to both mothers and fetuses. Unless he recuses himself.

The ironies are piquant: While the son attended private, single-sex religious schools and adopted the traditional Catholic opposition to abortion, and even birth control, on the grounds the government should regulate women’s use of their own bodies and reproduction, the father made millions from the industry that marketed and sold female personal hygiene products — while keeping the government from guarding the consumers’ health and safety.

johnson johnson logoMore than 10,000 active claims in U.S. courts, mostly by women, allege that they got cancer from regular use of talcum products like baby powder. In one case last summer, a jury in Missouri awarded $4.7 billion to a group of 20 such women who sued the biggest manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson — for promoting its products while hiding evidence of the risks to women, their reproductive organs, and their babies.

Sooner or later, one of these cases is likely to come to the Supreme Court. If he fails to recuse himself, Justice Brett Kavanaugh will be asked to consider evidence that his father, Ed, helped J&J market such products — even though they knew they were carcinogenic. Kavanaugh Sr.’s former employer is one of the named defendants in some of the biggest class-action cases filed so far.

And Brett Kavanaugh may yet have to answer tough questions about his own finances — including a down payment on a million-dollar house, and how he paid credit card and other debts: He refused to disclose the source of those funds that came from “within the family” soon after his father received several million dollars from the companies sued in the talc-cancer cases.

brett kavanaugh parents edward everett martha pool gettyFor more than three decades, while his son Brett was growing up in the toney suburb of Chevy Chase, MD, Everett Edward Kavanaugh (shown with his wife Martha in a pool photo from their son’s confirmation hearing in the fall of 2018) worked for the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association (CTFA), now called Personal Care Products Council (PCPC), whose 600 member companies include giant multinational firms like J&J, Aveda, Clairol, L’Oréal, and Unilever.

Once known inelegantly as the Toilet Goods Association, the name change (to CTFA) in 1971 was part of “an organizational ‘metamorphosis’ that prepared the association, and the industry to face a new decade of challenge.” Behind that bit of propaganda was the upsurge of consumer advocacy and environmental activism launched in the 1960s, which prompted Congress in the 1970s to pass legislation protecting air, water, land, and the human body from occupational and industrial hazards and pollutants.

About the time Ed Kavanaugh came over from the US Chamber of Commerce, CTFA was in retreat. In 1976, it established a Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) panel to ward off FDA regulation like that applied to food, beverages, and medical devices. But there was no legal obligation to test the products, to publish results of tests, or divulge test data to the FDA that contradicted the bottom line or the marketing propaganda. The Reagan administration, stocked with economic fundamentalists eager to roll back the the “nanny state” and unleash capitalism — Make America Great Again is a line Trump’s stage-managers filched from that time — took the word of corporate lobbyists like Kavanaugh over consumer advocates, unions, and environmentalists, and kept the FDA out of cosmetics regulation.

Medical researchers warned the cosmetics industry about an association between talc and ovarian cancer as early as 1982 only to be derided or ignored while the companies, led by the biggest producer, Johnson & Johnson, lobbied against any warnings or regulation through their trade association. J&J may have known even earlier that its talcum products contained asbestos. Since the early 1970s, study after study strengthened the statistical case throughout the Reagan years while CTFA pooh-poohed their significance and questioned their methods and integrity. According to the victims, Johnson & Johnson’s own expert warned the company and Ed Kavanaugh’s operation that they were lying about the studies

 Inside TrumpWorld

washington post logoWashington Post, Interior Secretary Zinke resigns amid investigations, Juliet Eilperin and Josh Dawsey, Dec. 15, 2018. Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke, right, submitted his ryan zinke oresignation to the White House Saturday, facing intense pressure from the White House amid multiple probes tied to his real estate dealings in Montana and conduct while in office.

President Trump announced Zinke’s exit via Twitter on Saturday morning and offered praise for the embattled Interior chief.

“Secretary of the Interior @RyanZinke will be leaving the Administration at the end of the year after having served for a period of almost two years,” the president tweeted, trailing off in a second sentence. “Ryan has accomplished much during his tenure and I want to thank him for his service to our Nation…….”

While the former Navy SEAL and Montana congressman worked aggressively to promote Trump’s agenda of expanding domestic energy production, administration officials concluded weeks ago that he ranked as the Cabinet member most vulnerable to congressional investigations once Democrats took control of Congress in January.

ny times logoNew York Times, Mr. Zinke has faced more than 15 ethics inquiries; at least six are ongoing. Here’s the list, Lisa Friedman, Dec. 15, 2018. Ryan Zinke, who intends to resign as interior secretary at year’s end, faces a number of ethics inquiries related to his leadership at the Interior Department. According to a person familiar with the matter, one of those inquiries — into whether Mr. inke stood to benefit from a Montana development deal linked to the energy giant Halliburton — has likely been referred to the Department of Justice for further review.

Government investigators have also closed nine inquiries related to Mr. Zinke, in some cases because he was cleared, and in others because of a lack of cooperation.

ny times logoNew York Times, Investigation: As the Trumps Dodged Taxes, Their Tenants Paid a Price, Russ Buettner and Susanne Craig, Dec. 15, 2018. When the rent for thousands of tenants in an empire of buildings across New York City began to shoot up, they had no idea why. A Times investigation found a phony business set up by the Trump family to pad invoices for the buildings, allowing them to inflate rents.

Donald Trump (Gage Skidmore portrait)They were collateral damage as Donald J. Trump and his siblings dodged inheritance taxes and gained control of their father’s fortune: thousands of renters in an empire of unassuming red-brick buildings scattered across Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.

Those buildings have been home to generations of strivers, municipal workers and newly arrived immigrants. When their regulated rents started rising more quickly in the 1990s, many tenants had no idea why. Some heard that the Trump family had spent millions on building improvements, but they remained suspicious.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani are lost in the weeds as they circle the drain, Bill Palmer, Dec. 15, 2018. This week Michael Flynn, right, made the surprise move michael flynn microphoneof accusing former FBI agent Peter Strzok of having essentially tricked him into lying. It’s a desperate move by Flynn aimed at ensuring that the judge doesn’t give him any prison time, and various legal experts believe it could work against him. It’s also handed a talking point to Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani, who are naturally screwing up the whole thing.

Trump and Rudy are now trying to spin a fictional version of events in which Robert Mueller couldn’t nail Michael Flynn for anything but lying to the FBI, and he recommended a lenient sentence because Strzok screwed that up. Back in the real world, Flynn was facing charges along the lines of espionage, treason, and conspiracy to commit kidnapping. The man is one of the worst criminals in American history. But because he gave up evidence that will take down Donald Trump, the worst criminal in American history, he was given a free pass.

bill palmer report logo headerOnce Mueller begins rolling out the evidence that Flynn provided against Trump and others, which should be fairly soon, the argument currently being made by Trump and Rudy will look asinine. Further, Flynn’s sentencing memo reveals that Trump committed felony obstruction of justice by targeting and harassing Strzok because he was the first FBI agent to figure out that the Trump-Russia scandal existed. So the more Trump and Rudy harp on Strzok now, the worse it’ll backfire on them.

Not only are Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani relying on one of the most idiotic defense strategies of all time, they’re doing it with what could be charitably described as fading cognitive abilities. There are a lot of people who don’t know how to spell Peter Strzok’s name. But when your strategy for staying out of prison is based on publicly attacking him, you’d think you’d take a moment to learn the spelling – or perhaps not.

Rudy Giuliani has made six mentions on Twitter this week of someone named “Stroyk” instead of Peter Strzok. Donald Trump seems to be afraid to even try, as he’s now reduced to referring to him as “Peter S.” This would be like making an argument that Donald Trump is a criminal, but repeatedly and accidentally referring to him as “Ronald Turnip.”

Students Win Loan Relief

washington post logoWashington Post, Government to forgive loans for thousands of students whose colleges closed, Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, Dec. 15, 2018 (print edition). The Trump administration plans to forgive $150 million in federal student loans tied to colleges that closed in recent years, following a court order enforcing an Obama-era policy the administration had sought to dismantle.

betsy devos oThe Education Department has identified about 15,000 people who are eligible for automatic debt cancellation after borrowing money to enroll or help their children attend colleges that shut down on or after Nov. 1, 2013. Eligible borrowers are not required to take any action; the Education Department will begin notifying them Friday by email. The process could take longer than 90 days and not everyone will have the full amount of debt forgiven.

According to the Education Department, nearly half of the people identified received loans to attend defunct for-profit chain Corinthian Colleges, while the remainder were enrolled in schools that closed between Nov. 1, 2013, and Dec. 4, 2018.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, right, derided the Obama-era policies as a handout to students at taxpayers’ expense. She shelved the changes before they were slated to take effect in June 2017, spawning lawsuits from former students and state attorneys general. In September, a federal judge denounced the move as “arbitrary and capricious” and said the rules should take effect. A month later, the same judge shot down a bid by the California Association of Private Postsecondary Schools, an industry group, to block the rules.

Now, DeVos must implement the long-delayed regulations despite her objections and a failed attempt to rewrite the rules.

 Political Justice?

washington post logoWashington Post, James Wolfe asks court why his sentence for lies to FBI could be higher than Michael Flynn’s, Spencer S. Hsu, Dec. 15, 2018. Attorneys for a former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer who admitted lying to investigators in an FBI leak probe accused federal prosecutors Friday of “scaremongering and sleight of hand” in asking he get a two-year prison term.

james wolfe cspanThe government’s recommendation, attorneys for James A. Wolfe told a court Friday, was a far harsher penalty than what was sought for high-ranking and powerful U.S. officials who committed similar offenses.

Attorneys for the 57-year-old Wolfe, right, took a swipe at the Trump administration in court filings and called “shocking” the sentence request from prosecutors that is at least four times greater than federal sentencing guidelines recommendations for his guilty plea in October.

Wolfe admitted to one count of lying about using encrypted messaging in October 2017 to tell a journalist identified in court filings only as “Reporter #3” about a subpoena issued by the Senate committee. Wolfe, who had spent 30 years on the committee staff, also admitted to lying to investigators about speaking with three other reporters. He is due to be sentenced Dec. 20.

The morning after Wolfe’s June 7 arrest, President Trump announced to reporters that the Justice Department had just “caught a leaker. It’s a very important leaker,” adding, “You cannot leak classified information.”

Wolfe, his lawyers noted, was not charged with leaking classified data, and the government conceded it did not have evidence that he did.

“Mr. Wolfe should not bear the weight of the government’s alternate reality and apparent frustration at its inability to prove any disclosure of Classified Information by the so-called ‘big leaker’ it so publicly trumpeted when Mr. Wolfe was arrested,” wrote his attorneys, Preston Burton, Benjamin B. Klubes and Lauren R. Randell.

Inside DC: Shutdown?

washington post logoWashington Post, White House prepares for shutdown as GOP lawmakers struggle for an alternative, Erica Werner, Damian Paletta and Lisa Rein, Dec. 15, 2018.  The White House and a number of federal agencies have started advanced preparations for a partial government shutdown, as President Trump and congressional Democrats appear unlikely to resolve their fight over a border wall before some government funding lapses at week’s end.

GOP leaders are scrambling to find a short-term alternative that could stave off a shutdown, which would start on Dec. 22 absent a deal. But White House officials signaled to lawmakers Friday that they would probably not support a one- or two-week stopgap measure. Some congressional Republicans support such a “continuing resolution,” but the White House rejection has dramatically increased the odds of a spending lapse.

‘Consent’ No Excuse

washington post logoWashington Post, Catholic U. fires professor for relationship with subordinate, Nick Anderson, Dec. 15, 2018 (print edition). Catholic University fired a veteran professor this week for having sex with an employee he supervised in 2013. The university in Northeast Washington said it took action against Stephen J. McKenna after getting a tip in 2017 that he had a relationship with an employee who worked for him.

McKenna, a tenured associate professor of media and communication studies, was chair of his department at the time. He acknowledged Friday to The Washington Post that he had an improper relationship for several months during 2013 with a woman whom he hired as an assistant. The university said the woman was 24 at the time and a graduate student in another department. Shortly after she started the job in February 2013, the university said, the two became “sexually involved.” The woman left the position in October 2013.

“I think people would look at the dismissal differently if they knew that this relationship lasted for four years after we were no longer co-workers at the university,” he said. McKenna said the two had talked about getting married before their relationship ended about a year ago.

He said the woman “has repeatedly told the university that the relationship was fully mutual and consensual, and furthermore, that she didn’t want any adverse action taken against me, or any harm to come to me and my family.”

U.S. Financial Markets

ny times logoNew York Times, Investors Have Nowhere to Hide as Stocks, Bonds and Commodities All Tumble, Matt Phillips, Dec. 15, 2018. For the first time in decades, every major type of investment has fared poorly, as the outlook for economic growth and corporate profits is dampened by rising trade tensions and interest rates. Stocks around the world are getting pummeled, while commodities and bonds are tumbling — all of which have left investors with few places to put their money.

Dec. 14

Trump Probes: Cohen Claims

michael cohen george stephanapolous dec 14 2018

ABC News, Michael Cohen talks to George Stephanopoulos: TRANSCRIPT, George Stephanopoulos, James Hill, Eliana Larramendia and Eric Avram, Dec. 14, 2018. Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal attorney and fixer, said Donald Trump directed him to make payments to two women (including Stormy Daniels, shown at right) who said they had affairs with the then-candidate because abc news logoTrump “was very concerned about how this would affect the election.”

One filing djt stormy daniels 2006A lightly edited transcript of Cohen’s interview with ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos, which aired today on “Good Morning America,” follows here:

Part 1

George Stephanopoulos: Michael, thank you for doing this.

Michael Cohen: George, good to see you.

Stephanopoulos: Emotional day in court yesterday, and I was struck by that line you had … you said you felt like you had your freedom back.

Cohen: Yes.

Stephanopoulos: How does it feel today?

michael cohen plead guilty to 9 countsCohen: Like I have my freedom back. Though I have to be honest. It has been very rough to be before the court with my family in attendance, my mother, my father, my wife, my children, my sisters, my brother, my niece, cousins, friends, it was … ummm, it was a very rough day.

Stephanopoulos: And then you wake up today, and the president is tweeting from very early in the morning several different things … what struck me most is his claim that you agreed to this plea deal for this reason he said, “Those charges were just agreed to him in order to embarrass the president and get a much reduced prison sentence.”

Cohen: I know which tweets you are talking about. First of all, it is absolutely not true. I did not do it to embarrass the president. He knows the truth. I know the truth, many people know the truth. Under no circumstances do I want to embarrass the president of the United States of America. The truth is, I told the truth. I took responsibility for my actions. And instead of him taking responsibility for his actions, what does he do? He attacks my family. And after yesterday, again being before the court and taking the responsibility and receiving a sentence of 36 months, the only thing he could do is to tweet about my family?

Stephanopoulos: He said in the tweets and repeated in an interview later on that basically he says — his claim — you are lying about him to protect your wife, to protect your father in-law.

Cohen: Inaccurate. He knows the truth, I know the truth, others know the truth, and here is the truth: The people of the United States of America, people of the world, don’t believe what he is saying. The man doesn’t tell the truth. And it is sad that I should take responsibility for his dirty deeds.

Related story below:

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Washington Post, Cohen says Trump knew hush-money payments were wrong, contradicting his former boss, John Wagner, Dec. 14, 2018. ‘I will not be the villain’: Michael Cohen’s post-sentencing interview, annotated. Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer, said in a television interview Friday that Trump knew it was wrong to make hush-money payments to women who alleged they had affairs with him, directly contradicting claims from the president.

Cohen, below left, who has admitted facilitating payments to two women in violation of campaign finance laws, told ABC News that he knew what he was doing was wrong.

michael cohen abc 2018 12 14Asked whether the president also knew it was wrong to make the payments, Cohen replied, “Of course.” He added that the purpose was to “help [Trump] and his campaign.”

“He was very concerned about how this would affect the election,” Cohen said.

His comments, in an interview on “Good Morning America,” are at odds with those of Trump on Thursday in tweets and a television interview.

Trump Groups Probed

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Inaugural Fund and Super PAC Said to Be Scrutinized for Illegal Foreign Donations, Sharon LaFraniere, Maggie Haberman and Adam Goldman, Dec. 14, 2018 (print edition). Federal prosecutors are investigating whether President Trump’s inaugural fund and a pro-Trump super PAC received illegal foreign donations. Federal prosecutors are examining whether foreigners illegally funneled donations to President Trump’s inaugural committee and a pro-Trump super PAC in hopes of buying influence over American policy, according to people familiar with the inquiry.

robert mueller full face fileThe inquiry focuses on whether people from Middle Eastern nations — including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — used straw donors to disguise their donations to the two funds. Federal law prohibits foreign contributions to federal campaigns, political action committees and inaugural funds.

The line of questioning underscores the growing scope of criminal inquiries that pose a threat to Mr. Trump’s presidency. The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, left, is ftom barrackheadshotocusing on whether anyone in the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to tip the 2016 presidential election in Mr. Trump’s favor, while prosecutors in New York are pursuing evidence he secretly authorized illegal payments of hush money to silence accusations of extramarital affairs that threatened his campaign.

The inquiry into potential foreign donations to the inaugural fund and the super PAC is yet another front being pursued by multiple teams of prosecutors. Thomas J. Barrack Jr., right, a billionaire financier and one of Mr. Trump’s closest friends, raised money for both funds.

Trump Probes: Overviews

jennifer rubin new headshotwashington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: The president’s no good, very bad, terrible week just got worse, Jennifer Rubin, right, Dec. 14, 2018. This was arguably the worst week (so far) of President Trump’s time in office. The incoming House speaker showed him up on national TV. He couldn’t get someone to replace John F. Kelly as White House chief of staff (though his hapless son-in-law is said to now be on the list of potential replacements). The president also was implicated (by his own Justice Department) in directing a scheme to hide hush-money payments to two former mistresses. What’s more, we learned, as Cohen did in receiving his three-year sentence, that the campaign-finance-related crimes are serious.

Meanwhile, Russian spy Maria Butina pleaded guilty. On another front, the Senate rebuked Trump on his lies about Mohammed bin Salman and his policy of unfettered support for the Saudi crown prince’s war in Yemen. (Revelations that Jared Kushner advised MBS, as the crown prince is known, during the cover-up phase of the murder of Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi didn’t help matters.) In addition, we learned that not only Michael Cohen but executives at the National Enquirer tabloid are cooperating in revealing Trump’s hush-payment scheme. Then things really went downhill.

First, Wall Street Journal reporting puts Trump in the room where the plot to pay hush money was hatched. According to its report, David Pecker, the chief executive of American Media, Inc. met with Trump in August 2015.

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washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Trump’s claim that he didn’t violate campaign finance law is weak — and dangerous, George T. Conway III, Trevor Potter and Neal Katyal, Dec. 14, 2018. The case against the president would be far stronger than the case against John Edwards was. Last week, in their case against Michael Cohen, federal prosecutors in New York filed a sentencing brief concluding that, in committing the felony campaign-finance violations to which he pleaded guilty, Cohen had “acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1,” President Trump.

And this week, prosecutors revealed that they had obtained an agreement from AMI, the parent company of the National Enquirer, in which AMI admitted that it, too, had made an illegal payment to influence the election. The AMI payment was the product of a meeting in which Trump was in the room with Cohen and AMI President David Pecker.

This all suggests Trump could become a target of a very serious criminal campaign finance investigation. In response, Trump has offered up three defenses. His first was to repeatedly lie. For quite some time, he flatly denied knowledge about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels. But now he seems to be acknowledging that he knew (since his personal company reimbursed Cohen for the payment, he ought to). Now Trump and his acolytes have turned to two other excuses: They point to an earlier case involving former senator John Edwards to argue that what Trump did wasn’t a crime; and they say, even if it was a crime, it wasn’t a biggie — there are lots of crimes, so what, who cares.

The former is a very weak legal argument, and the latter a dangerous one. Indeed, the campaign finance violations here are among the most important ever in the history of this nation — given the razor-thin win by Trump and the timing of the crimes, they very well may have swung a presidential election.

The bad arguments being floated in Trump’s defense are emblematic of a deterioration in respect for the rule of law in this country. The three of us have deep political differences, but we are united in the view that our country comes first and our political parties second. And chief among the values of our country is its commitment to the rule of law. No one, whether a senator or a president, should pretend America is something less.

Trump Probes: Flynn Sentencing

michael flynn state department Custom

Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn delivers remarks in early 2016 before his resignation and federal indictment.

ny times logoNew York Times, Mueller Rejects Flynn’s Attempt to Portray Himself as Victim of the F.B.I., Adam Goldman, Dec. 14, 2018. The special counsel’s office rejected on Friday a suggestion from Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, that he had been tricked into lying last year to F.B.I. agents investigating Russia’s election interference and ties to Trump associates.

sergey kislyak 2016 wProsecutors laid out a pattern of lies by Mr. Flynn to Vice President Mike Pence, senior White House aides, federal investigators and the news media in the weeks before and after the presidential inauguration as he scrambled to obscure the truth about his communications during the presidential transition with Sergey I. Kislyak, right, the Russian ambassador to the United States at the time.

Neither his lawyers nor Mr. Flynn, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, have explained why he lied to the F.B.I., a felony that he pleaded guilty to a year ago. But in a memo this week seeking leniency, his lawyers revealed details from the interview that stoked an unfounded theory that Mr. Flynn’s demeanor during questioning indicated that he did not understand that he was being formally investigated. They also blamed the F.B.I. for not informing Mr. Flynn ahead of time that lying to agents is illegal — an argument that prosecutors repudiated.

“A sitting national security adviser, former head of an intelligence agency, retired lieutenant general and 33-year veteran of the armed forces knows he should not lie to federal agents,” prosecutors for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, wrote in court papers. “He does not need to be warned it is a crime to lie to federal agents to know the importance of telling them the truth.”

fbi logoLeniency for Mr. Flynn had all but been assured after Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors recommended last week that he receive little or no prison time, crediting his cooperation with their inquiry and other investigations as well as his lengthy military service. His decision to attack the F.B.I. in his own plea for probation appeared to be a gambit for a pardon from Mr. Trump, whose former lawyer had broached the prospect last year with a lawyer for Mr. Flynn.

The president seized on the case that Mr. Flynn made against the F.B.I. in his sentencing memo, defending him on Twitter and on Fox News. “They convinced him he did lie, and he made some kind of a deal,” Mr. Trump said of investigators on Thursday during the television interview.

That contradicts the narrative that prosecutors have described in court papers. American intelligence had picked up Mr. Flynn’s conversations on wiretaps of the ambassador as part of standard surveillance. So the F.B.I. agents had evidence that Mr. Flynn was lying when he denied asking Mr. Kislyak that Russia refrain from reacting harshly to sanctions imposed by the Obama administration over election interference. He also said he did not remember Mr. Kislyak telling him that Moscow had backed off as a result of Mr. Flynn’s request.

And prosecutors revealed on Friday how far investigators had gone during the interview to give Mr. Flynn the chance to tell the truth. At one point, the F.B.I. agents repeated portions of what he had said privately to Mr. Kislyak to jog Mr. Flynn’s memory. “But the defendant never corrected his false statements,” the prosecutors wrote.

Lawyers for Mr. Flynn have tried to minimize his lying to the F.B.I. as an “uncharacteristic error in judgment.” In their sentencing memo, they also seized on the spurious theory that Mr. Flynn’s relaxed behavior was exculpatory.

“Even when circumstances later came to light that prompted extensive public debate about the investigation of General Flynn, including revelations that certain F.B.I. officials involved in the Jan. 24 interview of General Flynn were themselves being investigated for misconduct, General Flynn did not back away from accepting responsibility for his actions,” his lawyers wrote.

The theory about his body language grew out of F.B.I. memos, court papers and revelations about the interview in which the agents have revealed that Mr. Flynn appeared “relaxed and jocular” when they arrived at the White House. He offered to give them a tour, and they discussed the hotels where Mr. Flynn had stayed during the campaign and the president’s “knack for interior design,” according to court papers.

peter strzok croppedOne agent said Mr. Flynn was “unguarded” and “clearly saw the F.B.I. agents as allies,” and he readily answered questions, F.B.I. documents showed. Mr. Flynn had a very “sure demeanor” during the interview, according to the senior counterintelligence agent who interviewed him, Peter Strzok, left, who said he saw no “indicators of deception.”

But prosecutors explained his confidence not as evidence of truth-telling but as a result of the numerous dishonest accounts he had already given about his conversations with Mr. Kislyak. “By the time of the F.B.I. interview,” they wrote, “the defendant was committed to his false story.”

emmet sullivan 2012The move also prompted a quick response from the judge presiding over the case, Emmet G. Sullivan of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. He ordered that lawyers and prosecutors turn over documents related to Mr. Flynn’s Jan. 24, 2017, interview and could question Mr. Flynn during his sentencing about why he decided to revisit the circumstances of it nearly a year after pleading guilty.

Judge Sullivan, right, is wary of prosecutorial misconduct. In 2009, he dismissed the ethics conviction of former Senator Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, and scolded prosecutors, who had withdrawn the charges, for improperly withholding evidence. He took the rare step of appointing a special prosecutor to investigate whether the prosecutors themselves should be charged.

Prosecutors also reminded the judge that Mr. Flynn had made false statements in trying to conceal lobbying work he had done on behalf of Turkey. The Turkish government had paid Mr. Flynn more than $500,000 to investigate Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric who lives in Pennsylvania. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey believes that Mr. Gulen and his supporters were behind a failed coup attempt in 2016 and has repeatedly demanded the United States extradite him.

Migrant Child Deathjakelin amei rosmery caal maquin

washington post logoWashington Post, Dying migrant child’s condition went unnoticed hours before her collapse in custody, Nick Miroff, Dec. 14, 2018. The death of Jakelin Caal, 7, has put scrutiny on the surge of migrant families in U.S. custody like no other recent event.

Judge Rules Against Obama Health Law

washington post logoWashington Post, Citing change in tax law, judge rules entire Obama health-care law unconstitutional, Dec. 14, 2018. The fate of the Affordable Care Act is expected to ultimately return to the Supreme Court. A federal judge in Texas threw a dagger into the Affordable Care Act on Friday night, ruling that the entire health-care law is unconstitutional because of a recent change in federal tax law.

The opinion by U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor overturns all of the sprawling law nationwide.

The ruling came on the eve of the deadline for Americans to sign up for coverage in the federal insurance exchange created under the law.

Since the suit was filed in January, many health-law specialists have viewed its logic as weak but nevertheless have regarded the case as the greatest looming legal threat to the 2010 law, which has been a GOP whipping post ever since and assailed repeatedly in the courts.

A spokeswoman for California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D), who leads a group of states opposing the lawsuit, said that the Democratic defenders of the law are ready to challenge the ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

Inside TrumpWorld

washington post logoWashington Post, Schiff says House Intelligence panel will examine possible foreign funding of Trump’s inaugural committee, Tom Hamburger and Michael Kranish, Dec. 14, 2018.  The incoming Democratic chairman said the topic remains “a matter of interest and concern.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Names Mick Mulvaney Acting Chief of Staff, Michael Tackett and Maggie Haberman, Dec. 14, 2018. President Trump announced on Friday that he had selected Mick Mulvaney, his budget director, to serve as his acting chief of staff, temporarily halting a week of speculation about who would take over one of the most important positions in the federal government.

mick mulvaney omb SmallMr. Mulvaney, right, a hard-line conservative and former congressman from South Carolina, is a fiscal hawk who has produced budgets that cut federal spending only to see congressional Republicans and Democrats ignore them.

He was more successful in a rare, dual-hatted role that Mr. Trump had given him, overseeing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where he scaled back the mission, and in many ways neutered its influence, in keeping with the president’s view of the agency.

white house crime scene SmallStill, unlike the two others who have served as Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, he brings an understanding of the intersection between the White House and Congress.

Mr. Mulvaney emerged as the president’s choice for a position that, in other administrations, has been akin to the chief operating officer of the country, after high-profile announcements from others that they were not interested in the job to replace John F. Kelly. Mr. Kelly is set to leave the position by the end of the year.

On Friday, a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition on anonymity, said there would be no end date to Mr. Mulvaney’s role despite his “acting” title.

“There’s no time limit. He’s the acting chief of staff, which means he’s the chief of staff,” the official said. “He got picked because the president liked him — they get along.”

Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, took himself out of the running for the job on Friday, saying in a statement that he had asked to no longer be considered a day after he met with Mr. Trump at the White House about it. Mr. Trump did not offer it to him, but they had what was described as a good discussion.

Politico, Reporters shooed away as mystery Mueller subpoena fight rages on, Darren Samuelsohn and Josh Gerstein, Dec. 14, 2018. A clerk at the courthouse took the extraordinary measure of shutting down the entire fifth floor, where the hearing was taking place. Special counsel Robert Mueller appeared to be locked in a subpoena battle with a recalcitrant witness Friday in a sealed federal appeals courtroom, the latest development in a mystery case that has piqued the curiosity of Mueller-obsessives and scoop-hungry journalists.

Oral arguments in the highly secretive fight played out behind closed doors under tight security. Officials at the U.S. Courthouse in Washington, D.C. even took the extraordinary measure of shutting down to the public the entire fifth floor, where the hearing was taking place.

#MeToo Scandal: Priests

ny times logoNew York Times, Lists of Priests Accused of Sexual Abuse Are Spilling Out Across the Country, Campbell Robertson, Dec. 14, 2018. Facing aggressive investigations into sex abuse scandals, Catholic dioceses around the country are releasing their own lists of accused priests. Many of the priests named on the lists are dead, but not all. Many had already been known as abusers, but scores of names are new, even to activists who have been closely following the scandals for years.

It was a list Charles L. Bailey Jr. had wanted to see for years: the names of the priests in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse.

Mr. Bailey, 67, a longtime local advocate for survivors of abuse by priests, had heard excuses for why such a list was impossible to release. The last bishop said naming accused priests would be a violation of the Ten Commandments. The current bishop said he would not disclose the names, citing the request of unnamed victims.

But then on Dec. 3, Mr. Bailey got a call from a local reporter. It was up, on the diocesan website. Fifty-seven priests. None were still in ministry and most were deceased, including, there on Page 4, the priest who had repeatedly raped Mr. Bailey when he was not yet a teenager.

As the Catholic Church faces a wave of federal and state attorney general investigations into its handling of sex abuse, bishops around the country have struggled with how to react. Some have locked down defensively. Others are waiting on guidance from the Vatican, which instructed American bishops last month to wait on taking any collective action until the new year.

Media News

washington post logoWashington Post, The Weekly Standard, influential conservative magazine, will shutter, Paul Farhi​, Dec. 14, 2018. After 23 years the Washington-based magazine will come to an end, with 35 staff members losing their jobs.

The Weekly Standard, the conservative political and cultural magazine, will shut down after its last issue appears on Monday, the chief executive of its parent company said Friday. The Washington-based magazine’s 35-member editorial staff will be laid off as a result, said Ryan McKibben, the head of Clarity Media Group, the Colorado company that owns the Standard and its sister publication, the Washington Examiner newspaper.

The Standard was founded in 1995 by three journalists, Bill Kristol, Fred Barnes and John Podhoretz, with funding from conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch sold his interest to billionaire Philip Anschutz in 2009.

At its peak, the magazine’s circulation topped 100,000. But it has been in steady decline in recent years, losing about half it circulation and revenue since Clarity, owned by Anschutz, took it over, McKibben said.·​

Other U.S. Political Scandals

ny times logoNew York Times, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker Signs Bills Stripping Powers From Incoming Governor, Mitch Smith and Monica Davey, Dec. 14, 2018. Gov. Scott Walker and his Republican colleagues in the State Legislature have pushed Wisconsin firmly to the right in recent years.

scott walker oScott Walker, right, the outgoing Republican governor of Wisconsin, on Friday signed into law measures that diminish the power of his Democratic successor and expand the authority of Republican lawmakers who teamed up with him over the last eight years to move the state firmly to the right.

Mr. Walker signed the measures over the objections of the incoming governor and despite vehement protest in the State Capitol as Republican lawmakers rushed the bills through in a hastily-called session last week. Tony Evers, the Democrat who beat Mr. Walker in the November election, has suggested he may file suit over the changes.

ny times logoNew York Times, Senator James Inhofe, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, is under fire over his purchase of Raytheon stock, Catie Edmondson, Dec. 13, 2018. Senator James M. Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, came under fire on Thursday for purchasing tens of thousands of dollars of stock in a leading defense contractor just a week after he successfully lobbied the Trump administration to increase military spending.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, said he canceled the transaction, which was performed by a third-party adviser who manages his investment portfolio, after he was made aware of it by The Daily Beast. Citing his role as committee chairman, a position he assumed in September, Mr. Inhofe asked the financial adviser to no longer purchase defense or aerospace holdings, said the spokeswoman, Leacy Burke.

Dec. 13

Genocide In Yemen

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Roll Call, Senate Flexes Congress’ War Powers Authority, For First Time Ever, Staff report, Dec. 13, 2018. Resolution would end military assistance to Saudi Arabia over war in Yemen. The Senate on Thursday ordered the Pentagon to cease its military involvement on behalf of Saudi Arabia in the Yemeni civil war. It marked the first time since the 1973 passage of the War Powers Act that the Senate has ordered the executive branch to end an unauthorized military campaign.

us senate logoThe Senate passed, 56-41, the joint resolution, as amended, that would direct the president to remove U.S. armed forces from hostilities in or affecting the Republic of Yemen, except forces engaged in operations directed at Al Qaeda or associated forces, within 30 days of the joint resolution’s adoption jamal khashoggi western suitof the joint resolution, unless and until a declaration of war or specific authorization of such use of force has been enacted.

The vote was widely viewed as a proxy vote to rebuke Saudi Arabia, whose war against Yemen has led to a humanitarian crisis there, and whose culpability in the killing of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, right, this year has roiled Congress. It was also viewed as a rebuke of President Donald Trump, who has stood by the Saudis.

chris murphy new officialSen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., left, who sponsored the resolution with Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, said the vote showed the magnitude of people fed up with Saudi Arabia’s conduct.

“With this vote, Saudi Arabia just lost the support of Congress for their disastrous war in Yemen. A bipartisan majority spoke with one voice that the status quo is over and we will no longer accept the war crimes being committed in our name,” said Murphy,. “The momentum is on one side, and it’s only growing. Congress has woken up to the reality that the Saudi-led Coalition is using U.S. military support to kill thousands of civilians, bomb hospitals, block humanitarian aid, and arm radical militias. The Saudis are important partners, bob corkerbut they need to realize that our partnership is not a blank check for them to fund extremists and murder civilians.”

Senate Says MBS Responsible For Murder

After the landmark vote, the Senate by voice vote passed a nonbinding resolution from Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., right, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that states Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is responsible for the assassination of Khashoggi and criticizes numerous other actions by Riyadh as well as the Houthi insurgents in Yemen and their Iranian backers.

“I absolutely believe that if the crown prince came before a jury here in the United States of America, he would be convicted guilty in under 30 minutes,” Corker said in a Wednesday floor speech. “I absolutely believe he directed it. I believe he monitored it and I believe he is responsible for it.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Warring Sides in Yemen Agree to Truce in Key Port City, Declan Walsh, Dec. 13, 2018. Yemen’s warring parties have agreed to a cease-fire in the crucial port city of Hudaydah, the United Nations chief said on Thursday, announcing the biggest step toward peace in years for a war that has produced the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels have agreed to withdraw their forces from Hudaydah, the main conduit for humanitarian aid entering Yemen, and to implement a cease-fire in the surrounding province, Secretary General António Guterres told reporters.

More On Trump Probes

wsj logoWall Street Journal, Trump Inauguration Spending Under Criminal Investigation by Federal Prosecutors, Rebecca Davis O’Brien, Rebecca Ballhaus and Aruna Viswanatha, Dec. 13, 2018. Probe looking into whether committee misspent funds and top donors gave money in exchange for access to the administration.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether President Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee misspent some of the record $107 million it raised from donations, people familiar with the matter said.

djt stormy daniels screengrab

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump says he ‘never directed’ Cohen to break the law in payments to women, John Wagner​, Dec. 13, 2018. The president did not dispute directing Michael Cohen to buy the silence of two women [including Stormy Daniels, shown above] who alleged affairs with him. But he said that his former lawyer agreed to plead guilty to charges related to the payments “in order to embarrass the president.”

NBC News, Trump was in the room during hush money discussions with tabloid publisher, Tom Winter, Dec. 13, 2018. Donald Trump was the third person in the room in August 2015 nbc news logowhen his lawyer Michael Cohen and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker discussed ways Pecker, right, could help counter negative stories about Trump’s relationships with david pecker croppedwomen, NBC News has confirmed.

As part of a nonprosecution agreement disclosed Wednesday by federal prosecutors, American Media Inc., the Enquirer’s parent company, admitted that “Pecker offered to help deal with negative stories about that presidential candidate’s relationships with women by, among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided.”

The “statement of admitted facts” says that AMI admitted making a $150,000 payment “in concert with the campaign,” and says that Pecker, Cohen and “at least one other member of the campaign” were in the meeting. According to a person familiar with the matter, the “other member” was Trump. Trump was first identified as attending the meeting by The Wall Street Journal.

Daniel Goldman, an NBC News analyst and former assistant U.S. attorney said the agreement doesn’t detail what Trump said and did in the meeting. “But if Trump is now in the room, as early as August of 2015 and in combination with the recording where Trump clearly knows what Cohen is talking about with regarding to David Pecker, you now squarely place Trump in the middle of a conspiracy to commit campaign finance fraud.”

ny times logoNew York Times, In Deal With Prosecutors, Tabloid Company Says It Paid Hush Money for Trump, Rebecca R. Ruiz and Ben Protess, Dec. 13, 2018 (print edition). The publisher of The National Enquirer played an important role in a scheme to pay women who said they had affairs with Donald J. Trump, federal prosecutors said. Under the arrangement, the company, American Media Inc., will not be prosecuted in return for its cooperation in the investigation.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Why this one matters, Bill Palmer, Dec. 13, 2018. In the end, Donald Trump’s downfall will depend partly on the court of public opinion. There are those who decided long ago that he belongs in a cell. There are those who are still fiercely loyal to him. And then there are those people in the middle who hear both sides and don’t know what to believe, or don’t care all that much. But the events of the past twenty-four hours are different, for a specific reason.

bill palmer report logo headerBack when Paul Manafort was being busted, it was a very ugly – and very loud – story. Donald Trump’s campaign manager was placed under house arrest, then thrown in jail, then convicted on eight felonies and earmarked for a lengthy prison sentence. But in the eyes of the people in the middle, the ugly storyline wasn’t necessarily ugly for Trump himself.

Okay, so they thought, Trump hired a rogue campaign manager who turned out to have been a career criminal. Maybe Trump was just a poor judge of character. It was an excuse for the people in the middle to kick the can down the road, to not care about it, and to tell themselves – as they always try to do – that all politicians and parties are vaguely corrupt in general.

michael cohen ap file croppedBut yesterday was something very different. Everyone knows that Michael Cohen (right) was Donald Trump’s right hand man, period, and not just some hired gun for the campaign. Everyone knows that Trump instructed Cohen to commit multiple felonies. And now everyone just saw Cohen sentenced to prison for three years for committing the crimes that Trump told him to commit.

This time around everyone involved can see that Donald Trump is a felon, and that if he weren’t hiding behind the protections of the presidency, he’d be going to prison along with his sidekick. Trump’s remaining supporters may not care. But it makes it a lot harder for them to convince the people in the middle that there are two sides to the question of whether Trump is a criminal.

ny times logoNew York Times, Maria Butina Pleads Guilty to Being Part of a Russian Effort to Influence Conservatives, Matthew Rosenberg, Dec. 13, 2018. To the conservative Americans she courted, Maria Butina was the right kind of Russian.

maria butina with gun adShe loved guns and the church and networking with top officials in the National Rifle Association. She schmoozed with Republican presidential candidates, and became a supporter of Donald J. Trump. She spent Thanksgiving at a congressman’s country house, took a Trump campaign aide to see the rock band Styx and helped a Rockefeller heir organize “friendship dinners” with influential Washingtonians.

On Thursday, Ms. Butina, 30, pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiring to act as a foreign agent in a deal with federal prosecutors. In doing so, she acknowledged that her activities were motivated by more than mere personal conviction.

nra logo CustomAs part of the deal, Ms. Butina admitted to being involved in an organized effort, backed by Russian officials, to open up unofficial lines of communication with influential Americans in the N.R.A. and in the Republican Party, and to win them over to the idea of Russia as a friend, not a foe.

Ms. Butina’s guilty plea now casts a spotlight on the Americans she worked with, including prominent members of the N.R.A. and her boyfriend, Paul Erickson, a longtime Republican operative who ran Patrick J. Buchanan’s 1992 presidential campaign and who now faces accusations of fraud in three states.

Maria Butina and a person identified as “Person 1” “agreed and conspired” with a high-level Russian official for Butina to act in the United States on behalf of the Russian government, according to the statement of offense in Butina’s guilty plea. Butina did not register with the U.S. Attorney General’s office as a foreign agent.

Sioux Falls Argus Leader (South Dakota), How South Dakota’s Paul Erickson is tied to Maria Butina’s guilty plea, Jonathan Ellis, Dec. 13, 2018. Gun rights activist Maria Butina accused paul erickson maria butinaof being a Russian agent. A Russian woman who pled guilty Thursday to conspiracy to act as a foreign agent conspired with a longtime South Dakota political operative to influence U.S. political figures on behalf of Russia, court documents say.

“Person 1” has been identified as Paul Erickson, a 57-year-old South Dakota native who lives in both Sioux Falls and the Washington, D.C. area. Butina was indicted earlier this year by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. They are shown in file photos at right.

In her guilty plea, Butina admitted that she drafted a proposal called “Description of the Diplomacy Project” in March 2015 in which she suggested using unofficial channels to influence U.S. foreign policy to Russia.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Maria Butina guilty plea sends shockwaves across the GOP and NRA, Bill Palmer, Dec. 13, 2018. Russian spy Maria Butina pleaded guilty today, entering into nra logo Customa cooperation agreement in exchange for a minimal sentence. This means she’s already given up everyone during her proffer session, though prosecutors won’t immediately reveal everyone she’s taken down with her, as they work to build criminal cases against them. That said, the court filing alone is enough to send shockwaves across the Donald Trump campaign, the Kremlin, the NRA, and the Republican Party.

bill palmer report logo headerProsecutors used the Maria Butina hearing to accuse her boyfriend, Republican political operative Paul Erickson, of not only having abetted her espionage, but also of having served as a conduit between the Kremlin and the GOP. By rule, federal prosecutors can’t make these kinds of accusations against a third party in a court filing unless they’re sitting on what would generally be considered proof of that person’s guilt.

In other words, the Feds have Erickson nailed to the wall. Whether he realizes it yet or not, he’ll have little choice but to cut a plea deal and sell out the various Republican Party officials and politicians who were in on his plot. That’s going to take down a lot of people in the GOP. While Butina appeared to have specific male targets in the Republican Party, Erickson was a full-on party operative, meaning he likely looped in far more GOP figures.

Election Theft Update

mark harris north carolina district nine mapMap (shown in green) of disputed and gerrymandered 9th congressional district in North Carolina drawn by Republicans to avoid urban area at center.

washington post logoWashington Post, N.C. congressional candidate sought out aide, despite warnings over tactics, Amy Gardner and Beth Reinhard, Dec. 13, 2018. North Carolina’s election-fraud mark harris north carolina congressinvestigation sets its sights on GOP operative. North Carolina congressional candidate Mark Harris (R), right, directed the hiring of a campaign aide now at the center of an election-fraud investigation, according to three individuals familiar with the campaign, despite warnings that the operative may have used questionable tactics to deliver votes.

republican elephant logoHarris sought out the operative, Leslie McCrae Dowless, after losing a 2016 election in which Dowless had helped one of Harris’s opponents win an overwhelming share of the mail-in vote in a key county.

State and local investigators say that whether Harris knew that his campaign may have engaged in improper tactics has become a focus of the expanding probes into whether election irregularities affected the 9th District election, in which Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes.

That question is also roiling the state Republican Party, whose leaders had rallied around Harris, a 52-year-old evangelical pastor from the suburbs of Charlotte. Party leaders are now backing away from Harris and trying to limit the fallout of a scandal that has delayed certification of the last undecided federal contest of the 2018 election cycle.

Inside DC

jared kushner head shotReuters, Some Trump advisers tell him to consider Kushner as chief of staff: sources, Steve Holland, Dec. 13, 2018. President Donald Trump has been hearing appeals from some advisers to consider his senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner for the position of White House chief of staff, two sources familiar with the situation said on Thursday.

One of the sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Kushner, right, is currently not inclined to pursue the position.Trump said on Thursday he considering as many as five people for the chief of staff position to fill the vacancy when his current chief, retired General John Kelly, leaves the job early in the new year.

From MSNBC: “If this is true,” former Pennsylvania Governor and Democratic National Committeee Chairman Ed Rendel told MSNBC, “it means that no one with any credibility will take the job.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Manhood, Moola, McConnell and Trumpism: The motivations behind policy, from tariffs to the wall, Paul Krugman, right, Dec. 13, 2018. After Tuesday’s testy paul krugmanexchange between Donald Trump and Democratic leaders, it seems quite possible that the tweeter in chief will shut down the government in an attempt to get funding for a wall on the Mexican border. What’s remarkable about this prospect is that the wall is an utterly stupid idea. Even if you’re bitterly opposed to immigration, legal or otherwise, spending tens of billions of dollars on an ostentatious physical barrier is neither a necessary nor an effective way to stop immigrants from coming.

So what’s it about? Nancy Pelosi, almost sure to be the next speaker of the House, reportedly told colleagues that for Trump, the wall is a “manhood thing.” That sounds right. But that got me thinking. What other policies are driven by Trump’s insecurity? What’s driving this administration’s policy in general?

The answer to these questions, I’d argue, is that there are actually three major motives behind Trumpist policy, which we can label Manhood, McConnell and Moola.

By McConnell, I mean the standard G.O.P. agenda, which basically serves the interests of big donors, both wealthy individuals and corporations. This agenda consists, above all, of tax cuts for the donor class, with cuts in social programs to make up for some of the lost revenue. It also includes deregulation, especially for polluters but also for financial institutions and dubious players like for-profit colleges.

washington post logorepublican elephant logoWashington Post, Trump’s ultimatum on border wall boxes in Republicans, Erica Werner, Sean Sullivan and Seung Min Kim, Dec. 13, 2018 (print edition). A day after the president declared he would be proud to let funding lapse for dozens of government agencies if he does not get the money he wants for the wall, congressional Republicans signaled little appetite to join his cause.

ny times logoNew York Times, Unhappy About Her Term-Limit Deal, Pelosi’s No. 2 Prepares a Fight, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Dec. 13, 2018. In her relentless quest to become speaker, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California appears ready once again to sacrifice the higher ambitions of her No. 2, Representative Steny H. Hoyer, and Mr. Hoyer is not shy about expressing his objections.

steny hoyer o“She’s not negotiating for me,” he snapped the other day, referring to Ms. Pelosi’s deal with a group of House Democratic rebels to impose term limits on the leadership — and not just herself — of four years.

As Democrats prepare to assume control of the House, the Pelosi-Hoyer frenemies dynamic, long a subject of intrigue in the Capitol, is growing ever more complex. The friction goes back decades. The last time Democrats took power from Republicans, in 2006, Ms. Pelosi backed then-Representative John P. Murtha in his effort to oust Mr. Hoyer, left, from the majority leader’s slot.

The putsch failed spectacularly, but she’s ready to handcuff him again with a deal on term limits that, if approved, would most likely usher both lawmakers from their leadership suites by early 2023, along with the No. 3 Democrat, Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina.

Migrant Girl’s Death

washington post logoWashington Post, 7-year-old migrant girl taken into Border Patrol custody dies of dehydration, exhaustion, Nick Miroff and Robert Moore, Dec. 13, 2018. A 7-year-old girl from Guatemala died of dehydration and shock after she was taken into Border Patrol custody last week for crossing from Mexico into the United States illegally with her father and a large group of migrants along a remote span of New Mexico desert, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Thursday.

The child’s death is likely to intensify scrutiny of detention conditions at Border Patrol stations and CBP facilities that are increasingly overwhelmed by large numbers of families seeking asylum in the United States.

According to CBP records, the girl and her father were taken into custody about 10 p.m. Dec. 6 south of Lordsburg, N.M., as part of a group of 163 people who approached U.S. agents to turn themselves in.

More than eight hours later, the child began having seizures at 6:25 a.m., CBP records show. Emergency responders, who arrived soon after, measured her body temperature at 105.7 degrees, and according to a statement from CBP, she “reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days.”

Media News

washington post logoWashington Post, Probe of U.S.-funded broadcaster that denounced George Soros finds additional offensive content about Muslims, Aaron C. Davis, Dec. 13, 2018 (print edition). The federal agency that oversees Radio and Television Martí also is examining how the news network came to publish a story that included anti-Semitic language about Soros, a U.S. citizen and Democratic megadonor, as well as an anti-Muslim piece.

Mediaite, Former Apprentice Staffer Claims Trump Was ‘Speed Freak,’ Invited Teen Beauty Queens to His Suite, Tommy Christopher, Dec. 13, 2018. A former staffer on The Apprentice and current stand-up comic named Noel Casler claims that Donald Trump was a “speed freak” who snorted crushed-up Adderall, and also says that Trump invited teen beauty pageant contestants up to his suite.

During a recent performance, Casler told the crowd that he worked on The Apprentice for six seasons, as well as some of Trump’s beauty pageants during the 1990s, and he made some brutal revelations: “I worked on a bunch of those beauty pageants he had in the nineties too. That was a good idea, Miss teen universe? Yeah, that’s like giving Jeffrey Dahmer a cooking show. He would line up the girls on the side of the stage, and he would inspect them literally, he would stick his little freaking doll fingers in their mouth and look at their teeth. I’m not kidding, this is true, he would line them up like they were pieces of meat. He’d be like, “You, you, and you, if you want to win I’m in the penthouse suite, come and see me.”

Casler then claimed that Trump is a “speed freak,” and that Trump “crushes up his Adderall and he sniffs it because he can’t read, so he gets really nervous when he has to read the cue cards.”

Casler told the crowd “I’m not kidding this is true. I had a 24-page NDA non-disclosure agreement, I didn’t know that he was becoming president, now ‘It’s no way dumbass.’ I’m telling you everything I know.”

UK Spy Joined Sanders Campaign?

craig murray, Opinion: British Security Service Infiltration, the Integrity Initiative and the Institute for Statecraft, Craig Murray (shown right, Historian, Former Ambassador, Human Rights Activist), Dec. 13, 2018. Highly improbable left wing firebrand Simon Bracey-Lane just happened to be on holiday in the United States with available cash to fund himself, when he stumbled into the Bernie Sanders campaign. Originally from Wimbledon in London, he was inspired to rejoin the Labour party in September when Corbyn was elected leader. But by that point, he was already in the US on holiday. So he joined the Sanders campaign, and never left.

bernie sanders buttonIt is, to say the least, very interesting indeed that just a year later the left wing, “Corbyn and Sanders supporting” Bracey-Lane is hosting a very right wing event, “Cold War Then and Now”, for the shadowy neo-con Institute for Statecraft, at which an entirely unbalanced panel of British military, NATO and Ukrainian nationalists extolled the virtues of re-arming against Russia.

Nor would it seem likely that Bracey-Lane would be involved with the Integrity Initiative.

Even the mainstream media has been forced to give a few paragraphs to the outrageous Integrity Initiative, under which the MOD-sponsored Institute for Statecraft has been given millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money by the FCO to spread covert disinformation and propaganda, particularly against Russia and the anti-war movement. Activities include twitter and facebook trolling and secretly paying journalists in “clusters of influence” around Europe. Anonymous helpfully leaked the Institute’s internal documents.

#MeToo News: Hollywood

ny times logoNew York Times, Behind CBS’s Secret $9.5 Million Settlement With the Actress Eliza Dushku, Rachel Abrams and John Koblin, Dec. 13, 2018. Ms. Dushku, who was on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” told investigators she was written off “Bull” after enduring sexual harassment on the set. Details of the settlement emerged during an investigation of “cultural issues” at CBS after the network’s former chief, Leslie Moonves, was accused of misconduct.

In March 2017, Eliza Dushku, an actress known for her work on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” signed on to play a major role in three episodes of the CBS prime-time drama “Bull,” and there were plans to make her a full-time cast member.

Her time on the set began promisingly. The show’s star, Michael Weatherly — a mainstay of CBS’s prime-time lineup for 15 years — seemed friendly. And a producer and writer on “Bull,” Glenn Gordon Caron, told Ms. Dushku she would be more than a love interest.

Then came a series of comments that made Ms. Dushku uncomfortable. In front of the cast and crew, Mr. Weatherly remarked on her appearance, and made a rape joke and a comment about a threesome. Shortly after Ms. Dushku confronted the star about his behavior, she was written off the show. She believed her time on “Bull” came to a sudden end as a result of retaliation.

After she went through mediation with CBS, the company agreed to a confidential settlement that would pay her $9.5 million, roughly the equivalent of what Ms. Dushku would have earned if she had stayed on as a cast member for four seasons.

#MeToo: Trafficking

ny times logoNew York Times, Troubled Girls Were Sent to This Town to Heal. Many Were Lured Into the Sex Trade Instead, Nikita Stewart and Benjamin Weiser, Dec. 13, 2018. Nineteen people were charged in a sex-trafficking ring that exploited young women and girls as young as 13 years old, federal prosecutors said.

Tucked inside a neighborhood in a small town just north of New York City, Hawthorne Cedar Knolls was on idyllic, green grounds. It was landscaped to give some peace and stability to the emotionally troubled teenagers who were placed there.

But in recent years, Hawthorne, located in the town of Mount Pleasant, began experiencing unusually high rates of teenagers going missing from its campus. Staff, law enforcement officials and advocates for children said they knew that some of the missing residents had fallen victim to sex traffickers. Many of the girls in the rehabilitation center had been placed there in the first place to rescue them from the sex trade.

On Thursday, the breadth of a pipeline carrying young women out of Hawthorne and into prostitution became clearer. Nineteen people were charged in a sex-trafficking ring that exploited young women and girls as young as 13 years old, federal prosecutors said.

At least 15 victims were in the child welfare system, including nine who were residents of Hawthorne, the prosecutors said.

Dec. 12

djt nancy pelosi mike pence chuck schumer dec 11 2018 cnn

President Trump, with likely House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Vice President Mike Pence, and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) center in a CNN screenshot.

washington post logoWashington Post, ‘This has spiraled downward’: Democrats introduce Trump to divided government, Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey and Robert Costa, Dec. 12, 2018. During 17 extraordinary minutes of raised voices, pointed fingers and boorish interruptions, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer gave the president a taste of Washington’s new dynamic.

In his first two years in office, President Trump operated without a clear check on his power. With his party controlling both houses of Congress, he issued demands from his bedroom in the form of early-morning tweets, and legislative leaders got in line. He rarely was personally confronted about his untruths and misstatements. And he mostly ignored congressional Democrats, choosing to spar instead with journalists.

That all came to a crashing halt Tuesday. In an extraordinarily heated public fight with the nation’s top two Democratic leaders, the combustible president confronted for the first time the enormity of the challenge he will face over the next two years: divided government.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the likely next speaker, and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called out Trump’s falsehoods. They exposed him as malleable about his promised border wall. They lectured him about the legislative process and reiterated to him that he lacked the votes to secure the $5 billion he seeks for the wall.

Inside DC

washington post logoWashington Post, Pelosi strikes deal with rebels, will step aside by 2022 to win speaker votes, Mike DeBonis, Dec. 12, 2018. Rep. Nancy Pelosi promised on Wednesday to step nancy pelosiaside no later than 2022 as party leader in a deal with Democratic rebels, clearing a major obstacle in her bid to be House speaker. The announcement followed weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations between Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the group of insurgents who wanted to force new blood into the top Democratic ranks. In the end, Pelosi backed off her resistance to setting a date for her departure but avoided becoming an immediate lame duck.

“Over the summer, I made it clear that I see myself as a bridge to the next generation of leaders, a recognition of my continuing responsibility to mentor and advance new members into positions of power and responsibility in the House Democratic Caucus,” Pelosi said in a statement.

Under the accord, Pelosi, 78, will support a three-term limit for the top three House Democratic leaders, with a possible fourth term if Democratic members vote by a two-thirds majority to retain them.

Trump Probes

washington post logoWashington Post, Cohen sentenced to 3 years, decries his ‘blind loyalty’ to Trump, Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett, Dec. 12, 2018.  A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced President Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen to three years in prison for financial crimes and lying to Congress, as the disgraced “fixer” apologized but said he felt it was his duty to cover up the “dirty deeds” of his former boss.

Cohen made an emotional apology to U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III, taking responsibility for what the judge called a “veritable smorgasbord of criminal conduct” — crimes that included tax violations, lying to a bank and buying the silence during the 2016 campaign of women who claimed that they once had affairs with the future president.

The downfall of the hard-charging, high-profile lawyer has potential consequences far beyond Cohen, as authorities have alleged Trump directed him in violating campaign finance laws. Facing his day of reckoning, Cohen laid plenty of the blame at the president’s feet, and his lawyer said he would continue to cooperate with the ongoing special counsel investigation of the president’s campaign.

“My weakness could be characterized as a blind loyalty to Donald Trump,” Cohen told the packed courtroom. He sniffled and fought back tears as he spoke, pausing occasionally to regain his composure.

Cohen had faced as much as five years and three months in prison, but Pauley said the sentence should reflect two key elements of Cohen’s case — punishing those who repeatedly break the law while rewarding those who cooperate and provide truthful testimony. Cohen has provided information to investigators about Trump and the Trump campaign, but prosecutors said he refused to tell them everything he knew.

Law & Crime, This Is the ‘Castle Behind Bars’ Michael Cohen Wants to Live in for the Next 3 Years, Colin Kalmbacher, Dec. 12, 2018. President Donald Trump‘s longtime attorney and fixer is heading to prison soon. Michael Cohen will have until March 6 to complete a voluntary surrender to authorities in line with Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) guidelines. So, where’s he going?

That’s still to be decided, but Cohen has put in a request, by way of his defense attorney, to serve his time at Federal Correctional Institution (FCI), Otisville. U.S. District Judge William Pauley signed off on that request and will recommend Cohen’s sentence be served at Otisville as well. Here’s what Cohen can look forward to if his request is granted.

While several media reports have erroneously categorized the location as “minimum-security” in the past, the BOP itself notes that FCI Otisville is a “medium security federal correctional institution with an adjacent minimum security satellite camp and a detention center.”

The New York Post described FCI Otisville as a “castle behind bars” in 2013, citing the opinion of former inmate John Altman. In comments to the Post, he said: ” You could do about anything you wanted there. It’s not just good. It’s sweet. That’s why you request to go there.”

On the menu at the prison store are items such as “rib steak, gefilte fish, kugel, salmon, chorizo and smoked oysters,” according to that report. And, on Memorial Day, inmates are apparently treated like regular Americans by way of “cookouts serving hamburgers, hot dogs, watermelon and potato salad,” the Post notes.

Altman continued on to describe a federal lockup facility that’s heads-and-tails above most others in terms of keeping inmates connected to their humanity.

mike pence left

Palmer Report, Commentary: It’s finally Mike Pence’s time in the barrel, Bill Palmer, Dec. 12, 2018.  For those paying close attention all along, it’s been clear that Mike Pence’s time in the proverbial Trump-Russia barrel was coming eventually. From the lies he got caught in, to the transition team evidence, to his surreal connections to nearly every Russian operative in the Trump campaign, Pence (shown above) was clearly in on it – and was clearly going to be nailed in the end. Fascinatingly, it’s happening sooner than one might have expected.

bill palmer report logo headerWe all had a good laugh at Mike Pence’s expense yesterday when he sat there like a wax dummy while Donald Trump sparred with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. So it wasn’t surprising that Rachel Maddow opened her show last night with jokes about Pence. But the thing is, whenever she starts off with what seems like random silliness about someone, it’s always because she’s going to bring that back around to something serious about that person.

michael flynn microphoneSure enough, Maddow pivoted to Robert Mueller’s Michael Flynn sentencing memo, which spelled out that the Trump transition team was involved in Flynn’s Russia crimes – and that by default, Flynn (shown in a file photo) had ratted out those crimes. She then reminded everyone that Mueller long ago obtained all of the emails from the transition team, and that Pence was the head of the transition team.

Global News: China, UK

huawei meng wanzhou

Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of the Chinese company Huawei Technologies.

washington post logoWashington Post, China’s judgment on Huawei case: Anger, patriotism and iPhone boycotts, Anna Fifield, David J. Lynch and Ellen Nakashima, Dec. 12, 2018. The U.S.-ordered arrest of Meng Wanzhou is widely viewed in China as part of Washington’s attempts to thwart the country’s race toward next-generation technologies.

Moon of Alabama, Opinion: Short Term Thinking Dooms U.S. Anti-China Strategy, B, Dec. 12, 2018. The United States issued an arrest warrant against the chief financial officer and heir apparent of Huawei, Meng Wanzhou. At issue is a six years old alleged violation of sanctions against Iran. Mrs. Meng was arrested in Canada. She has been set free under a stringent $10 million bail agreement. An extradition trial will follow in February or March.

It is unprecedented that an officer of a large company is personally indicted for the alleged sanction violations by a subsidiary company: “The US rarely arrests senior businesspeople, US or foreign, for alleged crimes committed by their companies. Corporate managers are usually arrested for their alleged personal crimes (such as embezzlement, bribery or violence) rather than their company’s alleged malfeasance.”

Meng is charged with violating US sanctions on Iran. Yet consider her arrest in the context of the large number of companies, US and non-US, that have violated US sanctions against Iran and other countries. In 2011, for example, JPMorgan Chase paid US$88.3 million in fines for violating US sanctions against Cuba, Iran and Sudan. Yet chief executive officer Jamie Dimon wasn’t grabbed off a plane and whisked into custody.

The U.S. indicted dozens of banks for violating its sanction regime. They had to pay huge fines (pdf) but none of their officers were ever touched. We called this U.S. operation a hostage taking to blackmail China. President Trump confirmed that this is indeed the case: “U.S. President Donald Trump told Reuters on Tuesday he would intervene in the U.S. Justice Department’s case against Meng if it would serve national security interests or help close a trade deal with China.”

The arrest of Meng is but one part of a larger political campaign against China directed out of the office of National Security Advisor John Bolton.

ny times logoNew York Times, A Crushing Downfall for a Chinese Tycoon Who Courted Washington’s Elite, Dec. 12, 2018. Ye Jianming, a fast-rising Chinese oil magnate, met with the Biden family and former United States security officials. Today, his empire is crashing down after a court case showed that company officials used bribery to win contracts in Africa.

washington post logotheresa may newer fileWashington Post, British Prime Minister Theresa May survives a challenge to her leadership, but her vision for Brexit remains in doubt, William Booth, Karla Adam and Michael Birnbaum, Dec. 12, 2018. Prime Minister Theresa May, shown in a file photo, survived a humiliating challenge to her leadership on Wednesday night, beating back a no-confidence vote triggered by rebels in her Conservative Party who oppose her compromise deal on how to leave the European Union.

May won the party-only vote by 200 to 117 — comfortably surpassing the simple majority of 159 votes she needed to hold on to power. But it was hardly a victory.

The public brawling and parliamentary challenge by her fellow Tories leaves May a wounded leader. The British prime minister is now immune from a leadership challenge by her party for a year, but she faces lawmakers hostile to her Brexit deal and European leaders who wonder if she will be forced out of office another way.

May’s survival offered measured relief in the rest of the E.U., where leaders have little option other than to hope she can hold on and get the Brexit deal approved by Parliament before the March 29 exit date. Earlier story: Conservative Party calls for vote of no confidence to oust Prime Minister Theresa May.

ny times logoNew York Times, Giuliani Courts Business Abroad While Working for Trump, Kenneth P. Vogel, Dec. 12, 2018. Ethics experts say Rudolph W. Giuliani risks blurring lines by seeking contracts with foreign governments while remaining Mr. Trump’s lawyer.

The special counsel’s investigation was grinding relentlessly onward, with President Trump’s former national security adviser pleading for leniency in his case and his former fixer about to be sentenced for his crimes. But Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, was in Manama, Bahrain, on Tuesday, meeting with the king and the interior minister of an important United States ally in the Middle East.

The government-run Bahrain News Agency featured a photo of Mr. Giuliani meeting in a royal palace with King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. The story said the king discussed “Bahraini-U. S. relations” with Mr. Giuliani, who was described as leading a “high-level U.S. delegation.”

But Mr. Giuliani was not in Bahrain, a country with a record of human rights abuses, on official business. He was there to seek a lucrative security consulting contract with the government.

The trip was part of a concerted push Mr. Giuliani has undertaken in the last few weeks to win business from governments around the world — including in Africa and South America — for a firm he owns called Giuliani Security and Safety.

Dec. 11

washington post logoWashington Post, Pelosi, Schumer, Trump clash in Oval Office over border security, shutdown, Erica Werner and John Wagner​, Dec. 11, 2018. President Trump, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer clashed Tuesday over funding for the border wall, an explosive Oval Office encounter that ended with Trump declaring he’d be proud to shut down the government to get what he wants.

charles schumer new oThe stunning public spat, during which Schumer, left, accused the president of throwing a “temper tantrum,” ended with no resolution and appeared to increase the chances of a partial government shutdown at the end of next week, just before Christmas.

The three leaders pointed fingers, raised their voices and interrupted each other repeatedly as they fought over policy and politics, laying bare their differences for all to see.

Schumer lectured Trump that “Elections have consequences, Mr. President.”

Pelosi repeatedly asked the president to take the encounter off-camera but it continued for nearly 20 rancorous minutes before Trump ejected the media.

“I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck,” Trump declared. “Because the people of this country don’t want criminals and people that have lots of problems and drugs pouring into this country. So I will take the mantel, I will be the one to shut it down. I won’t blame you for it.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: 5 Takeaways From Trump’s Meeting With Pelosi and Schumer, Michael Tackett, Dec. 11, 2018. In another time, the Washington photo opportunity was a nancy pelosisteady ritual. Leaders smiled, usually sitting in well-stuffed chairs, at least feigning smiles for the cameras. Pleasantries were spoken. The main objective was to get the picture and say as little as possible.

How quaint. Mr. Trump has turned many of these sessions into either monologues or opportunities for his supporters to tell him what a great job he is doing. This time, when he had a testy confrontation with the Democratic House leader, Nancy Pelosi of California, right, and Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader from New York, Mr. Trump rewrote the playbook again.

  1. Trump knows tension makes good television.
  2. This is what divided government looks like.
  3. Chuck Schumer knows how to goad President Trump.
  4. ‘Mansplain’ to Pelosi at your peril.
  5. Trump would own a shutdown.

“The bottom line is simple,” Mr. Schumer told reporters after the meeting. “The president made clear that he wants a shutdown.” He then repeated Ms. Pelosi’s notion that it would be a “Trump shutdown.”

Being the first to frame a debate is a studied art in Washington. Mr. Trump accepted the responsibility. “I will take the mantle,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Schumer. “I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it.”

Mueller Probe

Palmer Report: Opinion: Maria Butina’s lenient Trump-Russia plea deal sentence means she gave up EVERYONE, Bill Palmer, Dec. 11, 2018. One day after Russian operative Maria Butina’s cooperating plea deal in the Trump-Russia scandal was announced, we’re now getting details of that deal. No, we don’t yet have confirmation of the names of the people she gave up. But considering the lenient sentence she just received, we don’t even need names, because it means she gave up everyone.

If Maria Butina, shown below right at a gunshow, had refused to cut a deal, she could have ended up charged with any number of espionage-related felonies. In fact, according to NBC News, her plea deal spells bill palmer report logo headerout the severity of her crimes, stating that she worked to “establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. politics … for the benefit of the Russian Federation.” Yet she’s getting little to no prison time.

maria butina handgun facebookYet federal prosecutors are only requiring her to plead guilty to a single comparatively minor charge, which will likely carry a zero to six month prison sentence.

In other words, this is essentially the same deal that Michael Flynn was given. He cooperated fully, and prosecutors ended up recommending no prison time at all. This is different in that she’s currently being denied bail because she’s a flight risk, but if she lives up to her end of the deal, she’ll likely go free once her nra logo Customcooperation is complete. And while deportation is usually a part of these kinds of deals, prosecutors aren’t going to send her to her death in Russia.

The bottom line is that prosecutors working in league with Robert Mueller just gave a potential free pass to a Russian spy who conspired with various Americans to alter the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. This can only mean that, during her proffer session, she gave up so much valuable information on so many bigger fish, they decided it was worth giving her a free pass. Everyone in the GOP and NRA with ties to Butina should be panicking right now.

Climate Change

washington post logoWashington Post, 95 percent of the Arctic’s oldest ice has been lost in just three decades, federal scientists report, Chris Mooney​, Dec. 11, 2018. The report, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, suggests that the sea at the top of the world has already morphed into a new and very different state. Over the past three decades of global warming, the oldest and thickest ice in the Arctic has declined by a stunning 95 percent, according the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual Arctic Report Card.

The finding suggests that the sea at the top of the world has already morphed into a new and very different state, with major implications not only for creatures such as walruses and polar bears, but in the long term, perhaps, for the pace of global warming itself.

The oldest ice can be thought of as a kind of glue that holds the Arctic together and, through its relative permanence, helps keep the Arctic cold even in long summers.

Inside DC

washington post logoWashington Post, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says Senate will vote this month on bill to overhaul criminal justice system, Seung Min Kim, Dec. 11, 2018. Senate Majority mitch mcconnell2Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that the Senate will vote on a sweeping overhaul of the criminal justice system that has proven deeply controversial within the Senate Republican ranks.

McConnell, right, said in a floor speech Tuesday morning that the Senate will take up the legislation, written by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and several other Democratic and Republican senators, in December, perhaps as early as the end of this week.

He also warned that because of the decision to add the criminal justice bill to the Senate agenda, “members should now be prepared to work between Christmas and New Year’s.” He urged senators to “work together or prepare for a very, very long month.”

Inside TrumpWorld

washington post logoWashington Post, ‘There was no Plan B’: Trump scrambles to find chief of staff after top pick turns him down, Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey and Robert Costa​, Dec. 11, 2018. The position has proved to be a particularly thankless task in this White House, and the two people to hold the job have been left with their reputations diminished.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump makes a meandering case for border wall funding ahead of meeting with Democrats, John Wagner​, Dec. 11, 2018. The president threatened that the military could build his long-promised barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border if Democrats don’t cooperate. But he did not say how such an effort would be funded.
Washington Post, Two in three Republicans would rather see a shutdown than Trump compromise on the wall.

ap logoAssociated Press, Ivanka, Kushner could profit from tax break they pushed, Stephen Braun, Jeff Horwitz, and Bernanrd Condon, Dec. 11, 2018. At an Oval Office gathering earlier this year, President Donald Trump began touting his administration’s new real estate investment program, which offers massive tax breaks to developers who invest in downtrodden American communities. He then turned to one of the plan’s strongest supporters.

“Ivanka, would you like to say something?” Trump asked his daughter. “You’ve been pushing this very hard.”

The Opportunity Zone program promoted by Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner — both senior White House advisers — could also benefit them financially, an Associated Press investigation found.

Government watchdogs say the case underscores the ethical minefield they created two years ago when they became two of the closest advisers to the president without divesting from their extensive real estate investments.


ny times logopaul krugmanNew York Times, Opinion: The G.O.P. Goes Full Authoritarian, Paul Krugman, right, Dec. 11, 2018 (print edition). Only Trump’s flamboyant awfulness stands in the way of his party’s power grab. Donald Trump, it turns out, may have been the best thing that could have happened to American democracy.

No, I haven’t lost my mind. Individual-1 is clearly a wannabe dictator who has contempt for the rule of law, not to mention being corrupt and probably in the pocket of foreign powers. But he’s also lazy, undisciplined, self-absorbed and inept. And since the threat to democracy is much broader and deeper than one man, we’re actually fortunate that the forces menacing America have such a ludicrous person as their public face.

Yet those forces may prevail all the same.

Talking Points Memo, Commentary: Reported Butina Plea Details Conspiracy: ‘Put Pressure On Them Quietly Later,’ Matt Shuham, Dec. 10, 2018. According to a copy of Maria Butina’s expected-to-be-filed plea agreement, she and “Person 1” — believed to be GOP activist Paul Erickson — conspired with a Russian government official “and at least one other person” for Butina to act as an unregistered foreign agent.

ABC News obtained a copy of the plea agreement and published excerpts of it Monday. A court filing earlier Monday suggested a plea agreement was imminent. Federal investigators have reportedly told Erickson he may also face charges. Butina’s deal includes cooperating with authorities, ABC News reported.

“Russian Official” is believed to be Alexander Torshin, under whose direction, per the reported agreement, Butina “sought to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. politics.”

nra logo CustomIn the agreement, per ABC News, Butina acknowledges working with “Person 1” on a proposal she later shared with “Russian Official” called “Description of the Diplomacy Project.” In the proposal, according to the quoted agreement, Butina claimed she had “laid the groundwork for an unofficial channel of communication with the next U.S. administration.” She also asked for $125,000 to attend “meetings and conferences to further develop those ties,” in ABC News’ words.

Also in the agreement: After a 2015 meeting of NRA higher-ups and donors in Moscow, hosted by Butina’s gun rights group, she wrote to “Russian Official,” in Russian: “We should let them express their gratitude now, we will put pressure on them quietly later.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: The Presidency or Prison, Michelle Goldberg, Dec. 11, 2018 (print edition). What happens if re-election is Trump’s best hope of avoiding an indictment? michelle goldberg thumbDonald Trump — or, as he’s known to federal prosecutors, Individual-1 — might well be a criminal. That’s no longer just my opinion, or that of Democratic activists. It is the finding of Trump’s own Justice Department.

Global Economy: France

ny times logoNew York Times, Macron, Confronting Yellow Vest Protests in France, Promises Relief, Alissa J. Rubin, Dec. 11, 2018 (print edition). Faced with violent protests and calls for his resignation, President Emmanuel Macron of France said Monday that he had heard the anger of the many whose economic suffering has burst into the open in recent weeks and that he would take immediate steps to relieve their hardship.

emmanuel macronMr. Macron’s mea culpa on national television signaled a remarkable step back from his ambitions to reshape France’s economy and become the European Union’s foremost leader. For now, his chief goal is shoring up his own political support in France.

He announced tax cuts and income increases for the struggling middle class and working poor, vowing to raise the pay of workers earning the minimum wage. He promised to listen to the voices of the country, to its small-town mayors and its working people.

Media News

journalists as time magazine person of year

Time magazine’s Person of the Year honorees. This combination photo provided by Time Magazine shows one of four covers for the “Person of the Year,” announced Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. The cover includesJamal Khashoggi, top left, members of the Capital Gazette newspaper, of Annapolis, Md., top right. (Time Magazine photos

ap logoAssociated Press via Chicago Tribune, Time magazine’s 2018 person of the year are 4 journalists and a newspaper, David Bauder, Dec. 11, 2018. Time magazine has chosen “The Guardians and the War on Truth” as its Person of the Year honorees (Time) Time magazine on Tuesday recognized journalists, including the slain Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi, as its 2018 Person of the Year in what it said was an effort to emphasize the importance of reporters’ work in an increasingly hostile world.

The designation wasn’t intended as a specific message to the magazine’s runner-up choice, President Donald Trump, who has denounced “fake news” and called some reporters enemies of the people, said Ben Goldberger, executive editor. Time cited four figures it called “the guardians.” Besides Khashoggi, they are the staff of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, where five people were shot to death in June; Philippine journalist Maria Ressa; and Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who have been jailed in Myanmar for a year.

It’s the first time since the magazine began the end-of-year tradition in 1927 that Time has featured a journalist or recognized someone posthumously.

Time said that 2018 has been marked by manipulation and abuse of information, along with efforts by governments to foment mistrust of the facts.

Goldberger said the magazine hopes the choice reminds people outside of journalism about the importance of the work. Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said he sees this message already starting to get through — sadly, in part because of the attention paid to Khashoggi’s killing. Khashoggi is one of at least 52 journalists murdered so far this year, the committee said.

“In some ways, I feel we’re at a turning point,” Simon said.

Khashoggi was killed two months ago when The Washington Post columnist, who had lived in the U.S., visited Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Turkey for paperwork so he could get married. He had been critical of the Saudi regime.

The Washington Post applauded Time for its message of support for journalists.

“We hope this recognition will prompt our nation’s leaders to stand up for America’s values and hold accountable those who attempt to silence journalists who cover our communities or in Jamal’s case, an oppressive authoritarian government,” said Fred Ryan, the Post’s publisher and CEO.

Dec. 10

Inside Washington

washington post logoWashington Post, Nick Ayers, Trump’s once-likely replacement for chief of staff John Kelly, won’t take the job, Felicia Sonmez, Josh Dawsey and Damian Paletta​, Dec. 10, 2018 (print edition). nick ayers headshotAyers, Vice President Pence’s chief of staff, right, tweeted that he will leave the White House at the end of the year.

Trump’s new list of potential chiefs includes Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, who is also acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, according to a White House official.

Acting Attorney General Matthew G. Whitaker and Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer were also said to be under consideration.

washington post logoWashington Post, May delays vote on Brexit deal, says it faced rejection, William Booth, Michael Birnbaum and Karla Adam​, Dec. 10, 2018. British Prime Minister Theresa May said she would seek more concessions from European Union leaders on her country’s exit from the bloc.

In doing so, she extended her tenure long enough to give it another go with European negotiators. She insisted she had negotiated the best possible Brexit deal, but agreed to return to Brussels this week and “do all that I can to secure the reassurances this House requires to get this deal over the line and deliver for the British people.”

By delaying the vote, though, May also prolonged the uncertainty over Brexit — whether, come March, there is her deal, no deal or no Brexit at all.

washington post logoWashington Post, Alleged Russian agent poised to plead guilty in case involving attempts to influence NRA, Rosalind S. Helderman and Spencer S. Hsu, Dec. 10, 2018. Attorneys for Maria Butina, below, and prosecutors have asked to set a time for the Russian gun rights activist to withdraw her previous plea of not guilty. Her attorneys had said her interactions with the NRA and others were typical of an ambitious student anxious to network and eager to build better relations between the United States and her country.

maria butina headshotThey had at one point argued her outreach should be covered by constitutional protections for free speech and noted that she was not accused of attempting to steal U.S. secrets or working with Russian intelligence.

Prosecutors said that her goal was to advance the foreign policy aims of the Kremlin and that she was acting at the direction of a Russian government official, Alexander Torshin, a former senator who until last month served as deputy director of the Russian central bank. The U.S. government imposed sanctions on Torshin earlier this year.

Butina has been jailed for nearly five months, since her July arrest. In that time, her case had been embraced by the Russian government, which had vigorously protested that she was an innocent student whose incarceration was unjust. With the plea deal, Butina could be released in coming months and deported to Russia.

Media News

washington post logoWashington Post, At NPR, an army of temps faces a workplace of anxiety and insecurity, Paul Farhi, Dec. 19, 2018 (print edition). For decades, the public broadcaster has relied on a cadre of temporary journalists to produce its hourly newscasts and popular news programs. Without temporary workers — who are subject to termination without cause — NPR would probably be unable to be NPR.

npr logoTemps do almost every important job in NPR’s newsroom: they pitch ideas, assign stories, edit them, report and produce them. Temps not only book the guests heard in interviews, they often write the questions the hosts ask the guests.

And there are a lot of them. According to union representatives, between 20 and 22 percent of NPR’s 483 union-covered newsroom workforce — or one in five people — are temps. The number varies week to week, as temps come and go.

Covert Action Magazine, William Blum, Renowned U.S. Foreign Policy Critic, Dead at 85, Chris Agee and Louis Wolf, Dec. 9, 2018. William Blum (1933 – 2018) died in Virginia early william blumthis morning on December 9, 2018. He was surrounded by friends and family after falling in his Washtington D.C. apartment and sustaining serious wounds 65 days ago. He was 85 years old.

Bill was born March 6, 1933 at Beth Moses Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y. and became an American author, historian, and critic of United States foreign policy. He worked in a computer-related position at the United States Department of State in the mid-1960s. Initially an anti-communist with dreams of becoming a foreign service officer, he became disillusioned by the Vietnam War.

Blum left the State Department in 1967 and became a founder and editor of the Washington Free Press, the first “alternative” newspaper in the capital. In 1969, he wrote and published an exposé of the CIA in which were revealed the names and addresses of more than 200 CIA employees.

He worked as freelance journalist in the United States, Europe and South America. In 1972–1973 Blum worked as a journalist in Chile where he reported on the Allende government’s “socialist experiment.” Its overthrow in a CIA designed coup instilled in him a personal involvement and an even more heightened interest in what his government was doing in various corners of the world., Bush Sr. Made a Killing – 50 Miners Buried Alive, Greg Palast, Dec. 10, 2018. While pundits were falling all over themselves spewing about the “civility” of the patrician George H. W. Bush, l must honor the memory of those 50 men who were buried alive in a gold field in Africa so Bush Sr. could cash in.

Dec. 9

Mueller Probe

djt christmas eve 2017 on phone no credit

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Is Mueller Building an Expansive Obstruction Case? Bob Bauer (professor of law, shown below right), Dec. 9, 2018 (print edition). The sentencing memos suggest the possibility that Trump (shown above in a file photo) and perhaps others were involved in a series of lies from Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen.

robert bauerThe court filings on Friday in the Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort cases require reading between the lines. Some lines, redacted, are missing altogether. However, what has been made public calls for reconsidering the longstanding assumptions about President Trump’s potential exposure to a charge of obstruction of justice.

That discussion has been dominated by the circumstances around the firing of James Comey, the former F.B.I. director. But Mr. Cohen and Mr. Manafort, along with the former national security adviser Michael Flynn, may now have become central figures in inquiries into whether the president, and perhaps others acting at his guidance, directed, encouraged or acquiesced in lies to criminal and congressional investigators.

In the special counsel’s sentencing memorandum, prosecutors credit Michael Cohen with four “respects” in which his assistance has been “significant.” One involves the details Mr. Cohen provided about the “circumstances of preparing and circulating his response to the Congressional inquiries.” In that testimony, he lied about the president’s business dealings with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign. We know from Mr. Cohen’s earlier plea agreement that, for his testimony, he was in “close and regular contact” with the White House and the president’s lawyers.

Justice Department log circularA similar question is presented in the case of Paul Manafort. The memorandum filed by prosecutors set out Mr. Manafort’s breach of his cooperation agreement. Contrary to his express representations to the government, he was in contact with the White House, with a “senior administration official,” in 2018.

The prosecutors make clear that they have evidence of multiple contacts. Who was Mr. Manafort communicating with, and about what? That he was bidding for a pardon is one possibility. Another is that he was making sure that the president knew that he was holding the line — against telling the truth about the matters under investigation.

Bob Bauer is a professor at New York University School of Law and served as a White House counsel under President Barack Obama.

ny times logoNew York Times, Prosecutors’ Narrative: Trump Defrauded Voters. But What Does It Mean? Peter Baker and Nicholas Fandos, Dec. 9, 2018 (print edition). With this week’s memos, prosecutors investigating President Trump drew a portrait of a candidate who directed an illegal scheme to manipulate the election. In the aftermath, Mr. Trump’s lawyer minimized the importance of potential campaign finance violations as Democrats said they could lead to impeachment.

The latest revelations by prosecutors investigating President Trump and his team draw a portrait of a candidate who personally directed an illegal scheme to manipulate the 2016 election and whose advisers had more contact with Russia than Mr. Trump has ever acknowledged.

In the narrative that the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and New York prosecutors are building, Mr. Trump continued to secretly seek to do business in Russia deep into his presidential campaign even as Russian agents made more efforts to influence him. At the same time, in this account he ordered hush payments to two women to suppress stories of impropriety in violation of campaign finance law.

The prosecutors made clear in a sentencing memo filed on Friday that they viewed efforts by Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, to squelch the stories as nothing less than a perversion of a democratic election — and by extension they effectively accused the president of defrauding voters, questioning the legitimacy of his victory.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: The High Cost of Shattering Democratic Norms, Editorial Board, Dec. 9, 2018 (print edition). Republicans in Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina seem intent on subverting the will of the voters. Are these political shenanigans norm shattering?

Absolutely. They’re obnoxious and cynical, too. And it is regrettable that one political party in particular is so insecure about the merits of its ideas — and the concept of representative democracy — that it feels the need to push a political system under strain even further toward extremism.

Inside TrumpWorld

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. rejects language affirming the severity of global warming, David Nakamura and Darryl Fears​, Dec. 9, 2018 (print edition). The Trump administration is resisting efforts to fight climate change at home and overseas as battle lines sharpen at an international summit in Poland.

Baptist Sex Scandal

McClatchy News / Star-Telegram, Hundreds of sex abuse allegations found in fundamental Baptist churches across U.S., Sarah Smith, Dec. 9, joy evan rider yearbook2018. Joy Evans Ryder (shown in a yearbook photo) was 15 years old when she says her church youth director pinned her to his office floor and raped her.

“It’s OK. It’s OK,” he told her. “You don’t have to be afraid of anything.” He straddled her with his knees, and she looked off into the corner, crying and thinking, “This isn’t how my mom said it was supposed to be.”

The youth director, Dave Hyles, was the son of the charismatic pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, considered at the time the flagship for thousands of loosely affiliated independent fundamental Baptist churches and universities.

At least three other teen girls would accuse Hyles of sexual misconduct, but he never faced charges or even sat for a police interview related to the accusations. When he got in trouble, Hyles was able to simply move on, from one church assignment to the next. Hyles’ flight to safety has become a well-worn path for ministers in the independent fundamental Baptist movement.

For decades, women and children have faced rampant sexual abuse while worshiping at independent fundamental Baptist churches around the country. The network of churches and schools has often covered up the crimes and helped relocate the offenders, an eight-month Star-Telegram investigation has found.

More than 200 people — current or former church members, across generations — shared their stories of rape, assault, humiliation and fear in churches where male leadership cannot be questioned.

“It’s a philosophy — it’s flawed,” said Stacey Shiflett, an independent fundamental Baptist pastor in Dundalk, Maryland. “The philosophy is you don’t air your dirty laundry in front of everyone. Pastors think if they keep it on the down-low, it won’t impact anyone. And then the other philosophy is it’s wrong to say anything bad about another preacher.”

The Star-Telegram discovered at least 412 allegations of sexual misconduct in 187 independent fundamental Baptist churches and their affiliated institutions, spanning 40 states and Canada. Twenty-one abuse allegations were uncovered exclusively by the Star-Telegram, and others were documented in criminal cases, lawsuits and news reports. But victims said the number of abused is far greater because few victims ever come forward.

One hundred and sixty-eight church leaders were accused or convicted of committing sexual crimes against children, the investigation found. At least 45 of the alleged abusers continued in ministry after accusations came to the attention of church authorities or law enforcement.

Compounding the problem is the legal statute of limitations. For many alleged offenders, the statutes on the crimes have expired.

Many of the allegations involve men whose misconduct has long been suspected in the independent fundamental Baptist community. But most of their victims have not publicly come forward, on the record, until now. Even pastors have for the first time — in interviews with the Star-Telegram — acknowledged they moved alleged abusers out of their churches rather than call law enforcement.

From Connecticut to California, the stories are tragically similar:

Bush Legacy

 whowhatwhy logoWhoWhatWhy, Opinion: Fawning Coverage of Bush 41 Discredits the Media, Russ Baker (founder of WhoWhatWhy, author of Family of Secrets and frequent contributor to the Columbia Journalism Review), Dec. 9, 2018. Yes, we all know you’re not supposed to speak ill of the recently departed. But seriously, the recent Bush coverage by so-called russ baker cover Customprofessional journalists has been ridiculously obsequious.

George W. Bush delivered a eulogy for his father, the 41st president of the United States, George H. W. Bush. OK, not unusual. But someone else did too: Jon Meacham, the former editor of Newsweek, a major US news organization. That’s more unusual.

Meacham, who at one point ran an ostensibly hard-hitting magazine, went on to write a biography of the elder Bush so fawning and uncritical that he became like family for the Bushes. And then he delivered the tribute.

Yet hardly any media —none?— even noted the conflict of interest. And why should they? The vast majority of news organizations abdicated their roles as honest brokers for “Bush Week,” rushing to outdo each other in gushing with exaggerated and ill-founded praise for a former president once criticized for a broad range of transgressions — legal, moral, and otherwise.

Global Organizations

Strategic Culture Foundation, Opinion: Trump Turns International Organizations into ‘Neo-Confetti,’ Wayne Madsen, Dec. 9, 2018. Trump and his neo-cons have withdrawn from so many international organizations and agreements that his foreign policy has earned a shameful nickname: “the Withdrawal Doctrine.”

Donald Trump, currently under the strong influence of arch neo-conservative John Bolton, his national security adviser, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a neo-con in “libertarian clothing,” has embarked on a policy to not only distance the United States from international organizations, but to withdrawal from them altogether. The only international organization Trump currently supports is NATO and that is only because Bolton, Pompeo, and other neo-cons advising Trump are proponents of unilateral warfare by the United States, with NATO forces as cannon fodder, wherever neo-con doctrine determines America’s interests are threatened.

Trump’s recent announcement that he is nominating Heather Nauert, a former Fox News “talking head”-turned-State Department spokesperson for Pompeo, as the next US ambassador to the United Nations is another indication that Trump would, if possible, withdraw the US from the international organization.

Trump’s naming of Nauert, a person who once inanely opined that the Allied D-Day landings in France represented a high-point in US-German relations, followed on the heels of Pompeo questioning the need for the UN and other international organizations.

Dec. 8

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: 5 big takeaways from the Cohen, Manafort filings, Aaron Blake, Dec. 8, 2018 (print edition). Federal prosecutors drew some more important lines between Russia and those connected to President Trump on Friday, in a trio of filings in the Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort cases.

Beginning late Friday afternoon, we saw Cohen sentencing recommendations filed by both the Southern District of New York and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation (here from New York federal prosecutors and here from Mueller’s team), and a document from Mueller’s team laying out Paul Manafort’s alleged lies to it (here).

In all three, the plot thickened for Trump just a little bit. Below are the big takeaways.

washington post logorobert mueller full face fileWashington Post, Mueller flashes some cards in Russia probe, but hides his hand, Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky, Dec. 8, 2018.A 55-page flurry of court filings shows just how deeply the investigations surrounding President Trump have gone, scrutinizing secret Russian contacts, hush money meetings and a tangle of lies designed to conceal those activities.

But for all the cards special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, right, played Friday, it’s still not clear what else he holds, or when he will put them on the table. “The recent court filings by Mueller’s team are more revealing by what they did not include than by what they did,” said Robert Mintz, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice.

Inside Trump World

ny times logoNew York Times, John Kelly, Trump’s Chief of Staff, to Leave White House, Michael D. Shear, Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Maggie Haberman, Dec. 8, 2018. John F. Kelly, right, the retired Marine general tapped as chief of staff by President Trump last year to bring order to his chaotic White House, will leave the job by the end of the year, Mr. Trump said on Saturday, john kelly o dhsthe latest departure from the president’s inner circle after a bruising midterm election for his party.

Mr. Trump, speaking with reporters on the White House lawn before departing for the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia, said that he would announce a replacement for Mr. Kelly, perhaps on an interim basis, in the next day or two.

nick ayers headshotJohn Kelly will be leaving — I don’t know if I can say ‘retiring,’” the president said. “But he’s a great guy. John Kelly will be leaving at the end of the year.”

The leading candidate to replace Mr. Kelly is Nick Ayers, left, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff and a Republican political operative, who possesses the kind of savvy about campaigns that Mr. Trump has craved. Mr. Kelly, a career military officer before becoming Mr. Trump’s first homeland security secretary, lacked such experience.

washington post logo

Palmer Report, Commentary, Donald Trump and the NRA get caught in the act, Tim Faulkner, Dec. 8, 2018. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a situation where illegal coordination seems more obvious.” This quote was by Ann Ravel, a former chair of the Federal Election Commission in regard to alleged illegal campaign coordination between Donald Trump and the NRA. “It is so blatant that it doesn’t even seem sloppy,” Ravel added. “Everyone involved probably just thinks there aren’t going to be any consequences.”

bill palmer report logo headerThis revelation comes following an investigation into the NRA’s political activity by Mother Jones and The Trace, an independent nonpartisan group dedicated to reporting on guns and gun violence. As Palmer Report documented in October, the NRA has already been caught illegally conspiring with GOP Senate candidates prior to the recent midterm elections. We previously knew that the NRA spent $30 million in potentially laundered Russian money, in an effort to boost candidate Trump.

nra logo CustomIt now turns out the NRA utilized a media strategy firm, Red Eagle Media, in coordinated fashion with the Trump campaign, to bombard television viewers in Norfolk, Virginia with “anti-Hillary” and “pro-Trump” commercials. The political ads “targeted adults aged 35 to 64, and aired on local news programs and syndicated shows like Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune”, according to Mother Jones.

While simply paying for commercials is not illegal, a review of over 1,000 pages of Federal Communications Commission and Federal Election Commission documents reveals that the Trump campaign purchased very similar ads, targeting the exact same location, on the exact same channel, during the exact same week. This coordination disqualified the NRA’s donation from being independent, meaning they were only legally able to spend $5,000. Instead they spent 600,000% that much – and that’s not a typo.

“This is very strong evidence, if not proof, of illegal coordination,” said Larry Noble, who previously worked for the Federal Election Commission as an attorney. “This is the heat of the general election, and the same person is acting as an agent for the NRA and the Trump campaign.” While it is not surprising in the least that the NRA and Trump campaign were willing to do anything, including cheating, to steal the election, this is simply more evidence that continued scrutiny must be paid to both groups.

washington post logoWashington Post, Republican anxiety spikes as Trump faces growing legal and political perils, Robert Costa and Philip Rucker, Dec. 8, 2018. A growing number of Republicans fear that a battery of new revelations in the far-reaching Russia investigation has dramatically heightened the legal and political danger to Donald Trump’s presidency — and threatens to consume the rest of the party, as well.

rnc logoPresident Trump added to the tumult Saturday by announcing the abrupt exit of his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, whom he sees as lacking the political judgment and finesse to steer the White House through the treacherous months to come.

Trump remains headstrong in his belief that he can outsmart adversaries and weather any threats, according to advisers. In the Russia probe, he continues to roar denials, dubiously proclaiming that the latest allegations of wrongdoing by his former associates “totally clear” him.

But anxiety is spiking among Republican allies, who complain that Trump and the White House have no real plan for dealing with the Russia crisis while confronting a host of other troubles at home and abroad.

mike pence oPalmer Report, Opinion: Donald Trump’s Russia connections all keep tracing back to Mike Pence, Bill Palmer, Dec. 8, 2018.  Yet another one of Donald Trump’s Russia-connected advisers has found his way into the center of controversy, and yet again, that adviser’s connection to Trump has conveniently ended up running straight through Mike Pence (right).

First there was Tuesday’s Michael Flynn sentencing memo from Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Most of it was redacted. But Mueller made a point of not blacking out the part about the Trump transition team’s complicity in Flynn’s Russia crimes. In case you’ve forgotten, the head of the transition team was Mike Pence. That’s the same Mike Pence who went on to lie to the public repeatedly about Flynn being clean, when he knew Flynn was dirty. But perhaps that just’s a coincidence, right? If so, the Pence-Russia coincidences just keep happening.

bill palmer report logo headerYesterday, former Trump Secretary of State Rex Tillerson finally resurfaced, and granted an interview to CBS News. Tillerson was clearly looking to distance himself from the entire debacle, explaining that he had never even met Donald Trump until Mike Pence brought him to Trump for an interview.

When Tillerson was the CEO of Exxon Mobil he had a longtime close business relationship with Vladimir Putin, and it’s widely assumed to be the only reason the Trump regime gave him the Secretary of State gig. Now we know that it was Mike Pence who initially bridged the gap between Tillerson and Trump. So is this also just a coincidence?

Yesterday we also saw Paul Manafort formally busted for having sabotaged his cooperating plea deal. Manafort is a bought and paid for Kremlin asset who was trying to use his position as Donald Trump’s campaign manager to get out of the financial debt he owed to a Russian oligarch. As a reminder, it was Manafort who bent over backward to convince Trump to pick Mike Pence as his running mate.

Each on their own, you could write these off as being mere coincidence or happenstance. But when you put them altogether and realize that Donald Trump’s key Russia-connected advisers all end up tracing back to Mike Pence in suspicious and in some cases criminal fashion, it’s time to ask why. Does Pence just keep wandering into all these Trump-Russia connections at random, like Forrest Gump? Or is Mike Pence a Russian asset? We’re betting Flynn has told Mueller all about it.

Splinter, What the Hell Is Going On With Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos? David Boddiger, Dec. 8, 2018. Having just been released from prison for lying to investigators in the Trump-Russia probe, “coffee boy” and former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos has had some time to do some thinking.

simona mangiante papadopoulos cnn CustomSo, too, has his wife, Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos, apparently. [She is shown at right in a file photo from a CNN appearance.]

On Friday, The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer noticed something odd happening over at Simona’s Twitter account. Just before midnight, she appears to have tweeted a type of self-affirmation that could signal trouble ahead in the couple’s future. “George is lucky cause I have been more loyal to him than to myself,” she wrote.

That message was followed by a response lauding her loyalty and beauty, but it appears that Simona actually wrote the follow-up comment herself, perhaps forgetting to switch to a burner account. She even tagged her husband in the message.

“@GeorgePap19 doesn’t deserve a beauty like you, u have been loyal sweet and supportive,” Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos tweeted to Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos. “I never saw him defending you from all the attacks addressed to you! You can do better.”

On Capitol Hill

washington post logoWashington Post, Comey defends FBI and himself in interview with House committees, Karoun Demirjian and Matt Zapotosky, Dec. 8, 2018. Former FBI director James B. Comey’s closed-door interview with House lawmakers on Friday was largely a repetition of themes and facts that have emerged in previous public sessions, according to a transcript of the six-hour session that panel leaders released on Saturday.

james comey fbiRepublicans from the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees peppered Comey (shown in a file photo) with questions about the FBI’s investigation into former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, including whether Comey would have dismissed former officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page from the probe had he known they were exchanging texts disparaging then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Comey was asked frequently about whether the president obstructed justice when Trump fired him last year. An FBI lawyer sought to block him from answering a question about a memo Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein wrote supporting the termination, saying it “goes to the special counsel’s investigation into obstruction.”

That seems to offer public confirmation from law enforcement that such a probe exists. When it came to questions about his own conduct, however, Comey was loath to take any blame.

washington post logogeorge conway twitterWashington Post, George Conway blasts Trump’s claim that Cohen filing ‘totally clears the President,’ Cleve R. Wootson Jr., Dec. 8, 2018. Was there ever any question about how, exactly, Trump detractor George Conway would spend Friday night? The running criticism of President Trump by Conway, the husband of Kellyanne Conway, dates back to the earliest days of the administration.

Since then, George Conway (shown in his Twitter portrait) is a frequent critic of President Trump.has become a celebrity in his own right for his Trump-bashing tweets and op-eds.

And that was before Trump gained the nickname “Individual-1.”

On Friday, federal prosecutors offered new evidence that implicated the president in plans to buy the silence of two women Trump allegedly had affairs with as far back as 2014. The documents also spoke of Russian efforts to forge a political alliance with Trump before he became president.

Trump tweeted that the investigation “Totally clears the President. Thank you!” But Conway was among the most vocal in pointing out how wrong the phrase “totally clears the president” is.

For Conway, it was a particularly Twitter-winning moment. He received a marriage proposal from comedian and Trump critic Kathy Griffin and the adoration of liberals shocked they could have such tender feelings for the man married to a high-level White House adviser. Conway then proceeded to spend the rest of his Friday night focusing his Twitter on the Trump-as-potential-felon theme.

Palmer Report, Opinion: The sheer brilliance of what Robert Mueller just did to Donald Trump, Bill Palmer, Dec. 8, 2018. This weekend we’re seeing mainstream political pundits debating whether Donald Trump should be impeached, whether he’s even legitimately the president to begin with, and whether he and his kids will end up in prison. He still has his defenders to be sure, but in politics, half the battle lies in framing the argument to begin with. The crazy part is that we haven’t even seen anything yet.

bill palmer report logo headerSpecial Counsel Robert Mueller and his prosecutorial allies have managed to get the nation at large discussing the parameters of Donald Trump’s downfall simply by confirming that he committed a couple of election payoff felonies, using the word “synergy” between the Trump campaign and Russia, and strategically not blacking out a handful of ominous key sentences. Thus far, Mueller is only talking about perhaps five percent of the crimes that Trump has committed, and he’s already put the court of public opinion in motion.

Palmer Report has told you from the start that, while we didn’t know what Robert Mueller’s endgame strategy against Donald Trump was going to be, he was obviously never going to simply file a report and go home. Now we’re starting to see how he’s planning to take Trump down: death by a thousand proverbial cuts. This week he exposed just a bit of Trump’s crimes, and got everyone talking about whether it’s enough for Trump to be ousted.

Tomorrow or next week, even as the national debate about Donald Trump’s ouster rages on, Robert Mueller will expose more of Trump’s crimes, and make it harder for his defenders to continue to defend him. Mueller is just going to keep doing this to Trump until the Democrats take over the House, by which time they’ll hit the ground running with nationally televised public hearings on every one of Trump’s scandals, based on the things Mueller keeps exposing.

Yahoo! News, Trump first wanted his attorney general pick William Barr for another job: Defense lawyer, Michael Isikoff and Daniel Klaidman, Dec. 8, 2018. Around that time, sources william barr o 1992tell Yahoo News, White House officials reached out to a man they thought would be an ideal candidate: William P. Barr, right, the attorney general under President George H.W. Bush. An outspoken conservative, Barr had gotten on Trump’s radar screen that spring after he had written a newspaper op-ed vigorously defending the president’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey. At one point, Barr was ushered into a brief White House meeting with Trump, who asked him if he was interested in the job, according to a source who was present for the meeting. Barr demurred. He had other obligations, he said. He would have to think about it.

The talk among Trump and his top advisers about hiring Barr as chief defense lawyer did not stop there. It arose again this year after the departure of John Dowd, Trump’s lead lawyer for the special counsel investigation, and continued until the summer, when the president found another candidate far more eager for the job: Rudy Giuliani. But now in a twist few could have anticipated, Trump has tapped Barr for an even more important position: attorney general, a post that, if he is confirmed, would put him in charge of the Mueller investigation.

The decision to nominate Barr has won applause by many of his former colleagues, who praise him as a savvy Washington veteran with expansive, hard-edged views about executive power, but who at the same time is steeped in the culture of the Justice Department and its tradition of fiercely resisting improper influences on pending prosecutions.

But Barr’s nomination has also raised potentially thorny political questions about how independent he would be in overseeing the Russia probe and whether his previously expressed views defending the president — and criticizing some aspects of the Mueller investigation — could potentially compromise his leadership.
Barr has made other comments that are potentially more problematic. He raised questions about political contributions made by a number of Mueller’s prosecutors to Democrats. “I would have liked to see him have more balance on this group,” he said. And Barr suggested that there were legitimate grounds to investigate Clinton’s ties to a uranium mining firm that benefited from a decision approved while she was secretary of state — a criminal probe repeatedly urged by Trump.

World Crisis Radio, Ship of fools, assembled by Trump. Webster G. Tarpley, Dec. 8, 2018. It’s a three-cornered world. You have the U.S. system, warts and all. Then you’ve got the oriental despostism of the new empire of the Chinese Empiror Xi and his Xi dynasty. And you’ve also got the new Byzintine empire of Putin and his forces. And those are the choices. And the fact that Europe and Japan have aligned more or less with the United States is a good thing.

 Dec. 7

ny times logoNew York Times, The Wooing of Jared Kushner: How the Saudis Got a Friend in the White House, David D. Kirkpatrick, Ben Hubbard, Mark Landler and Mark Mazzetti
mohammed bin salman al saudDec. 8, 2018. Only a few months after Mr. Trump moved into the White House, Mr. Kushner was inquiring about the Saudi royal succession process and whether the United States could influence it, raising fears among senior officials that he sought to help Prince Mohammed, right, who was not yet the crown prince, vault ahead in the line for the throne, two former senior White House officials said. American diplomats and intelligence officials feared that the Trump administration might be seen as playing favorites in the delicate internal politics of the Saudi royal family, the officials said.

By March, Mr. Kushner, left, helped usher Prince Mohammed into a formal lunch with Mr. Trump in a state dining room at the White House, capitalizing on a last minute cancellation by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany because of a snowstorm.

Bending protocol, Mr. Kushner arranged for Prince Mohammed, often referred to by his initials as M.B.S., to receive the kind of treatment usually reserved for heads of state, with photographs and news media coverage, according to a person involved in the arrangements. It appears to have been the first face-to-face meeting between Mr. Kushner and the prince, but Mr. Kushner raised eyebrows by telling others in the White House that he and Prince Mohammed had already spoken several times before, two people at the event recalled.

In a statement, a White House spokesman said that “Jared has always meticulously followed protocols and guidelines regarding the relationship with MBS and all of the other foreign officials with whom he interacts.”

White House officials declined to explain those protocols and guidelines, and declined to comment on Mr. Kushner’s one-on-one communications with Prince Mohammed since the killing of Mr. Khashoggi.

Their connection, though, has been pivotal since the start of the Trump administration.

“The relationship between Jared Kushner and Mohammed bin Salman constitutes the foundation of the Trump policy not just toward Saudi Arabia but toward the region,” said Martin Indyk, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former Middle East envoy. The administration’s reliance on the Saudis in the peace process, its support for the kingdom’s feud with Qatar, an American ally, and its backing of the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, he said, all grew out of “that bromance.”

Dec. 7

Mueller Probe: Overview

djt Karen McDougal Donald Trump youtube

Federal Filing “Bombshell”: Former Playmate of the Year Karen McDougal (shown in a photo drawn from YouTube with President Trump), was one of two women, along with Stormy stormy daniels mug 7 11 18Daniels (shown at right), who have been widely reported as having had affairs with Donald Trump that were covered up in advance of the 2016 election.

msnbc logo CustomMSNBC, Justice Department Filings on Manafort, Cohen Implicated Trump, Hosts Ari Melber, Chris Matthews and Ali Velshi, Dec. 7, 2018. Federal prosecutors filed three pre-sentence reports including two regarding Michael Cohen, former longtime personal attorney for Donald Trump. Experts said that one filing implicated President Trump by saying that Cohen helped pay hush money of two payments for more than $100,000 each before the 2016 election at the direction of “Individual 1.”

The pre-sentence filings included one against Cohen by New York federal prosecutors and two by Special Counsel richard blumenthal portraitRobert Mueller III, with one filing describing Cohen’s cooperation and another, heavily redacted, asserting that Trump’s former 2016 Campaign Manager Paul Manafort deserved a heavy prison sentence because his supposed cooperation was blighted by lying and unauthorized disclosures to the Trump defense team.

The gist is to bring forward new evidence against President Trump, the identity of “Individual 1.” Yet Trump claimed in a tweet that the filings “totally cleared the president.”

One 38-page filing by New York federal prosecutors is a “bombshell,” according to U.S. Sen. Dick Blumenthal, above left, a Connecticut Democrat now a member of the Judiciary Committee and a former U.S. attorney for Connecticut. Blumenthal said the New York filing on Cohen filing essentially names Trump as an unindicted co-conspiratory in payoffs via the National Enquirer to hide Trump’s adulteries to affect the 2016 election by hiding those facts from the public.

neal katyal oGeorgetown Law professor Neal Katyal, right, a former Obama Justice Department Solicitor General Katyal said the filing against former Trump personal attorney Cohen asserted that authorities had evidence that Trump had directed Cohen to commit felony campaign finance violations apparently to hush pre-election claims that Trump had committed adultery with McDougal and Daniels a decade previous to the election.

“What we’re looking at today,” Katyal said, “is something that very seriously implicates the president in federal felonies.”

He noted also regarding the Cohen filing: “It’s not a filing by Mueller. It’s a filing by the Southern District of New York” [that is, by Trump-appointed leaders and career prosecutors in the U.S. Department of Justice].

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Directed Illegal Payments During Campaign, Prosecutors Say, Sharon LaFraniere, Benjamin Weiser and Maggie Haberman, Dec. 7, 2018. Federal prosecutors said on Friday that President Trump directed illegal payments to ward off a potential sex scandal that threatened his chances of winning the White House in 2016, putting the weight of the Justice Department behind accusations previously made by his former lawyer.

michael cohen ap file croppedThe lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, left, had said that as the election neared, Mr. Trump directed payments to two women who claimed they had affairs with Mr. Trump. But in a new memo arguing for a prison term for Mr. Cohen, prosecutors in Manhattan said he “acted in coordination and at the direction of” an unnamed individual, clearly referring to Mr. Trump.

In another filing, prosecutors for the special counsel investigating Russia’s 2016 election interference said an unnamed Russian offered Mr. Cohen “government level” synergy between Russia and Mr. Trump’s campaign in November 2015. That was months earlier than other approaches detailed in indictments secured by prosecutors.

And in a separate case on Friday, the special counsel accused Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman, of lying about his contacts with an individual they accuse of ties to Russian intelligence, and about his interactions with Trump administration officials after he was indicted on criminal charges.

Mueller Probe: Manafort

washington post logoWashington Post, Mueller says Manafort told ‘discernible lies,’ including about contacts with employee alleged to have Russian intelligence ties, Rosalind S. Helderman, Dec. 7, 2018. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III told a judge Friday that Paul Manafort (now in pre-sentence detention as a flight risk and shown in a mug shot at left), President Trump’s former campaign chairman, told “multiple dis­cern­ible lies” during interviews with prosecutors, including about his contacts with an employee who is alleged to have ties to Russian intelligence.

paul manafort mugThe allegations came in a new court filing by the special counsel that pointed to some the questions prosecutors have been asking a key witness in their closely-held investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign.

konstantin klimnikMueller’s prosecutors filed a portion of the document under seal and redacted other key points from view.

But they said that Manafort had told numerous lies in five different areas, including about his contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik, right, a Russian employee of Manafort’s political consulting firm who prosecutors have said has Russian intelligence ties. Manafort met twice during the campaign with Kilimnik.

Manafort was convicted of tax and bank fraud charges in Virginia in August. He pleaded guilty in September to additional charges, including conspiring to defraud the United States by hiding years of income and failing to disclose lobbying work for a pro-Russian political party and politician in Ukraine.

Mueller Probe: Cohen

ny times logoNew York Times, Cohen, Trump’s Ex-Fixer, Should Get ‘Substantial’ Prison Term, Prosecutors Say, Benjamin Weiser, Maggie Haberman and Mark Mazzetti, Dec. 7, 2018. Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer, should receive a sentence of roughly four years, federal prosecutors in New York said. Mr. Cohen has become one of the biggest threats to Mr. Trump’s presidency, providing material to both the special counsel and Manhattan prosecutors.

michael cohen ap file croppedMichael Cohen, right, President Trump’s former lawyer, should receive a “substantial” prison term of roughly four years, despite his cooperation, federal prosecutors in New York said on Friday.

Mr. Cohen, 52, is to be sentenced in Manhattan next week for two separate guilty pleas: one for campaign finance violations and financial crimes charged by federal prosecutors in Manhattan, and the other for lying to Congress in the Russia inquiry, filed by the Office of the Special Counsel in Washington.

Prosecutors in Manhattan said the crimes Mr. Cohen had committed “marked a pattern of deception that permeated his professional life,” and though he was seeking a reduced sentence for providing assistance to the government, he did not deserve much leniency.

“He was motivated to do so by personal greed, and repeatedly used his power and influence for deceptive ends,” the prosecutors said in a lengthy memo to the judge, William H. Pauley III.

robert mueller kit fox medill flickr croppedAt the same time, the special counsel’s office released its own sentencing recommendation to the judge for Mr. Cohen’s guilty plea for misleading Congress.

The special counsel seemed to offer a more positive view of Mr. Cohen’s cooperation with the Russia investigation, saying he “has gone to significant lengths to assist the special counsel’s investigation.”

Mr. Cohen has emerged as one of the biggest threats to Mr. Trump’s presidency, providing the special counsel’s office and prosecutors in Manhattan with material in dozens of hours of interviews. Robert S. Mueller III, left, the special counsel, has been investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential ties to the Trump campaign.

Roll Call, Analysis: Why Trump’s Call for ‘Overwhelming Bipartisan’ Vote for Barr Seems Unlikely, John T. Bennett, Dec. 7, 2018. Wyden: Bush 41-era AG holds ‘anti-democratic’ view that president is ‘effectively royalty.’  President Trump and acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker on Friday gave a full-throated endorsement to the president’s pick to fill the post, former Attorney General William Barr, but Democratic senators and civil rights advocates are sounding alarms.

matthew whitaker agWilliam Barr “deserves” from the Senate “overwhelming bipartisan support,” Trump said while addressing a law enforcement conference in Kansas City. “There’s no one more capable or qualified for this position,” he claimed.

Whitaker, right, while introducing Trump at the conference in Missouri, called Barr “highly qualified.” If confirmed by the Senate for a second tour, Barr “will continue to support the men and women in blue,” Whitaker said, adding: “I commend the president for this excellence choice.”

The former AG, however, has amassed writings and comments on executive power that could make for a bumpy confirmation process. For instance, he has written about the need for the executive branch to resist congressional attempts to obtain executive data.

Justice Department log circularIn a July 1989 memo after he joined the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, Barr urged the department’s officials to try to avoid lawmakers’ “attempts to gain access to sensitive executive branch information,” as well as hinder a chief executive’s ability to fire a subordinate, the New York Times reported.

“It is important that all of us be familiar with each of these forms of encroachment on the executive’s constitutional authority,” Barr wrote in that memo. “Only by consistently and forcefully resisting such congressional incursions can executive branch prerogatives be preserved.”

republican elephant logoBarr also has sharply questioned several key fundamental aspects of the special counsel probe, and Trump used his morning “executive time” to fire off another remarkable Twitter attack on the Russia investigation.

mike pompeo center heather nauert g 20 summit dec 2018 argentina state deprt ron przysucha

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (center) speaks with staff, including spokeswoman Heather Nauert, President Trump’s pick for UN ambassador, during a G-20 summit last week in Argentina. (State Department photo by Ron Przysucha / Public Domain via Flickr)

Roll Call, Three Takeaways as Trump Picks Former Fox Anchor for UN Envoy Post, John T. Bennett, Dec. 7, 2018. President makes clear he’s running foreign policy, wants salesperson in New York.

President Donald Trump officialBy selecting State Department spokeswoman and former Fox News anchor Heather Nauert as his next UN ambassador, President Donald Trump has further consolidated his control of America’s foreign policy.

“Heather Nauert will be nominated for the ambassador to the United Nations,” Trump told reporters on his way to Marine One on Friday.

Other than her 20-month run as the top spokesperson at Foggy Bottom, Nauert has no diplomatic experience. She spent her entire career before going to State at ABC News and Fox. The latter is Trump’s favorite cable news network, which helped her land the State Department job.

rex tillerson exxon mobilPalmer Report, News Commentary: Donald Trump has berserk meltdown after Rex Tillerson attacks him, Bill Palmer, Dec. 7, 2018. Rex Tillerson, right, will always be remembered as the Secretary of State who called Donald Trump a “f*cking moron” and then still managed to keep the job for several more months. Rex has been rather quiet since running away from the White House and wishing he’d never gone there in the first place.

But now, in an interesting bit of timing, he’s chosen today to publicly drop the hammer on his former boss – and now Trump is having a meltdown about it. Tillerson popped up at a fundraiser for the MD Anderson Cancer Center, a cause we can certainly get behind.

bill palmer report logo headerHe ended up doing an interview with CBS News while he was there, and let’s just say that the interview didn’t go well – for Donald Trump, anyway. Rex explained that several times, he had to explain to Trump that the things he wanted to do were illegal. When Rex would explain that the law would have to be changed if he wanted to do it, Trump would lose interest, presumably because that would be too much work. Suffice it to say that Trump isn’t pleased right now
Donald Trump posted this, ahem, interesting tweet in response: “Mike Pompeo is doing a great job, I am very proud of him. His predecessor, Rex Tillerson, didn’t have the mental capacity needed. He was dumb as a rock and I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough. He was lazy as hell. Now it is a whole new ballgame, great spirit at State!” Let’s be clear here: Trump is saying these horrible things about his own former handpicked Secretary of State.

But the big story here may be the timing. Even though Rex Tillerson attended the charity event, he didn’t have to sit down and do that kind of interview while he was there. He seems to be choosing right now to make sure everyone out there knows he’s every bit as not-cool with Donald Trump as ever, just as Special Counsel Robert Mueller is preparing to bring the hammer.

cnn logoCNN, Exclusive: Mueller investigators questioned John Kelly in obstruction probe, Evan Perez and Dana Bash, Dec. 7, 2018. White House chief of staff John Kelly was interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in recent months, three people with knowledge of the matter told CNN.

Kelly responded to a narrow set of questions from special counsel investigators after White House lawyers initially objected to Mueller’s request to do the interview earlier this summer, the sources said. Kelly is widely expected to leave his position in the coming days and is no longer on speaking terms with President Donald Trump, CNN reported earlier Friday.

john kelly o dhsKelly, right, is the latest high-ranking White House official known to provide information for Mueller’s investigation, though his interview marks a departure of sorts since Kelly didn’t join the White House until July 2017. Most of the dozens of other interviews have been with people who were associated with the Trump campaign, were part of the transition or served in the early part of the administration.

The Mueller questions to Kelly centered on a narrow set of issues in the investigation of potential obstruction of justice, chiefly Kelly’s recollection of an episode that took place after new reporting emerged about how the President had tried to fire Mueller. The President was angry at then-White House counsel Don McGahn about what had been reported by The New York Times. McGahn had refused to publicly deny the reporting. The special counsel wanted to try to corroborate McGahn’s version of events.

The White House counsel’s office had initially fought the Mueller request. One source familiar with the matter said that Emmett Flood wanted to make sure “ground rules” were negotiated.

michael cohen ap file cropped“In order to question a government official about things that happened during the course of government business, you’ve got to show that it’s highly important and you can’t get it anywhere else,” the source said.

The source noted that the Kelly request came at a sensitive time, following raids of the home and office of Michael Cohen, the President’s now-former lawyer.
The resistance to Kelly doing an interview represented a key turn by the President and his attorneys who had previously allowed the special counsel to interview current and former White House staff and handed over hundreds of thousands of documents.

The source noted that the Kelly request came at a sensitive time, following raids of the home and office of Michael Cohen, the President’s now-former lawyer.
The resistance to Kelly doing an interview represented a key turn by the President and his attorneys who had previously allowed the special counsel to interview current and former White House staff and handed over hundreds of thousands of documents.

ny times logoNew York Times, John Kelly Expected to Leave White House Post in Next Few Days, Officials Say, Maggie Haberman, Dec. 7, 2018. John F. Kelly, right, the White House chief of staff, john kelly o dhsis likely to leave his post in the next few days, ending a tumultuous 16-month tenure still among the longest for a senior aide to President Trump, two people with direct knowledge of the developments said Friday.

Mr. Kelly and Mr. Trump have grown weary with each other. But Mr. Trump, according to several senior administration officials and people close to him, has so far been unable to bring himself to personally fire a retired four-star military general.

Still, both are said to be ready for Mr. Kelly to move on.

nick ayers headshotIt is unclear who the replacement would be. Nick Ayers,left,  the vice president’s chief of staff, is seen as a leading candidate. He is supported by Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, the president’s son-in-law and daughter, who both serve as senior West Wing advisers and who, according to several officials, are trying to expand their influence internally and in the re-election campaign.

The White House senior staff meeting on Friday morning was canceled, according to three officials. But there is a holiday senior staff dinner scheduled for Friday night, and people said they expected Mr. Kelly to be there.

Trump Nominates Barr As AG

Roll Call, Analysis: Why Trump’s Call for ‘Overwhelming Bipartisan’ Vote for Barr Seems Unlikely, John T. Bennett, Dec. 7, 2018. Wyden: Bush 41-era AG holds ‘anti-democratic’ view that president is ‘effectively royalty.’  President Trump and acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker on Friday gave a full-throated endorsement to the president’s pick to fill the post, former Attorney General William Barr, but Democratic senators and civil rights advocates are sounding alarms.

matthew whitaker agWilliam Barr “deserves” from the Senate “overwhelming bipartisan support,” Trump said while addressing a law enforcement conference in Kansas City. “There’s no one more capable or qualified for this position,” he claimed.

Whitaker, right, while introducing Trump at the conference in Missouri, called Barr “highly qualified.” If confirmed by the Senate for a second tour, Barr “will continue to support the men and women in blue,” Whitaker said, adding: “I commend the president for this excellence choice.”

The former AG, however, has amassed writings and comments on executive power that could make for a bumpy confirmation process. For instance, he has written about the need for the executive branch to resist congressional attempts to obtain executive data.

Justice Department log circularIn a July 1989 memo after he joined the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, Barr urged the department’s officials to try to avoid lawmakers’ “attempts to gain access to sensitive executive branch information,” as well as hinder a chief executive’s ability to fire a subordinate, the New York Times reported.

“It is important that all of us be familiar with each of these forms of encroachment on the executive’s constitutional authority,” Barr wrote in that memo. “Only by consistently and forcefully resisting such congressional incursions can executive branch prerogatives be preserved.”

Barr also has sharply questioned several key fundamental aspects of the special counsel probe, and Trump used his morning “executive time” to fire off another remarkable Twitter attack on the Russia investigation.

washington post logoWashington Post, William Barr emerges as leading candidate for Trump’s attorney general, Devlin Barrett, Matt Zapotosky and Josh Dawsey​, Dec. 7, 2018 (print edition). Former attorney general William P. Barr is President Trump’s leading candidate to be nominated to lead the Justice Department — a choice that could be made in coming days as the agency presses forward with a probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to multiple people familiar with the deliberations.

william barr o 1992Update: President Trump on Friday confirmed the nomination.

Barr, 68, a well-respected Republican lawyer who served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush, has emerged as a favorite candidate of a number of Trump administration officials, including senior lawyers in the White House Counsel’s Office, these people said. Two people familiar with the discussions said the president has told advisers in recent days that he plans to nominate Barr (shown in an official photo from his 1990s term).

Even if Barr were announced as the president’s choice this week, it could take months for a confirmation vote, given the congressional schedule.

In the meantime, acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker would still serve as head of the Justice Department — a decision that has angered Democrats who question both his résumé and the legal justification for his ascension to that job, given that he was not serving in a Senate-confirmed position when Trump selected him as the temporary successor to Jeff Sessions, whom Trump forced out in early November after the midterm elections.

• Washington Post, The Fix: Barr has urged more Clinton investigations and backed Trump’s firing of James Comey.

heather nauert state department

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Is Expected to Name State Department Spokeswoman to U.N. Post, Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman, Dec. 7, 2018 (print edition). President Trump plans to nominate un logoHeather Nauert, shown above, the chief State Department spokeswoman, to become his next ambassador to the United Nations as he moves to reshape his team for the final two years of his term, a person familiar with the choice said on Thursday.

Update: President Trump on Friday confirmed his nomination.

Ms. Nauert, a former Fox News anchor who has served as the public face of the State Department since last year, would replace Nikki R. Haley, who is stepping down as ambassador at the end of the year. If confirmed, it would make Ms. Nauert one of the most prominent promoters of Mr. Trump’s “America First” foreign policy., Who is William Barr? Trump names Attorney General pick to replace Jeff Sessions, Leada Gore, Dec. 7, 2018. President Donald Trump is nominating William Barr for U.S. Attorney General. “He was my first choice from day one, respected by Republicans and respected by Democrats,” Trump said. “He will be nominated for the U.S. attorney general and hopefully that process will go very quickly, and I think it will go very quickly.”

Trump described Barr as a “terrific man, a terrific person and one of the most respected jurists in the country.”

Justice Department log circularBarr served as AG from 1991 to 1993 under the late former President George H.W. Bush. If confirmed, Barr will replace Jeff Sessions, who resigned at Trump’s request last month. Sessions, a former Alabama Senator who was one of Trump’s earliest supporters, ran afoul of the president when Sessions recused himself from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Matthew Whitaker has been serving as acting attorney general after Sessions’ departure.

Barr also served as deputy attorney general from 1990 to 1991 and assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel from 1988 to 1989. He later state dept map logo Smallreturned to the private sector. A native of New York, Barr is a graduate of Columbia University. He earned his law degree from George Washington University Law School.

Trump also announced he would nominate current State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. If confirmed, Nauert would replace Nikki Haley, who announced in October she would be leaving the post at the end of the year. Nauert is a former Fox News Channel correspondent. She joined the State Department as spokesperson in 2017.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump expected to tap Army chief as next chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Greg Jaffe, Missy Ryan and Josh Dawsey​, Dec. 7, 2018. President Trump is expected to choose the head of the Army to become the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tapping a voluble and unconventional combat veteran to become America’s top military mark miley army chiefofficer, individuals familiar with White House plans said on Friday.

In a move that reflects his penchant for showmanship, the president plans to announce his nomination of Gen. Mark Milley at Saturday’s annual Army-Navy football game, ending months of speculation about who will replace the current chairman, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., who is due to step down next fall.

According to the individuals, who spoke on the condition anonymity to discuss a decision that has not been made public, Trump considered two senior officers, Milley and the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. David Goldfein, whom Defense Secretary Jim Mattis preferred.

Mueller Probe: Trump Rebuttal?

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump promises a ‘major Counter Report’ to rebut Mueller’s findings, John Wagner and Devlin Barrett​, Dec. 7, 2018. In a string of angry tweets, the president took fresh aim at special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, right, and his team. It came hours before the expected filing of key court documents about former Trump associates Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort.

robert mueller screenshot washington postPresident Trump said Friday that his lawyers are preparing a “major Counter Report” in response to expected findings from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into possible coordination between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Trump confirmed the plan in a spate of angry morning tweets in which also took fresh aim at Mueller and his legal team, accusing them of conflicts of interest and overzealous prosecutions that have “wrongly destroyed people’s lives.”

“We will be doing a major Counter Report to the Mueller Report,” Trump said. “This should never again be allowed to happen to a future President of the United States!”

The president’s confirmation of the plan appears to have been spurred by reports that his personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, and others were doing little to prepare to rebut Mueller, who is also looking at whether Trump has obstructed justice.

George H.W. Bush In Perspective

george hw bush inauguration

Chief Justice William Rehnquist swears in President George H. W. Bush in 1989 as Barbara Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle (above her) look on.

whowhatwhy logoWhoWhatWhy, Bush 41: The Triumph of Manners Over Truth, Jeff Schechtman, Dec. 7, 2018. Russ Baker looks into the telltale heart of George H.W. Bush and the real (and tragically under-investigated) legacy of the Bush family. While President Donald Trump has used truculence, bluster, populism, and manufactured division to hide the true nature of his agenda, George Herbert Walker Bush used manners, civility, and grace to hide the truth of his and his family’s agenda.

Both are very similar in their objectives. Both have enabled the continued transfer of wealth to the upper echelons of society. Both have sought to protect the interests of corporations and rich friends. But as we witnessed this week, Bush and the Bush family were far more effective with honey than with vinegar.

To wrap up this week of seemingly non-stop hagiographic coverage of George H.W. Bush, Jeff Schechtman talks with Russ Baker about the Bush family and Baker’s blockbuster book Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, America’s Invisible Government, and the Hidden History of the Last Fifty Years.

Fatal U.S. Niger Raid Prompts Anger

Jeremiah Johnson, Bryan Black, Dustion Wright and La David Johnson (left to right), Special Forces officers killed in Niger,

Jeremiah Johnson, Bryan Black, Dustion Wright and La David Johnson (left to right), Special Forces personnel killed in Niger. Johnson was left behind for 48 hours.

ny times logoNew York Times, Mattis Erupts Over Niger Inquiry and Army Revisits Who Is to Blame, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt, Dec. 7, 2018. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was livid over decisions taken following an investigation into a 2017 ambush in Niger that killed four Americans on a Green Beret team.

james mattis oDefense Secretary Jim Mattis, right, was livid last month when he summoned top military officials to a video conference at the Pentagon to press them about an investigation into (an October) 2017 ambush in Niger that killed four Americans on a Green Beret team. His anger, Pentagon officials said, came from seeing news reports that junior officers were being reprimanded for the botched Niger mission while the officers directly above them were not.

Days later, a senior officer who had largely escaped punishment was told he would be reprimanded. Another senior officer’s actions before and around the time of the mission were also under new scrutiny.

niger map CustomAnd this week, Capt. Michael Perozeni, a more junior officer who had received much of the public blame for the mission received word from the Army: His reprimand was rescinded.

The turnaround is evidence of the troubled search for accountability in an incident that left a small team of underequipped and poorly supported American soldiers in the African scrub to be overrun by fighters loyal to the Islamic State. More than a year after the ambush — the American military’s largest loss of life in Africa since the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” debacle in Somalia — top military leaders continue to battle over how to apportion blame and who should be held accountable.

Punishments are in legal limbo, as are, apparently, commendations for bravery. An unredacted version of the investigation, promised in May, has yet to be delivered.

And unlike two naval collisions last year in the Pacific that led within weeks to the removal of the commander of the Navy’s largest operational battle force, no top generals have been ushered out the door in the Niger case — an example officials say that Mr. Mattis has been quick to point out.

Mr. Mattis wasn’t the only one angry, Defense Department officials said. Army officials complained to aides that Mr. Mattis and Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had contributed to the morass by allowing Africa Command, whose leader, Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, is also a Marine, to essentially investigate itself by appointing General Waldhauser’s own chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Roger L. Cloutier Jr., to conduct the inquiry.

The blowback from the video conference was almost immediate. Maj. Gen. Edwin J. Deedrick Jr., the officer in charge of administering internal punishments, was quickly told by Army leaders to re-examine some of the reprimands from the investigation.

Neo-Nazi Convicted Of Murder

washington post logoWashington Post, Neo-Nazi convicted of murder in car-ramming death at Virginia rally, Joe Heim and Kristine Phillips, Dec. 7, 2018. james fields jr mugAn avowed supporter of neo-Nazi beliefs who took part in the violent and chaotic white-supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in this city last year was found guilty Friday of first-degree murder for killing a woman by ramming his car through a crowd of counterprotesters.

A jury of seven women and five men began deliberating Friday morning and took just over seven hours to reach its decision that James Alex Fields Jr., 21, of Maumee, Ohio, acted with premeditation when he backed up his 2010 Dodge Challenger and then roared it down a narrow downtown street crowded with counterprotesters, slamming into them and another car. Heather D. Heyer, 32, was killed and 35 others were injured, many grievously. Fields was also found guilty on eight counts of malicious wounding.

The deadly attack in the early afternoon of Aug. 12, 2017, culminated a dark 24 hours in this quiet college town. It was marked by a menacing torchlight march through the University of Virginia campus the night before, with participants shouting racist and anti-Semitic insults, and wild street battles on the morning of the planned rally between white supremacists and those opposing their ideology.


washington post logoWashington Post, Tillerson: Trump asked me to take illegal actions. Trump: ‘He was dumb as a rock,’ Carol Morello, Dec. 7, 2018. Former secretary of state Rex Tillerson gave his first public remarks since he was fired — and elicited a strong response on Twitter from President Trump.

Inside U.S. Politics: John Dingell

john dingell headshotThe Atlantic, I Served in Congress Longer Than Anyone. Here’s How to Fix It, John D. Dingell (Age 92, shown at right, represented Michigan in Congress for over 59 years). Dec. 4, 2018. Abolish the Senate. Publicly fund elections. (This article is an excerpt from “The Dean: The Best Seat in the House,” by John Dingell with David Bender.)

In my six decades in public service, I’ve seen many changes in our nation and its institutions. Yet the most profound change I’ve witnessed is also the saddest. It is the complete collapse in respect for virtually every institution of government and an unprecedented cynicism about the nobility of public service itself.

These are not just the grumblings of an angry old man lamenting the loss of “the good old days.” In December 1958, almost exactly three years after I entered the House of Representatives, the first American National Election Study, initiated by the University of Michigan, found that 73 percent of Americans trusted the federal government “to do the right thing almost always or most of the time.” As of December 2017, the same study, now conducted by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, found that this number had plummeted to just 18 percent.

There are many reasons for this dramatic decline: the Vietnam War, Watergate, Ronald Reagan’s folksy but popular message that government was not here to help, the Iraq War, and worst of all by far, the Trumpist mind-set. These jackasses who see “deep state” conspiracies in every part of government are a minority of a minority, yet they are now the weakest link in the chain of more than three centuries of our American republic. Ben Franklin was right. The Founders gave us a precious but fragile gift. If we do not protect it with constant vigilance, we will most certainly lose it.

As an armchair activist, I now have the luxury of saying what I believe should happen, not what I think can get voted out of committee. I’m still a pragmatist; I know that profound societal change happens incrementally, over a long period of time. The civil-rights fights of the 1950s and ’60s, of which I am proud to have been a part, are a great example of overcoming setbacks and institutional racism. But 155 years after the Emancipation Proclamation and less than two years after our first African American president left office, racism still remains a part of our national life.

Just for a moment, however, let’s imagine the American system we might have if the better angels of our nature were to prevail.

Here, then, are some specific suggestions — and they are only just that, suggestions — for a framework that might help restore confidence and trust in our precious system of government:

An electoral system based on full participation. At age 18, you are automatically registered to vote. No photo ID, no residency tests, no impediments of any kind. Advances in technology can make this happen effortlessly. Yes, voting should be restricted only to American citizens. Strict protections against foreign meddling are also necessary.

The elimination of money in campaigns. Period. Elections, like military service — each is an example of duty, honor, and service to country — should be publicly funded. Can you imagine if we needed to rely on wealthy donors to fund the military? I know there are those who genuinely believe in privatizing everything. They are called profiteers.

The end of minority rule in our legislative and executive branches. The Great Compromise, as it was called when it was adopted by the Constitution’s Framers, required that all states, big and small, have two senators. The idea that Rhode Island needed two U.S. senators to protect itself from being bullied by Massachusetts emerged under a system that governed only 4 million Americans.

Today, in a nation of more than 325 million and 37 additional states, not only is that structure antiquated, it’s downright dangerous.

Trump War On Media

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump called journalists ‘THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!’ A Capital Gazette photographer had a powerful rebuttal, Tim Elfrink, Dec. 7, 2018. Photographer Donald Trump (Gage Skidmore portrait)Joshua McKerrow spent Thursday at the Maryland governor’s mansion, where he’s traveled annually for years to cover the holiday decorations with Capital Gazette reporter Wendi Winters. But this year, Winters was absent — one of the five victims killed in a mass shooting in the paper’s Annapolis newsroom in June. So McKerrow was already emotional when he saw President Trump’s latest all-caps broadside against journalists.

“FAKE NEWS – THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!” Trump tweeted Thursday night amid a flurry of outbursts about special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign.

McKerrow responded eloquently in a thread that is equal parts memorial to Winters and rebuttal of the president’s attacks on journalists at a time when global violence against reporters is spiking.

“Wendi was no ones enemy,” McKerrow wrote in a series retweeted more than 12,000 times as of early Friday.

cnn logoPalmer Report, Analysis, CNN evacuated over bomb threat right after Donald Trump posts incendiary tweet, Bill Palmer, Dec. 7, 2018. Remember back when a guy in a Donald Trump van was sending bombs in the mail to everyone that Donald Trump was attacking during his Twitter meltdowns? That guy is now in jail where he belongs, but it turns out Trump – predictably – hasn’t learned anything from the experience.

bill palmer report logo headerAs Donald Trump was having a rabid multi-tweet meltdown on Twitter tonight about various topics, he threw in this all-caps proclamation: “FAKE NEWS – THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!” Just about half an hour later, CNN announced that it was evacuating its headquarters in the Time Warner building in New York City because someone had sent in a bomb threat.

Could this have been a coincidence? Sure, anything is possible. The last time Donald Trump started going off on CNN in such vicious fashion, one of his supporters tried to murder everyone at CNN. Trump’s tweet tonight was another de facto attack on CNN, and everyone knows it, because he directs these phrases at CNN the most often. When the President of the United States declares that CNN is the “THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE” and someone threatens to blow up CNN just minutes later, we have a real problem here.

Fox Shift On Trump?

Palmer Report, Analysis: Even Tucker Carlson now thinks Donald Trump is going down, Bill Palmer, Dec. 7, 2018. Yesterday we brought you the story of how Fox News pundit “Judge fox news logo SmallAndrew Napolitano” made the surprise pronouncement that he expects Donald Trump Jr to be indicted and arrested. As we pointed out, Fox News talking heads don’t tend to say things like this unless the company’s higher-ups have given them a new script. We were left wondering if other personalities on the network might also start laying the framework for Trump’s downfall.

Sure enough, here comes Fox News host Tucker Carlson joining the fray. He’s now announcing that Donald Trump is “not capable” of doing the job, and that he bill palmer report logo headerhasn’t delivered on his promises. That’s quite a change of direction for a guy who generally serves as a Trump cheerleader, while spinning phony conspiracy theories about Trump’s adversaries. Again, this kind of thing doesn’t tend to happen at a tightly scripted propaganda outlet like Fox, unless it comes from the top. So what gives?

It’s worth noting that Tucker Carlson made a point of making these harsh anti-Trump remarks while speaking in a venue other than Fox News. This comes after Napolitano made his prediction about Donald Trump Jr’s downfall during an interview that was also not on Fox News. It’s as if the network has instructed its propagandists to begin indirectly laying the groundwork for making a pivot against Trump, in order to soften up their audience for it before they start doing it live on Fox News.

Climate Change

ny times logoNew York Times, France’s ‘Yellow Vest’ Protests Have a Lesson on Climate Change, Alissa J. Rubin and Somini Sengupta, Dec. 7, 2018 (print edition). Scientists and economists believe that carbon taxes are needed to reduce fossil fuel dependence. The question is how to cushion the blow on the most vulnerable.

The so-called Yellow Vest protests against the tax increase have become the biggest obstacle yet to such attempts to encourage conservation and alternative energy use. The protests point to the difficulties facing nearly all industrialized countries committed to pulling the world back from the cliff’s edge of catastrophic climate change.

France’s cancellation of the tax increase this week in the aftermath of increasingly violent protests signaled the perils and political headwinds that governments worldwide may face as they try to wean their citizens from fossil fuels.

There is little doubt among scientists and economists — many of whom are in Poland for the current round of climate negotiations — that putting a price on carbon is essential in the effort to reduce fossil fuel dependence. The question is how to design a carbon tax, and how to cushion the blow for the most vulnerable.

U.S. Politics

ny times logomark harris north carolina congressNew York Times, North Carolina Republican Owes $34,310 for Voting Operation, Records Show, Sydney Ember and Alan Blinder, Dec. 7, 2018. The campaign of Mark Harris, right, the G.O.P. nominee in a House race mired in voter fraud allegations, owes the money to a consulting group that used a controversial operative.

The operative has been accused of collecting absentee ballots from voters in a potentially illegal effort to tip the election toward Mr. Harris. The Democratic candidate is Dan McCready.

Global Politics

huawei meng wanzhou

Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of the Chinese company Huawei Technologies.

washington post logoWashington Post, Huawei executive wanted by U.S. faces fraud charges related to Iran sanctions, could face 30 years in prison, Emily Rauhala, Dec. 7, 2018. Huawei arrest threatens U.S.-China trade war truce. A senior Chinese tech executive faces fraud charges in the United States related to business dealings with Iran, a Canadian prosecutor said Friday, offering the first details of a case that has pummeled financial markets and raised questions about a current trade truce between Beijing and Washington.

Before a packed courtroom in Vancouver, prosecutor John Gibb-Carsley argued that Meng Wanzhou committed fraud in 2013 by telling financial institutions that China’s Huawei had no connection to a Hong Kong-based company, Skycom, which was reportedly selling U.S. goods to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. Meng’s lawyer denied the charge.

News this week of her arrest roiled markets already shaken by months of conflict between the world’s two largest economies. The fear is that the arrest of a top Chinese executive could impact a trade war truce struck last week by President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

german flag

washington post logoWashington Post, German conservatives pick a Merkel ally to be party leader, signaling continuity and a long goodbye, Griff Witte and Luisa Beck, Dec. 7, 2018. The selection of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer delivered Chancellor Angela Merkel a badly needed victory that solidifies her legacy and gives her a shot at a gradual and graceful exit.

More On Mueller Probe

Newsweek, Trump Ally Roger Stone Says Mueller Probed His Sex Life: ‘What Does Any of That Have to Do With Russian Collusion?‘ Shane Croucher, Dec. 7, 2018. Roger Stone said newsweek logobeing investigated by the FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller was like undergoing a “legal proctological examination.” Stone, a political consultant and strategist and a staunch ally of President Donald Trump, was an adviser to the 2016 presidential campaign.

Because of Stone’s links to Julian Assange, the head of WikiLeaks, which released emails stolen from the Democratic Party by Russian hackers, he is a focus of Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s election meddling and possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

The emails belonging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, were released shortly before the election. Stone denies coordinating with WikiLeaks and Assange on the emails, although the two men were in contact during the election campaign.

“Few Americans, I think, could withstand the kind of legal proctological examination that I have been under for the last two and a half years,” Stone told the American Priority Conference in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

Dec. 6

Trump-Saudi Hotel Payoff Scheme?

djt sword dancers wh may 20 2017

President Trump bonds with Saudi Arabian leaders in May 2017 with a ceremonial “Sword Dance” during the first overseas visit of his presidency.

washington post logosaudi arabia flagWashington Post, Saudi-funded lobbyist paid for 500 rooms at Trump’s hotel in late 2016, David A. Fahrenthold and Jonathan O’Connell, Dec. 6, 2018 (print edition). U.S. veterans who stayed in the rooms were sometimes unaware of the Saudi government’s role in funding the lobbying trips. These bookings fueled a pair of federal lawsuits alleging the president violated the Constitution by taking improper payments from foreign governments.

Lobbyists representing the Saudi government reserved blocks of rooms at President Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel within a month of Trump’s election in 2016 — paying for an estimated 500 nights at the luxury hotel in just three months, according to organizers of the trips and documents obtained by The Washington Post.

At the time, these lobbyists were reserving large numbers of D.C.-area hotel rooms as part of an unorthodox campaign that offered U.S. military veterans a free trip to Washington — then sent them to Capitol Hill to lobby against a law the Saudis opposed, according to veterans and organizers.

djt tump int hotelAt first, lobbyists for the Saudis put the veterans up in Northern Virginia. Then, in December 2016, they switched most of their business to the Trump International Hotel (shown while under reconstruction) in downtown Washington. In all, the lobbyists spent more than $270,000 to house six groups of us senate logovisiting veterans at the Trump hotel, which Trump still owns.

Those bookings have fueled a pair of federal lawsuits alleging Trump violated the Constitution by taking improper payments from foreign governments.

During this period, records show, the average nightly rate at the hotel was $768. The lobbyists who ran the trips say they chose Trump’s hotel strictly because it offered a discount from that rate and had rooms available, not to curry favor with Trump.

Sex Trafficking

wayne madesen report logo

Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), Investigation: The laughable fraud called “Pizzagate” diverts from actual child trafficking tied to Trump, Wayne Madsen (investigative reporter, author and former Navy intelligence officer), Dec. 6, 2018 (subscription required). Trump and his cronies are involved in covering up an international sex trafficking ring involving underage girls and boys.

Assange Facing Expulsion?

London Express, Julian Assange: Ecuador president reveals ‘PATH’ for Wikileaks founder to leave embassy, Carly Read, Dec. 6, 2018. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been julian assange indicter imagegiven a “path” by Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno to help him leave the South American Embassy in London where he has lived for six years under asylum. 

Mr Moreno said today that Mr Assange (shown in a photo by The Indicter human rights webzine, an advocate for his rights0 still faces jail time in Britain for violating bail terms when he sought sanctuary to avoid extradition to Sweden so authorities could quiz him as part of a sexual assault investigation.

The investigation was later dropped, but the UK Government said he will be arrested if he leaves the embassy. However, should he choose to leave, a “path” has been made available to him with conditions having been met, the leader said. He said: “There is a path for Mr. Assange to take the decision to exit into near freedom.” wikileaks logo2He also commented on the extraordinary length of time Mr Assange has been living in the embassy. Mr Moreno said: “I do not like the presence of Mr. Assange in the Ecuadorean embassy, but we have been respectful of his human rights and with that respect in mind we think that six years is too long for someone to remain nearly incarcerated in an embassy.”

Mr Assange has claimed that Ecuador is seeking to end his asylum and hand him over to the US, where prosecutors are preparing to pursue a criminal case against him after Wikileaks released thousands of classified military documents from the nation.

GOP Election Fraud?

washington post logoWashington Post, The man at the center of fraud probe in North Carolina may have been doing this for eight years, Philip Bump, Dec. 6, 2018 (print edition). In 2010, a political leslie mccrae dowless croppedoperative named Leslie McCrae Dowless received a little over $7,100 to provide get-out-the-vote services for a candidate running in and around Bladen County, N.C. That candidate lost his race by about 6 points, though he won a majority of the mailed-in absentee votes.

That was thanks to Bladen County. Harold “Butch” Pope earned 52 percent of the mail-in absentee vote in his district. In Bladen, he won 81 percent of the absentee vote. Without the votes from Bladen, he would have lost the absentee vote by nearly 3-to-1.

republican elephant logoDowless is now at the center of questions about his role in a much more important contest — the race for North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District in this year’s midterms. Over the past several days, Dowless has been identified as the manager of an alleged effort to collect absentee ballots from voters in Bladen that may then have been altered by people other than the voters themselves.

ny times logoNew York Times, North Carolina Republican Leader Says He’s Open to New Election in Disputed District, Alan Blinder, Dec. 6, 2018. The executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party said Thursday that a new election may be appropriate in the state’s Ninth Congressional District, where allegations of fraud have cast doubts on the fairness and accuracy of the vote count.

republican elephant logoIf the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement can state “there was a substantial likelihood that the race could have been altered, then we would not oppose a new election,” said the executive director, Dallas Woodhouse.

mark harris north carolina congressState investigators have issued subpoenas and begun sifting through thousands of pages of records to determine whether absentee-ballot fraud gave an advantage to Mark Harris, right, the Republican nominee in the Ninth District. Preliminary returns, which state officials have refused to certify, showed Mr. Harris with a 905-vote lead over his Democratic opponent, Dan McCready.

But the validity of Mr. Harris’s margin has been called into question in recent days as witnesses have repeatedly described a voter-turnout operation that appeared to rely on at least one seemingly illegal tactic: collecting absentee ballots directly from voters. The operation raised questions of whether ballots had been improperly marked for Mr. Harris or discarded if they were to be cast for Mr. McCready.

The elections board is expected to hold an evidentiary hearing on or before Dec. 21. Under state law, the panel, which includes four Democrats, four Republicans and one unaffiliated member, may order a new election if it finds that “irregularities or improprieties occurred to such an extent that they taint the results of the entire election and cast doubt on its fairness.”

Media / Privacy:

ny times logoNew York Times, Facebook Emails Show Its Real Mission: Making Money and Crushing Competition, Kevin Roose, Dec. 6, 2018 (print edition). British lawmakers on Wednesday gave a gift to every Facebook critic who has argued that the company, while branding itself as a do-gooder enterprise, has actually been acting much like any other profit-seeking behemoth.

facebook logoThat gift was 250 pages’ worth of internal emails, in which Facebook’s executives are shown discussing ways to undermine their competitors, obscure their collection of user data and — above all — ensure that their products kept growing.

The emails, which span 2012 to 2015, were originally sealed as evidence in a lawsuit brought against Facebook by Six4Three, an app developer. They were part of a cache of documents seized by a British parliamentary committee as part of a larger investigation into Facebook’s practices and released to the public on Wednesday.

It should not come as a surprise that Facebook — a giant, for-profit company whose early employees reportedly ended staff meetings by chanting “domination!” — would act in its own interests.

Global Tensions / Crime Claim

huawei meng wanzhou

Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of the Chinese company Huawei Technologies.

ny times logoNew York Times, Huawei C.F.O. Is Arrested in Canada for Extradition to the U.S., Daisuke Wakabayashi and Alan Rappeport, Dec. 5, 2018. A top executive and daughter of the founder of the Chinese tech giant Huawei was arrested on Saturday in Canada at the request of the United States, in a move likely to escalate tensions between the two countries at a delicate moment.

The arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer, unfolded on the same night that President Trump and President Xi Jinping of China dined together in Buenos Aires and agreed to a 90-day trade truce. The two countries are set to begin tense negotiations in hopes of ending a trade war that has been pummeling both economies.

china flagThose talks now face an even steeper challenge. The aim will be for the United States to ease its tariffs; in exchange, China will be expected to lower trade barriers and further open its markets to American businesses.

What’s more, Ms. Meng’s detention raises questions about the Trump administration’s overall China strategy. Beijing is now likely to pressure Canada to release her and to press the United States to avoid a trial.

washington post logoWashington Post, Dow extends deep losses, triggered by uncertainty on U.S.-China trade deal, Taylor Telford, Heather Long and Thomas Heath​, Dec. 6, 2018. U.S. stocks suffered across-the-board declines in early trading as investors were rattled by the arrest of a Chinese executive, further threatening progress on a trade deal. Oil prices also plunged, and omens of a recession emerged in the bond market. China calls arrest of tech executive ‘despicable hooliganism.’

Ecuador To Oust Assange Soon?

London Express, Julian Assange: Ecuador president reveals ‘PATH’ for Wikileaks founder to leave embassy, Carly Read, Dec. 6, 2018. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been julian assange indicter imagegiven a “path” by Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno to help him leave the South American Embassy in London where he has lived for six years under asylum. 

Mr Moreno said today that Mr Assange (shown in a photo by The Indicter human rights webzine, an advocate for his rights0 still faces jail time in Britain for violating bail terms when he sought sanctuary to avoid extradition to Sweden so authorities could quiz him as part of a sexual assault investigation.

The investigation was later dropped, but the UK Government said he will be arrested if he leaves the embassy. However, should he choose to leave, a “path” has been made available to him with conditions having been met, the leader said. He said: “There is a path for Mr. Assange to take the decision to exit into near freedom.”

wikileaks logo2He also commented on the extraordinary length of time Mr Assange has been living in the embassy. Mr Moreno said: “I do not like the presence of Mr. Assange in the Ecuadorean embassy, but we have been respectful of his human rights and with that respect in mind we think that six years is too long for someone to remain nearly incarcerated in an embassy.”

Mr Assange has claimed that Ecuador is seeking to end his asylum and hand him over to the US, where prosecutors are preparing to pursue a criminal case against him after Wikileaks released thousands of classified military documents from the nation.

Texas Funeral For Bush

washington post logogeorge hw bush HRWashington Post, Bush’s pastor describes his faith, service at Texas memorial, Stephanie Kuzydym and Mark Berman, Dec. 6, 2018. The 41st president, shown in a 1989 photo, is being honored once more in Texas, the state he adopted as his own, during a memorial service at the Houston church where he and his late wife, Barbara, worshiped for half a century. He will be buried today at his presidential library in College Station, Tex.

Social Justice

ny times logoNew York Times, ‘I Want to Live Like a Human Being’: Where New York Fails Its Mentally Ill, Joaquin Sapien and Tom Jennings, Dec. 6, 2018. A cutting-edge program to help severely mentally ill people live on their own has endangered people who were not ready, a new investigation shows.

The stench from Abraham Clemente’s apartment in Flatbush, Brooklyn, this summer was overwhelming. Maggot-infested scrambled eggs were strewn across the floor; a cantaloupe was so spoiled, it seemed to be melting. Feces were ground into the carpet.

Mr. Clemente, who is 69 and has schizophrenia, kept the shower and sink running for the “oxygen.” He blamed a kitchen fire on a doll nailed to a cabinet. He believed he could crush and smoke his antipsychotic medication to achieve its intended effect.

Yet the state of New York determined Mr. Clemente was capable of living on his own.

Media / Propaganda / War

syria comic

SouthFront, DC Comics Got New Superhero From Douma. His Sister Was “Gassed” By “Russians’ Puppet” Assad, Staff report, Dec. 6, 2018. DC Comics, or the company that is behind all Batman and Superman comics and movies, as well as all other characters in their universe, took part in Washington’s Syrian propaganda narrative.

The twitter account “Stranf of the web of life,” published a crop of a page (shown above) that shows the origin story of Sandstorm, a Syrian superhero, who was part of the Global Guardians.

U.S. Politics

george hw bush funeral apostle creed

Huffington Post, Every President Recited The Apostles’ Creed Except Trump, And People Definitely Noticed, Ed Mazza, Dec. 6, 2018. Trump didn’t recite the profession of faith during the funeral for former President George H.W. Bush.

People on Twitter are calling out President Donald Trump for failing to recite the Apostles’ Creed at the funeral for former President George H. W. Bush on Wednesday. Footage from the event (shown above) shows much of the church, including the former presidents seated with Trump, standing to recite the profession of faith.

Trump and first lady Melania Trump stood, but did not recite the creed, which was written in the program, nor did they sing the hymns. Given Trump’s widespread support among evangelical Christians, that led to plenty of criticism on social media.

Roll Call, Democrats Complete California Sweep as Valadao Concedes Central Valley Race, Bridget Bowman, Dec. 6, 2018. TJ Cox unseats three-term congressman in 21st District by 862 votes. California Republican Rep. David Valadao has conceded his re-election race to Democratic businessman TJ Cox, with the final vote count showing Cox ahead by 862 votes in the Central Valley district.

Cox’s victory means Democrats have swept all seven GOP-held seats in California that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. Clinton won the 21st District by more than 15 points two years ago, while Valadao was winning re-election by 13 points.

Valadao’s concession comes one month after Election Day, and after The Associated Press had initially called the race for the three-term congressman. The AP later retracted its call after Cox moved into the lead as vote-counting continued into November. California allows mail-in ballots to be counted as long as they’re postmarked by Election Day, which draws out the count in the Golden State.

ny times logoelizabeth warren cfpbNew York Times, Elizabeth Warren Stands by DNA Test. But Around Her, Worries Abound, Astead W. Herndon, Dec. 6, 2018. The plan was straightforward: After years of being challenged by President Trump and others about a decades-old claim of Native American ancestry, Senator Elizabeth Warren, right, of Massachusetts would take a DNA test to prove her stated family origins in the Cherokee and Delaware tribes.

But nearly two months after Ms. Warren released the test results and drew hostile reactions from prominent tribal leaders, the lingering cloud over her likely presidential campaign has only darkened. Conservatives have continued to ridicule her.

More worrisome to supporters of Ms. Warren’s presidential ambitions, she has yet to allay criticism from grass-roots progressive groups, liberal political operatives and other potential 2020 allies who complain that she put too much emphasis on the controversial field of racial science — and, in doing so, played into Mr. Trump’s hands.

Inside Washington

Politico, Trump’s slow-motion staff ‘shakeup’ stunts 2019 planning, Eliana Johnson and Burgess Everett, Dec. 6, 2018. The president has left top officials in a state of limbo and top jobs without permanent occupants, creating ‘a sense of chaos.’ President Donald Trump is still looking for a new United Nations ambassador. He has no deputy national security adviser. His attorney general and Environmental Protection Agency administrator are serving in acting capacities, and his constant badmouthing of his chief of staff and secretary of Homeland Security has undermined their authority.

The president once openly signaled a plan to revamp his Cabinet and staff after the midterm elections, calling it a “very customary” act — and his aides acknowledged that big changes might be coming. But while he demanded the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions the day after last month’s midterm elections, the once-breathless anticipation of his next personnel move has stretched into a long and awkward waiting game.

Supreme Court

SCOTUSblog, Argument analysis: Majority appears ready to uphold “separate sovereigns” doctrine, Amy Howe, Dec. 6, 2018. When Terance Gamble was pulled over by police in supreme court graphicAlabama three years ago for having a faulty headlight, he probably didn’t think that prosecutors would make a federal case out of it. And he certainly wouldn’t have imagined that his case would make national headlines – not so much for its own sake, but because of what a win for Gamble might mean for prosecutions arising from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Both of these things did happen, but after nearly 80 minutes of oral argument this morning, Gamble seemed unlikely to prevail on his argument that the federal charges against him violate the Constitution’s double jeopardy clause, which would in turn preserve the ability of state prosecutors to bring charges against defendants in the Mueller investigation even if they receive pardons from President Donald Trump for any federal charges brought against them.

More On Mueller Probe

michael flynn microphonePalmer Report, Analysis: Former U.S. intel official suggests Michael Flynn was wearing a wire, Bill Palmer, Dec. 6, 2018. Back when Michael Flynn’s plea deal was first announced a year ago, one of the stranger details in the cooperation document was that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was requiring Flynn (shown at right in a file photo) to agree to wear a wire if necessary. This made little sense; how could Flynn trick anyone in this manner, now that everyone knew he was cutting a plea deal? Now the language in his sentencing memo suggests that it may have in fact happened.

Robert Mueller’s sentencing memo stressed Michael Flynn’s willingness to cut a plea deal as soon Mueller approached him about it. Former FBI official Frank Figliuzzi appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe and pointed out this could be interpreted as Flynn having cut the deal long before it was announced. In such case, Flynn could have indeed worn a wire, or agreed to have his phone calls tapped, as he reached out to people on Team Trump, and sought to get them to incriminate themselves.

bill palmer report logo headerThree days after the Michael Flynn deal was announced on December 1st of 2017, Palmer Report pointed to a number of circumstantial clues that suggested Flynn might have been negotiating the deal back in late July of 2017. If that were the case but Flynn broke it off, and ultimately didn’t cut the deal until December, Mueller certainly wouldn’t be praising him now for agreeing to cooperate so quickly.

So what if Michael Flynn did cut a plea deal with Robert Mueller back in July of 2017, and they kept it a secret until they finally announced it in December of 2017, so Flynn could go play double agent? By that time, Flynn was already out of the White House. But as we keep seeing, Donald Trump has always treated Flynn with such kid gloves, it wouldn’t be surprising if Flynn called him in late 2017 and Trump picked up the phone. So yeah, maybe Figliuzzi is right, and Flynn was wearing a wire.

Dec. 5

Bush Funeralgeorge hw bush funeral cnn dec 5 2018 presidents

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump sits with fellow presidents but still stands alone, Philip Rucker, Dec. 5, 2018. The state funeral was orchestrated to be about one man and his milestones, but it was impossible to pay tribute to the 41st president without drawing implicit contrasts with the 45th.

washington post logogeorge hw bush HRWashington Post, George H.W. Bush / 1924–2018: Historian pays tribute to Bush during state funeral, John Wagner, Dec. 5, 2018. The 41st president’s son, former president George W. Bush, is among those scheduled to offer eulogies at the services at Washington National Cathedral. Also in attendance are President Trump and the three other living former presidents.

ny times logoNew York Times, George Bush’s Legacy: Revisiting Past Claims, Linda Qiu, Dec. 5, 2018 (print edition). After his defeat in the 1992 election, former President George Bush concluded that he lost his bid for a second term because he “just wasn’t a good enough communicator” and blamed the news media for the perception that he was out of touch with the average American. Certain claims are again abounding as the country prepares to bury Mr. Bush after his death on Friday. Here’s a look at some of them.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Donald Trump can’t even do a funeral without screwing it up, Bill Palmer, Dec. 5, 2018. Earlier this year, the late Senator John McCain made it clear that he didn’t want Donald Trump at his funeral, and then further drove the point home by inviting former President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush to deliver the eulogies. Today, former President George H.W. Bush was laid to rest, and let’s just say that we were reminded why Trump doesn’t belong at these kinds of things.

George H.W. Bush hated Donald Trump, and certainly didn’t want to invite him to his funeral. He thought Trump was such a disaster, he famously crossed party lines to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. But President Bush was a protocol kind of guy, so he told his family to go ahead and invite Trump to the funeral anyway. Even though Trump seemed to be trying to behave himself, he still managed to make a mess of things just by being there.

bill palmer report logo headerEvery former President and First Lady in attendance dutifully got out their book and recited The Apostles’ Creed when the time came. Then there was Donald Trump, sitting next to them, holding the book down by his waist, not looking at it, not bothering to participate in the memorial process, even as Melania stared at the floor in seeming embarrassment. Isn’t Trump supposed to be the evangelical candidate? It may have been a small moment, but it’s a reminder that this guy Trump either refuses to – or simply can’t – function in public.

Then there were the reminders that no one wanted him there, because he’s a psychopath and a racist and a career criminal who committed treason to rig the election in his favor, and is therefore not the President of the United States. We saw George W. Bush stop and shake hands with Trump, but then we realized he’d only reluctantly done it so he could get to the Obamas on the other side, and give Michelle a piece of candy.

Consortium News, Opinion: The Bushes’ ‘Death Squads,’ Robert Parry, Dec. 5, 2018. George H.W. Bush was laid to rest on Wednesday but some of his murderous policies lived on through his son’s administration and until this day, as Robert Parry reported on January 11, 2005 in How George W. Bush Learned From His Father.

By refusing to admit personal misjudgments on Iraq, George W. Bush instead is pushing the United States toward becoming what might be called a permanent “counter-terrorist” state, which uses torture, cross-border death squads and even collective punishments to defeat perceived enemies in Iraq and around the world.Since securing a second term, Bush has pressed ahead with this hard-line strategy, in part by removing dissidents inside his administration while retaining or promoting his protégés. Bush also has started prepping his younger brother Jeb as a possible successor in 2008, which could help extend George W.’s war policies while keeping any damaging secrets under the Bush family’s control.

As a centerpiece of this tougher strategy to pacify Iraq, Bush is contemplating the adoption of the brutal practices that were used to suppress leftist peasant uprisings in Central America in the 1980s. The Pentagon is “intensively debating” a new policy for Iraq called the “Salvador option,” Newsweek magazine reported on Jan. 9.

The strategy is named after the Reagan-Bush administration’s “still-secret strategy” of supporting El Salvador’s right-wing security forces, which operated clandestine “death squads” to eliminate both leftist guerrillas and their civilian sympathizers, Newsweek reported. “Many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success – despite the deaths of innocent civilians,” Newsweek wrote.

Saudi Murder

ny times logoNew York Times, C.I.A. Briefing Leaves Senators More Certain of Crown Prince’s Role in Khashoggi Case, Eric Schmitt and Nicholas Fandos, Dec. 5, 2018 (print edition). A jamal khashoggi western suitbipartisan group of senior senators on Tuesday said that a classified briefing by the C.I.A. director had only solidified their belief that Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, ordered the killing of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, right, an American resident and Washington Post columnist.

gina haspel screenshotPrince Mohammed “is a wrecking ball,” Senator Lindsey Graham, below right, Republican of South Carolina, told reporters after an hourlong briefing by Gina Haspel, left, the C.I.A. director. “I think he’s complicit in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi to the highest level possible.”

Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama and the Appropriations Committee chairman, echoed that “all evidence points to that, that all this leads back to the crown prince.”

lindsey grahamSenators, however, were divided as to what steps to take next, following a stinging vote last week to consider a measure cutting off American military aid to the Saudi-led war in Yemen. “Somebody should be punished, but the question is: How do you separate the Saudi crown prince from the nation itself?” Mr. Shelby said.

“There is not a smoking gun, there’s a smoking saw. You have to be willfully blind” not to see it, Mr. Graham said. He was referring to a bone saw that Turkish officials have said was used to dismember Mr. Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

washington post logoWashington Post, Turkey issues arrest warrants for aides of Saudi crown prince in connection with Khashoggi killing, Kareem Fahim, Dec. 5, 2018. Prosecutors accused the two aides of helping plan the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The men are believed to be in Saudi Arabia, and there is little chance the government will surrender them to Turkish authorities.

Mueller Probe

ny times logoNew York Times, Michael Flynn, Witness for the Prosecution, Editorial Board, Dec. 5, 2018. The special counsel says President Trump’s former national security adviser has provided “substantial assistance” and deserves a light sentence.

Michael Flynn, who served briefly as President Trump’s national security adviser, is Exhibit A in the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

If other players, such as Paul Manafort and George Papadopoulos, have worked only grudgingly with the special counsel, and some, like Roger Stone, are still holding out, we now know, thanks to a sentencing recommendation that the office filed late on Tuesday in federal court, that Mr. Flynn provided “substantial assistance” to federal investigators working to unravel the Russia mystery.

djt maria butina

Palmer Report, Opinion: As Maria Butina nears plea deal, Donald Trump tries to get rid of her, Bill Palmer, Dec. 5, 2018. How close is alleged Russian spy Maria Butina (shown above0 to cutting a plea deal in the Trump-Russia scandal? Two weeks ago, she and federal prosecutors jointly asked the judge for two weeks to negotiate a deal – and tonight they and the judge set up a conference call about a deal for the morning. Such a deal would be bad news for Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, the NRA, and the GOP. Now suddenly Trump appears to be trying to get rid of Butina.

bill palmer report logo headerRachel Maddow revealed on-air tonight that a “spy swap” is being discussed that would send Maria Butina back to Russia. But there is no way on earth that federal prosecutors would want to do this. She’s a star witness who wants to cooperate with U.S. prosecutors, and who can take down far bigger fish. In fact the only people in the U.S. government who would benefit from such a move are the specific people who could be taken down by Butina’s testimony.

In other words, Donald Trump and his loyalists are behind this proposed spy swap. They have to be. No one else would, or could, be. They’re trying to get rid of her before she can rat them out, by shipping her off to Russia.

Climate Change

ny times logoNew York Times, Greenhouse Gas Emissions Rise Like a ‘Speeding Freight Train’ in 2018, Kendra Pierre-Louis, Dec. 5, 2018. Worldwide, carbon emissions are expected to increase by 2.7 percent in 2018, according to studies published Wednesday by the Global Carbon Project.

U.S Politics

wisconsin house gerrymander 2018 msnbc

washington post logoWashington Post, Wisconsin lawmakers vote to strip power from incoming Democratic governor, Isaac Stanley-Becker, Katie Zezima and Mark Berman, Dec. 5, 2018.  Democrats, who won all statewide seats in last month’s midterm elections, denounced the changes as a power grab.

Down With Tyranny! Opinion: Republicans Seek To Go Out With A Bang– Reaffirming Their War Against Women In The Lame Duck Session, Staff report, Dec. 5, 2018. House Republicans have always hated the Violence Against Women Act — first passed in 1994 — and yesterday Roll Call reported that they plan to use the cover of the lame duck session to let it lapse. “The law was set to expire Sept. 30, but it was extended through Dec. 7 under a stopgap spending bill that expires this week. Text of another short term spending deal was released Monday and does not include a VAWA extension, according to Republican aides in both the House and Senate.”

republican elephant logoThe law authorizes funding for social service agencies that aid victims affected by sexual violence, including rape crisis centers, shelters and legal-assistance programs. Reauthorizations over the years have included expanded provisions focused on reporting mechanisms for sexual violence on college campuses and extending protections for the LGBT community.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that one in three women and one in six men encounter sexual violence during their lifetime….House Democrats introduced a VAWA reauthorization proposal in July, sponsored by Texas’s Sheila Jackson Lee, that includes updates to the law such as provisions to help victims of domestic violence and stalking stay in stable housing situations and to bar evictions based on the actions of an abuser.

The update, backed by more than 160 Democrats and no Republicans, also includes a gun-related provision that could prove to be a poison pill for any action in the GOP-led House. The Democratic proposal would expand firearms laws to ensure that partners under protective orders or convicted of dating violence or stalking are prohibited from having a gun. Some states already have so-called red flag laws in place, with the aim of preventing escalation of violence.

Several dozen mainstream conservatives say they will vote with the Democrats to reauthorize the bill, but Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy are preventing a vote and are tossing some red meat to misogynistic Trumpists and religious fanatics in their conference who feel the GOP war against women works for them politically. Republican Brian Fitzpatrick (PA) is one of the GOP members who want to see VAWA extended: “Congress must continue to aggressively combat domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking by swiftly reauthorizing the bipartisan Violence Against Women Act.

washington post logoWashington Post, Don’t condemn white nationalists, VA’s diversity chief was told after Charlottesville, Lisa Rein, Dec. 5, 2018. The tense exchange at the Department of Veterans Affairs occurred when President Trump blamed “many sides” for last year’s clash in Charlottesville without singling out white nationalists and neo-Nazis. Washington Post, ‘He didn’t seem angry’: Witnesses testify about James A. Fields’s demeanor during Charlottesville rally, Dec. 5, 2018.

U.S. Economy

djt xi dinner g20 argentina 2018

A U.S. delegation, at right, led by President Trump meets a Chinese delegation led by President Xi Jinping at the G 20 Summit in Argentina this month.

ny times logochina flagNew York Times, Trump Tries to Calm Trade Fears, Talking Up ‘Strong Signals’ from Xi, Alan Rappeport, Dec. 5, 2018. President Trump declared in a series of tweets that the Chinese government has sent “very strong signals” since Mr. Trump reached an accord with President Xi Jinping of China. Confusion about what Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi actually agreed to at their meeting roiled global markets.

Health / Charitable Giving

ny times logoNew York Times, How 2 New Yorkers Erased $1.5 Million in Medical Debt for Hundreds of Strangers, Sharon Otterman, Dec. 5, 2018. If a slim, yellow envelope with a Rye, N.Y., return address lands in your mailbox this holiday season, don’t throw it out. It’s not junk. Some 1,300 such envelopes have been sent to New Yorkers around the state, containing the good news that R.I.P. Medical Debt, a New York-based nonprofit organization, has purchased their medical debt — and forgiven it.

Last spring, Judith Jones and Carolyn Kenyon, both of Ithaca, N.Y., heard about R.I.P. Medical Debt, which purchases bundles of past-due medical bills and forgives them to help those in need. So the women decided to start a fund-raising campaign of their own to assist people with medical debt in New York.

Over the summer months, the women raised $12,500 and sent it to the debt-forgiveness charity, which then purchased a portfolio of $1.5 million of medical debts on their behalf, for about half a penny on the dollar.

Ms. Jones, 80, a retired chemist, and Ms. Kenyon, 70, a psychoanalyst, are members of the Finger Lakes chapter of the Campaign for New York Health, which supports universal health coverage through passage of the New York Health Act.

“The way sort of opened,” Ms. Jones said. They cast a wide net for donations, she said, explaining to people that the campaign was only a short-term fix for the larger problem of out-of-control medical costs.

Many people take on extra jobs or hours to afford health care, and 11 percent of Americans have turned to charity for relief from medical debts, according to a 2016 poll conducted by The Times and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Trump Watch: Media

Palmer Report, Opinion: Donald Trump finds a whole new way to screw himself, Bill Palmer, Dec. 5, 2018. After Donald Trump had a jarringly horrible day on Tuesday with the news that Michael Flynn had sold him out thoroughly enough to earn a free pass, Trump had the chance for a bit of reprieve today – if only because some of the headlines were going to be elsewhere. Trump did screw up President George H.W. Bush’s funeral, but only in a low key manner. Then Trump went home and screwed it up.

bill palmer report logo headerAll that Donald Trump had to do tonight was stay out of the news cycle’s way. The Michael Flynn story was going to get whatever coverage it was going to get. But there was also the funeral story. And while Trump’s presence there clearly didn’t go well for him, the mainstream media was going to gloss over it, and simply report that – if nothing else – at least Trump got invited to one of these things for once. But Trump couldn’t simply keep quiet.

Tonight, Donald Trump posted an utterly ludicrous tweet declaring that his approval rating has somehow magically climbed to 50%, citing the infamous propaganda outlet Rasmussen. Not only was Trump posting a laugh-out-loud lie, he made the unbecoming move of bragging about his approval rating just hours after America buried a former president. Sure enough, now a portion of the news cycle will be dedicated to how Trump posted this idiotic fake-news tweet.

Sure, it’s a small thing. But it’s a sign that Donald Trump still doesn’t get it. Even now that everything has closed in on him, and he’s about to go down for treason, he’s still more focused on trying to convince himself he’s beloved than he is on trying to find a way to save himself.

More Facebook Revelations

washington post logofacebook logoWashington Post, Facebook allegedly offered advertisers special access to users’ data, Craig Timberg, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Tony Romm​, Dec. 5, 2018. A key British lawmaker alleged that the social media giant maintained “whitelisting agreements” that gave select companies preferential access to valuable user data.

Dec. 4

Mueller On Flynn Sentence

washington post logoWashington Post, Mueller seeks no prison time for former national security adviser Michael Flynn, citing his ‘substantial assistance,’ Carol D. Leonnig, Rosalind S. Helderman and Devlin Barrett, Dec. 4, 2018. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III on Tuesday recommended that former national security adviser Michael Flynn serve no prison time, citing his “substantial assistance” with several ongoing investigations, according to a new court filing.

michael flynn state department CustomSpecial counsel Robert S. Mueller III on Tuesday recommended that former national security adviser Michael Flynn, right, serve no prison time, citing his “substantial assistance” with several ongoing investigations, according to a new court filing.

Flynn was forced out of his post as national security adviser in February 2017 after the White House said he misled administration officials, including Vice President Pence, about his contacts with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States at the time.

Since then, Flynn has been cooperating with Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, and his full account of events has been one of the best-kept secrets in Washington. He is one of five Trump aides who have pleaded guilty in the special counsel probe.

Down With Tyranny! Manafort Revelations Show Trump Team Crime, Legacy Of Injustice, Andrew Kreig, Dec. 4, 2018. Among the remarkable Mueller probe revelations last week was the claim that attorneys for former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort have been sharing confidential information about the special counsel’s investigation with the legal team of “Individual 1,” aka President Trump.

The New York Times broke the main story electronically on Nov. 27 under the headline, Manafort’s Lawyer Is Said to Have Briefed Trump Team on Mueller Talks. Reporters Michael S. Schmidt, Sharon LaFraniere and Maggie Haberman wrote.

the controversy illustrates continuing tension between the federal enforcement “community” and the opportunists (or worse) who operate within the justice system or on its fringes. Such conflicts are especially important and outrageous as the Trump administration draws upon some of the very worst Bush administration attorneys.

Among the many such shocking situations, this column focuses on three such officials who have become extremely prominent and otherwise newsworthy, in part because of their ties to President Trump and his team.

• Manafort’s lead defense attorney, Kevin Downing, is a former senior litigator within the Justice Department’s tax fraud section, which missed a series of colossal tax frauds, including by Downing’s future client Manafort. Downing reportedly is also one of the attorneys involved in the liaison with the Trump White House that the New York Times reported last week;

• U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta as U.S. attorney for Miami in the Bush administration was involved both in major tax fraud cover-ups and also in whitewashing the federal-state prosecution of billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Epstein is a Trump friend and neighbor who is back in the news this week with the beginning of a major defamation trial in West Palm Beach, Florida; and

• Our third Bush-era former Justice Department official is Matthew Whitaker, whom Trump named as acting attorney general after Whitaker tried out for the job by arguing on cable news shows that Mueller’s investigation are excessive and unwarranted. Whitaker’s career includes a stint as a Bush-appointed U.S. attorney for Northern Iowa, where he vigorously prosecuted one of his political enemies whom a jury acquitted in just two hours.

Global Trade

washington post logochina flagWashington Post, Uncertainty surrounds trade deals with China, Canada and Mexico, Damian Paletta and Erica Werner, Dec. 4, 2018. Beijing’s promises remained vague, while a fragile North America pact got a rough reception in Congress. U.S. stock markets closed down nearly three percent on the day.

Trump Finances

ap logoAssociated Press, 2 attorneys general to subpoena Trump Organization, IRS, Tami Abdolla, Dec. 4, 2018. The attorneys general of the District of Columbia and Maryland plan to file subpoenas Tuesday seeking records from the Trump Organization, the Internal Revenue Service and dozens of other entities as part of a lawsuit accusing Donald Trump of profiting off the presidency.

irs logoThe flurry of subpoenas came a day after U.S. District Court Judge Peter J. Messitte approved a brisk schedule for discovery in the case alleging that foreign and domestic government spending at Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel amounts to gifts to the president in violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause.

The subpoenas target more than 30 Trump-linked private entities and the federal agency that oversees the lease for Trump’s D.C. hotel. Subpoenas were also being sent to the Department of Defense, General Services Administration, Department of Commerce, Department of Agriculture and the IRS, all of which have spent taxpayer dollars at the hotel.

Because Trump was also the first president in modern history to not release his tax returns, any responsive records would likely provide the first clear picture of the finances of Trump’s business empire as well as his Washington, D.C., hotel.

There is no indication yet that Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and District of Columbia Attorney General Karl A. Racine, both Democrats, would push for the president’s tax returns, at least in this initial round of legal discovery, given the sensitive nature of such a request and likely additional delays it would cause. But tax returns for some of Trump’s business entities, including the state and federal tax returns for the Trump Organization, are also being requested.

Saudi Murder Plot

washington post logojamal khashoggi western suitWashington Post, CIA director briefs senators on Saudi role in Khashoggi killing, Shane Harris and Karoun Demirjian​, Dec. 4, 2018. Gina Haspel had faced mounting pressure to explain the agency’s findings that the Saudi crown prince likely ordered the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, right.

ABCNews, After CIA briefing, Republicans say ‘no question’ Saudi crown prince ordered Khashoggi murder, Mariam Khan, Conor Finnegan and Trish Turner, Dec. 4, abc news logo2018. Following a briefing by CIA director Gina Haspel Tuesday on the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, leading Republican senators told reporters that there was “zero question” that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the brutal murder.

bob corker closeupSenate Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican (shown in a file photo), said “I have zero question in my mind that the Crown Prince MBS ordered the killing, monitored the killing, knew exactly what was happening. Planned it in advance. If he was in front of a jury he would be convicted in 30 minutes. Guilty,” Corker said.

Corker called the Trump administration’s claim that there is no direct evidence of the crown prince’s involvement “unacceptable.”

Election Rigging

washington post logorepublican elephant logoWashington Post, N.C. election-fraud investigation centers on operative who worked for GOP candidate, Amy Gardner and Kirk Ross, Dec. 4, 2018 (print edition).  The state elections board, which subpoenaed Republican Mark Harris’s campaign, has collected information suggesting that high-level officials may have been aware of the activities, according to people familiar with the probe.

washington post logoWashington Post, House Democrats could refuse to seat N.C. Republican amid election-fraud probe, Hoyer says, Mike DeBonis​, Dec. 4, 2018. Incoming House majority leader Steny H. Hoyer’s statement comes as N.C. election officials investigate whether an operative hired by Republican Mark Harris illegally collected incomplete ballots from voters.

Mueller Probe

washington post logogeorge conway twitterWashington Post, Analysis: Trump’s latest tweets on Mueller probe cross clear lines, experts say, Deanna Paul, Dec. 4, 2018 (print edition). Attorney George Conway (shown at right), husband of White House counsel Kellyanne Conway, and others suggest that the tweets on Michael Cohen and Roger Stone might be obstruction.

President Trump took to Twitter Monday morning, haranguing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and witnesses to his ongoing Russia investigation. His tweets have become a common morning occurrence, particularly in recent weeks. But legal experts are calling Monday’s missives a newsworthy development that michael cohen ap file croppedamounts to evidence of obstructing justice.

Trump’s first statement went out after Michael Cohen, left, his former personal attorney who pleaded guilty last week for lying to Congress about the president’s real estate project in Russia. In his tweet, Trump alleged that Cohen lied to Mueller and called for a severe penalty, demanding that his former fixer “serve a full and complete sentence.”

After the overt attack on Cohen came a tweet encouraging Roger Stone, a longtime adviser to Trump, not to become a witness against him.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Here’s the thing about the Michael Flynn sentencing, Bill Palmer, Dec. 4, 2018. At some unknown time today, Special Counsel Robert Mueller will release a sentencing memo – to the judge and to the public – in which he’ll make his recommendation about how long Michael Flynn should spend in prison. Based on the anticipation this morning on social media, I can tell that some of you are about to be very disappointed in how long Flynn’s recommended sentence is going to be.

Almost exactly a year ago, Robert Mueller allowed Michael Flynn to plead guilty to a single charge of lying to the FBI, in exchange for Flynn providing all the testimony and evidence he could against bigger fish like Donald Trump. This particular criminal charge comes with a sentencing guideline of just six months in prison. If Flynn has been particularly helpful, Mueller could recommend even less than that.

bill palmer report logo headerThis is simply how cooperating plea deals work. Michael Flynn didn’t want to sell out Donald Trump and everyone else involved. He reluctantly did it so that he could avoid a long prison sentence, and so that his son Michael Flynn Jr could avoid prison altogether. There are two reasons Robert Mueller gave Flynn such an “easy” deal. One was that Flynn was the first big name to flip. The other was that Mueller must have known that Flynn was sitting on really useful testimony and evidence against Trump. Because this is, entirely, about taking down Donald Trump.

So when the news today ends up being that Michael Flynn only got something like six months, and that he only pleaded guilty to lying, Donald Trump’s base will mistakenly celebrate it. They’ll say “See, there was no collusion, and this investigation was a waste of time. $40 million to put a guy in prison for a few months.”

But that’s because they’re clueless and delusional. Flynn only got the more serious charges dropped because he sold out Trump. The only way today could represent good news for Trump would be if Mueller announced that Flynn was going to prison for a very long time, because that would mean that Flynn never did properly give Trump up. Trump’s worst nightmare today is that Flynn gets a really lenient sentence, because that means Flynn buried Trump.

Epstein Settles Sex Claim 

Palm Beach Post, Settlement reached in Epstein case; Frankel urges probe of Acosta, Jane Musgrave, Dec. 4, 2018. Moments before jury selection was to begin in what promised to be a salacious trial plumbing the misdeeds of billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, both sides announced a settlement had been reached, negating the need for the much-anticipated three-week trial.

While the terms of the monetary settlement were confidential, as part of the accord, Epstein apologized for filing a lawsuit against attorney Bradley Edwards. In the lawsuit, Epstein accused the Fort Lauderdale lawyer of trumping up allegations that he had sexually assaulted young women at his Palm Beach mansion.

Epstein paid $5.5 million to settle the claims against three of the young women Edwards represented and eventually dropped the suit against Edwards. But, Edwards turned the tables on Epstein, filing a malicious prosecution lawsuit against the 65-year-old wildly successful money manager. That was the lawsuit that was to be decided by a Palm Beach County Circuit Court jury.

In the apology that was read aloud in court, Epstein admitted he sued Edwards because the lawsuits the attorney filed on behalf of the young women were “troublesome for me.”

“The lawsuit I filed was my unreasonable attempt to damage his business reputation and cause Mr. Edwards to stop pursuing cases against me,” attorney Scott Link said on behalf of Epstein, who was not in the courtroom. “It did not work.”

Epstein, who spends most of his time on his private island in the Virgin Islands or at his New York penthouse apartment, said what he did was wrong.

But Edwards and his attorney, Jack Scarola, said the saga that began in 2009 is far from over. Edwards said he will continue to pursue a lawsuit now pending in U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach, accusing federal prosecutors of violating the federal Crime Victims Rights Act by signing off on agreement that allowed Epstein to escape federal prosecution.

The so-called non-prosecution agreement allowed Epstein to plead guilty to two state charges — procuring a minor for prostitution and solicitation of prostitution. Epstein served 13 months of an 18-month sentence in a vacant wing of the county stockade — a cell he was allowed to leave during the day so he could continue to work.

Dec. 4

The Conscious Resistance, Researcher Wayne Madsen: Trump’s Connection to Epstein Needs to Be Exposed, Derrick Broze, Dec 5, 2018 (7:24 mins.). On Tuesday, Dec. 4, Derrick Broze attended the civil trial relating to the crimes of Jeffrey Epstein. He spoke with journalist, researcher, investigator Wayne Madsen about the claims of Katie Johnson regarding Donald Trump and Jeffrey Epstein.

#MeToo: Ohio State Football

ny times logourban meyer 2017New York Times, For Urban Meyer and Ohio State, a Parting Months in the Making, Marc Tracy, Dec. 4, 2018. From the moment the university suspended the coach, shown at right, in August for three games, a special relationship was irrevocably severed.

Media / Mueller News

washington post logoWashington Post, The Guardian offered a bombshell about Paul Manafort. It still hasn’t detonated, Paul Farhi​​, Dec. 4, 2018. The Guardian newspaper reported last week that Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign manager, had met with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange several times, including during a critical period in March 2016.

The story suggested that the meeting in London could be a key link in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of the Trump campaign. If such a meeting occurred, it would establish the first direct contact between one of the president’s associates and WikiLeaks, which began releasing emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee in summer 2016. The emails, stolen by Russian agents and passed to WikiLeaks, proved damaging to Trump’s opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Manafort and WikiLeaks have blasted the Guardian’s reporting. Manafort — who was convicted in August on eight counts of bank- and tax-fraud charges arising from his decades-long business and political activities in Ukraine — has called the article “totally false and deliberately libelous.” He said in a statement last week that he’s never met Assange.

French Fuel Tax Protest

washington post logoemmanuel macronWashington Post, France suspends fuel tax plan that sparked violent protests, James McAuley, Dec. 4, 2018. “No tax is worth putting in danger the unity of the nation,” said Prime Minister Édouard Philippe. The move represented a major reversal for the government of President Emmanuel Macron, right, who is slipping in polls.

French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced Tuesday that the French government will temporarily suspend the carbon tax plan that triggered weeks of often violent protests nationwide.

To help curb climate change, the government had proposed the taxes, which were slated to take effect in January and were designed to wean consumers off diesel and other polluting fuels and to favor electric cars. But the price increases those taxes represented led to social unrest unseen in recent years that quickly became a full-blown crisis, and President Emmanuel Macron became the latest world leader to suffer at home for imposing green taxes.

Earlier story: Protests damage Paris monuments, shops and Macron’s presidency, James McAuley, Dec. 4, 2018. .

Teen Abuse Defamation Trial

washington post logoWashington Post, Palm Beach trial could reveal details of billionaire’s alleged abuse of teen girls, Marc Fisher, Dec. 4, 2018 (print edition). Jeffrey Epstein’s lawsuit pushes back against a lawyer who represented his accusers, but it may offer a window into a sordid saga of sexual exploitation.

Update: Opposing sides reached a financial settlement on undisclosed terms, aborting the trial.

U.S. Politics

ny times logoNew York Times, Wisconsin Legislature Live Updates: A Fight for Political Power, Mitch Smith and Monica Davey, Dec. 4, 2018. After losing top state offices, Republican lawmakers are racing to pass legislation that would diminish the power of the incoming Democratic governor. Angry Democrats were gathering at the State Capitol for a tense showdown and a second day of protesting what they deemed an unethical power grab.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Wisconsin Is About to Make a Huge Mistake, Dan Kaufman, Dec. 4, 2018 (print edition). The lame duck, heavily gerrymandered Republican Legislature plans to vote on Tuesday to limit the powers of the incoming governor and attorney general, who are — surprise — Democrats.o grew up in Wisconsin.

Late Friday afternoon, less than a month after a Democrat, Tony Evers, defeated Scott Walker, the incumbent Republican governor, Robin Vos, the Republican Speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly, followed through on his threat to strip the new governor of some of his power.

That day, an assembly committee released five bills that grant sweeping new authority to the Legislature at the expense of both Mr. Evers and Wisconsin’s new attorney general, Josh Kaul, who also happens to be a Democrat. Drafted in secret, the legislation was rushed to the Joint Finance Committee on Monday for its only public hearing. Legislators and outraged citizens scrambled all weekend to parse more than forty serious changes to state law embedded in the 141 pages of text. The legislature is expected to vote on the bills on Tuesday and Mr. Walker has indicated an openness to signing legislation of this stripe.

No one is really bothering to hide the purpose of this lame duck legislation: to continue the Republicans’ hold on state government, even at the expense of core democratic principles like respect for the separation of powers and majority rule. The legislation would nullify the decision-making of Wisconsin’s voters, who rejected Republicans for every statewide office in the November midterms.

washington post logorepublican elephant logoWashington Post, Republican National Congressional Committee says it was hacked during this year’s election cycle, Staff report, Dec. 4, 2018. It wasn’t known if a foreign government was behind the cyberattack against the campaign organization for House Republicans, which discovered the breach in April, a person familiar with the case said.

But the intruder was “sophisticated, based on their tactics and methods” and the intrusion “was clearly designed to hide the tracks of who it was,” this person said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the intrusion is under investigation.

Daily Beast, How No Labels Went From Preaching Unity to Practicing the Dark Arts, Sam Stein and Lachlan Markay, Dec. 4, 2018. Internal documents show a group funded by the biggest names in finance. But also beset by dysfunction and division. As House Republicans were crafting their Obamacare repeal bill in the spring of 2017, Nancy Jacobson, the founder and CEO of No Labels, a group that promotes bipartisan governance, wanted to spice up her organization’s Twitter feed.

So she turned to someone known for provocative political takes: her husband, longtime political operative Mark Penn. In a tweet that March, written under Penn’s direction, No Labels took the unconventional position that Democrats were to blame for not being more willing to work with Republicans in the destruction of their party’s signature piece of modern legislation.

The blowback was harsh both inside and outside the organization, so much so that the tweet was subsequently deleted and Penn was taken off the handle. Asked about this episode this past week, Melanie Sloan, a spokesperson for No Labels, initially said that Penn had never been given effective control of the group’s account. But Jacobson later confirmed it.

A group created with the goal of promoting political consensus and compromise has increasingly veered into explicit and occasionally heated political combat. And it’s not just by handing over its Twitter handle to one of Washington, D.C.’s most notorious operatives.

The group, which was founded as a champion of political bipartisanship, has been quietly courting donations from some of the most notoriously partisan money men and women in politics.

By the end of the 2018 cycle, six No Labels-affiliated super PACs—No Labels Action, Forward Not Back, United Together, Govern or Go Home, Citizens for a Strong America, and United for Progress—had collectively raised more than $11 million from 53 individual donors. The average contribution to the groups was about $124,000, illustrating their reliance on high-dollar donors rather than grassroots financial support.

More On Mueller Probe

ny times logoNew York Times, Manafort Discussed Deal With Ecuador to Hand Assange Over to U.S., Kenneth P. Vogel and Nicholas Casey, Dec. 4, 2018 (print edition). Talks between Paul Manafort and President Lenín Moreno of Ecuador on the fate of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange ultimately ended without any deals.

#MeToo Scandal  / Labor Issues

ny times logomichelle goldberg thumbNew York Times, Opinion: Why Does Alex Acosta Still Have a Job? Michelle Goldberg, Dec. 4, 2018 (print edition). The cabinet official’s connection to a shady deal for an alleged child molester. It is the perverse good fortune of Alexander Acosta, left, Donald Trump’s secretary of labor, to be part of an administration so spectacularly corrupt that it’s simply impossible to give all its scandals the attention they deserve.

alexander acosta labor oLast Wednesday, The Miami Herald published a blockbuster multipart exposé about how the justice system failed the victims of Jeffrey Epstein, a rich, politically connected financier who appears to have abused underage girls on a near-industrial scale. The investigation, more than a year in the making, described Epstein as running a sort of child molestation pyramid scheme, in which girls — some in middle school — would be recruited to give Epstein “massages” at his Palm Beach mansion, pressured into sex acts, then coerced into bringing him yet more girls. The Herald reported that Epstein was also suspected of trafficking girls from overseas.

What’s shocking is not just the lurid details and human devastation of his alleged crimes, but the way he was able to use his money to escape serious consequences, thanks in part to Acosta, then Miami’s top federal prosecutor. For reasons that are not entirely clear, Acosta took extraordinary measures to let Epstein — and, crucially, other unnamed people — off the hook.

The labor secretary, whose purview includes combating human trafficking, has done nothing so far to rebut The Herald’s reporting. (A spokesman for his department has referred reporters to his previous statements about the case.) It should end his career. The story might have been overshadowed by last week’s cascading revelations in the Trump-Russia scandal, or the news that acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker knew of numerous fraud complaints against a company he advised, to take just two examples of administration lawlessness. But while Acosta’s record covering up for a depraved plutocrat makes him a good fit for the Trump administration, it should disqualify him from public service.

Bush Death / Media News

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: George Bush and the Obituary Wars, Frank Bruni, Dec. 4, 2018. We like our villains without redemption and our heroes without blemish. What happened to shades of gray?

george hw bush cia director after assassinations in Beirut june17 1976 NARA wh photo

CIA Director George H.W. Bush hears a briefing in 1976 on June 17 following the assassination of two Americans in Lebanon (David Kennerly photo now with the National Archives)

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Truthout, Opinion: George H.W. Bush Empowered Atrocity Abroad and Fascists at Home, William Rivers Pitt, Dec. 4, 2018. The television spent the entire weekend reminding me that George Herbert Walker Bush loved his country, his wife, his children, his grandchildren, his great-grandchildren, his dog, the city of Houston, the town of Kennebunkport, baseball, football, golf and so very much else besides.

Our 41st US president, the talking heads assured me, was a veritable ocean of love. The newspaper folks did their part to paint this picture, as well; stealing a leaf from Jesus of Nazareth over the weekend, Bush Sr. died and rose again on the warm updraft of early 1990s B-roll footage and gushing headlines from all corners of the country.

The hagiography festival made a particularly grand to-do about the fact that George H.W. Bush was president when the Cold War ended. What the glowing obituaries obscured, however, was that Bush Sr. was a Cold Warrior of the first order, actively involved in a number of genuine atrocities that spanned the globe.

Most of Bush Sr.’s biography has been well documented for good and ill, but his time at the helm of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is seldom discussed in this hemisphere. He spent only a year in that job, but it was one of the bloodiest years South America has ever known. Fifteen years later, he personally, if inadvertently, opened the door for the proto-fascist takeover of his own party. Those two tales, combined with some other dark chapters of Bush Sr.’s life, frame a career in power and politics that did damage most everywhere it went.

CIA LogoAs director of the CIA from 1976 to 1977, Bush Sr. was an integral part of a US government covert terrorism/torture program in South America. Known as Operation Condor by the participants, the program was aimed at destroying left-leaning governments and organizations they feared might come to support the Soviet Union. Forty years later, the horror and chaos unleashed by Operation Condor still plagues that region, and is a fair explanation for why massive caravans of asylum-seeking migrants continue to arrive at the US-Mexico border.

Documents that were recently declassified reveal that the “Dirty War” in Argentina, the Augusto Pinochet regime in Chile, Alfredo Stoessner’s dictatorship in Paraguay and other atrocities across the continent were actively supported by the US government. Thousands of leftist peasants, union leaders, teachers, students, priests, and nuns were slaughtered, imprisoned and tortured, and George Herbert Walker Bush went to work every day at CIA headquarters to make sure it happened.

Many years later, when Bush Sr. rose to accept the Republican nomination for president in 1988, he made a fateful promise. “Read my lips,” he told the enthusiastic crowd, “no new taxes.” He broke that pledge in 1990, and in doing so dropped an atomic bomb on politics in the United States. Breaking that pledge infuriated the conservative wing of his party, which was deeply suspicious of Bush’s internationalist leanings to begin with.

The fascist upswelling that came in the wake of his broken campaign promise is as much a part of Bush Sr.’s legacy as the crisis at the southern border. Operation Condor happened even though the TV people this weekend chose to leave it off the script. The GOP’s neo-fascist twist erupted during Sr.’s administration. Both are side effects of the Cold War that will be with us for many years to come, and deserve their own wing in Bush Sr.’s library down in College Station.

Spiked Drink Charge

Palm Beach Post, Delray doctor accused of drugging woman’s drink at Boca bar, Olivia Hitchcock, Dec. 4, 2018. A Delray Beach doctor accused of slipping drugs into a woman’s drink at a Boca Raton bar has been arrested on a poisoning charge, city police records show.

Dr. Mircea Albin Morariu, 50, of Boca Raton was booked early Tuesday into the Palm Beach County Jail on a charge of poisoning food or drink with the intent to either kill or injure someone. His attorney, Guy Fronstin, said Tuesday morning that the arrest report is “one-sided” against his client, whom he describe as “a highly trained neurologist.”

Judge Dina Keever-Agrama ordered Morariu be held in the jail until he can be placed into a treatment facility. It was not immediately clear what type of treatment he would undergo. However, Keever-Agrama stressed that Morariu only would be released from the jail to an in-patient treatment center, and that if he does not remain at the center, he will be booked back into the county jail and held without the possibility of posting bond.

Records indicate that on the night of Sept. 10, Morariu met up with a woman at Ouzo Bay, a Greek restaurant in Mizner Park. The two had known for nearly two decades, the woman told authorities, and they were meeting to discuss his recent engagement.

Dec. 3

Trump Probes

Palmer Report, Opinion: The next four days are everything, Bill Palmer, Dec. 3, 2018. We’ve been waiting a long, long time for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to finally blow the lid off Donald Trump’s crimes in public view. Now all indications are that we’re looking at a four day stretch – starting tomorrow – that’s going to change everything.

bill palmer report logo headerIt all starts tomorrow when Robert Mueller is scheduled to finally file the plea deal sentencing memo for Michael Flynn, after a full year of cooperation. That filing will include details about the crimes that Flynn committed. robert mueller kit fox medill flickr croppedNBC News is reporting tonight that Mueller, right, will make the Flynn filing public. So after all this mystery about what Flynn was really doing with Trump and Russia during the election and the transition period, and what he’s secretly given up to Mueller, we’re about to get answers. But it’s just the start.

This Friday, Robert Mueller is scheduled to file a sentencing memo for Paul Manafort, which will include a list of the things that Manafort was lying about when he violated the terms of the plea deal. Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News is confirming tonight that Mueller will make the Manafort filing public. Also on Friday, Mueller will file the sentencing memo for arguably his most valued cooperating witness, Michael Cohen; that document should detail the ways in which Cohen has helped Mueller to nail Donald Trump.

In other words, just about everything is about to come out.

washington post logoWashington Post, Fact Checker Analysis: Trump’s misleading statements about a real estate project in Russia, Meg Kelly, Dec. 3, 2018. President Trump has repeatedly claimed he had “nothing to do with Russia,” whether in his business affairs or the 2016 campaign. Here are the facts.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: After the latest Mueller news, these corrupt Trump moves look much worse, Greg Sargent, Dec. 3, 2018. The latest revelations in the Russia saga should refocus our attention on a critical period during the 2016 presidential campaign. I’m talking about the seven weeks or so that began in June 2016, when Donald Trump Jr. planned the infamous Trump Tower meeting with Russians, and ended in late July, with GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump publicly calling on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails.

What we now know is this. During much of that period, the Trump Organization was secretly pursuing a business deal in Russia that required Kremlin approval — even though the most senior members of Trump’s own campaign, and possibly Trump himself, knew at the time that Russia was waging an attack designed to sabotage our democracy on Trump’s behalf and eagerly sought to help Russia carry it out.

On at least one occasion, Trump publicly absolved Russia of any blame for this attack — while apparently carrying on private financial dealings that involved the office of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Bush, CIA, Deep Stategeorge hw bush cia director after assassinations in Beirut june17 1976 NARA wh photo

CIA Director George H.W. Bush hears a briefing in 1976 on June 17 following the assassination of two Americans in Lebanon (David Kennerly photo now with the National Archives)

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Bush practiced a CIA omerta that may have died with him, Tim Weiner, Dec. 3, 2018.  It was his spy service, right or wrong, and he protected it at all costs. George H.W. Bush loved the CIA. It was “part of my heartbeat,” he once said. He was the only president who ever ran the agency, and the last president who truly believed in its Cold War code: Admit nothing, deny everything.

CIA LogoThe wall of silence cracked during the administration of Bush’s successor, Bill Clinton, when the FBI’s arrest of Aldrich Ames, a Russian mole who went undetected by the CIA for nine years, led the agency’s directors to denounce systemic flaws in the CIA’s integrity. The wall crumbled when the 9/11 Commission disclosed the CIA’s dead-wrong reporting on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a false case for a brutal war led by Bush’s son. By the time reporters brought to light the CIA’s secret prisons and its torture of terrorism suspects — the torture authorized by that son — the wall was dust.

Everything we know about the late president suggests that he might have been privately appalled by these failures of common law and common sense. But he never said anything — not in public. The CIA was his spy service, right or wrong. He protected it at all costs.

Tim Weiner’s reporting and writing on national security have won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. He is the author of “Enemies: A History of the FBI” and “Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA.”

U.S. Politics

ny times logorepublican elephant logoNew York Times, Despite Big House Losses, G.O.P. Shows No Signs of Course Correction, Jonathan Martin, Dec. 3, 2018 (print edition). The Republican Party, which stayed true to President Trump, is constrained from grappling with the damage he inflicted because of his popularity with its core supporters. But now a cadre of G.O.P. lawmakers are urging party officials to come to terms with why their 23-seat majority unraveled so spectacularly.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: American Capitalism Isn’t Working, David Leonhardt, Dec. 3, 2018 (print edition). Not so long ago, corporate leaders understood they had a stake in the country’s prosperity.

Even when economic growth has been decent, as it is now, most of the bounty has flowed to the top. Median weekly earnings have grown a miserly 0.1 percent a year since 1979. The typical American family today has a lower net worth than the typical family did 20 years ago. Life expectancy, shockingly, has fallen this decade.

The solution will need to involve a return to higher taxes on the rich. But it’s also worth thinking about pre-tax incomes — and specifically what goes on inside corporations.

Global Economy

ny times logochina flagNew York Times, Trade Truce Gives China and U.S. Political Breathing Room, Keith Bradsher and Alan Rappeport, Dec. 3, 2018 (print edition). President Trump and President Xi Jinping of China reached an agreement to effectively pause their trade war and work toward a pact. Both sides immediately positioned it as a domestic victory while staking out areas where they would not compromise.

Homeless After Fires

ny times logoNew York Times, After a California Wildfire, New and Old Homeless Populations Collide, Alexandra S. Levine, Dec. 3, 2018. Butte County had 2,000 homeless people and a crisis on its hands before the Camp Fire’s devastation added tens of thousands more to their ranks. Tensions are growing between those who were already homeless and the newly homeless, as each group reaches for the other’s resources.

Climate Change

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump’s skepticism of climate science echoes across GOP, Matt Viser, Dec. 3, 2018. The Republican Party, whose leaders once largely accepted the reality of climate change, is following the lead of a doubtful president.

Watergate History / Cover-up

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washington post logoWashington Post, The Cuban spy and Watergate burglar who won a presidential pardon, Shane O’Sullivan, Dec. 3, 2018. How Cuba and the Kennedy assassination led to the pardon of Rolando Eugenio Martínez.

In anticipation of the Mueller report, political commentators and historians have drawn numerous parallels with Watergate and the impeachment proceedings against President Richard M. Nixon. A month after Nixon’s resignation in August 1974, President Gerald R. Ford pardoned him. But history has forgotten the only other man granted a presidential pardon for his role in the Watergate crimes, and why the pardon was given.

Watergate burglar Rolando Eugenio Martínez was a veteran of more than 300 infiltration missions into Cuba for the CIA during the secret war on Fidel Castro in the early 1960s. He was also the only Watergate burglar still on the agency’s payroll at the time of the break-in.

He was recruited for the Watergate operation by E. Howard Hunt, the former CIA liaison to the Cuban “government in exile” in Miami before the Bay of Pigs invasion. By the summer of 1971, Hunt had retired from the agency and taken up a new job as a security consultant for the Nixon White House.

Incensed by the publication of the Pentagon Papers, Nixon ordered a smear campaign against whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, so Hunt recruited Martínez and two other Cubans to break into the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist in Beverly Hills, Calif. Their goal? To find embarrassing secrets that could destroy Ellsberg’s reputation in the press. Hunt subsequently employed an expanded Cuban team to break into the Watergate offices of the Democratic National Committee in May and June 1972.

Amid rumors that Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern had financial support from Cuba, Hunt sent Martínez into DNC headquarters to find and photograph documentary evidence of collusion between Democrats and Castro. Martínez believed the Ellsberg and Watergate break-ins were “national security” operations being run through Hunt at the White House with the blessing of the CIA. After all, the agency was still paying Martínez a retainer of a hundred dollars a month to report on Cubans of intelligence interest arriving in Miami, and he had repeatedly told his case officer about his contact with Hunt.

Shane O’Sullivan is a documentary filmmaker, senior lecturer in filmmaking at Kingston University, London and author of the new book, “Dirty Tricks: Nixon, Watergate and the CIA.”

Mueller Probe

Palmer Report, Opinion: Confirmed: Robert Mueller is about to publicly drop the hammer on Paul Manafort and Donald Trump, Bill Palmer, Dec. 3, 2018. Last week Special Counsel Robert Mueller made a point of blowing up the cooperating plea deal with Paul Manafort, revealing in the process that Manafort had been conspiring with Donald Trump behind Mueller’s back. Mueller moved for immediate sentencing, which meant that he’d have to tell the judge precisely what Manafort lied about. The question was whether those details would be made public. Now we have our answer – and we know when it’ll happen.

bill palmer report logo headerRobert Mueller’s office, which rarely says anything to anyone, is making a point of telling respected political reporter Michael Isikoff that the Paul Manafort filing – which will happen this Friday – will be made public. Although there is the possibility that portions of it could be strategically redacted, we are at least about to find out most of what Manafort lied to Mueller about. So why is relevant to Donald Trump?

Considering that Manafort was secretly plotting with Trump the entire time to try to sabotage Mueller, it seems logical that Manafort was lying to Mueller about his Trump-related crimes. Mueller has clearly gotten to the truth without Manafort’s help, or else he wouldn’t have known that Manafort was lying to him. Now this public court filing allows Mueller to put the truth out there about the crimes that Manafort and Trump were committing together.

We’re now seeing what Robert Mueller’s strategy looks like. Ahead of any final report and big fish arrests, Mueller is using court proceedings to incrementally expose Donald Trump’s crimes to the public. This appears to be Mueller’s way of convincing the public that Trump and everyone around him is guilty, in order to build broader support for the Trump takedown he’s about to attempt. Mueller is still keeping his final takedown strategy a secret.

Dershowitz Asserts Innocence

alan dershowitz2Salon, Letter to the Editor: Alan Dershowitz responds: Sex allegations are “outright false” and “thoroughly disproved,” Alan Dershowitz, right, Dec. 2, 2018. Law professor writes that sexual allegations against him were invented and have been “conclusively disproved.” 

Alan Dershowitz, the former Harvard law professor and prominent civil-liberties attorney, wrote this response to the Salon article referenced below, published on Nov. 30. That article was primarily sourced from an earlier report in the Miami Herald that mentioned a 2015 affidavit containing allegations against Dershowitz. He has consistently and vigorously denied those allegations, and here supplies evidence that they were withdrawn. Our earlier article has been updated and clarified to reflect this.

Dec. 2

Trump Cabinet Corruption

alexander acosta labor oWayne Madsen Report (WMR), Opinion: Trump Labor Secretary cited in pedophile sweetheart deal, Dec. 2, 2018. The rumored nomination of Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, right, as Attorney General in the wake of Jeff Sessions’s firing is apparently what spurred The Miami Herald to publish a detailed three-part series look at the sweetheart plea agreement worked out by Acosta with convicted child molester and Donald Trump’s close friend Jeffrey Epstein.

The Miami Herald story resulted in a public rebuke for the story’s reporter, Julie Brown, from former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci, who appears to have taken over as Trump’s “muscle” to attack journalists who investigate Trump and those tied to him.

Saudi Murder Most Foul

washington post logoWashington Post, Saudi crown prince exchanged messages with aide alleged to have overseen Khashoggi killing, Shane Harris and Souad Mekhennet, Dec. 2, 2018 (print mohammed bin salman al saudedition). In the hours before and after journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, and a senior aide who allegedly oversaw the assassination exchanged multiple messages, according to people familiar with the matter.

The communications between the two men are another piece of evidence tying the crown prince to the killing of Khashoggi, left, a former palace insider turned prominent critic, who also was a contributing columnist to The Washington Post.

jamal khashoggi western suitThe CIA included the existence of the messages in its classified assessment that Mohammed is likely to have ordered Khashoggi’s death, a view that agency officials have shared with members of Congress and the White House.

Mohammed exchanged the messages on Oct. 2 with Saud al-Qahtani, one of his closest aides and a fierce public supporter who has kept a blacklist of those he deems disloyal to the kingdom. The content of the messages, and what form the messages took, was not known, according to people familiar with the matter.

More Middle Eastern News

washington post logobenjamin netanyahu frownWashington Post, Israeli police recommend charging Netanyahu in third corruption case, Ruth Eglash​, Dec. 2, 2018. Israeli police on Sunday recommended indicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of bribery and corruption in a third case — this time on suspicion that the leader eased business regulations for the country’s largest telecommunications company in exchange for favorable coverage for him and his wife on a popular news website owned by the firm.

Police have also recommended that media mogul Shaul Elovitch — a close friend of Netanyahu and majority shareholder of Bezeq, the telecoms firm that owns the news site Walla — be indicted for his alleged role in the affair. Elovitch’s wife, Iris, and Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, were also implicated in the case, known as Case 4000.

ap logoscott stearneyAssociated Press via Washington Post, US naval commander in Middle East found dead in Bahrain home, Staff report, Dec. 2, 2018 (print edition). The commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and the U.S. Fifth Fleet has been found dead in his residence in Bahrain. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson says Vice Adm. Scott Stearney, shown last spring, was found dead Saturday. Richardson says the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Bahraini Ministry of Interior are investigating the death, but foul play is not suspected.

Mueller Probe

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: Mueller Exposes the Culture of Lying That Surrounds Trump, Sharon LaFraniere, Dec. 2, 2018 (print edition). The president has demanded loyalty of advisers, including an embrace of his habitual boasts, misstatements and outright falsehoods; Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer, asked a judge that he be allowed to avoid prison when he is sentenced.

When Michael D. Cohen admitted this past week to lying to Congress about a Russian business deal, he said he had testified falsely out of loyalty to President Trump. When he admitted this summer to lying on campaign finance records about payments to cover up a sex scandal during the campaign, he said it was at Mr. Trump’s direction.

paul manafort mugPaul Manafort, left, and Rick Gates, former senior Trump campaign officials, lied to cover up financial fraud. George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign aide, lied in hopes of landing an administration job. And Michael T. Flynn, another adviser, lied about his interactions with a Russian official and about other matters for reasons that remain unclear.

robert mueller kit fox medill flickr croppedIf the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, right, has proved anything in his 18-month-long investigation — besides how intensely Russia meddled in an American presidential election — it is that Mr. Trump surrounded himself throughout 2016 and early 2017 with people to whom lying seemed to be second nature.

They lied to federal authorities even when they had lawyers advising them, even when the risk of getting caught was high and even when the consequences for them were dire.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Devin Nunes is about to get his come-uppance, Bill Palmer, Dec. 2, 2018.  or the past year and a half we’ve watched House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes bend over backward to try to protect Donald Trump from his Trump-Russia scandal, in increasingly buffoonish and criminal fashion. But it turns out Nunes’ plan was based on the assumption that the GOP would keep the House, or perhaps based on no forward thinking at all, because that plan is rapidly blowing up in his face.

bill palmer report logo headerAmong numerous other stupid ideas, Devin Nunes, right, decided to bring in a whole bunch of Trump-Russia people and have them testify before the House Intel Committee that they didn’t do anything wrong, so he could push out a report “clearing” all of them, before legitimate investigators like Robert Mueller and the Senate Intel Committee could publish legitimate reports.

In so doing, Nunes had these people commit perjury. According to Eric Swalwell, a Democrat on the House Intel Committee, the transcripts of all that testimony are currently locked in the basement of Congress.

washington post logoWashington Post, Supreme Court to consider case that could affect potential Manafort prosecutions, Robert Barnes, Dec. 2, 2018. The Supreme Court next week takes up the case of a small-time Alabama felon, Terance Gamble, who complains that his convictions by state and federal prosecutors for the same gun possession crime violate constitutional protections against double jeopardy.

But likely to be watching the proceedings closely will be those concerned about a big-time felon, Republican consultant and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was prosecuted by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III for tax fraud.

With President Trump keeping alive prospects that he might pardon Manafort, Gamble v. United States might be redubbed Manafort v. Mueller, joked Thomas C. Goldstein, an attorney who regularly argues before the Supreme Court.

paul manafortThe outcome in the case could affect nascent plans by states to prosecute Manafort, left, under their own tax evasion laws — New York, in particular, has expressed interest — should Trump pardon Manafort on his federal convictions.

The Double Jeopardy Clause of the Constitution’s 5th Amendment prohibits more than one prosecution or punishment for the same offense. But the Supreme Court since the 1850s has made an exception, allowing successive prosecutions and punishments if one is brought by state prosecutors and the other by the federal government. (One early case from that time involved counterfeiting; another was prosecution of someone harboring a fugitive slave.)

In Gamble, the court is reconsidering these precedents. Almost none of the briefs filed in the case speculate on how a presidential pardon of a federal conviction would affect prosecutors at the state level should the so-called separate sovereigns doctrine be renounced.

Inside TrumpWorld

Palmer Report, Opinion: It’s time for Mike Pence to panic, Bill Palmer, Dec. 2, 2018. Now that Trump is circling the drain, Pence is theoretically closer to the Oval Office than ever – but he’s also in some real danger.

mike pence leftFor reasons still only known to him, Kremlin puppet Paul Manafort bent over backward to get Donald Trump to pick Mike Pence to be his running mate. This made little strategic sense, as Pence, left, had a very low approval rating as Governor of Indiana.

If the goal was to simply pick an evangelical in order to get the extremist vote, there were more viable options. This has always raised the question of whether the Kremlin – when it was dictating all of Manafort’s other moves – also told him to have Trump pick Pence. More directly, was Pence a Russian asset?

bill palmer report logo headerNow that Manafort has flunked his cooperating plea deal, it’s hard to imagine that he gave up Mike Pence to Robert Mueller. That said, plenty of other people were around when Manafort picked Pence, and there’s a good chance Manafort’s longtime sidekick Rick Gates – who has since cut a cooperating plea deal – gave him up to Mueller. But then there’s the real ace in the hole.

We all saw Mike Pence go on national television and insist that Michael Flynn never had any transition period contact with the Russian Ambassador. Then we learned that Congressman Elijah Cummings had informed Pence of it, in writing, six weeks earlier. Why did Pence go out and lie to cover for Flynn? Considering that Flynn has cut a plea deal, Robert Mueller knows by now for sure.

So we’re not just dealing with the question of whether Donald Trump will be ousted, allowing Mike Pence to inherit the presidency. We’re also dealing with the question of whether Trump and Pence will both be ousted, if not simultaneously, then not all that far apart from each other. For Mike Pence, judgment day is coming – and it’s time for him to panic.

shinzō abe oPalmer Report, Opinion: Donald Trump has humiliating G20 moment with Prime Minister of Japan, Bill Palmer, Dec. 2, 2018. The Prime Minister of Japan, right, walked up to Donald Trump at the G20 summit, and according to Jonathan Allen of NBC News, said “I want to congratulate you on your historic victory in the midterm election in the United States.” Let’s be clear here. Shinzo is not some idiot, so he knows full well that Trump got wiped out in the midterms. So why say it?

bill palmer report logo headerWe’ve all seen that Donald Trump is such a malignant narcissist, and so far removed from reality, you can easily play him simply by buttering him up and telling him the same lies he keeps repeating. Shinzo has clearly figured this out, and he used it disarm Trump at the G20. So now Trump has reached the point of humiliation where world leaders are now using his broken psyche to gain the upper hand in diplomatic negotiations with him. The scary part is that, even as the entire world laughs, Trump doesn’t even know he’s being played.

Pop Culture Political Focus

 ny times logoNew York Times, Alec Baldwin Returns to ‘S.N.L.’ as Trump, Dave Itzkoff, Dec. 2, 2018 (6 min. video). In just his second “Saturday Night Live” appearance this season — and his first since his arrest following a dispute over a parking space — Alec Baldwin returned to the program this weekend to portray President Trump in a comedy sketch set at the Group of 20 summit meeting in Argentina.

In the show’s cold open, Baldwin stood on a hotel balcony, complaining to Melania Trump (played by cast member Cecily Strong) that he’d been having trouble sleeping. “I keep having this nightmare where I’m walking through a forest of blood,” he said.

Strong replied, “No, no, that was just my Christmas decorations.”

Baldwin, a frequent “S.N.L.” guest who has portrayed President Trump on the show since 2016, said at the start of this season that he intended to play the role less often. As Trump in the “S.N.L.” sketch, Baldwin referenced his own legal troubles, complaining at one point, “God, I haven’t been this upset since I flipped out over that parking space.”

He also traded quips with Kate McKinnon, playing Rudy Giuliani, who is representing the president as a defense lawyer in the Mueller investigation. Asked by Baldwin how the legal defense was coming, McKinnon answered, “Well, I’m involved, so it’s not great. This might be the first time someone’s lawyer pleads insanity.”

Dec. 1

Bush Death, Legacy, Criticism

george hw bush george w bush 2001

ny times logoNew York Times, George H.W. Bush, Who Steered Nation Through Turbulent Era, Dies at 94, Adam Nagourney, Dec. 1, 2018 (print edition). Mr. Bush, a Republican, was the 41st president of the United States and the father of the 43rd [shown together above in a 2001 photo in the White House Oval Officie]. He was the last of the World War II generation to occupy the Oval Office. His one-term presidency during the tumultuous period at the end of the Cold War capped four decades in public service.

george hw bush HRMr. Bush (shown at right in a 1989 photo) had a form of Parkinson’s disease that forced him to use a wheelchair or motorized scooter in recent years, and he had been in and out of hospitals during that time as his health declined. In April, a day after attending Mrs. Bush’s funeral, he was treated for an infection that had spread to his blood. In 2013, he was in dire enough shape with bronchitis that former President George W. Bush, his son, solicited ideas for a eulogy.

But he proved resilient each time. In 2013 he told well-wishers, through an aide, to “put the harps back in the closet.”

Roll Call, A Life in Photos: George H.W. Bush, Gillian Roberts, Dec 1, 2018. The 41st president died Friday at 94. George H.W. Bush died Friday at 94. The 41st president — and 43rd vice president, and onetime congressman, CIA director, United Nations ambassador, Republican National Committee chairman, oil tycoon and World War II naval pilot — was also father to the 43rd president, George W. Bush.

The younger Bush in a statement Friday remembered Bush Sr. as “a man of the highest character and the best dad a son or daughter could ask for.”

Roll Call delved into its archives to remember the former president’s days in D.C.

Roll Call, Shunned by McCain, Trumps Will Attend George H.W. Bush’s State Funeral, John T. Bennett, Dec. 1, 2018. 45th president will speak to former President George W. Bush on Saturday call. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump will attend the funeral of former President George H.W. Bush, who died Friday night, the White House announced Saturday.

The Trumps were not invited to the National Cathedral funeral of Sen. John McCain, who died earlier this year. The late 41st president had been critical of Trump, once calling him a “blowhard.”

“A state funeral is being arranged with all of the accompanying support and honors. The President will designate Wednesday, Dec. 5 as a National Day Of Mourning,” she added. “He and the first lady will attend the funeral at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.”

The Trumps hailed Bush in a statement released early Saturday morning.

“Through his essential authenticity, disarming wit, and unwavering commitment to faith, family, and country, President Bush inspired generations of his fellow Americans to public service—to be, in his words, ‘a thousand points of light’ illuminating the greatness, hope, and opportunity of America to the world,” the first couple said., Opinion: George Herbert Walker Bush, Charles Burris, Dec. 1, 2018. George H. W. Bush is dead. Regime journalists across the nation are scrambling to compose obituary prose concerning the late president. Here are hard cold facts which will not be included in such puerile accounts.

peter brewton“Former reporter for the Houston Post, Pete Brewton [right, now a professor of journalism and law at Texas Tech University], tells of one of the most momentous stories of the past 50 years and how it has been suppressed by the establishment media and the Congress. Pete’s book The Mafia, CIA and George Bush, shows the incredible complexity of the relationships in the operation of the destruction of hundreds of Savings and Loans at the hands of the CIA and the Mafia, stealing peter brewton bush mafia covermany billions of dollars in the process, and leaving the taxpayers to bailout the banks.

Big names at the state and national levels of power are involved, including Lloyd Bentsen, the Bush family, and power brokers in Houston. People such as Charles Keating and Don Dixon, who are mentioned prominently in the press in connection with the S & L debacle, were merely front men or “cutouts” for the main movers. Keating and his ilk only took millions; the CIA and the Mafia looted billions.”

In his classic book on power elite analysis, The Yankee and Cowboy War, researcher Carl Oglesby divided up the Post-WWII American ruling class into two internecine factions: the northeastern seaboard Yankees versus the Sunbelt nouveau riche Cowboys. The amazing political success of George Herbert Walker Bush was his uncanny ability to stand astride and have one foot firmly planted in each of these competing factions.

Essential to understanding the Bush legacy is the historical background of the 1980 October Surprise when key individuals of the Reagan/Bush campaign covertly met with top members of the Iranian government to prevent the release of the 55 Americans held hostage in Tehran before the November election, ensuring the defeat of Democrat incumbent Jimmy Carter. The hostages were released on the day Ronald Reagan took office. Critical arm shipments, materiel and military supplies soon began flowing to the Khomeini regime, years before the more widely known Iran-Contra Scandal, which almost brought down the Reagan administration.

Barbara Honegger worked as a researcher at the Hoover Institution before joining the Ronald Reagan administration as a researcher and policy analyst in 1980. She was the Director of the Attorney General’s Anti-Discrimination Law Review at the Department of Justice. After leaving Washington, she became the Senior Military Affairs Journalist for the barbara honeggerNaval Postgraduate School.

While working for Reagan, she discovered information that convinced her that George H. W. Bush and William Casey had conspired to make sure that Iran did not release the U.S. hostages until Jimmy Carter had been defeated in the 1980 presidential election.

In 1987, Honegger began leaking information to journalists about the Reagan administration.

However, it was not until Reagan left office that Honegger published October Surprise (1989). In her book, Honegger claimed that in 1980 William Casey and other representatives of the Reagan presidential campaign made a deal at two sets of meetings in July and August at the Ritz Hotel in Madrid with Iranians to delay the release of Americans held hostage in Iran until after the November 1980 presidential elections. Reagan’s aides promised that they would get a better deal if they waited until Carter was defeated.

russ baker cover CustomFor more on the sordid backstory of epic criminality of Bush see the following volumes:

The Mafia, CIA & George Bush, by Pete Brewton; Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, The Powerful Forces That Put It In The White House, And What Their Influence Means For America, by Russ Baker; American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush, by Kevin Phillips; peter dale scottSecrecy And Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, by Robert Parry; American War Machine: Deep Politics, the CIA Global Drug Connection, and the Road to Afghanistan, by Peter Dale Scott (shown at right); Compromised: Clinton, Bush and the CIA, by Terry Reed and John Cummings; and The Iran Contra Connection: Secret Teams and Covert Operations in the Reagan Era, by Jonathan Marshall, Peter Dale Scott, and Jane Hunter.

[See also: George Bush: The Unauthorized Biography, by Webster Griffin Tarpley and Anton Chaitkin.]

Mueller Probe

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Fund-Raiser Received Laundered Foreign Money, Prosecutors Say, Kenneth P. Vogel, Dec. 1, 2018 (print edition). Federal prosecutors cited the involvement of a onetime top fund-raiser to President Trump on Friday in a scheme to launder millions of dollars into the country to help a flamboyant Malaysian financier end a Justice Department investigation.

elliott broidyElliott Broidy, right, a Los Angeles-based businessman who was a finance vice chairman of Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign and inauguration committees, was paid to lobby the Trump administration to try to end an investigation related to the embezzlement of billions of dollars from a Malaysian state-owned fund, according to court filings made public on Friday.

The filings were released in connection with a guilty plea entered by George Higginbotham, a former Justice Department employee. Mr. Higginbotham admitted to conspiring to lie to banks about the source of tens of millions of dollars he funneled into the United States from the Malaysian financier Jho Low, who federal authorities say masterminded a scheme to loot the 1 Malaysia Development Berhad fund, also known as 1MDB.

republican elephant logoIn his guilty plea, Mr. Higginbotham admitted that he and the entertainer and businessman Pras Michel, a former member of the Fugees, a defunct hip-hop group, arranged for millions of dollars of Mr. Low’s money to be transferred to a law firm owned by Mr. Broidy’s wife to pay them to try to end the 1MDB investigation. Mr. Higginbotham, who left the Justice Department in August, was not involved in the department’s investigation of Mr. Low, and is cooperating with prosecutors.

A draft agreement called for a $75 million “success fee” to be paid to Mr. Broidy if the investigation was resolved within 180 days, or $50 million if it was resolved within 365 days.

The charging papers and supporting documents do not identify Mr. Broidy or his wife, Robin Rosenzweig, by name, and neither has been charged with a crime. But the facts of the case align with previous reporting on Mr. Broidy’s efforts related to 1MDB, as well as emails from Mr. Broidy that were stolen from Ms. Rosenzweig’s account and disseminated to news outlets that match emails cited in Friday’s court filings.

Mr. Broidy, who pleaded guilty in 2009 in an unrelated pension fund bribery case, is one of several Trump associates whose business with foreign governments and figures has attracted scrutiny, including from investigators for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.

FBI logoA veteran Republican fund-raiser who also owns a defense contracting firm, Mr. Broidy had seemed positioned to become a highly influential figure in a political hierarchy that was upended by Mr. Trump’s victory. Mr. Broidy had started raising money for Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign at a time when most elite Republican donors were staying away. After Mr. Trump’s election, Mr. Broidy marketed his connection to the new administration to politicians, businessmen and governments around the world, including some with unsavory records, and won big contracts for his defense firm.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Michael Cohen’s new sentencing memo may have just taken down some of Trump’s White House advisers, Daniel Cotter, Dec. 1, 2018. Late on Friday, Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer and keeper of secrets beyond imagination, filed his Sentencing Memorandum with the Southern District of New York. In the memo, which refers to Trump as “Client 1,” Cohen through his lawyers writes about the false statements:

bill palmer report logo header“Michael’s false statements to Congress likewise sprung regrettably from Michael’s effort, as a loyal ally and then champion of Client-1, to support and advance Client-1’s political messaging. At the time that he was requested to appear before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Michael was serving as personal attorney to the President, and followed daily the political messages that both Client-1 and his staff and supporters repeatedly and forcefully broadcast.

Furthermore, in the weeks during which his then-counsel prepared his written response to the Congressional Committees, Michael remained in close and regular contact with White House based-staff and legal counsel to Client-1.”

What the last paragraph does not directly state, but alludes to, is that both White House staff and legal counsel to Trump were fully aware of what Cohen was preparing to submit to Congress. It also suggests that they may have been involved assisting Cohen in drafting such responses.

washington post logoWashington Post, Acting AG Whitaker has suggested that Trump plays with the truth, Aaron C. Davis and Ilana Marcus, Dec. 1, 20189 (print edition). A review of hundreds of public comments by acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker shows that while he has primarily functioned as a defender of President Trump, he has also criticized the president on numerous occasions, sometimes harshly, while working as a commentator on radio and television.

Whitaker has repeatedly suggested that Trump plays with the truth. He has said Trump should release his tax returns and was “self-serving” in the way he fired FBI Director James B. Comey. Whitaker said during the run-up to the 2016 election that neither Trump nor Hillary Clinton were very good options for the presidency. “I mean, both these candidates are unlikable,” he said.

The critique of the president by Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney who rose to prominence over the past four years as the head of a conservative nonprofit group, has often come in unguarded moments, and sometimes late into on-air discussions. “Sometimes I wonder if anybody has the president’s ear or if he just kind of watches news accounts and responds to, which is a little dangerous,” Whitaker said in June 2017 on a radio show.

ny times logoNew York Times, Whitaker’s Ascent Surprised Investigators of Firm Accused of Fraud, Charlie Savage, Adam Goldman and Katie Benner, Dec. 1, 2018 (print edition). Matthew G. Whitaker, right, the acting attorney general, sat on the board of a patent firm that was investigated by the Federal Trade Commission. Newly disclosed documents shed light on Mr. Whitaker’s involvement with the company and investigators’ stunned reaction to his rise at the Justice Department.

matthew whitaker agAs Federal Trade Commission lawyers investigated a Miami company accused of defrauding thousands of customers, they were stunned to learn last year about a new job for a figure in their inquiry, Matthew G. Whitaker: He had been named chief of staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“You’re not going to believe this… Matt Whitaker is now chief of staff to the Attorney General. Of the United States,” James Evans, an F.T.C. lawyer, wrote to colleagues in an email on Oct. 24, 2017.

ftc logoThe emails were part of a trove of files the trade commission made public on Friday in response to Freedom of Information Act requests for documents about its investigation into the company, World Patent Marketing. Mr. Whitaker sat on its advisory board.

In early November, President Trump fired Mr. Sessions and installed Mr. Whitaker as the acting attorney general.

His appointment immediately prompted outcry in part because Mr. Whitaker had sharply criticized the special counsel investigation into Russia’s election interference and possible ties to Trump associates, which he now oversees as the nation’s top law enforcement officer. Democrats have expressed alarm and vowed to investigate Mr. Whitaker when they take over the House of Representatives in January.

jerome corsi screenshot 2018 09 06Raw Story, Trump pal Jerome Corsi has only raised $3,500 of his $250K legal defense fund after 4 days of begging, Bob Brigham, Dec. 1, 2018. Jerome Corsi, shown in a screenshot at right, expects to be indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller. Corsi is known as the “birther king” for launching the conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. He has refused a plea deal and has said he’s going to file a “criminal complaint” against the special counsel.

Corsi’s legal defense team has at least two attorneys, David Gray and Larry Klayman. In an attempt to create a war chest for legal battle against the special prosecutor, Corsi has taken to the online fundraising site GoFundMe to raise money.

However, in the four days since the page was launched, only 69 people have contributed. While Corsi set the goal of raising $250,000, only $3,510 has been raised as of publication.

Trump, G-20 Leadership Meeting

djt xi dinner g20 argentina 2018

A U.S. delegation, at right, led by President Trump meets a Chinese delegation led by President Xi Jinping at the G 20 Summit in Argentina this month.

china flagRoll Call, Trump, China’s Xi Agree to End Trade and Tariff Standoff, John T. Bennett, Dec. 1, 2018.  Lawmakers have been split on how tough Trump should be on Beijing. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday agreed to what amounts to a cease-fire on a monthslong trade tiff.

“President Trump has agreed that on January 1, 2019, he will leave the tariffs on $200 billion worth of product at the 10 percent rate, and not raise it to 25 percent at this time,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

“China will agree to purchase a not yet agreed upon, but very substantial, amount of agricultural, energy, industrial, and other product from the United States to reduce the trade imbalance between our two countries. China has agreed to start purchasing agricultural product from our farmers immediately,” Sanders said.

Reuters via CNBC, Watch Putin and Mohammed bin Salman’s exuberant handshake at G-20, Nov. 30, 2018.

The hearty greeting at the G-20 between Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia comes as international leaders are confronting how to approach the crown prince, who has been blamed for the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

ny times logoNew York Times, Dodging Friends, Chased by Legal Woes, Trump Navigates G-20, Mark Landler and Peter Baker, Dec. 1, 2018 (print edition). President Trump’s first day at the Group of 20 summit meeting in Buenos Aires was a window into his idiosyncratic statecraft. Mr. Trump’s “America First” foreign policy has left him with a strange patchwork of partners at global gatherings.

djt mauricio macri argentina nov 30 2018 guardian screenshot

Reuters via The Guardian, Trump walks off leaving Mauricio Macri standing alone at G20, Staff report, Nov. 30, 2018 (31 sec. video here). The Argentinian president was left alone on stage when his US counterpart, Donald Trump, walked away due to a misunderstanding during a photo opportunity. Both leaders shook hands before Trump left the stage, with Macri appearing to call after him. It appeared the Argentinian wanted Trump to remain on the stage as they awaited other world leaders for an official members’ ‘family photograph’

Inside Washington

ny times logoryan zinke oNew York Times, Extraordinary Attack on Democratic Lawmaker, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Coral Davenport, Dec. 1, 2018 (print edition). Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, right, accused a high-ranking House Democrat on Friday of paying “hush money” to cover up excessive drinking and a hostile work environment after the lawmaker wrote an op-ed calling for the secretary to resign.

The statement by Mr. Zinke, a former Republican House member, was an extraordinary breach of the norms that usually govern relationships between senior raul grijalva o 2015government officials, particularly a Cabinet secretary and a member of a Congressional committee overseeing his department.

The lawmaker, Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, shown at left, Democrat of Arizona, is in line to be chairman of the Natural Resources Committee with the new Congress in January, and has been making a case that Mr. Zinke should resign because of ethical questions surrounding his tenure at the Interior Department.

“It’s hard for him to think straight from the bottom of the bottle,” Mr. Zinke wrote in a statement posted on his official Twitter account. He continued, “He should resign and pay back the taxpayer hush money and the tens of thousands of dollars he forced my department to spent investigating unfounded allegations.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Six White House officials reprimanded for violating Hatch Act, Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Juliet Eilperin​, Dec. 1, 20189 (print edition). Meanwhile, the Office of Special Counsel sought to clarify when federal employees could use words like “impeachment” or “resist” without breaking the law.

Alaskan Quake Reports

ny times logoNew York Times, Earthquake Shreds Highways and Sows Panic in South Central Alaska, Anne Hillman, Jack Healy and Henry Fountain, Dec. 1, 2018 (print edition). A magnitude-7.2 earthquake near Anchorage damaged buildings and roads, and briefly stoked fears of a tsunami throughout the region.

It lasted just 30 seconds. But that was enough on Friday morning for a magnitude-7 earthquake to rip open roads, send streetlights crashing to the ground and leave Alaska’s quake-hardened residents panicked and reeling.

And it sent Kelsey Green sprawling to the floor. At her office in Anchorage, windows shattered and ceiling tiles rained down. When it was over, Ms. Green and her co-workers ran outside into a world that had been shaken up like a snow globe. There was now a 50-foot crack in the parking lot.

Craig Medred News, Commentary: Resilience, Craig Medred, Dec. 1, 2018. Craig Medred is an independent Alaska journalist who has worked out of Fairbanks, Juneau and Anchorage.

The earthquake that rocked Anchorage Friday morning was felt by Mark Reed as it was felt by everyone else in the state’s largest city. A 7.0 centered almost beneath your neighborhood is hard to miss. But it didn’t change Reed’s day. As the owner of a small, old-fashioned gas station and garage in South Anchorage, Reed had work to do, and since Reed’s Auto Service was still standing, he went to work.

It was a busy morning. A lot of Alaskans were getting extra fuel for generators or gassing up their cars and trucks as city officials warned them to prepare to “shelter in place.”

At one point, with other gas stations in the area shut down because of minor damage, Reed had customers lined up for more than a block. He himself was on the phone trying to figure out whether a scheduled delivery of fuel was going to make it. It didn’t.

Reed confessed he’d been so busy since just after the quake struck that he hadn’t had a chance to catch up on the quake news. When he finally opened his computer and checked his news browser, he noted that five of the top six stories were about the Alaska shake.

He laughed about a couple of them. Bloomberg news was headlining that the Alaska oil pipeline was threatened. Reed worked on that pipeline and knew it was designed to withstand at least an 8.0 and had in 2002 withstood the Denali Fault earthquake.

That quake had a surface magnitude of 8.5, and it rocked an area far larger than the Friday trembler in the Anchorage metropolitan area.

A slip along a fault lines more than 200 miles long, the Denali quake “was felt as far as Washington (state) and caused seiches in pools and lakes as far as Texas and Louisiana,” the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) later reported. “There were reports of triggered seismicity in volcanic and geothermal centers in Washington and California and regional seismicity in Utah.”

By way of comparison, the Anchorage quake was small and localized, and though after shocks rattled the state’s largest urban area through the day, Alaskans largely went about their business as if the day were like any other, only with a few extra chores to be done.
Costco seizes opportunity

JIP Editor’s Note: This reporter’s brother and sister-in-law, both longtime residents of Anchorage affected by the earthquake, reported that the account above accurately reflected quake damage that appeared to them far more modest than national news accounts conveyed.

Late Nov. 30 News

Mueller Probe

Palmer Report, Opinion: Vladimir Putin signals the end of Donald Trump, Bill Palmer, Dec. 1, 2018. It’s difficult to tell who was trying harder to avoid whom, when Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin all but pretended they didn’t know each other at the opening of the G20 summit.

But the telling moment came when Putin then walked over and high-fived the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, a clear show of excited solidarity between two murderous leaders who each hold puppet strings over the “President of the United States.” Ultimately, however, the real upshot came when Putin issued a statement about his canceled G20 meeting with Trump.

bill palmer report logo headerMoments after Michael Cohen revealed in court that Donald Trump had been plotting with Russian election riggers to build Trump Tower Moscow during the election, Trump announced that he was canceling his planned one-on-one meeting with Putin at the G20. There was no doubt as to the real reason, but Trump used the convenient cover story of Russia’s recent military aggression against Ukraine. It turns out Putin wasn’t happy with that explanation.

Putin’s spokesperson announced during the G20 summit that Donald Trump had more likely canceled the meeting due to “the U.S. domestic political situation” – which was a clear reference to the developments in the Trump-Russia scandal. Here’s the thing.

Putin knowns that the best way he could help Trump right now would be to go along with the cover story that this was about Ukraine. Instead, Putin decided to deliver a dagger by pointing out that Trump, rather obviously, canceled the meeting because of his own worsening scandals. It’s now clear that Putin isn’t even willing to provide Trump any cover on these things. And if Putin isn’t willing to prop Trump up anymore, then it signals the end of Trump. Putin must now be calculating that he’s personally better off if Trump sinks than swims.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Trump Is Compromised by Russia, Michelle Goldberg, Nov. 30, 2018 (print edition). Michael Cohen’s latest plea is proof. One of the chief questions in dmitry peskovthe Trump-Russia scandal has been whether Vladimir Putin has leverage over the president of the United States, and, if so, what that leverage looks like. The significance of the fabled “pee tape,” after all, is not that it would reveal Donald Trump to be a pervert bent on defiling the place where Barack Obama slept. Rather, the tape matters because, if real, it would show the president to be vulnerable to Russian blackmail. (Putin aide Dmitry Peskov is shown at right.)

That’s also why evidence of Trump’s business involvement with Russia would be significant, as Trump himself acknowledged shortly before his inauguration, when he tweeted, “Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA — NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!”

We still don’t know for certain if Russia has used leverage over Trump. But there should no longer be any doubt that Russia has leverage over him.

Fox News, Opinion: The Mueller investigation has come up empty on Russia — You won’t believe what’s coming next, Mark Penn, Nov. 30, 2018. The pattern and purpose of Mueller’s investigation and the endgame is becoming clear, and yes, it’s clearly get the president at all costs. The team Mueller hired really foretold the story — Andrew Weissmann as the stop-at-nothing pit bull and a group of Democratic-leaning lawyers, including some who have represented the Clintons, had the obstruction of justice charge ready to go on day one.

Justice Department log circularTrump’s first team of lawyers with their “don’t worry and cooperate” strategy set the president back, and let the whole thing spiral out of control.

The investigation, I believe, has come up truly empty on its central charge related to the president — collusion with the Russian government. They are now trying to find someone, anyone who had any contact with Julian Assange with the aim of calling that collusion-lite.

But mostly what Mueller’s team is doing is bludgeoning witnesses on unrelated charges to piece together a case against the president. They are shaping that case through the indictments — and threats of indictments — that are being used to get guilty pleas to make the president seem like an obstructor or co-conspirator. They are literally creating the crimes.

Let’s review what Mueller and his team are doing:

#Me Too Scandals

National Review, Hollywood Is a Sex-Grooming Gang, Kyle Smith, Nov. 30, 2018. Where the ‘price of admission’ is stripping on camera, or worse. If you’re tempted to turn away from the torrent of squalid news that continues to flow out of Hollywood, resist the temptation. The more of these revolting exposes you read, the more clearly you will see the underlying monstrosity in Hollywood, as clearly as the hero of John Carpenter’s They Live sees aliens disguised as everyday people when he puts on the sunglasses.

les moonvesFormer CBS chief Les Moonves’s career had already ended in disgrace for repeated instances of alleged sexual harassment and assault uncovered last summer by The New Yorker. Yet until this week the board that fired him for preying on women was planning to beg His Majesty’s forgiveness for decoupling him from his kingdom, pressing into his hands a $120 million payoff.

Maybe not anymore.

The New York Times, with the cooperation of a washed-up talent manager who, at 75, decided to open his mouth about Moonves (right), reported on how the triangular sex trade works in Hollywood. Innocent young sweet pea from some place like South Carolina hits town, desperate for a break.

Managers and agents and suchlike human succubi latch on to her with an eye toward turning her out. Knowing very well what will happen, they send her in to “take a meeting,” alone, behind closed doors, with some old lech in a designer suit. After two minutes of pleasantries, the expensive pants are suddenly down around the ankles. The young thing has just about two seconds to grow up. She has to decide on the spot whether to react with the expected sangfroid, and advance to the next step in the game of Hollywood, or, do what Bobbie Phillips did and react adversely. She contemplated picking up a baseball bat and going all Al Capone on her attacker, but instead merely “ankled,” as the trades would put it.

Phillips says Les Moonves, then the head of Warner Bros. television just as its shows Friends and ER were becoming blockbusters, grabbed her and forced her to perform oral sex when she met with him to seek an appointment with a casting director. She fled the office. Then she had to decide whether to say something, which would brand her a “troublemaker.” If so, nothing good would happen. She’d be ushered out to pursue the career opportunities at Denny’s, and another young honey would take her place.

Phillips’s life was pretty much ruined. Going to audition meetings made her queasy. Once she vomited in an alley at the prospect of running into Moonves. No one cared. She was another expendable female body. Twenty-three years later, Moonves was suddenly interested in casting her again. Texts between Moonves and Phillips’s manager, as reported by the Times, are frankly transactional: The manager needed to get back in the game, Moonves needed the manager to keep schtum with the Times reporters who kept calling him, Phillips would be expected to remain silent in exchange for a lousy $1,500 one-day gig. “A central teaching in my life is forgiveness,” Phillips told the Times. But this was insulting. And she was upset that Moonves was still denying, even in private, what she says he did. Moonves says “I strongly believe” the encounter was consensual. Which is a bit different from saying, “It was consensual.”

“Nobody knows anything” was the Hollywood mantra popularized by the late screenwriter William Goldman.

Yet in a town that does nothing more assiduously than it does gossip, we’re expected to believe nobody knew anything about what was happening in Les Moonves’s office, and in Harvey Weinstein’s, and in Bryan Singer’s? It beggars belief. They knew. They all knew. The men knew. The women knew.

U.S. Politics

irs logony times logoNew York Times, Did a Tax Increase Tucked Into Trump’s Tax Cut Come Back to Bite Republicans? Jim Tankersley and Ben Casselman, Nov. 30, 2018 (print edition). Republicans capped a popular deduction for state and local taxes to pay for the tax bill. That may have hurt some House Republicans in the midterms.

President Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut was supposed to be a big selling point for congressional Republicans in the midterm elections. Instead, it appears to have done more to hurt than help Republicans in high-tax districts across California, New Jersey, Virginia and other states.

House Republicans suffered heavy Election Day losses in districts where large concentrations of taxpayers claim a popular tax break — the state and local tax deduction — which the law capped at $10,000 per household. The new limit resulted in an effective tax increase for high-earning residents of high-tax states who claim more than $10,000 per year in SALT.

Money Laundering

whowhatwhy logodeutsche bank logoWhoWhatWhy, Deutsche Bank, Trump, and Russia: A WhoWhatWhy Primer, Staff report, Nov. 30, 2018. Early Thursday morning German authorities raided the global powerhouse Deutsche Bank in relation to a money laundering investigation. The raid was reportedly spurred by information garnered from the Panama Papers — the 2015 document leak that revealed how wealthy international figures hide their riches via offshore bank accounts and shady shell companies. The new House Democratic leadership may also investigate.

At WhoWhatWhy, we’ve been watching Deutsche for quite a while — particularly its activities in the United States, its involvement with Russia, and its ties to Donald Trump. Here’s our Deutsche primer:

ap logoAssociated Press, Ex-US official admits charges linked to Malaysian scandal, Michael Balsamo, Nov. 30, 2018. A former Justice Department official admitted his role Friday in a multimillion-dollar effort to try to get the United States to drop its investigation into a money laundering and bribery scheme that pilfered billions from a Malaysian investment fund.

George Higginbotham’s guilty plea in federal court in Washington marked the first public acknowledgement of a secret attempt to pressure American officials to drop their probe of the fund known as 1MDB.

The massive corruption investigation, which upended Malaysian politics, spanned the globe with the money from the fund gambled in Las Vegas, spent on diamond jewelry and a luxury yacht and used to finance the “Wolf of Wall Street” and other Hollywood productions. The long-ruling coalition in Malaysia was ousted in a May election, and then-Prime Minister Najib Razak, who set up the fund, now faces criminal charges there.

Prosecutors say Higginbotham, who worked on the congressional affairs staff in the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs, helped open bank accounts and created false loan documents for shell companies to pay an influential person to pressure officials to drop their probe. That person’s identity wasn’t revealed in court.

Authorities allege that Higginbotham’s efforts were also meant to conceal the involvement of an unidentified co-conspirator, who prosecutors say was an architect of 1MDB and because of that, banks wouldn’t do business with him directly. Higginbotham admitted in court that bank accounts and shell companies were set up in 2017 because the influential person didn’t want to be directly tied to the co-conspirator.

Higginbotham falsely claimed in emails to banks that the money was being used to fund entertainment ventures and failed to disclose that it was, in fact, being used to finance the lobbying effort to shut down the 1MDB investigation, prosecutors said.

Higginbotham also traveled to a foreign country to meet with that co-conspirator and was ultimately paid $70,000 for his involvement, authorities said. Higginbotham would not answer questions as he left court Friday.

Authorities say Higginbotham was also part of an effort to try to have a foreign national, who had been critical of his home country and was in the U.S. on a visa, thrown out of America and sent back to his nation of origin. Prosecutors charge that Higginbotham met with the ambassador of that country — which wasn’t identified — and told them he was acting personally and not on behalf of the Justice Department, but that the U.S. government was working on expelling the person.


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