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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Trump threatens California again

by digby

Trump is threatening California again because Californians aren't licking his boots energetically enough:

A day after California filed a lawsuit challenging President Trump’s emergency declaration on the border, the Transportation Department said it was exploring legal options to claw back $2.5 billion in federal funds it had already spent on the state’s high-speed rail network.

The Trump administration also said it was terminating a $929 million federal grant to the California High-Speed Rail Authority, according to a letter the Transportation Department sent Tuesday.

The $77 billion Los Angeles-to-San Francisco bullet train, which has been a goal of California transportation planners for decades, has long faced opposition from Mr. Trump and other Republicans. But on Tuesday morning, the president explicitly tied the rail line to efforts to stymie construction of the Mexican border wall.

“The failed Fast Train project in California, where the cost overruns are becoming world record setting, is hundreds of times more expensive than the desperately needed Wall!” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter.

Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, who announced last week that he was scaling back the project, said the Transportation Department’s move was retaliation for the border wall lawsuit, filed on Monday with 15 other states.

“It’s no coincidence that the administration’s threat comes 24 hours after California led 16 states in challenging the president’s farcical ‘national emergency,’” Mr. Newsom said in a statement. “This is clear political retribution by President Trump, and we won’t sit idly by. This is California’s money, and we are going to fight for it.”

The battle over money is just the latest clash between California and the Trump administration, which have fought over immigration, environmental and criminal justice issues. Xavier Becerra, the California attorney general, has been a vociferous critic of the administration and has filed 46 lawsuits against it so far.

On Tuesday, Mr. Trump disparaged the way California had spent the rail money and the state’s role in the national emergency lawsuit. California, which “has wasted billions of dollars on their out of control Fast Train, with no hope of completion, seems in charge!” the president tweeted.

A White House spokesman declined to comment, referring questions to the Transportation Department. A spokesman for the agency said the reason for canceling the grant was clearly laid out in a letter from Ronald L. Batory, the administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration.

Mr. Batory wrote that the federal funds were being pulled because the California High-Speed Rail Authority had “failed to make reasonable progress on the project.”

The Transportation Department said in a separate statement on Tuesday that it was “actively exploring every legal option” to seek the return of the $2.5 billion. That threat, however, was not mentioned in Mr. Batory’s letter.

Late Tuesday, a Trump administration official pointed to Mr. Newsom’s remarks last week as an indication that the project was too costly and would “never be constructed as planned.”

Given that acknowledgment, the official said, the administration had a responsibility to taxpayers to “cancel the financial support for this boondoggle.”

It's not the first time he's threatened to punish California for failing to be properly submissive to the Dear Leader, of course. He does it all the time. But this is the first time he's targeted specific money as retribution for a specific political conflict.

He did this earlier to his home state as a sheer act of dominance:

President Trump is pressing congressional Republicans to oppose funding for a new rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey, using the power of his office to block a key priority for the region and his Democratic rivals, according to several people with knowledge of his actions.

Mr. Trump urged Speaker Paul D. Ryan this week not to support funding for the $30 billion project, two people familiar with the conversation said.

The president’s decision to weigh in forcefully against the so-called Gateway infrastructure project, which has been one of the United States’ top transportation priorities for years, adds a significant obstacle to getting the project underway in the near future.

Mr. Trump’s opposition to the project is in part the result of his belief that it is important to Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, according to one person with knowledge of the president’s thinking on the issue.

They didn't end up doing that. But using federal funds to punish what he perceives as political enemies is obviously something Trump feels is perfectly fine.

If he does this to California, I would suspect that the remnants of the high-speed rail project which are currently planned for Devin Nunes and Kevin McCarthy's districts will have to be shelved.

What a shame.

McCabe's book reveals that the "Deep State" includes the GOP congressional leadership

by digby

My Salon column this morning:

I wrote about Former Acting FBI director Andrew McCabe's new book called "Threat" last week when CBS first teased their big interview which aired last Sunday. At the time it seemed as if the big news coming from the book was a rehash of the story that broke last fall about Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein suggesting that he wear a wire into the Oval Office and talk among members of the Department of Justice about the process involved in evoking the 25th Amendment to declare the President unable to fulfill his duties. When asked about it by CBS News' Scott Pelley in the interview, McCabe confirmed that it happened which made the president have a nuclear twitter meltdown and caused the right wing media to start screeching about "Deep State coups" and suggesting that McCabe should immediately be arrested and he and Former FBI Director Comey should be waterboarded to spill everything they know. By CIA director Gina Haspel and Former Vice President Dick Cheney. Because that's their specialty.

As it turns out that wasn't in McCabe's book at all. He answered the question when asked but told Anderson Cooper on CNN Tuesday night that he didn't put it in the book because that episode hadn't been revealed when he wrote it and he thought it would be a huge distraction if he did. He was right. An anecdote that wasn't in his book has received far more attention it should.

The big revelation in the book is that after Trump fired former FBI Director Comey, which they knew was because of the Russia investigation, McCabe opened a counter-intelligence investigation and an obstruction of justice investigation into the president of the United States due to his suspicious behavior during the campaign and in the White House. And --- surprise --- it turns out he and Rosenstein briefed the Gang of Eight, which includes the leadership of both parties in congress and the Chairs and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. They were Mitch McConnell R-Ky, Chuck Schumer D-Ny, Richard Burr, R-NC, Mark Warner, D-Va, Paul Ryan, R-Wi, Nancy Pelosi, D-Ca, Devin Nunes, R-Ca, and Adam Schiff, D-Ca.

McCabe notes that Nunes had "stepped back" from his role by this time after having been revealed to have conspired with the White House and lied to the media in his silly "midnight ride" and was not expected to be there. But he showed up anyway and neither Rosenstein nor McCabe had the authority to ask him to leave so he heard the whole thing. When asked by Anderson Cooper if he believed that Nunes would rush to tell the White House everything, McCabe told him that he always assumed that someone would tell the White House about the investigations.

McCabe writes:
After reminding the committee of how this investigation began, I told them of additional steps we had taken. No one interrupted. No one pushed back. The mood in the room was sober. Schumer had bee nodding his head and looking at me very directly throughout the bried, On McConnell's side of the table, I sensed a great deal of resignation.
Rod Rosenstein then took over the meeting and told the assembled officials that he was appointing Robert Mueller as Special Counsel.

What this means is that these members of congress have known from the beginning that the DOJ and the FBI had opened these two investigations because of the president's suspicious behavior and that they formed the basis for the Special Counsel's investigation. And if McCabe is right, and one of the little birdies in the meeting whispered in the president's ear, he knew it too.

According to McCabe, Rosenstein was enlisted by the White House counsel to write the memo laying out the reason for firing Comey and told him that Trump had repeatedly asked him to "include Russia" (which he refused to do.) The specific meaning of that request isn't spelled out but we know that the original letter firing Comey was cooked up during a long rainy weekend at Bedminster golf club with Senior Adviser Stephen Miller and Ivanka and Jared Kushner. The letter they produced was so inflammatory that then White House Counsel Don McGahn nixed it. We don't know how much of that original memo (described by those who read it as a "screed") was focused on Russia but Robert Mueller does. He has a copy of it.

What we do know is that in the letter Trump wrote firing Comey, he clumsily "included Russia" saying:
"While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau."
And then came this, just one month after the Comey firing and the appointment of Robert Mueller:

As you can see, that was yet another lie. He had planned to fire Comey.  He even admitted it on TV. And we know that his crack team of political advisers, led by Jared Kushner had assured him that it would be a big political winner.

Later he would repeatedly insist that he wasn't under investigation at all, despite the fact that it was obvious.

Looking back on that meeting which laid out all the predicates for what turned into the Mueller investigation shines a very different light on how this scandal has unfolded.  And this explosive New York Times piece from Tuesday called Intimidation, Pressure and Humiliation: Inside Trump’s Two-Year War on the Investigations Encircling Him shows that not only did Trump know very well that he was personally being investigated, he has been methodically trying to sabotage his own Justice Department for the better part of the last two years. His most recent intrusion was trying to get his temporary DOJ factotum, Matt Whitaker, to order the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, to "unrecuse" from all those investigations into Trumpworld, a concept that never even existed until Donald Trump came along.

He just can't stop obstructing justice. But then why would he? His new Attorney General, William Barr,  concurs with that Republican icon of corruption Richard Nixon that" if the president does it, it's not illegal." He's told him that he is perfectly free to interfere with investigations, orde them up, protect his friends and punish his enemies. So I wouldn't expect any of it to stop unless the congress steps up to do its duty.

The country is probably dizzy by now trying to keep up with the cascading news stories about the various investigations and suspicions about Trump's behavior. It's overwhelming. But it always comes back to one simple, common-sense observation: no innocent person could possibly act this guilty.


Heavier, thicker and fouler

by Tom Sullivan

Let's just say Tuesday was a personal tipping point. The sewage pond contained behind the fences at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue overtopped the sandbags. Jonathan Chait's thumbnail bill of particulars is an indecent place to start:

Trump of course faces massive political and legal vulnerabilities not only for collusion with Russia during the presidential campaign, but also secretive financial ties to Russia and other authoritarian states, tax fraud, campaign finance violations, abuse of a pseudo-charitable foundation, and embezzlement of inaugural funds. This is a non-exhaustive list of potential crimes that precede Trump taking the oath of office.
The list is among the sort of pre-2017 crimes for which David Rivkin and Elizabeth Price Foley argued in the Wall Street Journal that Donald Trump cannot be investigated. Unlike investigating Bill Clinton's prepresidential peccadilloes — investigating those was a minor distraction from Oval Office duties — Trump's massive body of evidence is so corpulent, they argue, that investigating what he did before entering the White House just might interfere with the president's Executive Time in his golf simulator. Can't have that.

Word got out in the New York Times just before Chait's list posted about a plan by Trump family grifters to pad their pockets by cutting a side deal in sensitive nuclear technology with Saudi Arabia, bypassing the Atomic Energy Act and Congressional approval required by law. House Democrats released a report based on multiple whistleblower accounts:
The report is the most detailed portrait to date of how senior White House figures — including Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s first national security adviser — worked with retired military officers to circumvent the normal policymaking process to promote an export plan that experts worried could spread nuclear weapons technology in the volatile Middle East. Administration lawyers warned that the nuclear exports plan — called the Middle East Marshall Plan — could violate laws meant to stop nuclear proliferation and raised concerns about Mr. Flynn’s conflicts of interest.

Mr. Flynn had worked on the issue for the company promoting the nuclear export plan and kept pushing it once inside the White House.
But Flynn's leaving the White House one year ago did not slow Team Avarice. The House report assures:
On February 12, 2019, the President met with nuclear power developers at the White House about sharing nuclear technology with countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia. In addition, next week Mr. Kushner will be embarking on a tour of Middle Eastern capitals—including Riyadh — to discuss the economic portion of the Administration’s Middle East peace plan.
The staff report adds,
Further investigation is needed to determine whether the actions being pursued by the Trump Administration are in the national security interest of the United States or, rather, serve those who stand to gain financially as a result of this potential change in U.S. foreign policy.
How many guesses do we get? Then, after Chait's list posted, the New York Times dropped another bunker-buster:
As federal prosecutors in Manhattan gathered evidence late last year about President Trump’s role in silencing women with hush payments during the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump called Matthew G. Whitaker, his newly installed attorney general, with a question. He asked whether Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York and a Trump ally, could be put in charge of the widening investigation, according to several American officials with direct knowledge of the call.
Installing "a perceived loyalist atop a widening inquiry" is by now a standard Trump tactic, part of "an even more sustained, more secretive assault" over the last two years by the sitting president to undermine efforts by law enforcement and obstruct inquiries into affairs sexual, financial, and international. Say, like trading in nuclear technology. The Times explains the problem for the public in keeping up is:
... Mr. Trump’s attempts to defang the investigations has been voluminously covered in the news media, to such a degree that many Americans have lost track of how unusual his behavior is. But fusing the strands reveals an extraordinary story of a president who has attacked the law enforcement apparatus of his own government like no other president in history, and who has turned the effort into an obsession. Mr. Trump has done it with the same tactics he once used in his business empire: demanding fierce loyalty from employees, applying pressure tactics to keep people in line and protecting the brand — himself — at all costs.
Dangling presidential pardons before the indicted is one method the president has kept some of his secrets to date. But which of the president's "friends" to whom he's offered to trade pardons for silence can be sure he'll give them another fleeting thought once Himself is firmly up against the wall?

I watched these stories unfold Tuesday over Twitter on the left side of my monitor while streaming Day 2 of the NC-9 election fraud hearing on the right. It was a binocular horror show of criminal incompetence by the willfully ignorant and morally bankrupt.

At least, there is a chance or two North Carolina will unwind its election mess in the next few days. Out in the provinces, people will go to jail, that's certain. Yet in the nation's capitol, the Trump crime family still sits scheming in the White House and making a mockery of the republic rather than serving Executive Time in the hoosegow.

In May 2017, then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe briefed "The Gang of Eight" that Trump was possibly compromised by the Russians and that the FBI had opened a counterintelligence investigation. Among them, the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. None objected, McCabe told the Today Show, “not on legal grounds, constitutional grounds or based on the facts.”

Charlie Pierce yesterday lamented the meaning of this revelation, writing:
In 2017, at the time McCabe requested the investigation, these would have included Senator Mitch McConnell, Speaker Paul Ryan, Richard Burr, and White House lawn ornament Devin Nunes from the House. According to McCabe, even Nunes didn't object to the investigation. This is just a bit astounding, considering the supine performance of congressional Republicans once the president* got sworn in.

They all know. That's the main thing. They all know and they've done nothing. Historians one day will fall out of their anti-gravity chairs.
Teapot what? will have been forgotten.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Right wing torture fantasies turn domestic

by digby

The Daily Beast says they "watch Trumpland TV so you don’t have to, today we learned that far-right outlet TruNews wants nearly the entire government and national media to be imprisoned and, in some cases, waterboarded at Guantanamo Bay. No, really, look at this handy graphic they created"

Last time we checked on TruNews, they were claiming that Tom Brady was under the spell of witchcraft. Now, the full panel is on board to credulously claim that the nation is under attack by the FBI, NSA, CBS, NBC, and especially Andrew McCabe and Rod Rosenstein—whom, in the mind of host Rick Wiles, ought to be dragged to Cuba and personally waterboarded by “Gina Haspel and Dick Cheney.”

It could be Rex Tillerson. It may have been Jeff Sessions. It could have been Nikki Haley, we don't know! But according to McCabe, two people in the Cabinet were willing to overthrow the President of the United States. That means the President of the United States was holding cabinet meetings and he had snakes sitting around him. Hissing snakes!

The media, government agencies, intelligence agencies, technology firms, all in a massive conspiracy against the constitutionally elected President of the United States.

Wiles concluded his discussion by noting that Rosenstein “ought to be facing the electric chair.”

Maybe Tillerson, Sessions, Haley etc assume these weirdos are just fringe characters and it doesn't mean anything. After all, it's not like they're Hillary Clinton where people are drooling and screaming for blood when they chant "lock her up." They're Republicans, after all.

That isn't going to protect them.
Here is the President's bff Lou Dobbs (whom he reportedly "cherishes") last night on Fox News:

“Why is the establishment in Washington D.C. not screaming for the arrest of Andrew McCabe and all of his cohorts in the DOJ and the FBI? Why is is that there seems to be almost a satisfaction in the status quo, no matter how rancid and corrupt in the swamp that id D.C.?”

Schlapp said he’s “disgusted by it” too and the one person who can take action is current Attorney General Bill Barr, saying, “I’d be greatly disappointed if he doesn’t.”

Dobbs again asked, “Why the hell isn’t the Republican Party standing up and demanding his arrest?”

“You know why,” Schlapp said.

“I do not know why, or I would not be asking you,” Dobbs responded.

The answer was that the Republicans are all terrified of the Deep State.

You know, all the investigators who've been fired by their patriotic Dear Leader.

Meanwhile in Bizarroworld

by digby

Former Trump official and current Sinclair Broadcasting pundit Boris Epshteyn:

Presidents Day is an important holiday for us to reflect upon those who we have elected to the highest office in our land. We are lucky to currently have a leader in President Trump, whose term so far has been, I would argue, one of the most successful in our nation’s history.

The president has achieved tangible, concrete, quality-of-life improvements for the American people no matter the political cost. His disruption of the status quo has stirred many of his detractors. Despite what some liberals and many in the media may say, the Trump administration has taken strides to ensure that our country is thriving for all Americans.

Since President Trump took office, the female unemployment rate has reached its lowest in approximately 65 years. American worker satisfaction is the highest since 2005. Unemployment among disabled Americans is at an all-time low, and the median income for Hispanic Americans has increased by nearly 4 percent. The president has circumvented partisanship and has tackled, head-on, human issues such as the opioid crisis in our country and criminal justice reform.

Unfortunately, the spirit of bipartisanship has been largely missing, as many on the left and those in the media have put their love of our great country second to their personal hatred of our president. Despite all of that, President Trump is still getting results.

Here’s the bottom line: In just over two years of the Trump administration, we have seen great progress benefiting Americans. If this keeps up, much to the chagrin of many Democrats, the presidents on Mount Rushmore may have to make room for a new addition.

Trump had better be careful or Kim Jong Un will be jealous.


No innocent person behaves this way

by digby

This is an amazing NYT expose
, showing the years-long hind the scenes effort by the beTrump White House to shut down the various investigations against him. If anyone thought that it was just bloviating on twitter and before the cameras to feed his base, this should put that to rest. He was working it obsessively on every level:

As federal prosecutors in Manhattan gathered evidence late last year about President Trump’s role in silencing women with hush payments during the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump called Matthew G. Whitaker, his newly installed attorney general, with a question. He asked whether Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York and a Trump ally, could be put in charge of the widening investigation, according to several American officials with direct knowledge of the call.

Mr. Whitaker, who had privately told associates that part of his role at the Justice Department was to “jump on a grenade” for the president, knew he could not put Mr. Berman in charge, since Mr. Berman had already recused himself from the investigation. The president soon soured on Mr. Whitaker, as he often does with his aides, and complained about his inability to pull levers at the Justice Department that could make the president’s many legal problems go away.

Trying to install a perceived loyalist atop a widening inquiry is a familiar tactic for Mr. Trump, who has been struggling to beat back the investigations that have consumed his presidency. His efforts have exposed him to accusations of obstruction of justice as Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, finishes his work investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Mr. Trump’s public war on the inquiry has gone on long enough that it is no longer shocking. Mr. Trump rages almost daily to his 58 million Twitter followers that Mr. Mueller is on a “witch hunt” and has adopted the language of Mafia bosses by calling those who cooperate with the special counsel “rats.” His lawyer talks openly about a strategy to smear and discredit the special counsel investigation. The president’s allies in Congress and the conservative media warn of an insidious plot inside the Justice Department and the F.B.I. to subvert a democratically elected president.

An examination by The New York Times reveals the extent of an even more sustained, more secretive assault by Mr. Trump on the machinery of federal law enforcement. Interviews with dozens of current and former government officials and others close to Mr. Trump, as well as a review of confidential White House documents, reveal numerous unreported episodes in a two-year drama.

This is the first one:
It was Feb. 14, 2017, and Mr. Trump and his advisers were in the Oval Office debating how to explain the resignation of Michael T. Flynn, the national security adviser, the previous night. Mr. Flynn, who had been a top campaign adviser to Mr. Trump, was under investigation by the F.B.I. for his contacts with Russians and secret foreign lobbying efforts for Turkey.

The Justice Department had already raised questions that Mr. Flynn might be subject to blackmail by the Russians for misleading White House officials about the Russian contacts, and inside the White House there was a palpable fear that the Russia investigation could consume the early months of a new administration.

As the group in the Oval Office talked, one of Mr. Trump’s advisers mentioned in passing what then-Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin had told reporters — that Mr. Trump had asked Mr. Flynn to resign.

It was unclear where Mr. Ryan had gotten that information, but Mr. Trump seized on Mr. Ryan’s words. “That sounds better,” the president said, according to people with knowledge of the discussions. Mr. Trump turned to the White House press secretary at the time, Sean Spicer, who was preparing to brief the media.

“Say that,” Mr. Trump ordered.

But was that true, Mr. Spicer pressed.

“Say that I asked for his resignation,” Mr. Trump repeated.

The president appeared to have little concern about what he told the public about Mr. Flynn’s departure, and quickly warmed to the new narrative. The episode was among the first of multiple ham-handed efforts by the president to carry out a dual strategy: publicly casting the Russia story as an overblown hoax and privately trying to contain the investigation’s reach.

“This Russia thing is all over now because I fired Flynn,” Mr. Trump said over lunch that day, according to a new book by Chris Christie, a former New Jersey governor and a longtime Trump ally.

Mr. Christie was taken aback. “This Russia thing is far from over,” Mr. Christie wrote that he told Mr. Trump, who responded: “What do you mean? Flynn met with the Russians. That was the problem. I fired Flynn. It’s over.”

Mr. Kushner, who was also at the lunch, chimed in, according to Mr. Christie’s book: “That’s right, firing Flynn ends the whole Russia thing.”

As Mr. Trump was lunching with Mr. Christie, lawyers in the White House Counsel’s Office met with Mr. Spicer about what he should say from the White House podium about what was a sensitive national security investigation. But when Mr. Spicer’s briefing began, the lawyers started hearing numerous misstatements — some bigger than others — and ended up compiling them all in a memo.

The lawyers’ main concern was that Mr. Spicer overstated how exhaustively the White House had investigated Mr. Flynn and that he said, wrongly, that administration lawyers had concluded there were no legal issues surrounding Mr. Flynn’s conduct.

Mr. Spicer later told people he stuck to talking points that he was given by the counsel’s office, and that White House lawyers expressed concern only about how he had described the thoroughness of the internal inquiry into Mr. Flynn. The memo written by the lawyers said that Mr. Spicer was presented with a longer list of his misstatements. The White House never publicly corrected the record.

Later that day, Mr. Trump confronted the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, in the Oval Office. The president told him that Mr. Spicer had done a great job explaining how the White House had handled the firing. Then he asked Mr. Comey to end the F.B.I.’s investigation into Mr. Flynn, and that Mr. Flynn was a good guy.

Mr. Comey responded, according to a memo he wrote at the time, that Mr. Flynn was indeed a good guy. But he said nothing about ending the F.B.I. investigation.

By March, Mr. Trump was in a rage that his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, had recused himself from the Russia inquiry because investigators were looking into the campaign, of which Mr. Sessions had been a part. Mr. Trump was also growing increasingly frustrated with Mr. Comey, who refused to say publicly that the president was not under investigation.

Mr. Trump finally fired Mr. Comey in May. But the president and the White House gave conflicting accounts of their reasoning for the dismissal, which only served to exacerbate the president’s legal exposure.

Spicey was more than just a Saturday Night Live joke --- he was an out and out liar.

There's a lot more in this story, which I'll write more about later.

This is amazing, though. Yet another Russia lie, from yet another Trump toadie.

This is not your grandfather's Democratic Party

by digby

Gallup did some interesting polling on the Democratic Party's ideology:

This should not be scary to anyone who worries about the party going "too far left." It mirrors the self-identification of Republicans as conservatives, a "brand" which dominated American politics for decades regardless of ideology. It's long past time for the Democrats to stop running from their own brand and embrace it.

As you can see from the charts about issues there's still plenty to argue about within this big coalition. And even if there weren't I have no doubt that Democrats would find something. It's in their nature.

But whatever differences there are, this is likely to be the deciding factor in 2020:

The Democrats' grand unifier, however, stands outside the party. Despite differing ideologies and opposing views on some issues, on average last year, 82% of conservative Democrats, 91% of moderate Democrats and 96% of liberal Democrats disapproved of the job President Donald Trump was doing as president.

This is not your grandfather's Democratic Party. In fact, your grandmother is a liberal too.

The henchmen are accomplices

by digby

I've been calling Nunes and the boys accomplices for a long time. I didn't realize until now just how accurate that statement was.

Can there be any doubt that Nunes shared this with the president? The same president who said a hundred times that he wasn't under investigation?

McCabe told Today host Savannah Guthrie that he ordered the opening of a counterintelligence investigation into Trump following Comey’s firing because “we had information that led us to believe that there might be a threat to national security, in this case that the president himself might be a threat to United States national security” — in particular, that Trump might be a Russian agent.

“The president, in our view, had gone to extreme measures to potentially impact — negatively impact, possibly turn off — our investigation of Russian meddling into the election, and Russian coordination with his campaign,” McCabe said. “We thought that might be possible [that Trump was working for Russia] ... you have to ask yourself, if you believe that the president might have obstructed justice for the purpose of ending our investigation into Russia, you have to ask yourself why. Why would any president of the United States not want the FBI to get to the bottom of Russian interference in our election?”

Why would his henchmen not want to get to the bottom of it either? Of course, they benefitted from Russian interference too. Since they have made themselves into a rump 40% minority party by backing this cretin, I guess they figure this is their only chance to hold on to power.

Dispatch from the cult

by digby

Nothing breaks him from his cult. Nothing. They are mesmerized by his grotesque assholishness. What that says about them ...

"This is not a break-his-base issue," Miringoff said. "This is a reinforce-his-base issue, but this is not an expand-beyond-his-base issue." 
So, to sum up: Not many beyond his base like this; it's unprecedented; and Americans are very polarized. 
That's been the story of the Trump presidency so far. Trump has done little to move beyond his base, and that theory of politics – revving up the base and not winning over the middle – is going to be tested in 2020. It's part of what led to Democrats to winning 40 seats that were previously held by Republicans in the 2018 midterms. 
Some key numbers from the poll: 
--61 percent disapprove, 36 percent approve Trump declaring a national emergency to build a wall along the U.S.- Mexico border. (85 percent of Republicans approve, 84 percent of Democrats disapprove, 63 percent of independents disapprove)

--60 percent think his decision should be challenged in the courts, including 60 percent of independents 
--58 percent do not think there is a national emergency at the border. (84 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Trump supporters think there is. Democrats and independents don't.) 
--57 percent think Trump is misusing his presidential power. (89 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of independents think he is, while 80 percent of Republicans don't). 
--54 percent say this decision makes them less likely to vote for Trump in 2020, but for context, the president's disapproval rating in the January NPR/PBS NewsHour poll was 53 percent.


NC-9 absentees: Signed unsealed & undelivered?

by Tom Sullivan

North Carolina's 9th Congressional District stretches from Charlotte to Fayetteville along the SC border (via Wikipedia)

N.C. State Elections Director Kim Strach opened Monday's formal hearing into election fraud allegations in the 2018 NC-9 congressional race by announcing investigators had uncovered a "coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme" in Bladen and Robeson counties on the eastern end of the district.

It was the first of what could be three days of testimony into the country's last unresolved 2018 congressional race. To summarize (from a December post):

At the center of it all, a political operative named McCrae Dowless, 62, hired by Republican Mark Harris's campaign and other candidates to assist voters with absentee ballot requests. Convicted of insurance fraud in 1992, Dowless is now a person of interest in the state's investigation into an alleged absentee ballot "harvesting" operation.

On Election night, Harris led Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes.
At the center of Monday's hearing was Lisa Britt, one of the crew Dowless paid to both help rural voters request absentee ballots. Britt's mother was married to Dowless in the early 1990s. Both were living at his home at times during 2018.

Assisting voters in requesting absentee-by-mail ballots is acceptable practice. But Dowless knew through daily public records updates whose absentee ballots had been mailed out. He then sent his team back to the homes to witness and collect them. Anyone other than a close family member collecting completed ballots for return to the Board of Elections is a felony in North Carolina.

Britt testified under oath she had turned over some ballot envelopes to Dowless with no witness signatures. She signed her mother's name as witness in maybe seven cases because Dowless told her she had already witnessed too many. Many of the witness signatures were not signed not in the presence of the voters. She also admitted to filling in down-ballot races voters had left blank on some ballots they received unsealed. Dowless was employed by Republican Mark Harris; she selected Republican candidates. A later witness admitted she had turned over her blank ballot, signed, but unsealed for the Dowless team to fill in for her. Britt admitted that if she had not realized at first this operation was illegal, she soon did, but continued out of loyalty to Dowless. "Mr. Dowless has been a father figure to me for 30 years," Britt said. Others witnesses confirmed that many of the ballots collected came from relatives, friends, and neighbors impacted by Hurricane Florence.

Dowless’ ex-wife, Sandra Dowless, testified she was surprised to learn from Strach how much money changed hands since he never seemed to have any money, drawing laughs in the hearing room. Since Britt knew of only a half dozen people on the Dowless collection team, it was unclear Monday where all the money went.

The Dowless team collected "as many as 1,249 ballot request forms overall in the general election," the Washington Post reports, adding, "It’s unclear exactly how many actual ballots Dowless and his associates turned in." There was no direct testimony on Monday that any had been destroyed.

Britt testified Dowless asked his team to coordinate signature ink color, stamp alignment, number of ballots mailed at any time to prevent throwing up "red flags" for county Boards of Elections. But the high ratio of requests versus non-returned ballots in the small counties drew attention Dowless had hoped to avoid. Britt testified that Dowless called team members to his home in December after the State Board refused to certify election and he coached them to "stick together" and to not admit collecting ballots, as he'd paid them to. Britt admitted she had lied in an interview with WBTV when she denied collecting absentee ballots. A convicted felon herself, Britt was ineligible to vote in 2018.

Strach displayed an image of a slip Dowless had delivered to his team last week coaching them to plead the Fifth Amendment. Dowless when called refused to testify without a grant of immunity.

Per state law, the Board of Elections may call for a new election if:
(1) Ineligible voters sufficient in number to change the outcome of the election were allowed to vote in the election, and it is not possible from examination of the official ballots to determine how those ineligible voters voted and to correct the totals.
(2) Eligible voters sufficient in number to change the outcome of the election were improperly prevented from voting.
(3) Other irregularities affected a sufficient number of votes to change the outcome of the election.
(4) Irregularities or improprieties occurred to such an extent that they taint the results of the entire election and cast doubt on its fairness.
After so much G.O.P. legal and rhetorical caterwauling over the need for sweeping voter law changes to fight the scourge of widespread-yet-undetected voter fraud, the party is minimizing the impacts of the Dowless operation paid for by a Republican candidate. Republicans argue Dowless' regrettable activities were insufficient to change the outcome of the election (3). Democrats argue the entire election is tainted (4) and new election is required. Under this level of state and national media scrutiny, Republicans may have the tougher case to make.

The Washington Post sums up:
Adding to the partisan currents, the state elections board requires a supermajority of four votes to call for a new election. With three Democrats and two Republicans, the board will not have the votes to take any action if its members vote along partisan lines. That would turn attention to Congress, which also has the power to order a new election.
One seat in the hearing room bore the tag, “U.S. House counsel.” It was occupied.

The death of Congressman Walter B. Jones Jr., Republican from NC-3, ten days ago leaves two of North Carolina's 13 U.S. House seats vacant. The fact Gov. Roy Cooper has not yet announced a special election to fill the Jones seat suggests he is waiting for the outcome of the NC-9 investigation. Running both elections on the same day would make logistical and economic sense.

The hearings continue today (Tuesday) at 9:30 a.m. EST and may be streamed again on WRAL.

Monday, February 18, 2019

"The rift between Europe and the Trump administration became open, angry and concrete"

by digby

Vox explains:
The New York Times reported that at the Munich conference, “the rift between Europe and the Trump administration became open, angry and concrete,” in part because of Trump’s “distaste for multilateralism and international cooperation.”

As was the case in Poland, Pence reportedly “met stony silence” during his speech in Munich when he called for US allies to follow Trump’s lead and withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

During her speech, Merkel criticized the Trump administration on a number of fronts, including the president’s recent decision to pull out of a treaty with Russia banning land-based intermediate-range missiles, and his announcement that American troops will be leaving Syria and Afghanistan.

“After the fall of the Berlin Wall, we certainly had the hope ... that we could come to a better cooperation,” Merkel said. “Today, in 2019, that seems like a long time ago ... [but] in a few years, it could look very different again.”
Different, for sure. Better? The jury will be out for some time on that.

The NY Times article explains that the allies are done licking Trump's boots in hopes of appeasing him because it hasn't worked. He only respects the leaders he perceives as strongmen --- like Putin, Xi and Kim Jong Un. So, if they flatter him, he's truly flattered and believes it's sincere. If democratic allies flatter him he sees it as a weakness and doubles down on his imbecilic browbeating over bullshit like tariffs and NATO.

Whether these longstanding alliances can be put back together is unknown. Maybe we'll all end up better off, who knows? But those who think the US doesn't need any allies and can just wall itself off from the world in 2019 are fooling themselves. We cannot. And confronting the biggest crisis of our time, climate change, is going to require more cooperation between countries than anything in human history. It's kind of a shame that the richest industrialized nations will have to start from scratch.

In fact, it's idiotic.

Bill Barr has a history of partisan interference

by digby

Josh Marshall points to an article he wrote for Salon back in 2002 about the final report that came out about the Whitewater investigation (which no one paid any attention to.) William Barr played a part and it wasn't good.  Before the election, Bush Sr apparently got wind of a referral to the Department of Justice about that stupid Arkansas land deal back in the 1980s:
According to the report, on Sept. 17, 1992, Edie Holiday, the secretary to the Cabinet in the Bush White House, contacted then Attorney General William Barr and -- after some awkward back and forth -- asked Barr if he "would be aware of a pending matter in Justice (she may have said it was a criminal referral) about a presidential candidate or a family member of a presidential candidate."

At around the same time, according to the report, then-White House counsel C. Boyden Gray also apparently took action. He inquired about the status of the referral with the head of the Resolution Trust Corp. (RTC), the agency from which the referral to the U.S. attorney originated.

Washington is replete with rules prohibiting or discouraging contact that might create the appearance of a conflict of interest. And most cover inappropriate contact between the political side of the executive branch and the law enforcement side of the executive branch, for obvious reasons. During a later phase in the Whitewater investigation, the general counsel at the Treasury gave White House lawyers a heads up about a possible upcoming indictment of Jim McDougal and possibly President Clinton, which was being reported in an internal RTC newsletter called the "early bird report." That incident was enough to get several White House officials hauled before a federal grand jury and led to the eventual resignations of White House counsel Bernie Nussbaum and Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman. The series of incidents noted in Wednesday's Whitewater report are considerably more serious: political appointees trying to use their influence over the executive law enforcement agencies for political gain.

And it has former Clinton staffers steamed.

"It doesn't pass the smell test," says one legal source close to the former president. "How did anybody at the White House even know about it? It suggests to us clearly that they were using the Justice Department and an investigation to influence the election." How did Edie Holiday find out about the referral? Or C. Boyden Gray? Why did they try to intervene as they did? What other officials were involved? On all of these questions the report is silent.

What is clear is that Barr went on to get in touch with Ira Raphaelson, the Justice Department's special counsel for financial institution fraud, and asked him to find out whether such a referral existed. When Raphaelson didn't uncover one at first, Barr asked him to try again. From here, the story takes a turn that is either comic or Kafkaesque.

Though Barr had no apparent reason to believe that the budding case against the McDougals was being handled inappropriately, he instructed his subordinates at the Department of Justice and the FBI to commence a series of contacts with local officials in Little Rock to make sure the case was being handled appropriately. The OIC Report is replete with self-serving statements from these officials, to the effect that they simply wanted to make sure it was handled neither more quickly nor more slowly than any other similar case. Barr, the report explains, told a subordinate that "he did not want action on it artificially sped up or slowed down -- it was to be dealt with on its merits and in the normal course."

In the succeeding pages, statements such as these are coupled with actions that clearly belie them. Everything in this case should be handled like every other case, Washington seemed to be telling the U.S. attorney in Little Rock. But after reading the OIC's recounting, it is virtually impossible to conclude that Barr and his colleagues at Justice were concerned with anything except the possibility that the potential case might not be moving as quickly as it could.

On Oct. 7, 1992, Banks informed his superiors in Washington that based on his review of the referral he was not inclined to open an investigation or move toward issuing indictments. Justice and FBI officials then met and responded to Banks' message by ordering him to commence an investigation and report back to them on Oct. 16.

Banks had little doubt about the origins of the sudden urgency to move ahead with the case. "All of a sudden, we had this FBI pressure that something had to be done by October 16th," he later told the OIC. But Banks and other law enforcement officials in Little Rock held their ground.

Officials in the Bush Justice Department apparently realized that it wouldn't do to order local officials to fast-track the case, but they nudged them as much as they could. It reflects well on Banks that he didn't let his superiors convince him that they knew better than he did. He believed he was being angled into issuing subpoenas in the case before the November election, and later testified that he would have resigned before doing so.

There are many passages in the OIC report that beg the question of whether more questions would have been asked if the independent counsel were interested in scrutinizing the behavior of former Bush administration officials rather than people tied to the Clinton administration. Why did the independent counsel choose to investigate possible foot-dragging on the part of U.S. Attorney Banks (who is completely vindicated in the report), when Banks had no reason to help Bill Clinton, and ignore the possibility that inappropriate pressure tactics were employed by Attorney General Barr, when Barr had a vested interest in seeing Clinton lose in November?

After Banks refused to pursue the Whitewater investigation, and after Bill Clinton's election, departing Bush Justice Department officials revealingly lost their sense of urgency about the case. Whitewater ultimately came into full bloom when Clinton requested a special prosecutor to look into it in 1994, following pressure from the media and critics.

Another tantalizing tidbit in the report is the central role that FBI director Robert Mueller, then assistant attorney general for the criminal division, played in Barr's fishing expedition. From the facts contained in the report, it's not clear that Mueller was doing anything more than overseeing the execution of decisions made by others or overseeing meetings of Justice Department and FBI officials in Washington. But he was clearly in the center of the drama and in the position to see almost everything that was going on.

All we can hope for is that Mueller still has enough juice with Barr to keep him from reverting to his old partisan ways.  I think the odds are no better than 50-50.

QOTW: George Conway

by digby

Indeed. But people like his wife call such questioning a "coup."

There was plenty of reasonable suspicion

by digby

 Emptywheel's post lays out the four legal proceedings before judges that we've seen evidence that this is not some partisan witch hunt and that the evidence, much of which we have not yet seen, shows something very nefarious. She concludes:
Four times so far in this investigation, Trump’s aides have started the sentencing process for their crimes designed to obstruction Robert Mueller’s investigation. All four times, before four different judges, their misplaced loyalty to Trump above country has come up. And with both Flynn and Manafort — where the judges have seen significant amounts of non-public information about the crimes they lied to cover-up — two very reasonable judges have raised explicit questions about whether Trump’s aides had betrayed their country.

Trump wants this to be a case of contested claims of betrayal. But the judges who have reviewed the record have used striking language about who betrayed their country.

Considering all the hand-wringing over the McCabe interview this morning, I thought I'd re-up my Salon piece from Friday that makes some of the same points:

My Salon column this mprning:

Valentine's Day 2019 was a day to remember. Americans woke up with news about Andrew McCabe, the former acting director of the FBI and his new book outlining the details of the wild days in May of 2017 when members of the Justice Department considered ways to evoke the 25th Amendment to remove the president from office.  By that night we had word that the president was going to go through with his threat to declare a national emergency so that he could circumvent the will of the US Congress.

And just to add to the general chaos, in between breaking news stories,  legal and national security experts were still poring over earlier news from the Manafort case that had everyone who is following the Russia scandal closely just a little bit breathless. A federal judge has affirmed that the president's former campaign chairman lied to the special prosecutor about some damning evidence that we can infer may implicate Donald Trump.

As House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-CA, explained on MSNBC:
It appears the judge has largely agreed with what the special counsel argued and that not only did he lie, but the motivation here is that if he told the truth about his relationship with someone with Russian Intelligence while he was the campaign chairman that would be so damaging  to Trump that it would negate his chance of a pardon. 
I have never subscribed to the theory that the president is a wily operator who's always strategizing how to distract the media and the public from bad news about him. He's got a strong feral survival instinct so he's always bobbing and weaving but I doubt that he's making any conscious choices. However, occurred to me that he seemed a bit too eager to draw attention to the McCabe story considering how damning it actually is.

Disgraced FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe pretends to be a “poor little Angel” when in fact he was a big part of the Crooked Hillary Scandal & the Russia Hoax - a puppet for Leakin’ James Comey. I.G. report on McCabe was devastating. Part of “insurance policy” in case I won....

67.6K people are talking about this

Disgraced FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe pretends to be a “poor little Angel” when in fact he was a big part of the Crooked Hillary Scandal & the Russia Hoax - a puppet for Leakin’ James Comey. I.G. report on McCabe was devastating. Part of “insurance policy” in case I won....

67.6K people are talking about this

Perhaps he really was upset. But it's also the case that he knew upon waking up yesterday that he had just lost the biggest legislative fight of his presidency. He closed down the government for the longest shutdown in history and wound up getting less than he would have gotten had he taken the border funding deal they agreed to last December.  He also undoubtedly realized that in order to save face, even a little, was to call for the national emergency and create a rift among allies in congress, possibly changing the dynamic.

As Salon's Amanda Marcotte pointed out on Thursday, Trump had already been in the unusual position of having to court his usually slavering media supporters to get them to accept the inevitable. McCabe's book probably seemed like the better of all the bad news cascading down on him in this very bad week.

Needless to say, Trump's defenders on Fox News and elsewhere in the right-wing media find this to be convincing evidence of an attempted "deep state" coup. But coming on the heels of this news about the Manafort case and the accumulated evidence of the last three years, it was a reminder to he rest of us of the craziness around the Comey firing when Trump had the Russian Ambassador up to the Oval Office the very next day and telling them:
“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” 
Mr. Trump added, “I’m not under investigation.” 
Imagine how that looked to law enforcement and intelligence officials at the time. And consider that they also knew that Trump  shared "code-word information”  one of the highest classification levels used by American spy agencies,  which one official characterized as "more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.”

McCabe made some news in an excerpt of a CBS interview to air this weekend, by saying that he not only opened a counter-intelligence investigation, as reported earlier, but he also opened an obstruction of justice investigation around the same time based upon the president's behavior and his insistence that the Justice Department was to do his bidding. He appears to have been right to do so.

One of the president's most fervent defenders inadvertently made the point very clear with a tweet yesterday:

All of those firings have to do with the Russia investigation.

Former US Attorney and Deputy Assistant Attorney General Harry Litman said on MSNBC, "Is it a slow-motion Saturday night massacre? That's what they were worried about at the time. In some ways, it's worse. It is as McCabe says, a fall-off in standards of presidential accountability such as they've never had before."

It must be noted that there is always a concern about powerful federal law enforcement investigating a president whether for the purpose of blackmail as Hoover was suspected of doing, or because of political bias against his policies. But, if anything, the law enforcement and intelligence communities in Washington tend to be conservative GOP so it would be very odd if they decided to go after a Republican administration right out of the gate for political purposes, even if they thought the president was a nut or a fool. They would most likely trust that the party and the bureaucracy would assert itself. In this case, with the evidence they had of Russian interference along with the president and his campaign's bizarre behavior, they took some protective action some of which was reckless and got them into trouble. But it's not hard to see why they would go there.

We've now had a United States federal judge in the Manafort case affirm what appears to be a central piece of the Special Counsel's theory which may implicate the president in a conspiracy. We earlier saw another United States federal judge look at the evidence in the Flynn case and get so agitated he accidentally threw out the word treason. And as of Thursday evening, the United States has a new Attorney General, William Barr.

We don't know as yet if Barr's years in private life were spent being brainwashed by right-wing media (and there is some evidence that they were) but he was, at one time, thought of as a man who cared about the Department of Justice and saw himself as a patriot. He too will probably be seeing all the evidence as early as today. Much depends upon whether this lifelong Republican lawyer sees what all these other otherwise conservative cops, G-Men, spies, US Attorneys and federal judges have been seeing over the past couple of years.