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Tuesday, October 31, 2017


Happy Halloween

by digby

The tool of the devil
by digby

I think we may be coming to a point at which we have to admit that social media is far more potent these days in the hands of the right than it ever was in the hands of the left. On fact, it's a tool of the devil:

Last night, someone handed some Columbia Universities protesters a banner and asked them to unfurl it. The protesters, there to express their displeasure that Mike Cernovich, the far-right news figure, had been invited to give a talk by the Columbia University College Republicans, did as they were asked, and before they knew what had happened, they were touting a banner that read:


As Jake Offenhartz recounts in a compelling write-up in the Gothamist, he snapped a photo of the sign and, in the hopes of preventing this stunt from gaining legs, tweeted out that it had been the work of counterdemonstrator tomfoolery:

If you think that that was the end of the story, you haven’t been following the far-right gonzosphere lately. Offenhartz writes:

In quick succession, Cernovich, [Jack] Posobiec and other Alt Right luminaries swiped my photo, sending their own tweets without any mention that the banner was planted. The image was removed from Cernovich’s Twitter once I reported the copyright infringement, though that only fueled the firestorm: Paul Joseph Watson, a writer at InfoWars, then claimed that Twitter was censoring the #NAMBLAANTIFA image. As of this writing, his censorship-alleging tweet has been shared over 12,000 times, and liked by 10,000 people — including Donald Trump Jr.
Naturally, of course, those numbers are now significantly higher.

This is a prime example of effective — sorry — “memetic warfare.” The alt-right understands the current far-right gonzo ecosystem, which doesn’t fact-check at all, and how potent a weapon it can be. Cernovich himself built a big following by understanding these dynamics. As a revealing New Yorker profile of him by Andrew Marantz showed a year ago, he deliberately tries out different sorts of messages — Hillary Clinton is very sick! These “refugees” I saw in Europe weren’t really downtrodden! — with no regard for their truth value, only for how well they will spread, flash flood–like, through the channels and gullies that have been carved out by @PrisonPlanet, Infowars, and Patriot U.S. News Today Now Real Web Site for Truth Definitely America Based. Cernovich and the other most effective purveyors of this garbage know exactly which sorts of outrageous content is most likely to echo — it’s not an accident that Cernovich went after Vic Berger, one of his more persistent internet enemies, by falsely calling him a pedophile late last year.

It’s always been the case that people believe and spread false rumors. It’s a baked-in aspect of human nature. But we’ve reached a point where it would be difficult to accurately grasp and describe the full scope of what has been uncorked by social media. The threshold for fake news to catch on is now so, so low that even a cheap, five-second stunt like the one pro-Cernovich counterdemonstrators pulled off last night can almost instantly launch an international conspiracy theory.

Think about the broader stakes here. This isn’t just about the spread of dumb, bizarre, eminently unbelievable conspiracy theories about liberal college students marching to defend pedophiles. We may be approaching an epistemic breach unlike anything the United States has seen before. What is going to happen when Robert Mueller’s investigation is done? Or when a new Trump scandal, bigger than anything that has previously come out, drops? It may well be the case that an untenably high percentage of the country will not believe any news, no matter how well-supported, that casts their side in an ill light, and will believe any news, no matter how impossible-seeming, that denigrates their ideological enemies. How do you run a country in which 30 or 35 percent of the population believes that Democrats ran a secret child sex ring out of a pizza parlor, that ISIS controls certain towns in the Midwest, and that Columbia students are openly marching in defense of pedophilia? Where does all this madness drag us?

I don't know but it's nowhere good.

Hannity's bait and switch

by digby

Just checking in on Bizarroworld to see the latest in the Hillary Clinton Russia scandal. It's really heating up. Here's Sean Hannity last night with the "most important monologue" he will ever give.

After calling on Special Counsel Robert Mueller to “indict” Hillary Clinton instead of anyone associated with Trump in a Friday night tweetstorm, Hannity returned to the air Monday night “seething” almost as hard as reports have suggested the president has been all day following news that two of his former campaign aides have been charged with serious crimes.

“Tonight we have a major crisis in this country,” Hannity told his viewers. “Does America have equal justice under the law? It appears tonight the answer is no. Because from everything we now know there is one justice system for the Clintons, the left, liberals and all their cronies, and another one for everyone else in America.” He set over the next hour he would set out to prove that there is “zero evidence of Trump/Russia collusion.”

But instead of doing that, Hannity spent the vast majority of his time focused squarely on the candidate who lost the president election, offering “incontrovertible evidence” that “Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, and others sold out America's national security interests.”

Hannity did inform his viewers about the charges against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates but only so that he could deem them “pathetic.” As for George Papadopoulos, the Trump campaign adviser whose indictment was unsealed Monday, he said, “Now, I knew everybody in the Trump campaign. I never heard about Papadopoulos until today. And I think I knew everybody.”

“So now that we have no Trump collusion, here’s what we do have tonight,” Hannity said. “This is what the media will ignore. This is what matters. These are the facts. This is where the evidence comes in.”

If you can't stand looking at him, you can read the transcript here.

Think Progress put together a compilation of the Fox coverage:


Dareell Issa, Halloweenie

by digby

Wonkette brings you some joyous Halloween news from San Diego:

Your comrade CindyinEncinitas gifts you pictures from San Diego, where our likeminded brethren gather every Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. to point and laugh at Darrell Issa! Let’s dig in! First, look up and see the pathetic pro-Issa assemblage of, like, four people. (15 people, and Cindy says the poor idiots admit they were paid.) That is weaksadlosersauce. Next, enjoy your True Patriots — FIVE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY of them, according to our correspondent, wait, now it’s up to 602!!!! — celebrating America the only way possible: with cosplay and telling Darrell Issa and the “president” TO GET THE F OUT!

Issa has a big, big problem. He barely won last time.

Isn't that great???

Check out more great pics at Wonkette.

Update: No real reason, but I thought I should just add Colbert's monologue from last night here in case you missed it. It's a goody:


Bannon tells Trump it's time go to the mattresses
by digby

Steve Bannon is a menace. Let's hope Trump isn't so far gone that he thinks this is a good idea:

According to Dana Bash, “I’m being told as some of our other colleagues have been told that the president is really angry and that people inside the White House are certainly kind of feeling the reverberations of what happened today.”

“And as part of that, because of that, the president is hearing advice from his former top adviser, Steve Bannon, who is saying that he wants people inside the White House to basically engage in a crash-and-burn strategy,” she continued. “This is from a source close to Steve Bannon. That he wants the White House to get Republicans on Capitol Hill to cut funding for the special counsel, publicly debate Bob Mueller’s mandate, slow document production, go to court and try to slow documents being requested there and go on a massive PR campaign and try to get Capitol Hill to engage.”

Host Don Lemon then turned to the panel, with prosecutor Renato Mariotti expressing dismay.

“I’m just as an American citizen and as somebody who spent years in law enforcement. I‘m concerned about the future of this country.” Marriotti began. “If we have the president of the United States trying to work together with Congress to defund law enforcement, it’s basically a statement that the president is above the law.”

“I think it’s a very scary thing for our country. and I hope that people in Congress would not support that strategy, because it is frankly a very dangerous thing for this country,” he added.

Falling back on his Nixon years, Dean equated Bannon’s comments to the notorious “Saturday Night Massacre” that saw Nixon firing Watergate investigator Archibald Cox — which only hastened Nixon’s demise.

“That’s a modified form of firing Archibald Cox, cutting off funding to the special counsel,” Dean lectured. “I’m not sure it lends towards obstruction of justice and Bannon saying let’s all conspire toward justice. But they’re playing with fire here and I think people who sign on to this have to be very careful.”
Don't be surprised if Trump goes there. If he doesn't it will be the first sane, smart thing he's done since he became president.



Trump's sleepless night has as much to do with money laundering as Russia

by digby

I wrote about Mueller Monday for Salon this morning. His frantic tweeting about Manafort's crimes not being related to the campaign betray the fact that this is one of Trump's biggest worries.

Mueller Monday sure lived up to its hype, didn't it? Indictments of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his top aide Rick Gates, along with a surprise guilty plea from campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, went beyond all the breathless speculation over the weekend. The only other campaign chairman ever indicted was none other than John Mitchell, the former attorney general who ran Richard Nixon's 1972 campaign. Mitchell was ultimately convicted for his role in the Watergate break-in and did 19 months in prison. It looks like Paul Manafort is just making America great again.

Lawfare published a succinct description of what happened in the courthouse yesterday morning:
The first big takeaway from Monday morning’s flurry of charging and plea documents with respect to Paul Manafort Jr., Richard Gates III and George Papadopoulos is this: The president of the United States had as his campaign chairman a man who had allegedly served for years as an unregistered foreign agent for a puppet government of Vladimir Putin, a man who was allegedly laundering remarkable sums of money even while running the now-president’s campaign, a man who allegedly lied about all of this to the FBI and the Justice Department.

The second big takeaway is even starker: A member of President Trump’s campaign team [Papadopoulos] admits that he was working with people he knew to be tied to the Russian government to “arrange a meeting between the Campaign and the Russian government officials” and to obtain “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of hacked emails — and that he lied about these activities to the FBI. He briefed President Trump on at least some of them.

The authors added, "as opening salvos go, it’s a doozy."

But it is only an opening salvo. It's clear that Papadapoulos has been cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller's team for some time. There's language in the documents that some legal observers have said probably means he's been working on Mueller's behalf for a couple of months. That may be making anyone who's spoken with him recently quite nervous. Some prosecutors have speculated that Mueller unsealed this plea agreement yesterday in order to send a message to anyone who may have been aware of Papadopoulos' activities that they should probably cooperate because he knows where all the bodies are buried.

This "Papadopoulos stipulation" provided some juicy details, including the fact that at a meeting in March of 2016 with Trump and the foreign policy advisory committee, Papadopoulos allegedly said he had connections to arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin. Apparently the president, who insists he has the greatest memory in the world, forgot about that all the times he insisted that neither he nor his campaign ever had any dealings or interests in Russia.

The Manafort and Gates arrests were a different sort of opening salvo. The criminal indictments all had to do with the money laundering of millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains in the years between 2006 and 2015. When these were announced on Monday morning, Trump himself tweeted that it all had nothing to do with him, declaring "No Collusion!" When the Papadopoulos plea was announced he went quiet, presumably because of all the collusion involved.

But he shouldn't have been so sure of himself to begin with. It's highly likely that Mueller's office is working hard to get Manafort to "flip." One of the members of the special counsel's team, former prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, was in the courtroom on Friday. That's one of Weissmann's specialties, honed in the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney's office prosecuting organized crime with colleague George Stamboulidis. According to Reuters:

In 1997, [Weissmann] and trial partner George Stamboulidis brought down one of the country’s most powerful mob bosses, Vincent “the Chin” Gigante, with the help of turncoat witnesses.

“We cut our teeth in the organized crime section,” said Stamboulidis, now in private practice. “And the only way you can make those cases is to get people to cooperate, even when the oath of Omerta (a Mafia code of silence and non-cooperation with authorities) was strong and in full play.”

How that talent might be used in this Russia probe is anyone's guess, but we know already that Manafort and Gates are implicated in money laundering and various financial crimes. If one wanted to "flip" a person to gain cooperation in understanding a larger conspiracy, this is the sort of crime an aggressive prosecutor would use as leverage. For what it's worth, Betsy Woodruff of the Daily Beast reported that federal prosecutors who have worked with Weissmann in the past believed that the early-morning raid on Manafort's condo a few weeks back had his name written all over it. This case could be his baby.

Even if Manafort doesn't flip on Trump, or simply doesn't have any evidence that Trump knew what was going on, his arrest has to have kept Trump up all night. By indicting Manafort on charges of money laundering, and doing so with an apparent go-ahead from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees his office, Mueller has made it clear that he will pursue the investigation wherever it leads, including into financial crimes that are not related to the campaign. Trump is almost definitely exposed.

Back in May I wrote about Trump's long history of suspicious financial dealing, specifically money laundering, which is extremely common in real estate and gambling. In fact, Trump's Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City was known as a particular haunt of Russian mobsters and was cited repeatedly for money laundering. Just four months before Trump announced his presidential campaign, Fortune magazine reported that the Trump Taj Mahal had settled charges that it had violated money laundering laws by agreeing to a $10 million civil penalty for violations going back to 2003.

The list of possible dirty dealings in Trump's foreign businesses and real estate holdings (including an unrelated FBI investigation into a Russian money laundering ring in Trump Tower) is a long one. By indicting Manafort on charges that fall outside the election collusion investigation, Mueller has put Donald Trump on notice. He's going there.

Candy’s for Closers! Trumpian Halloween Tricks

by Spocko

Don't have money for Halloween candy? Hate giving away Halloween treats and love Halloween tricks?

Hate the new office tradition of cube to cube trick or treating?
(h/t Val Rodham)

Think that people who give things to others, without making a profit or getting a big tax deduction, are suckers?

Think that using people in crisis to make money is just smart business?

If so, follow these simple steps for a profitable Halloween.  They are based on observing the human who has won the most powerful position on your planet. Since it worked for him, other humans can emulate him to live long and prosper by following his method.

  • Put out a BIG empty bowl with sign over it that says, 'Help yourself." or "These are big, take only ONE!" h/t David Feldman  

  • Next to the empty bowl put a milk carton covered with orange construction paper. Write on the paper "Trick or Treat for UNICEF!"

When people see that there is nothing in the bowl, complain about greedy co-workers who must have taken all the treats while you were gone.

When asked what candy you had, mention the favorite candy of your office rival.
"I'm not saying he took it, but you might want to notice what candy he is eating over the next few weeks."
When you go to other desks, bring your Trick Or Treat for UNICEF carton. Don't take any of their candy explaining, "I don't want what happened to me, happen to you."  Then tell the story of the great candy you were going to give out but couldn't because of someone else.

Casually point to your UNICEF milk carton while talking about this. Mention how much you loved Audrey Hepburn as a kid and how she inspired you.  Nobody can say no to Audrey Hepburn! Watch people fill the carton!


The day after Halloween use the donated money to buy discounted candy for yourself!

But wait, there's more!

Leverage the lie!

Tell everyone you donated what you collected to UNICEF plus a significant amount of your personal money.  Here's the Trump Trick: Don't give the money! No one ever checks!  (It's not like David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post is checking up on your donations.)

A few weeks later post a signed photo of Angelina Jolie, praising your generosity.  Again, nobody checks!  CNN is not going to call Jolie and ask if she really talked to you on the phone.  (White House admits Trump fabricated phone call from Boy Scout leaders, Mexico president-Fox News)

Expand the Lie!

Now claim a cash donation to UNICEF on your taxes. Name multiple charities like The Salvation Army -- since no one can track where the cash in the buckets came from.

(Your taxes won't be investigated by your coworkers.  It's not like David Corn is asking you to release your tax returns!)

Continue to point out your rival is STILL eating the candy you accused them of stealing. Suggest that maybe there should be an investigation.

Keep using this trick for years.

Make sure all the new people in the office think your rival is a candy thief.

Repeat rival's nickname every time he is seen eating candy. "Look, it's Sticky Fingers McCoy!"

Make a joke about your rival every time anyone has an empty bowl at their desk. "Uh, oh, it looks like Sticky Fingers McCoy was here!"

If pressed say, "If Dr. McCoy claims he didn't take the candy, I take him at his word." Now switch to stories of thievery in other areas.

Reinforce the lie!

Steal food from the office refrigerator then suggest your rival took it. According to my observations, co-workers will repeat the old false accusations even if they defend the rival.
"Look, I'm new here, I personally never saw Dr. McCoy take anything. He seems great, if a little emotional, and I don't know why we call him Sticky Fingers McCoy. But just to be on the safe side let's lock all the food up, and stop our tradition of giving out candy, okay?"
Happy Halloween!

Evil Spocko

The big W

by Tom Sullivan

Still image from It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.

Months before the email hack of the Democratic National Committee was public, one or more members of Donald Trump's presidential campaign knew Russia had "thousands of emails" from Hillary Clinton and wanted to deal, court documents released yesterday reveal. It took a few weeks, but the campaign was willing to talk, if not more. George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty for lying to the FBI about it.

Papadopoulos, a man Trump listed as one of his foreign policy advisers, had, soon after being hired by the campaign in March 2016, learned of the emails from a man listed in court documents as a London-based "professor." The Washington Post identified him as as Ivan Timofeev, "a program director at a Russian government-funded think tank," the Russian International Affairs Council. Papadopoulos' repeated efforts to set up a meeting between campaign officials and the professor's Russian contacts seem to have failed. On June 9, however, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, then-campaign manager Paul Manafort, and several others met at Trump Tower with a Russian attorney to discuss "dirt" the Russians had to offer on Hillary Clinton.

News broke on June 14 of breaches of the DNC computer system. Thousands of emails were stolen.

It is clear multiple, high-level players in the Trump campaign were eager to partner with Russia on using stolen Clinton emails in the campaign. Today's news is awash with it.

There is a lot of who, what, where, and when this morning. What we know so far is the tip of the proverbial iceberg. But amidst the biggest unanswered questions is Why?

"Why so much Russia," Chris Matthews asked last night on "Hardball." We have a sense of what the Russians wanted. Repeal of the Magnitsky Act, for one. Rebuilding the Russian empire is another. But what about Trump and his team? Why were so many on the campaign connected with Russia. Matthews said he's never seen anything like it.

Manafort, we know, has been indicted on money laundering, as David Dayen reports at The Intercept:

The indictment outlines a fairly common money-laundering technique: create an offshore company to accept foreign money and use that company to purchase American property. Then take a loan out against that property. The loan enables the person to have full access to the money without having paid taxes or disclosed the source of the income. Money laundering in the New York City real estate world has become so ubiquitous that it is likely driving up the price of high-end properties. A recent Treasury Department estimate suggested nearly a third of all such properties were obtained suspiciously.
Soon after being hired for the campaign, Manafort tried to leverage his connections to settle debts with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. The oligarch and Manafort have business connections that run through Cyprus, as the Intercept notes.

Trump, too, is heavily involved in real estate transactions involving Russians.

The Russian elite have purchased dozens of apartments in Trump Tower. And almost $100 million in Trump properties in Florida, Reuters reported in August. Plus a $95 million Palm Beach mansion which brought Trump "a hefty profit on the flip."

Slate's Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern lay out why the Manafort indictment gives Trump reason for concern well beyond stolen emails:
Still, so much of this document that is not about Trump is, in many ways, all about Trump. The charges against Manafort and Gates, for instance, mirror what many financial experts have long claimed about the Trump Organization: that they have been at pains to hide money from the IRS, including money from foreign sources; that they have engaged in conspiracies to launder foreign money; that they have made false statements and conspired to hide foreign funds. This is an indictment that should terrify Trump in that it shadows and hints at his own unlawful conduct and nabs two players who might be willing to cooperate to get out of their mess. And Trump can’t claim any of it is a direct attack on him.
Associated Press reinforces that assessment:
Trump has become increasingly concerned that the Mueller probe could be moving beyond Russia to an investigation into his personal dealings, two people familiar with the president’s thinking said.
The New Yorker's Adam Davidson wrote about the Trump real estate empire in August:
So many partners of the Trump Organization have been fined, sued, or criminally investigated for financial crimes that it is hard to ascribe the pattern to coincidence, or even to shoddy due diligence. In criminal law, there is a crucial concept called “willful blindness”: a person can be convicted of a crime even if he was unaware of certain aspects of the crime in which he was engaged. In U.S. courts, judges routinely explain to juries that “no one can avoid responsibility for a crime by deliberately ignoring what is obvious.”
All of which leads one to conclude the answer to why so many in the Trump campaign are Russophiles may in the end be no more mysterious than "birds of a feather."

If the sitting president appears to be sweating now, just wait until Mueller and the FBI dig into his financial dealings and tax returns. It was enough for Eliot Ness.

* * * * * * * *

Request a copy of For The Win, my county-level election mechanics primer, at tom.bluecentury at gmail.

Monday, October 30, 2017


The Wall St Journal says "pardon everyone, including yourself!"

by digby

This op-ed in the Wall Street Journal is just adorable. Trump should pardon himself and pardon Crooked Hillary and basically let Devin Nunes decide who's really guilty:

Mr Trump can end this madness by immediately issuing a blanket presidential pardon to anyone involved in supposed collusion with Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign, to anyone involved with Russian acquisition of an American uranium company during the Obama administration, and to anyone for any offense that has been investigated by Mr. Mueller's office. Political weaponization of criminal law should give way to a politically accountable democratic process.

Nefarious Russian activities in including possible interference in US elections can and should be investigated by congress. Partisan bitterness will not evaporate if lawmakers take up the investigation. But at least those conducting he inquiry will be legitimate and politically accountable. And the question of whether Russia intervened in the 2016 election and of whether it made efforts to influence US policy makers in previous administration, is first and foremost one of policy and national security not criminal law.

The president himself would be covered by the blanket pardon we recommend but the pardon power does not extend to impeachment. If Congress find evidence that he was somehow involved in collusion with Russia, the House can determine whether to begin impeachment proceedings.Congress is also better equipped, as part of its oversight role, to determine whether and how the FBI, Justice Department and the intelligence agencies might have been involved in the whole affair, including possible misuse of surveillance and mishandling of criminal investigations.

Yeah right. The paper that went into a hysterical frenzy calling oval office blow jobs a federal case of massive proportions is now saying that colluding with a foreign government to tilt an election is something a partisan congress can take care of just fine.

I won't be surprised if Trump does something like this, though. He fired Comey, after all.



Rick Gates who?

by digby

I suspect that most of us only focused on Manafort's partner Rick Gates recently when Manafort was revealed to have offered private briefings with a Russian oligarch during the presidential campaign. (The deep financial entanglements between the two and various Russian and Ukrainian players are discussed here.)

Here's a profile of Gates from the Daily Beast from June will fill you in on his relationship to the Trump campaign and Trump's inner circle which includes Tom Barrack, Trump's best friend and Gates' boss:

Rick Gates, the longtime lobbying partner of ousted Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, is still making multiple visits to the White House—even though the Trump administration has sought to distance itself from Manafort.

Manafort may be under investigation for alleged Russia ties, and thus persona non grata at the Trump White House. However, his top deputy Gates—who also worked on behalf of Russian interests—has managed to wedge himself back into Trump-world. having landed a sweet new gig with one of President Donald Trump’s best and wealthiest friends.

After leaving the Trump-boosting nonprofit America First Policies in March—as former FBI Director James Comey officially announced an investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign team and Russian officials—Gates is now working directly for Tom Barrack, according to eight sources in and around the Trump White House.

Barrack, a millionaire and former Trump fundraiser who went on to lead the presidential inaugural committee, is a longtime friend of the president who still sends Trump friendly emails to remind him that, “YOU ROCK!” The Trump ally was also instrumental in bringing Manafort into Trump’s political orbit during the campaign.

Since the inauguration, Barrack has remained in close contact with the president as one of his top outside advisers, and has visited the president multiple times. Barrack’s name has been floated for senior White House positions, including chief of staff.

And when Barrack stops by to meet Trump in the West Wing, he has brought Gates with him, according to multiple sources familiar with the meeting. Late last week, Barrack was again at the White House, with Gates in tow, two White House officials confirmed.

Gates, who worked for the same controversial pro-Russian clients as Manafort, could not be reached for comment, and the White House comms shop did not respond to a request for comment on this story. Officials spoke on the condition of anonymity so as to speak freely.

White House staff noted that his presence was conspicuous since the president doesn’t even like him.

“Rick [just] wandered around,” a Republican source familiar with the most recent White House visit told The Daily Beast. “My understanding is that [President Trump] had no idea he was in the building otherwise he wouldn’t be too happy.”

It’s not a secret that Gates, who has been moved around from position to position from 2016 onward, is not liked by the president, who considers his former aide a hanger-on, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of Trump’s sour feelings toward Gates.

According to two former senior Trump campaign officials, Trump’s dislike for Gates began as a case of mistaken identity. For weeks after Gates’ hiring, when aides would mention “Rick,” then-candidate Trump would always assume that they meant his national political director Rick Wiley, not Gates. Wiley was fired just over a month after joining the Trump team.

It wasn’t until weeks after Gates’ hiring that Trump, according to one former senior campaign official, saw Gates and asked, “Who the hell is that?”

When Trump was informed who Gates’ was, he remained unimpressed. One former Trump campaign official simply referred to Gates as a “whipping boy” for Trump.

Nowadays, Gates can also be spotted milling about at Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., just a few blocks away from the White House.

When Gates left America First Policies, former Trump campaign officials told The Daily Beast that his proximity to Manafort was partially to blame—in addition to the fact that the group had inauspicious beginnings with donors concerned about a lack of transparency. Katrina Pierson, spokesperson for the upstart organization, told The Daily Beast at the time that Gates merely wanted to move on after assisting in the early process.

“Rick volunteered to help set up the organization and build out the administrative tasks,” Pierson said. “Now that everything is up and running, he has decided to move on to his next project. We are appreciative of his work.”

But Gates’ close work with Manafort over the years makes him an albatross around the administration’s neck, struggling to shift focus from an ongoing investigation into 2016 campaign activities.

But he’s not the only one. President Trump can’t seem to shake his habit of top advisers and senior staffers carrying Russia-related baggage. His son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner definitely isn’t going anywhere, no matter how many secret Kremlin backchannels he wants to initiate. Trump still wants ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn—who left the administration specifically because of a Russia controversy—back in his administration. After the election, Manafort himself was still advising Trump and his transition team on cabinet picks.

In March, White House press secretary Sean Spicer took great efforts to downplay Manafort’s role in the presidential campaign, despite being hired as campaign chairman.

At one point he said that Manafort had “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.”

This, of course, was not the case. And throughout Manafort’s time with the presidential campaign he essentially worked in tandem with Gates.

Asked whether Manafort was aware of what role Gates was currently playing, his spokesman emailed The Daily Beast, “Why don’t you ask him.”

But the two have longstanding ties.

Gates initially joined Manafort’s lobbying firm Davis Manafort in 2006. The two men had Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with close ties to Vladimir Putin, as a client but the business relationship with Deripaska went south. As detailed in a 2016 story from The Washington Post, Deripaska accused Gates and Manafort of taking almost $19 million intended for investments, failing to account for the cash and then not clarifying what the money was used for.

Attorneys for Deripaska would subsequently hire a private investigator to track them down, according to the report, and Manafort’s attorney did not respond to the Post about the status of the dispute.

In 2014, Manafort and Gates were working in Washington, D.C., to promote policies favored by Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych.

When Manafort joined the Trump campaign in the spring of 2016, he brought Gates along with him. They were heavily evolved in preparation for and work on the Republican National Convention, ensuring that delegates backed Trump and formally made him the nominee.

At the time of the convention, two senior Trump staffers told The Daily Beast that the box in the Quicken Loans Arena where Gates and Manafort strategized and watched the action on the floor was nicknamed “The Eagle’s Nest”—the same name of a onetime Nazi Party getaway that was presented to Adolf Hitler for his birthday.

Gates even took the fall for a highly publicized incident of plagiarism in Melania Trump’s convention speech.

By the August after the convention, Manafort quit the campaign amid scrutiny of his financial ties and previous work with Ukraine but Gates remained in Trump’s orbit, despite his connection to damaging reports about Manafort.

Then-Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller said that Gates would be functioning as liaison to the RNC. Once Trump won the election in November, Yahoo News reported that he was working alongside Barrack to plan the inauguration.

Barrack did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

In January 2017, Gates took yet another Trump-related gig and joinedAmerica First Policies in alongside Pierson and Brad Parscale, who was responsible for digital and data projects for the campaign.

His tenure there lasted less than three months.

It wasn’t clear at the time whether President Trump was even aware of Gates’ involvement in the nonprofit, or with Gates’ current work as a Barrack associate. But during the campaign, one source familiar with the conversations told The Daily Beast that “Trump had ordered [David] Bossie to fire Gates about six times.”

Now, when he tags along with Barrack to the White House, according to multiple sources, Gates is left either “wait[ing] in the lobby” or outside offices,or chatting with available staffers.

I'm sure he's just another operative from the Clinton campaign colluding with the Russians to sell out America and help Donald Trump without his knowledge. Or something.


A true patriot and profile in courage

by digby

The Speaker of the House makes clear that he is going to keep chasing the holy grail of tax cuts not matter what happens: Wehn asked about today's news, Paul Ryan said, "I really don’t have anything to add, other than: Nothing is going to derail what we’re doing in Congress."

They will pursue those tax cuts even on the day after Kim Jong Un vaporizes Seoul and Tokyo. It is their white whale.


This happened even before today

by digby

It appears that Trump's frantic tweeting "Crooked Hillary did it! Crooked Hillary did it!" didn't have the desired effect. As of yesterday, Trump has a 33% approval rate and a 62% disapproval rate. This is a new low.

In so many ways.

I do think there's a good chance that Trump himself will skate on all this because everyone will believe him when he says he knew nothing of this and didn't understand that he needed to vet his campaign advisers.

Being a fucking moron could work for him.



QOTD: Lewandowski

by digby

It's always somebody else's fault. Trump had no obligation to vet his campaign manager or even notice that he happened to have been working for a bunch of sleazy oligarchs and tyrants for decades. That was all public record.

Corey Lewandowski said Monday the FBI should have notified him that Paul Manafort was under suspicion when he joined the Trump campaign. 
“He was under a FISA warrant, supposedly, both before and after his tenure at the campaign and the FBI never notified the leading presidential candidate for a major Republican Party race? Never notified him of a potential problem? This is a problem with the FBI, if you ask me."

F-ing moron.



Meanwhile in Bizarroworld

by digby

If you watch Fox News last night the big story was how the government, the press and the Democrats are all conspiring to cover up Hillary's Russia scandal with this Trump witch hunt. I'm not kidding.

You might think that special counsel Robert Mueller unsealed two indictments and a guilty plea from three former Trump campaign staffers because he has uncovered evidence of crimes — including one Trump adviser who lied to the FBI about his communications with a Russian cutout about stolen Hillary Clinton emails.

But on Monday night Sean Hannity revealed what’s really going on.

Mueller acted, according to Sean Hannity, to “distract” Americans from Sean Hannity’s television program.

“Don’t think this is a coincidence,” Hannity said. “Last week right here on this program, we had stunning revelation after revelation, day after day, about Hillary Clinton, Uranium One, the fake news dossier.”

Why would this compel Mueller to act? Because Sean Hannity was exposing Mueller as complicit in these “crimes,” according to Sean Hannity.

“[S]pecial counsel Mueller is clearly complicit in the Uranium One scandal. Remember, he was the FBI director. The FBI informant had all the evidence of bribes and kickbacks and money laundering and he did nothing. So now they need to change the narrative after a very bad week and distract the country from their evidence and their involvement in possible collusion,” Hannity explained.

The Uranium One “scandal” involves the purchase of a Canadian company by a state-owned Russian entity. The allegation is that Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, approved the sale in exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation from Uranium One investors. Clinton, however, did not have the power to approve or block the transaction and nearly all of the donations to the Clinton Foundation were made prior to Clinton becoming secretary of state.

Mueller’s alleged complicity relates to his role as FBI director at the time of the Uranium One transaction. Around that time, the agency was investigating a separate case involving a trucking company that paid kickbacks to Russian officials. In recent days, Hannity and other right-wing figures have argued this makes Mueller complicit in the fake scandal.

This Hannity argues, is what Americans should be talking about, not the court documents filed by Robert Mueller.

“Tonight we have a major crisis in this country. Does America have equal justice under the law? It appears tonight the answer is no,” Hannity said.

Judgment Day
by digby

Ryan Lizza on the Manafort indictment raises the central question that would be asked if any other man but Donald Trump had hired him: what in the hell kind of terrible judgment does this show in a presidential candidate?

Paul Manafort and the dirty world of Ukrainian politics were naturally simpatico: the former is a skilled political consultant for hire who, it is now alleged, had a penchant for hiding the extent of his income from U.S. authorities; the latter is a cynical and deeply corrupt universe in which offshore accounts and tax-evasion schemes make up the system’s basic essence. Manafort was a natural in that world, helping his client Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s former President, play up ethnic and linguistic cleavages (remind you of another campaign?) until he was ultimately deposed, in mass protests, in 2014. One imagines that Yanukovych, for whom Manafort worked from roughly 2006 until 2014, according to the indictment, and who kept an ostrich zoo and a garage full of antique cars at his illegally privatized residence outside of Kiev, didn’t always pay in fully transparent and properly declared bank transfers. That much, in fact, we have known for some time.

Last year, when I was reporting a story for the magazine on a pair of journalists turned parliamentarians in Ukraine, one of the piece’s subjects—a prominent Ukrainian investigative journalist named Sergii Leshchenko—showed up at a meeting with a stack of papers. These were secret ledgers, Leshchenko told me, detailing off-book illegal payments by Yanukovych and his party for all sorts of services. They also included twelve million dollars in payments to Manafort. (The Times had published an article on the ledgers in August, 2016.) “It’s the dark side of politics,” Leshchenko told me. Today that dark side was made a shade lighter. Today’s indictment is a reflection of how corruption in one country rarely stays there but leaks out into the global financial system, where ill-gotten cash can make its way from the Ukrainian treasury to Brooklyn real estate. Manafort likely believed that what happened in Kiev would stay in Kiev. And maybe it would have, if it weren’t for his work for Trump, and his latest client’s unexpected victory—and the scrutiny that followed. Today it’s possible that Manafort is wishing his last, and greatest, political-campaign triumph didn’t turn out so lucky.

It's not as though we didn't know that Trump's campaign manager had spent his life working on behalf of oligarchs and despots (or that trump himself was a fraud and a serial sexaul assaulter.) We knew. Everyone knew. And everyone knew that Trump had the judgement of a turnip.

Half the voters in this country DID NOT CARE. That is the reality that everyone wants to evade in order to protect our "democracy" and perpetuate the insane notion that the American voters are the wisest, warmest most generous people in the world and we must always respect their "common sense" and offer them empathy for whatever outside forces "make" them vote for someone like Donald Trump. I'm sorry, these people are deplorable. And look where we are because of it.



Influence campaign in full effect

by digby

Uhm no. Here's Marcy Wheeler:

As I laid out, the indictment against Paul Manafort is meant to embarrass him, but still pave the way for him to flip. That’s the carrot, if an indictment stripping the money laundered suits off Manafort’s back can be said to be good news. 
The bad news is this guilty plea, for false statements, by campaign advisor George Papadopoulos, signed on October 5, but only unsealed today. That plea makes it clear that 1) the campaign had, as an explicit goal, making friends with Russia 2) a month and a half before the June 9 Trump Tower meeting, Russian handlers dangled the stolen Hillary emails 3) Papadopoulos has cooperated beyond what has been laid out in the guilty plea. 
As the plea lays out, Papadopoulos learned in early March he’d be a foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign. Within weeks, a professor fresh off a trip to Moscow started cultivating him, and introduced him to a woman pretending to be Vladimir Putin’s niece. After meeting that handler, Papadopoulos attended a meeting with Trump and others where he explained “he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin. The plea makes clear that Papadopoulos kept the campaign in the loop on his “outreach to Russia.”
And it makes it clear that on April 26 — three days before the DNC figured out Russia had hacked them — Papadopoulos’ handler told him Moscow had dirt on clinton.

The Professor told defendant PAPADOPOULOS that on that trip he (the Professor) learned that the Russians had obtained “dirt” on then-candidate Clinton. The Professor told defendant PAPADOPOULOS, as PAPADOPOULOS later described to the FBI, that “They [the Russians] have diret on her”; “the Russians had emails of Clinton”; “they have thousands of emails.” 
After learning the Russians had emails on Clinton even before Clinton learned it, Papadopoulos “continued to correspond with Campaign officials,” including his Senior Policy Advisor and a High-Ranking Campaign Official. (One of these may be Manafort.) 
In response, the campaign decided to send someone low level “so as not to send any signal.” 
It turns out, Papadopoulos lied about some of this the first time he spoke with the FBI about it on January 27. For example, he claimed he learned about the emails before he joined the campaign, trying to pretend that he didn’t learn about them only because he had just been named a top advisor. 
Papadopoulos must be a fucking idiot, because a number of his communications with his Russian handlers were on Skype, a PRISM provider. Though he tried to stop using his communications immediately after his second FBI interview, which is a bit too late.
My favorite part of the plea his the last paragraph:

On July 27, 2017, defendant PAPADOPOULOS was arrested upon his arrival at Dulles International Airport. Following his arrest, defendant PAPADOPOULOS met with the Government on numerous occasions to provide information and answer questions. 
I’m betting the FBI asked him about this detail, from a March 31 meeting. 
On or about March 31, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS attended a “national security meeting” in Washington, D.C., with then-candidate Trump and other foreign policy advisors for the Campaign. When defendant PAPADOPOULOS introduced himself to the group, he stated, in sum and substance, that he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin. 
Here’s what that meeting looked like: 

You’ll note that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was at the meeting as well…
I’m guessing this plea is going to make flipping far more attractive to Paul Manafort. Because Manafort now knows that the government knows that the campaign knew about Hillary’s emails well before that June 9, 2016 meeting.

About that Russian recusal ...

Stay tuned and bookmark Marcy's site for further analysis.


Will he flip?
by digby

My column for Salon got spiked today because the Manafort indictment came down too early. Damn it. Anyway, here it is, even though we now know exactly who was indicted, it's still at least a little bit relevant:

So, that was quite a week-end of excited speculation, wasn't it? Everyone in the political world was like five year olds on Christmas eve, so frantic they couldn't sleep waiting to see what presents they had under the tree. Santa,of course, is Special Counsel Robert Mueller whose Grand Jury CNN reported late on Friday night had returned at least one indictment in the Russia probe.

A federal grand jury in Washington on Friday approved the first charges in the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller, according to sources briefed on the matter...

On Friday, top lawyers who are helping to lead the Mueller probe, including veteran prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, were seen entering the court room at the DC federal court where the grand jury meets to hear testimony in the Russia investigation.

Reporters present saw a flurry of activity at the grand jury room, but officials made no announcements.
Shortly after President Donald Trump abruptly fired then-FBI Director James Comey, Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel. Mueller took the reins of a federal investigation that Comey first opened in July 2016 in the middle of the presidential campaign.

That announcement came at the end of a week that saw the Trump campaign go to Defcon 1 with their coordinated propaganda campaign to investigate Hillary Clinton's "real Russia scandal" and somehow force Robert Mueller to resign or be fired. (You can read about it in my Friday column.) It seemed to be going quite well, with the mainstream media eagerly "asking questions" and the hysteria rapidly ratcheting up with multiple announcements of congressional investigations into Hillary Clinton and the Wall Street Journal editorial page demanding that Robert Mueller step down. Predictably, Democrats were beginning to break the line to start condemning Clinton, giving cover to Trump by helping them create a false competing narrative that she was the one who had colluded with Russia.

Fox News gamely kept campaigning through the week-end with Trump's favorite host (after Hannity) Judge Jeanine Pirro letting it all hang out, proclaiming “It’s time, folks. It’s time to shut it down, turn the tables, and lock her up. That’s what I said. I actually said it. Lock her up.”

Trump himself let fly on Sunday morning with a barrage of tweets presumably aimed at Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the congressional Republicans demanding that they "do something!":

These tweets were so provocative that the president's lawyer Ty Cobb was forced to make a statement declaring, “his tweets today are not, as some have asked, a reaction to anything involving the Special Counsel with whom the White House continues to cooperate." Evidently there were some people who thought the president saying publicly that the investigation was a witch hunt and exhorting people to "do something" might fit the pattern of obstruction of justice that we've seen since the day he took office. Imagine that.

The president's hysterical tweet storm and his lawyers attempts to dial it back notwithstanding, the right's febrile excitement changed to anxiety almost instantly upon the news that indictments were coming down as soon as today. Everyone spent the week-end wondering who it might be. Experienced prosecutors expected that it was probably someone the prosecutors hoped to persuade to cooperate for a lesser charge and that could be anyone. Others speculated that it must be one of the big names --- Flynn, Kushner or Manafort, the latter most likely because he had already been informed by the Special prosecutor's office that they were seriously looking at indictment.

We will soon know the details. The New York Times and the Washington Post were unable to corroborate this story and the Mueller team have been totally tight lipped until now so it's also possible that there are no indictments. But assuming that it's true, one detail in the CNN story is worth taking a closer look at: "top lawyers who are helping to lead the Mueller probe, including veteran prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, were seen entering the court room at the DC federal court where the grand jury meets." If Andrew Weissman was there is indicates that they are playing hardball regardless of who they have decided to indict.

As Betsy Woodruff of the Daily Beast reported last August, Weissman is a very, very hard charging prosecutor known for his "take-no-prisoners" approach to white collar crime. He was among those who prosecuted Enron and personally handled the Arthur Anderson case which resulted in the dissolution of the company. He indicted the whole enterprise for obstructing justice by destroying documents and won a conviction which was later overturned by the Supreme Court. Weissman argued later that the ruling would not hobble prosecutors from making similar obstruction charges because the congress has subsequently passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, although there are some who believe that the case resulted in prosecutors pulling their punches in the wake of the financial crisis a few years later.

But Weissman also has another specialty. He has a particular talent for "flipping" witnesses, which he honed in the Brooklyn US Attorney's office prosecuting organized crime with colleague George Stamboulidis. According to Reuters:

In 1997, he and trial partner George Stamboulidis brought down one of the country’s most powerful mob bosses, Vincent “the Chin” Gigante, with the help of turncoat witnesses.

“We cut our teeth in the organized crime section,” said Stamboulidis, now in private practice. “And the only way you can make those cases is to get people to cooperate, even when the oath of Omerta (a Mafia code of silence and non-cooperation with authorities) was strong and in full play.”

How that talent might be used in this Russia probe is anyone's guess, but we know already that a number of the players are implicated in money laundering and various financial crimes that may or may not be linked to Russia. If one wanted to "flip" someone to gain cooperation in understanding a larger conspiracy, this is the sort of crime an aggressive prosecutor would use as leverage. For what it's worth, Woodruff reported that federal prosecutors who had worked with Weissman in the past believed that the early morning raid on Manafort's condo had his name written all over it.

In any case, Weissman's presence in the courthouse on Friday does indicate that something important went down. He maintains a reputation for being a decisive, focused prosecutor who moves fast and with the Republicans getting progressively more hysterical by the day, Mueller may believe he's the best man to get this investigation to the next level quickly.

Seeing daylight?

by Tom Sullivan

Are we starting to see some daylight between GOP regulars and the man in the white castle?

House Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) on Sunday said he would encourage Republican colleagues who are calling for an end to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election to “give the guy a chance to do his job.”

“Do you support any effort to either curtail or end the Mueller investigation?” Chris Wallace asked Gowdy on “Fox News Sunday.”

“I don’t, and I readily concede I’m in an increasingly small group of Republicans,” Gowdy said. “I think Bob Mueller has a really distinguished career of service to our country.”
Maybe Gowdy is just hedging his bets in case things look as if they are headed south today. The charges expected today might not be related in any way to the sitting president, even if they are filed against current or former colleagues. If arrests come today, they will still ruin his Monday. And probably Gowdy's, whoever ends up in custody. Then we'll see if any others in his caucus put daylight between themselves and the White House.

The odds are the indictment today will not be on charges central to the collusion investigation. But it might be. Paul Manafort's financial dealings with the Russians are clearly drawing attention. Money laundering has long been suspected. Buzzfeed reports that several of his wire transfers from overseas have come under scrutiny:
These transactions — which have not been previously reported — drew the attention of federal law enforcement officials as far back as 2012, when they began to examine wire transfers to determine if Manafort hid money from tax authorities or helped the Ukrainian regime close to Russian President Vladimir Putin launder some of the millions it plundered through corrupt dealings.

The new revelations come as special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is tightening, with reports that an indictment may already have been issued. It is not known if Manafort has been charged, or if he ever will be. Manafort has been the subject of multiple law enforcement and congressional inquiries. A spokesperson for Manafort would not comment for this story about the investigation or any of the specific transactions, but Manafort has previously denied wrongdoing.
David Atkins notes there was no other reason for the Trump campaign to hire Manafort in the first place:
Manafort was a terrible choice for campaign manager, both in terms of competence and optics. It was neither a pick designed to buoy his populist credentials, nor was it a sop to the GOP establishment that Trump desperately needed at the time. The only thing Manafort had in his favor was his close ties to Putin, and there is no conceivable reason to have hired him except to leverage those ties.
The president and the White House worked hard(?!) last week and over the weekend both at redirecting the public narrative away from the president. That, in addition suggesting the allegations his campaign had dealings with the same Russian government behind the hacking of the DNC are without merit.

The question, of course, is what a "malevolent toddler" might do in response to public charges against one of his close associates. Firing Mueller would be beyond the pale, which is why it is not beyond him. Milano's tweet above is likely a reference to MoveOn's preparing its members for rapid response (complete with printable placards) in the event of a Mueller firing:
Donald Trump is publicly considering firing special counsel Robert Mueller, the person leading the Department of Justice investigation of possible illegal actions by Donald Trump and members of his presidential campaign, and the efforts to conceal those activities.

This would be a constitutional crisis for our country. It would demand an immediate and unequivocal response to show that we will not tolerate abuse of power from Donald Trump.

Our response in the minutes and hours following a power grab will dictate what happens next, and whether Congress—the only body with the constitutional power and obligation to rein Trump in from his rampage—will do anything to stand up to him.

That's why we're preparing to hold emergency "Nobody is Above the Law" rallies around the country in the event they are needed.
(Honestly, I've been carrying around a cheap pot and wooden spoon in the back of the car for weeks should a "pots and pans revolution" suddenly break out.) That's when this reality show will really have jumped the shark.

* * * * * * * *

Request a copy of For The Win, my county-level election mechanics primer, at tom.bluecentury at gmail.

Sunday, October 29, 2017


They're burning the dead in Puerto Rico

by digby

Evidently, the low "body count" that Trump says Puerto Rico should be so proud of is completely phony. No surprise. It never made any sense. But the cover up is really twisted because it means that the families of the dead won't qualify for aid.

The Puerto Rican government told BuzzFeed News Friday that it allowed 911 bodies to be cremated since Hurricane Maria made landfall, and that not one of them were physically examined by a government medical examiner to determine if it should be included in the official death toll.

Every one of the 911 died of "natural causes" not related to the devastating storm, said Karixia Ortiz Serrano, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety who is also speaking for the Institute of Forensic Sciences — which is in charge of confirming hurricane deaths. The "natural causes" designations were made by reviewing records, not actually examining the bodies, she said.

The government's revelation comes after BuzzFeed News reported earlier Friday that directors of funeral homes and crematoriums in two municipalities were permitted by the government to burn the bodies of many people the directors thought died as a result of the hurricane — without a government pathologist examining the corpses first to determine if they should be counted in the official death toll.

The current death toll stands at 51. Twenty of those official deaths were cremations.

The death toll has become a critically important indicator of how relief efforts are going — because President Trump made it one. It is also important for families of victims to claim federal relief aid.

It's so hard to believe that this has happened and the president and it's about 27th on the list of Trump administration atrocities.

Once again, as I say every day ---

The Republicans don't really care about deficits? Say it ain't so!
by digby

It's very easy for Republicans to demagogue deficits when Democrats are in charge. That's what they do. And then the minute they get in power they cut the hell out of taxes for the rich and run up the debt because they really don't care about it. They know that all the hand-wringing about it is ridiculous anyway and is only useful as a weapon to use against the other side. They cut programs and cut more taxes and basically give away as much as they can to their wealthy overlords for as long as they retain power and then when the Democrats take over, as they often do after the economy tanks, they start ranting about the debt again and keep the Democrats from enacting programs that help people whenever they can. This cycle has been going on for nearly 40 years now.

And lookee here:

House Republicans are so desperate for a win on taxes that they’re agreeing to proposals that would have caused internal party warfare just a year or two ago.

They’re considering forgoing a big cut in the top income tax rate on the rich, offering moderate-income Americans so many tax breaks that many would be excused from paying taxes entirely and passing a potentially 1,000-page tax bill few have seen within a matter of weeks. Last week, they agreed to a budget that ignored their demands for deep cuts in federal spending just so they could pass a tax bill using a special procedure that enables them move forward without any Democratic votes.

It’s an open question whether Republicans will be as flexible when party leaders release their entire tax bill, due Nov. 1, and everyone can see exactly who will be the losers under their plan. They already have some internal battles, with Republicans from high-tax states fighting a proposal to dump a long-standing deduction for state and local taxes.

But for now, once-controversial proposals are barely causing a stir, a sign lawmakers are willing to move beyond their party’s orthodoxy on taxes and into a more freewheeling debate on how to rewrite the code.

“The American people want us to get to ‘yes’ on tax reform,” said Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), who sits on the tax and budget committees.

It’s an indication of the pressure lawmakers feel to produce a win ahead of next year’s midterm elections after spending seven fruitless months trying to rescind the Affordable Care Act. Many are terrified at the prospect of facing voters next year with nothing to show for their time in power.

Even notoriously balky House conservatives are making nice.

“We’ve got to get the economy going — it’s all about wages going up — and if I can endure some short-term pain for long-term benefits, I’m willing to do that,” said Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), head of the chamber’s staunchly conservative Freedom Caucus.

This has nothing to do with Trump. They would do this no matter who was in office. It's just that it's particularly hilarious that they are now reduced to pretending they care about wages going up, which they suddenly see as subject to some Keynesian stimulus.

It's just pathetic but in Right Wing Bizarroworld it's all perfectly logical.



Mattis is the sane one. And he just said the North Korea threat is accelerating.

by digby

We're spending all our time batting back ridiculous GOP scandal mongering and waiting for Mueller. Meanwhile, back in the real world, this is happening:

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Saturday the threat of nuclear missile attack by North Korea is accelerating.

In remarks in Seoul with South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo at his side, Mattis accused the North of illegal and unnecessary missile and nuclear programs — and vowed to defeat any attack.

Mattis said North Korea engages in “outlaw” behavior and that the U.S. will never accept a nuclear North.

He added that regardless of what the North might try, it is overmatched by the firepower and cohesiveness of the decades-old U.S.-South Korean alliance.

“North Korea has accelerated the threat that it poses to its neighbors and the world through its illegal and unnecessary missile and nuclear weapons programs,” he said, adding that U.S.-South Korean military and diplomatic collaboration thus has taken on “a new urgency.”

“I cannot imagine a condition under which the United States would accept North Korea as a nuclear power,” he said.

As he emphasized throughout his weeklong Asia trip, which included stops in Thailand and the Philippines, Mattis said diplomacy remains the preferred way to deal with the North.

“With that said,” he added, “make no mistake — any attack on the United States or our allies will be defeated, and any use of nuclear weapons by the North will be met with a massive military response that is effective and overwhelming.”

Mattis’ comments did not go beyond his recent statements of concern about North Korea, although he appeared to inject a stronger note about the urgency of resolving the crisis.

While he accused the North of “outlaw” behavior, he did not mention that President Donald Trump has ratcheted up his own rhetoric. In August, Trump warned the North not to make any more threats against the United States, and said that if it did, it would be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Song, the South Korean minister, told the news conference that he and Mattis agreed to further cooperation on strengthening Seoul’s defense capabilities, including lifting warhead payload limits on South Korean conventional missiles and supporting the country’s acquisition of “most advanced military assets.” He offered no specifics and refused to answer when asked whether the discussions included nuclear-powered submarines.

Some South Korean government officials have endorsed the nation getting nuclear-powered submarines amid calls for more military strength. There’s a growing concern among the South Korean public that North Korea’s expanding nuclear weapons arsenal, which may soon include an intercontinental ballistic missile that could target the U.S. mainland, would undermine Seoul’s decadeslong alliance with Washington.

South Korea’s conservative politicians have also called for the United States to bring back tactical nuclear weapons that were withdrawn from the Korean Peninsula in the 1990s, which they say would make clearer the U.S. intent to use nukes in a crisis. But Mattis and Song were strongly dismissive of the idea.

“When considering national interest, it’s much better not to deploy them,” said Song, adding that the allies would have “sufficient means” to respond to a North Korean nuclear attack even without placing tactical nukes in the South. Mattis said current U.S. strategic assets are already providing nuclear deterrence and that the South Korean government has never approached him with the subject of tactical nukes.

Also discussed in the meeting were the conditions under which South Korea would be given wartime operational control of its forces. Currently, if war with the North broke out, the South’s forces would operate under the U.S.-led U.N. Command.

Trump entered office declaring his commitment to solving the North Korea problem, asserting that he would succeed where his predecessors had failed. His administration has sought to increase pressure on Pyongyang through U.N. Security Council sanctions and other diplomatic efforts, but the North hasn’t budged from its goal of building a full-fledged nuclear arsenal, including missiles capable of striking the U.S. mainland.

If Trump sticks to his pledge to stop the North from being able to threaten the U.S. with a nuclear attack, something will have to give — either a negotiated tempering of the North’s ambitions or a U.S. acceptance of the North as a nuclear power.

North Korea has been a nuclear power since 2006. So what it sounds like here is that the US plans regime change, which, in the wake of Iraq and Libya --- and now Trump's bellowing about Iran too --- has set Kim Jong Un on this accelerated path.

It might have happened no matter who won. But nobody could be worse that Trump in trying to manage it. He says his is the only decisions that matters and that he is "tougher and stronger" than his advisers.

I don't know what will happen but this is what keeps me up at night.