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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Robert Mueller isn't happy

by digby

Well, well, well
it looks like Mueller wasn't happy with his old pal Bill Barr's little damage control strategy:

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III wrote a letter in late March complaining to Attorney General William P. Barr that a four-page memo to Congress describing the principal conclusions of the investigation into President Trump “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of Mueller’s work, according to a copy of the letter reviewed Tuesday by The Washington Post.

At the time the letter was sent on March 27, Barr had announced that Mueller had not found a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russian officials seeking to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. Barr also said Mueller had not reached a conclusion about whether Trump had tried to obstruct justice, but Barr reviewed the evidence and found it insufficient to support such a charge.

Days after Barr’s announcement , Mueller wrote a previously unknown private letter to the Justice Department, which revealed a degree of dissatisfaction with the public discussion of Mueller’s work that shocked senior Justice Department officials, according to people familiar with the discussions.

“The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office’s work and conclusions,” Mueller wrote. “There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation. This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations.”

The letter made a key request: that Barr release the 448-page report’s introductions and executive summaries, and made some initial suggested redactions for doing so, according to Justice Department officials.

The context, nature and substance of the report ....

I'm pretty sure that covers pretty much all of it.

Justice Department officials said Tuesday they were taken aback by the tone of Mueller’s letter, and it came as a surprise to them that he had such concerns. Until they received the letter, they believed Mueller was in agreement with them on the process of reviewing the report and redacting certain types of information, a process that took several weeks. Barr has testified to Congress previously that Mueller declined the opportunity to review his four-page letter to lawmakers that distilled the essence of the special counsel’s findings.

In his letter, Mueller wrote that the redaction process “need not delay release of the enclosed materials. Release at this time would alleviate the misunderstandings that have arisen and would answer congressional and public questions about the nature and outcome of our investigation.”

Barr is scheduled to appear Wednesday morning before the Senate Judiciary Committee — a much-anticipated public confrontation between the nation’s top law enforcement official and Democratic lawmakers, where he is likely to be questioned at length about his interactions with Mueller.

A day after the letter was sent, Barr and Mueller spoke by phone for about 15 minutes, according to law enforcement officials.

In that call, Mueller said he was concerned that news coverage of the obstruction investigation was misguided and creating public misunderstandings about the office’s work, according to Justice Department officials.

When Barr pressed him whether he thought Barr’s letter was inaccurate, Mueller said he did not, but felt that the media coverage of the letter was misinterpreting the investigation, officials said.

In their call, Barr also took issue with Mueller calling his letter a “summary,” saying he had never meant his letter to summarize the voluminous report, but instead provide an account of the top conclusions, officials said.

Justice Department officials said in some ways, the phone conversation was more cordial than the letter that preceded it, but they did express some differences of opinion about how to proceed.

Barr said he did not want to put out pieces of the report, but rather issue it all at once with redactions, and didn’t want to change course now, according to officials.

Throughout the conversation, Mueller’s main worry was that the public was not getting an accurate understanding of the obstruction investigation, officials said.

No kidding. I guess we know now why Mueller wasn't there the day Barr held his notorious press conference.

This is big. Mueller was the one person in the whole country who could have truly validated Trump and Barr's interpretation of the report's conclusions.

He didn't.

It's nice to see Warren's ideas getting some traction

by digby

I know the latest polling of the Democratic field shows Biden getting a sizeable bump since he announced, which doesn't surprise me. He's like an old shoe, familiar and comfortable. A lot of people probably think he presents a return to normal life. ( FWIW, I don't think life will ever go back to that old "normal." But it can go forward to something better....)

But it's a long campaign and I honestly have no idea where it's going to end up. I don't think anyone can realistically guess at this point.But I was happy to see that Warren is finally getting a little love, and it's fair to guess that it's mostly for her policy proposals which are as progressive as it gets.

I don't know if it's enough to carry her all the way --- again, I wouldn't hazard a guess about the race at this point. But if she continues to poll well because of her policy ideas, I think it bodes well for the party going forward. They won't adopt them in whole cloth but they provide a road map for Democratic governance in this era and I hope whoever gets the nod will take her agenda and use it as the basis for his or her agenda.

Of course, it's always possible that the voters will decide they like her too. You never know. I know I do. (Always have ...)

Ady Barkan is a true hero

by digby

Health care rights activist Ady Barkan took what might be his last big trip to advocate for Medicare for All at a congressional hearing:

The degenerative neurological disease ALS has robbed Ady Barkan of his ability to walk and his ability to talk. But that didn't stop him from traveling across the country, from California to Washington, D.C., to make an impassioned plea for Congress to guarantee universal health care by passing Medicare For All.

As the disease has rendered his diaphragm and tongue too weak to speak, Barkan gave testimony at a Thursday hearing of the House Rules Committee using a synthetic computerized voice.

Barkan delivered heartbreaking opening remarks in which he talked about his diagnosis with the terminal disorder, and how battles with his private insurance company over the treatment he needed has cost him not only of thousands of dollars but also precious time with his family.

"Like so many others, Rachael and I have had to fight with our insurer, which has issued outrageous denials instead of covering the benefits we’ve paid for," Barkan said in his opening remarks, referring to his wife. "We have so little time left together, and yet our system forces us to waste it dealing with bills and bureaucracy. That is why I am here today, urging you to build a more rational, fair, efficient, and effective system. I am here today to urge you to enact Medicare For All."

Tuesday's hearing was on a Medicare For All bill introduced by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), which would move the U.S. to a single-payer health care system where all Americans are able to get health insurance through the government, rather than being forced to rely on private insurance companies.

The bill is just one idea being floated by Democrats, who are working to ensure that the U.S. health care system works better for Americans.

Meanwhile, Republicans, led by Trump, are still leading the effort to make the system worse by weakening key protections created by the Affordable Care Act under former President Barack Obama's tenure.

Trump's Department of Justice has gone as far as joining a lawsuit that calls for the entire law to be repealed — which would cause an estimated 20 million Americans to lose their insurance coverage.

Republicans get very angry when it's suggested that their opposition to guaranteed, universal healthcare will kill people.

It will.

Fox News sees nothing wrong with this

by digby

This fascist garbage is very much being mainstreamed by the right wing media and the President of the United States:

Amanda Marcotte wrote about it on Salon:
Replacement theory is an elaborate conspiracy theory that is just as unhinged as it is hateful. Adherents believe that a cabal of secretive Jews are deliberately trying to undermine white hegemony by pushing anti-racism and feminism and other such social justice notions, sneeringly derided by white nationalists as "cultural Marxism." These Jewish conspirators, the theory continues, exploit feminism to trick white women into having fewer babies while pushing for "open borders," and all this is aimed toward the ultimate goal of "replacing" white people with Jews and people of color.

As civil rights organizer Eric Ward told Salon last year, white nationalists simply cannot accept that women and people of color are smart enough to agitate for equality and social justice all on their own, and therefore blame "a global conspiracy by Jews" for masterminding the whole thing.

Every piece of this conspiracy theory is now being championed, in one form or another, on Fox News and by other conservative luminaries, such as Canadian psychology professor-turned-reactionary darling Jordan Peterson.

The idea that immigrants from Asia and Latin America threaten to dislodge white people from their supposedly rightful roles and "replace" them has become a constant refrain on Fox News. Ingraham and Carlson repeatedly characterize immigration as an "invasion" and present the demographic shifts that come from immigration as inherently negative and a threat to "normal" (aka white) Americans.

As anyone even slightly familiar with American history knows, similar arguments were leveled against Italian, Irish and even German immigrants in the past. What's frustrating about this argument is that of course it's true that immigration causes cultural change. Spaghetti with marinara sauce used to be considered a novel and exotic dish in America, for instance. Garlic and sour cream were unknown commodities outside their relevant ethnic enclaves. What's blatantly wrong is the interpretation of these changes as a threat, when the broader truth is that cultural change is both inevitable and beneficiary, in ways both small (spaghetti is tasty!) and tremendous (technologies like TV and computers could not have been developed without the "globalism" that white nationalists decry).

While Fox News hosts avoid directly accusing Jews of running this supposed conspiracy, they certainly employ a lot of euphemistic terms that gesture in that direction. Carlson, for instance, talks a lot aboutthe "ruling class" and the "elites," terms that many liberal commentators and journalists may assume refer to the billionaire and ultra-millionaire class that uses its wealth to manipulate our political systems.

Carlson encourages this reading, particularly in interviews with progressive outlets like Salon, but there's good reason to be skeptical that's how his actual audience reads these terms. Carlson's rhetoric tends to evoke not the actual super-rich, but a "liberal elite" compromised more of middle-class professionals like college professors and public intellectuals than the truly wealthy. Carlson tries to confuse this issue by name-checking a handful of billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg and George Soros (both Jewish, by the way) who are are culturally identified as relatively progressive, while ignoring the larger class of billionaires like the Kochs, the Waltons, the Adelsons, the DeVoses and other ultra-rich Americans (including Fox News' ultimate boss, Rupert Murdoch) who tend to be more supportive of Republicans and right-wing causes.

Carlson and Ingraham lean heavily on these vague euphemisms to insinuate that liberal-minded, middle-class urban professionals are somehow more "elite" than right-wing billionaires. Full-blown white nationalists like the shooter simply take this to the next level, by explicitly blaming Jews. But the basic conspiracy theory is the same: A shadowy group of "elites" is out to destroy white Christian America, and they're using progressive ideology, feminism and immigration to accomplish that goal.

While most conservatives tend to dislike feminism because they see it as an assault on traditional gender roles, white nationalists claim to see feminism as an aspect of the Jewish plot to undermine America. They argue that feminist movements for reproductive rights and equal pay are about distracting white women from their main duty in life, which is of course to perpetuate the white race.

Sure enough, this idea is starting to pop up on Carlson's show. He's begun to paint abortion rights as a conspiracy perpetrated by those vague "elites" in order to divert women into paid employment and away from their supposedly natural inclination to stay home and raise a bevy of children. Carlson has also tied day care into this supposed plot, arguing that it's just being "used to justify more immigration," again tying together the idea that America must stay white and that keeping women out of the workplace is an important element in accomplishing that.

When you have a president who brags about assaulting women and praises Nazi sympathizers as very fine people who are just trying to preserve their heritage, it's not surprising to see this sort of thing escalating into violence.

Trumpies never leave a penny on the sidewalk.

by digby

They have to pocket every last one, no matter what:
The day before special counsel Robert S. Mueller III submitted his report to the Justice Department last month, Washington was abuzz with what revelations it might contain about contacts between the 2016 Trump campaign and foreign officials. But President Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, was an ocean away, delivering a paid speech to a room full of Romanian politicians and policy elites.

Legal analysts said that Parscale’s visit breaks no laws so long as he does not do any lobbying in the United States on behalf of foreign clients without registering. But ethics experts said any money changing hands between foreign citizens and campaign officials created an obstacle course of potential risks. And some ethics lawyers worried that Parscale’s engagement — which received little attention outside Romania at the time — is a sign that the 2016 Trump campaign’s freewheeling approach to foreign contacts may be carrying over to its 2020 successor.

“The appearances are terrible,” said Richard Painter, a chief ethics lawyer to President George W. Bush. “You would certainly think that a campaign manager would not take money from foreign nationals in this political environment.”

Trump has not banned his campaign officials from taking money from foreign sources, and the campaign declined to comment about any changes it has made this cycle to encourage caution in dealing with foreign entities.

In a statement, Parscale said the “handful of international speeches” he has delivered gave him a chance to see the world with his wife and recuperate from campaign responsibilities.

“We did not grow up with the opportunity to travel internationally, and speaking opportunities have allowed me to share my talent with other professionals in a university setting while having a brief break from the rigorous campaign schedule that I maintain,” Parscale said. “This speaking engagement was fully vetted and approved through the necessary channels in advance.”

He added: “This is yet another effort by the biased fake news media to systematically target another person in President Trump’s orbit.”

Parscale did not respond to a question about how much he had been paid in Romania — a trip sponsored by McCann/Thiess Conferences, an event-planning partnership co-founded by Romanian businessman Adrian Thiess and the Bucharest outpost of the McCann international marketing firm. Parscale also would not say how he decides which foreign engagements to accept. Parscale is listed with the Worldwide Speakers Group, an Alexandria-based agency. Its website notes his speaking fee as $15,000 to $25,000 and promotes his insider’s perspective as Trump’s 2016 digital media director.

Since 2016, Parscale has also spoken at conferences in Portugal, Monaco and Croatia.

Trump campaign spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany emphasized that Parscale was traveling “as a private citizen” and “followed the Trump campaign’s approval process governing invitations for outside speaking engagements.”

Here you have an administration under siege for its private relationships with foreign governments and they just keep on doing it, no matter what. According to the article, nobody can think of an example of someone doing this during a campaign because of the obvious appearance of influence peddling. But then, if Parscale waits until afterwards, Trump might lose and he wouldn't make as much money, amirite? It's amazing how much money you can make off the presidency if you have absolutely no shame.

And I'm sure the "Trump campaign approval process" is extremely arduous. The only question is how much of a cut they have to give the president.

The WH is pushing the Democrats closer to impeachment whether they like it or not

by digby

My Salon column this morning:

People in the media and politics bemoan the cynicism of our age, saying that people vote for a liar like Donald Trump because they believe all politicians lie and he's just more colorful about it. This era is producing men and women of such grandiose mendacity that it will be a miracle if the next generation believes that anyone in politics is even capable of acting in the national interest. It's possible that Robert Mueller may be the last of his kind in the GOP and I'm not all that sure about him either. We'll have to see how this plays out to know whether Mueller pulled too many punches but for the moment he's all we have left of a "just the facts ma'am" Republican straight arrow.

You certainly cannot say the same for his friend William Barr, the new attorney general. He has proved to be the most rank partisan in that role since John Mitchell, Richard Nixon's attorney general, who spent 19 months in jail for his part in the Watergate scandal. Even though I had my suspicions that Barr had spent too much time in the right-wing fever swamps, based upon the notorious unsolicited memo he sent to the White House and his comments to the news media, like most people I was hoping that he would be one of those old-school "institutionalist" types who would look at the evidence in the Mueller report and be as appalled by this norm-busting, law-breaking, power-abusing president as the entire world has been since it was released.

It turns out that we were not cynical enough. Not by a long shot. Rather than acting as an independent upholder of the law, serving the people, Barr is proving to be the most servile of all Trump's henchmen. He's not even as independent as the multiple yes-men in the administration who failed to follow Trump's orders but stayed on anyway. Barr seems to see himself as the president's trusted legal consigliere, helping him to avoid getting caught for his crimes. The president truly has found his new Roy Cohn, Trump's notorious mentor and personal lawyer who was eventually disbarred for egregious unethical conduct.

From the four-page "Barr letter" and its fatuous conclusion that Trump did not obstruct justice to the pre-release press conference in which Barr attempted to spin the report in the president's favor, the attorney general has been doing damage control. Over the last week, as Trump has said he will fight every request and every subpoena, Barr is now running interference between the Justice Department and the Congress. He is refusing to appear before the House Judiciary Committee unless chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., shelves his plan to have part of the session run by committee counsel and hold a part of the hearing in closed session. Apparently Barr does not like the idea that the legal staff could follow up closely with a line of inquiry. He prefers the disjointed five-minute questioning format that never gets anywhere, which is a sad statement coming from the attorney general of the United States.

If Barr can't face a committee lawyer, perhaps he's not really fit to be the top law enforcement officer in the federal government. The Judiciary Committee lawyers interviewed many of the other participants in the Russia investigation, including former FBI director James Comey, in closed session. The only difference with Barr is that this will be a public hearing, which one might expect the self-described most transparent government in history to be happy to accommodate.

Barr has been around long enough to remember all the times that congressional committees had counsel question witnesses, including cabinet members. It most famously happened during the Watergate hearings when lawyers like Sam Dash and Richard Ben-Veniste became national figures, holding the president's men's feet to the fire. Chief counsel to the Senate's Iran-Contra committee, Arthur Liman, led the questioning in that inquiry. And considering that just a few months ago, the Republicans hired an outside attorney to question Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, it's entirely absurd that Barr is balking.

Nadler refused to change his plans, explaining patiently that witnesses aren't allowed to dictate procedure to congressional committees, nor is the attorney general allowed to dictate to the legislative branch. (The Trump administration remains very confused about the separation of powers in general.) Nadler says he'll issue a subpoena if Barr refuses to show up. There is some talk about holding the hearings with an empty chair which would be very silly and unproductive.

Robert Costa of the Washington Post reported on MSNBC on Monday that Republican sources tell him the Democrats are being "political" and have no right to hold hearings that are impeachment inquiries in all but name. I think we know how to solve that problem, don't we?

Barr's outrageous behavior and the White House attempts to stonewall all forms of oversight are pushing the Democrats toward impeachment, whether they want it or not. Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., a member of the House Democratic policy leadership team who sits on the Judiciary Committee, told the Washington Post's Greg Sargent, “If we can’t fact-gather, we’re going to have to use the other tools at our disposal and make sure our oversight responsibilities are respected.”

Lieu added, "If it turns out we can’t investigate because the White House is not complying with anything that Congress requests, then I think the caucus would support an article of impeachment on obstructing Congress in order to maximize our court position.” As Sargent points out, Democrats have already said that fact-gathering and accountability is their mission for the moment, "but if Trump won’t allow that, they can threaten an impeachment inquiry in response, and note quite correctly that Trump is forcing them into it."

The third article of impeachment against Richard Nixon was for defying congressional subpoenas and oversight. Trump may be leaving Congress no choice but to do that again, if only to defend its own constitutional prerogatives. For a president with an approval rating that's been hovering around 40% for his entire tenure, that's a risky strategy.


"The biggest thing in transparency since transparency began"

by Tom Sullivan

He really, really does not want authorities peeking behind his gold curtains:

President Donald Trump and his family are suing Deutsche Bank and Capital One to block subpoenas issued by House Democrats seeking Trump’s financial records.

In the federal lawsuit filed Monday in New York, Trump’s lawyers argued that the subpoenas serve “no legitimate or lawful purpose.”
Trump hopes to quash efforts to examine bank records relating to the Trump Organization. Deutsche Bank has lent Trump more than $312 million since 2012. The loans helped Trump purchase properties and refinance old loans at a time no one else would lend him money. With Trump's history of bankruptcies and stiffing contractors, he is a notoriously bad risk. And yet Deutsche Bank continued to lend him money. Democrats are looking “into allegations of potential foreign influence on the US political process,” said Representative Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

The sitting president's attorneys call that harassment, and the subpoenas “unlawful and illegitimate,” a "sweeping, lawless, invasion of privacy,” reports the Washington Post:
“This isn’t a close legal question,” said David Alan Sklansky, a professor at Stanford Law School. “I’m quite confident there has never been a situation where a congressional subpoena has been quashed without a finding that it violates a constitutional right.”

The claim that there is no legitimate need for the subpoena, or that it is politically motivated, is a “frivolous argument, even if it’s true,” he said. “That is not a basis for quashing a subpoena.”
In filing the suit on behalf of Trump's sons Donald Trump, Jr. and Eric Trump, his daughter Ivanka Trump, and the Trump Organization, the president's attorneys, revealed details about what information Congress wants:
According to the suit, the request to Deutsche Bank — the president’s largest creditor — includes account records and other information related to “parents, subsidiaries, affiliates, branches, divisions, partnerships, properties, groups, special purpose entities, joint ventures, predecessors, successors or any other entity in which they have or had a controlling interest.”
For perspective, recall that The 10,000 Falsehoods Man claims he and his White House are committed to transparency.

“What I want is I want total transparency…. You have to have transparency,” Trump said in May last year in opening up a sensitive intelligence briefing on a confidential human source.

“All I want to do is be transparent,” Trump said in September 2018 when releasing classified documents related to the Russia inquiry.

Before leaving on Air Force One on Friday, Trump declared, “[I]n the history of our country, there has never been a President that’s been more transparent than me or the Trump administration.”

And finally, from Aaron Rupar: He is big. It's the investigations that got small.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Infrastructure kabuki

by digby

I understand why Democrats will take this meeting. They feel they need to be seen as being willing to govern even if it means working with Trump. But if they give him this win, no matter what it is, they can kiss 2020 good-bye. We only have 18 months to go and infrastructure can wait until after the election. I'm sure they must know this, right?

And, by the way, everything this article quotes from the White House is pure bullshit designed to divide the Democrats and pressure them into committing political suicide.

But they know that too, right?

At last month's St. Patrick's Day lunch in the Capitol, President Trump told Richard Neal, the powerful Democratic chairman of the House's tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, that he wants to spend close to $2 trillion on infrastructure, according to two sources to whom Neal recounted his conversation.

Trump's 2020 Budget calls for just $200 billion in additional infrastructure spending. A spokesperson for Neal did not comment on this reporting. A former senior White House official told me that on infrastructure, Trump's instincts are much closer to Elizabeth Warren's than they are to his tight-fisted acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

Trump meets on Tuesday with Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to discuss infrastructure. These meetings usually amount to nothing besides a media circus. But Democrats still take these meetings — in fact, Pelosi requested this one — because they know that, left to his own devices, Trump would happily spend a ton of federal money on infrastructure. (It's his own party that won't let him.)

The dirty secret — which multiple senior White House officials have confirmed to me — is that Trump hates the infrastructure plan his own White House released last year. In private, he has referred to it dismissively as "Gary's plan," a shot at his former top economic adviser Gary Cohn.

The heart of "Gary's plan" was to build infrastructure through "public-private partnerships" — leveraging a modest amount of government spending to stimulate private investment in projects around the country.

Democratic leaders have no interest in public-private partnerships. Neither does Trump. Even though he himself has benefited richly from public-private partnerships (as with the Trump International Hotel in D.C.), he has told aides he thinks they don't work and that they need to spend real federal money instead.

Behind the scenes: Trump came into office imagining a presidency in which new projects — "built by the Trump administration" — would be erected all over the country, sources close to him tell me.

"There was a genuine naïveté about the prospect of Democrats and Republicans coming together to do something on a grand scale with infrastructure," a former White House official told me. "It was one of those things where Trump said it was gonna be easy. He really thought so."

In an early 2017 infrastructure meeting at the White House with his friend, New York real estate billionaire Richard LeFrak, Trump laid out his grand Trumpian vision. "They say Eisenhower was the greatest infrastructure president. They named the highway system after him," Trump said, per a source who was in the room. "But we're going to do double, triple, quadruple, what Eisenhower did."

What's next? Nobody will come into the Tuesday meeting with an infrastructure plan, according to White House, administration and Democratic leadership sources who’ve discussed the meeting plans with me. And there are no plans to present even a top-line figure or a list of ways to offset new spending.

"The whole thing comes under the heading of an ongoing discussion," a senior administration official with direct knowledge of the plans for Tuesday's meeting told me. "Nobody wants to lay down specific markers. Nobody wants to rule in; nobody wants to rule out."

The White House team working on the issue — led by Larry Kudlow — seems much less excited than Democrats are about new, large-scale federal spending on infrastructure. Instead, they are focused on cutting permitting regulations, making it easier to spur energy development, and signing a longer-term transportation funding bill.

It's all bullshit. But I'm afraid I will never be able to totally trust Democrats not to tie their own hands in pursuit of a grand bargain.

"This is the way you treat your friends?"

by digby

Maria Bartiromo asked Trump about this:

Maria Bartiromo asked Napolitano about this when he joined her on Fox Business, but he shrugged it off and asked “This is the way you treat your friends? How do you treat your enemies?”

Napolitano said the tweets pertained to a series of conversations he had with Trump when the latter was president-elect and trying to figure out who should take Antonin Scalia‘s place on the Supreme Court. Napolitano said that when he described how Neil Gorsuch had the judicial qualities Trump was looking for, the president-elect supposedly turned to him and said: “sounds like you’re describing yourself.”

“I said ‘no, no, I’m not describing myself,'” Napolitano recalled. “‘I’m describing Neil Gorsuch because you have this list of people from which you want to choose, and Judge Gorsuch is the person that I think most of your advisers are going to point to.'”

In terms of the “pardon” situation, Napolitano said Trump once asked for his opinion about the conviction of a “mutual friend” of theirs. Napolitano said he thought that the conviction was just, to which, Trump offered “a very strong term” to express his disagreement.

“He said ‘You know this person as well as I do. Call this person up and tell this person he’s going to be on the list of pardons that I will seriously consider.’ That was the extent of that conversation.”

Napolitano concluded by saying Trump’s comments were a “brilliant” way to divert attention from his Mueller commentary.

I don't know who this "mutual friend" is but if it's Cohen or Manafort it's more evidence of a crime.

Oh, and Trump has no friends. None. He has sycophants.


Another fine member of Jared's posse

by digby

This Natasha Bertrand story about one of Jared's buddies from the Mueller Report is just more evidence of what a lowlife he is. He's an egomaniac with no intelligence and no ethics. No wonder Ivanka married him. He's just like daddy:

Jared Kushner needed help. 
It was March 2016 and Kushner’s father-in-law, Donald Trump, was steamrolling to the Republican presidential nomination. But the businessman-candidate was taking heat for his campaign’s lack of foreign policy expertise, something Kushner was trying to remedy.
That’s when he found a Russian willing to assist. 
On March 14, 2016, according to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, Kushner attended a lunch in Manhattan in honor of Henry Kissinger. Also in attendance was a tall, bearded Russian émigré with a booming voice. His name was Dmitri Simes, and for nearly 20 years he had been president and CEO of the Center for the National Interest, a Washington foreign policy think tank. 
Simes had been a Washington fixture since he left the Soviet Union in the early 1970s, obtained U.S. citizenship, and served as an informal foreign policy adviser to President Richard Nixon. A longtime advocate of warmer U.S.-Russia relations, he was also dogged by criticism that he was notably sympathetic to Moscow’s views. 
Kushner and Simes met at the lunch and began communicating, including in a meeting at Kushner’s office later that month. Although the Trump campaign never identified Simes as an adviser, he provided counsel to the Trump team, particularly with regard to Russia. In June 2016, Mueller found, he sent a memo to then-Senator Jeff Sessions, who headed up Trump’s foreign policy team, offering several policy recommendations, including “a new beginning with Moscow,” and in August he would send Kushner himself a “Russia policy memo.”

In April of that year, CNI hosted Trump’s first genuine foreign policy address, attended by Russia’s U.S. ambassador, in which the candidate offered a similar message. Mueller also discovered that Simes also offered Kushner disparaging information about former President Bill Clinton. 
The Simes-Kushner relationship was outlined in detail by Mueller’s report, which mentions Simes over 100 times. While the report concluded that Simes did not act as a campaign intermediary with Moscow, and did not allege that he works at the behest of the Kremlin, it did note that Simes and CNI have “many contacts with current and former Russian government officials.” 
To Simes’ allies the report was, as Trump might say, a total exoneration that should end the speculation over his Simes background and motivations: “I think what is in the report is very clear,” said Paul Saunders, a former CNI executive director and current board member. “They did not find evidence that he or the center were involved in passing any messages back and forth between the campaign and Russia. More than that, the report states that he advised the Trump campaign against hidden contacts with Russia.” 
Even so, former U.S. officials and people who know Simes say Mueller’s report is a fresh reminder that he is at best a mysterious—and at worst alarming—player in Washington’s foreign policy community. Depending on who you ask, he is either a shrewd foreign policy realist dedicated to defusing tensions between his birth-nation and the one where he chose to make a life — or a Kremlin advocate who cloaks his true agenda in Washington, D.C.
Of course, Kushner went in this direction. His wife undoubtedly told him that the Trump Org was planning some big projects in Moscow and greasing the skids with pro-Russia advisers would be a smart move.

The presidential campaign was conceived as a marketing plan, first and foremost. And Jared was in on it.


QOTD: Michael Cohen

by digby

You are going to find me guilty of campaign finance, with McDougal or Stormy, and give me three years—really? And how come I’m the only one? I didn’t work for the campaign. I worked for him. And how come I’m the one that’s going to prison? I’m not the one that slept with the porn star.

He's got a point. Trump is getting away with murder as he has his whole life. But then again, Cohen said he'd take a bullet for him ...

That quote is from the Jeffrey Toobin interview with Cohen in the New Yorker. I know he's a rotten person. He eagerly did Trump's dirty work for years.  But I do feel sorry for him. He's paying a huge price. And Trump is ... not.

Pathologically dishonest doesn't begin to describe it

by digby

Stop and think about this for a moment
. I don't think we've really wrapped our minds around this because of the sheer volume of lies coming from this man. Most of us probably don't know anyone in real life with a personality disorder so extreme.  Anyone like him would be considered crazy and would not be able to hold down a job or have any kind of normal life. It would be disabling.

But this is the most powerful man in the world and tens of millions of people love him:

It took President Trump 601 days to top 5,000 false and misleading claims in The Fact Checker’s database, an average of eight claims a day.

But on April 26, just 226 days later, the president crossed the 10,000 mark — an average of nearly 23 claims a day in this seven-month period, which included the many rallies he held before the midterm elections, the partial government shutdown over his promised border wall and the release of the special counsel’s report on Russian interference in the presidential election.

This milestone appeared unlikely when The Fact Checker first started this project during his first 100 days. In the first 100 days, Trump averaged less than five claims a day, which would have added up to about 7,000 claims in a four-year presidential term. But the tsunami of untruths just keeps looming larger and larger.

As of April 27, including the president’s rally in Green Bay, Wis., the tally in our database stands at 10,111 claims in 828 days.

In recent days, the president demonstrated why he so quickly has piled up the claims. There was a 45-minute telephone interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News on April 25: 45 claims. There was an eight-minute gaggle with reporters the morning of April 26: eight claims. There was a speech to the National Rifle Association: 24 claims. There was 19-minute interview with radio host Mark Levin: 17 claims. And, finally, there was the campaign rallyon April 27: 61 claims.

The president’s constant Twitter barrage also adds to his totals. All told, the president racked up 171 false or misleading claims in just three days, April 25-27. That’s more than he made in any single month in the first five months of his presidency.

About one-fifth of the president’s claims are about immigration issues, a percentage that has grown since the government shutdown over funding for his promised border wall. In fact, his most repeated claim — 160 times — is that his border wall is being built. Congress balked at funding the concrete wall he envisioned, and so he has tried to pitch bollard fencing and repairs of existing barriers as “a wall.”

Trump’s penchant for repeating false claims is demonstrated by the fact that The Fact Checker database has recorded nearly 300 instances when the president has repeated a variation of the same claim at least three times. He also now has earned 21 “Bottomless Pinocchios,” claims that have earned Three or Four Pinocchios and which have been repeated at least 20 times.

Back in the Clinton years there was much pearl-clutching over the fact that Clinton lied once on national television when he said he'd never had sex with Monica Lewinsky in a press conference. There were speeches on the floor of the congress and endless lugubrious commentaries about how this lie had damaged the very fabric of our nation --- that parents didn't know how to explain such mendacity to their children.

So now we have Trump. And this avalanche of lies about everything is our new normal.

Yes he's a criminal, but he's more than that and we don't know what to call it

by digby

If you haven't had the time or the inclination to read the entire Mueller report, this piece by Benjamin Wittes is a good crib sheet on the basic conclusion. He says it's clear Trump committed crimes and impeachable offenses through his obvious obstruction of justice and abuse of power. I don't think anyone is surprised by that.  We saw much of it happen in plain sight. Still, it's interesting to read the details all put together concisely.

But the section on collusion was more interesting.  He says that Mueller outright cleared Trump on any involvement in the social media campaign, which was clear. But as for the rest:

Trump’s complicity in the Russian hacking operation and his campaign’s contacts with the Russians present a more complicated picture.

No, Mueller does not appear to have developed evidence that anyone associated with the Trump campaign was involved in the hacking operation itself. And no, the investigation did not find a criminal conspiracy in the veritable blizzard of contacts between Trumpworld and the Russians. But this is an ugly story for Trump.

Here’s the key point: If there wasn’t collusion on the hacking, it sure wasn’t for lack of trying. Indeed, the Mueller report makes clear that Trump personally ordered an attempt to obtain Hillary Clinton’s emails; and people associated with the campaign pursued this believing they were dealing with Russian hackers. Trump also personally engaged in discussions about coordinating public relations strategy around WikiLeaks releases of hacked emails. At least one person associated with the campaign was in touch directly with the Guccifer 2.0 persona—which is to say with Russian military intelligence. And Donald Trump Jr. was directly in touch with WikiLeaks—from whom he obtained a password to a hacked database. There are reasons none of these incidents amount to crimes—good reasons, in my view, in most cases, viable judgment calls in others. But the picture it all paints of the president’s conduct is anything but exonerating.

Call it Keystone Kollusion.

On July 27, 2016, Trump in a speech publicly called for Russia to release Hillary Clinton’s missing server emails: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” The reference here was not to the hacking the GRU had done over the past few months but to the hypothesized compromise of Clinton’s private email server some time earlier—an event that there is no particular reason to believe took place at all.

The GRU, like many Trump supporters, took Trump seriously, but not literally. “Within approximately five hours of Trump’s announcement,” Mueller writes, “GRU officers targeted for the first time Clinton’s personal office.” In other words, the GRU appears to have responded to Trump’s call for Russia to release a set of Clinton's emails the Russians likely never hacked by launching a new wave of attacks aimed at other emails.

Trump has since insisted that he was joking in that speech. But the public comments mirrored private orders. After the speech, “Trump asked individuals affiliated with his Campaign to find the deleted Clinton emails,” the report states. “Michael Flynn … recalled that Trump made this request repeatedly, and Flynn subsequently contacted multiple people in an effort to obtain the emails.”

Two of the people contacted by Flynn were Barbara Ledeen and Peter Smith. Ledeen had been working on recovering the emails for a while already, Mueller reports. Smith, only weeks after Trump’s speech, sprang into action himself on the subject. Ledeen ultimately obtained emails that proved to be not authentic. Smith, for his part, “drafted multiple emails stating or intimating that he was in contact with Russian hackers”—though Mueller notes that the investigation “did not establish that Smith was in contact with Russian hackers or that Smith, Ledeen, or other individuals in touch with the Trump Campaign ultimately obtained the deleted Clinton emails.”

In other words, it wasn’t that Trump was above dealing with Russian hackers to get Hillary Clinton’s emails. The reason there’s no foul here, legally speaking, is only that the whole thing was a wild conspiracy theory. The idea that the missing 30,000 emails had been retrieved was never more than conjecture, after all. The idea that they would be easily retrievable from the “dark web” was a kind of fantasy. In other words, even as a real hacking operation was going on, Trump personally, his campaign, and his campaign followers were actively attempting to collude with afake hacking operation over fake emails.

Then there are the more-than-100 pages detailing Russian contacts and links with the Trump campaign and business. Mueller looks at these through a legal lens; he’s a prosecutor, after all, looking to answer legal questions. But I found myself reading it through a very different lens: patriotism.

Mueller concludes, after detailing the contacts, that, “the investigation established multiple links between Trump Campaign officials and individuals tied to the Russian government. Those links included Russian offers of assistance to the Campaign. In some instances, the Campaign was receptive to the offer, while in other instances the Campaign officials shied away. Ultimately, the investigation did not establish that the Campaign coordinated or conspired with the Russian government in its election-interference activities.”

It is not hard to see how he came to the conclusion that charges for conspiracy would not be plausible based on the contacts Mueller describes. For starters, a number of the individual incidents that looked deeply suspicious when they first came to light do look more innocent after investigation. These include the change in the Republican Party platform on Ukraine at the Republican Convention, for example, and the various encounters between Jeff Sessions and other campaign officials, on the one hand, and the omnipresent former Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, on the other. On these matters, Mueller does seem to have found that nothing untoward happened.

Even those incidents that don’t look innocent after investigation don’t look like criminal conspiracy either. So, for example, George Papadopoulos found out about the Russians having “dirt” on Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails,” but he does not appear to have reported this to the campaign—though he was trying to arrange a Trump-Putin meeting at the time. Even if he hadreported it to the campaign, it doesn’t constitute conspiracy for the Trump campaign to be aware of Russian possession of hacked Clinton emails. The campaign, even if it did learn of what Papadopoulos had heard, never did anything about it.

The Trump Tower meeting is one of the most damning single episodes discussed, since the campaign’s senior staff took a meeting with Russian representatives having been promised disparaging information on Clinton as part of the Russian government’s support of Trump. Yet even here, while the campaign showed eagerness to benefit from Russian activity, the meeting was unproductive and nothing came of it. Where exactly is the conspiracy supposed to be? I can think of a number of possible answers to this question, and Mueller entertained one related to campaign-finance violations, but I certainly can’t argue that an indictment here is an obvious call.

So, too, the extended negotiations over Trump Tower Moscow. The investigation makes clear that Trump—who spent the campaign insisting he had “nothing to do with Russia”—was lying through his teeth the whole time. He was, in fact, seeking Russian presidential support for his business deal through June 2016. But it’s not illegal to have contacts with Russians, including Putin’s immediate staff, to try to build a building. And it’s not obvious how this sort of “collusion” with the Russian government could amount to coordination or conspiracy on concurrent Russian electoral interference.

At the same time, Mueller here is far more reticent than he is about the IRA operation, where he affirmatively finds that there is no evidence of conspiracy. He does not clear the president or his campaign. There are, in my view, two major reasons for the difference between his conclusions on these matters and his conclusions about the IRA operation. The first is the sheer volume of contacts, which really is truly breathtaking. These contacts were taking place even as it was publicly revealed that the Russians had been behind the Democratic Party hacks, even as the releases of emails took place, even as the incumbent administration was publicly attributing the attacks to Russia, even as—through the transition—the outgoing administration was sanctioning Russia for them. The brazen quality of meeting serially with an adversary power while it is attacking the country and lying about it constantly militates against a stronger conclusion that there is no evidence of conspiracy—at least not in the absence of solid answers to every question.

And there were not solid answers to every question. The Mueller team was clearly left unsatisfied that it understood all of Carter Page’s activities while he was in Moscow in July 2016, for example. Similarly, Donald Trump Jr., the office reports in its discussion of the Trump Tower meeting, “declined to be voluntarily interviewed by the Office.” This line is followed by a redaction for grand jury information, raising the question of whether Trump Jr. asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination or indicated an intent to do so.

And then there’s Paul Manafort. Mueller is candid that he was unable to determine why Manafort was having campaign polling data shared with his long-time employee, Konstantin Kilimnik. Mueller was also unable to determine what to make of repeated conversations between Kilimnik—who has alleged ties to Russian intelligence—and Manafort about a Ukrainian peace plan highly favorable to Russia. And while Mueller could not find evidence of Manafort’s passing the peace plan along to other people in the campaign, he notes that the office was unable “to gain access to all of Manafort’s electronic communications” because “messages were sent using encryption applications” and that Manafort lied to the office about the peace plan. As for the polling data, “the Office could not assess what Kilimink (or others he may have given it to) did with it.” So while the office did not establish coordination in this area, it was clearly left with residual suspicions—and with unanswered questions.

In other words, on the legal side, the evidence isn’t all that close to establishing coordination in the sense that conspiracy law would recognize, either on the hacking side or with respect to the contacts. But the positive enthusiasm for engaging Russian hackers over emails, the volume of contacts, the lies and the open questions make it impossible to say that there’s no evidence of conspiracy.

The really interesting question here is not legal. It is historical and political: How should we understand the relationship between Trump and Russia? Put another way, what is the story these contacts tell if it’s not one of active coordination? They surely aren’t, in the aggregate, innocent. They aren’t normal business practice for a presidential campaign. What are they?

For what it’s worth, here’s what I see in the story Mueller has told on Trump engagement with the Russians over the hacking. I see a group of people for whom partisan polarization wholly and completely defeated patriotism. I see a group of people so completely convinced that Hillary Clinton was the enemy that they were willing to make common cause with an actual adversary power at a time it was attacking their country to defeat her.

To me, it matters whether the conduct violated the law only in the pedestrian sense of determining the available remedies for it—and in guiding whether and how we might have to change our laws to prevent such conduct in the future. I don’t know the right word for this pattern of conduct. It’s not “collusion,” though it may involve some measure of collusion. It’s not “coordination” or “conspiracy.” But in Clinton, Democrats, and liberals, the Trump campaign saw a sufficiently irreconcilable enemy that it looked at Vladimir Putin and saw a partner. That may not be a crime, but it is a very deep betrayal.
Again, I think that nobody ever believed that a presidential candidate would stoop so low. The bigger question is what is wrong with the tens of millions of voters who are on the same page. If you watch Fox News right now you will that  they truly believe Hillary Clinton, Democrats, liberals etc are their one true enemy. They do not see it as a betrayal. They are fighting a war with their fellow Americans in which Vladimir Putin is their ally.

The following is intensely frustrating:

The counterintelligence dimensions of the entire affair remain a mystery.

Because the Mueller investigation was born out of a counterintelligence investigation, there has been an enduring impression that it had both criminal and counterintelligence elements. I have assumed this myself at times. How these two very different missions integrated within the Mueller probe has been much discussed. The Mueller report answers this question, and the answer is actually striking—and from my point of view alarming: The Mueller investigation was a criminal probe. Full stop.

It was not a counterintelligence probe. Mueller both says this directly and also describes how the counterintelligence equities were handled. Here’s how Mueller describes his investigation: “Like a U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Special Counsel’s Office considered a range of classified and unclassified information available to the FBI in the course of the Office's Russia investigation, and the Office structured that work around evidence for possible use in prosecutions of federal crimes …” A counterintelligence investigation is not structured around evidence for possible use in prosecutions of federal crimes.

Mueller then answers the question of what happened to the counterintelligence components of the investigation: the FBI took responsibility for them. “From its inception,” Mueller writes, “the Office recognized that its investigation could identify foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information relevant to the FBI’s broader national security mission. FBI personnel who assisted the Office established procedures to identify and convey such information to the FBI.”

There were regular meetings between the office and the FBI Counterintelligence Division to facilitate this transfer of information. “For more than the past year,” he goes on, “the FBI also embedded personnel at the Office who did not work on the Special Counsel’s investigation, but whose purpose was to review the results of the investigation and to send—in writing—summaries of foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information to FBIHQ and FBI Field Offices.” The report deals only, Mueller says, with “information necessary to account for the Special Counsel’s prosecution and declination decisions and to describe the investigation’s main factual results.”

In other words, the Mueller investigation was a criminal probe only. It had embedded FBI personnel sending back to the FBI material germane to the FBI’s counterintelligence mission. But Mueller does not appear to have taken on the counterintelligence investigative function himself.

This leaves me worried. After the blood-letting at the bureau that saw the entire senior leadership replaced precisely as it was engaged with counterintelligence questions involving Trumpworld and Russia, who at the bureau now is going to push such questions? The incentive structure at the FBI cannot favor senior leadership carrying the ball on this. It also cannot favor individual agents allowing themselves to get assigned to matters that would put them in the president’s cross-hairs.

So I worry about a counterintelligence gap. Mueller, the person with the independence to take this matter on, construed his role narrowly as a prosecutor and set up a one-way street for counterintelligence information to go back to the FBI. And the FBI, the entity with the mandate, has every incentive to play it cautious.

It would be the deepest of ironies if the Mueller investigation showed evidence that the president had committed crimes and had committed impeachable offenses, and if he had painted a remarkable historical portrait of the relationship between Trumpworld and the Russian government, but if at the same time, the core counterintelligence concerns that gave rise to it and that have haunted the Trump presidency from the beginning went unaddressed.

The purge had a purpose. And it's not a good one.

I don't know where it leaves us. But I wouldn't be sanguine that Trump will not be getting plenty of help in 2020.

Anyway, if you want a decent overview, this one is a place to start. I'm sure his legal interpretations are open to debate. I had some questions too. But it's not completely off base and gives a fair overview of the report.


"Mood music" for white-nationalist terror

by Tom Sullivan

Shooting Saturday at synagogue north of San Diego left one dead, three injured.

When after the 2017 Charlottesville attacks by white nationalists who chanted "Jews will not replace us," the sitting president knew to keep them in his camp by claiming there were “very fine people on both sides.” Responding to Joe Biden's presidential launch addressing that the incident, Donald Trump has not backed away from his statement. He now claims "very fine people" referred to those opposed to the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Within 24 hours, a gunman entered a synagogue Saturday in Poway, California and opened fire, killing one person and injuring three others. In response, Trump denounced anti-Semitism at the beginning of his Green Bay, Wisconsin rally Saturday night.

Sunday afternoon in Washington, D.C., white nationalists with a bullhorn disrupted a bookstore talk by Jonathan Metzl, author of "Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America's Heartland." They chanted, "This land is our land" as well as "AIM," a reference to the American Identity Movement, a rebranding of the white supremacist Identity Evropa.

The Washington Post reports:
According to the most recent annual report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which has long tracked extremist activity, 39 of the 50 extremist-related murders tallied by the group in 2018 were committed by white supremacists, up from 2017, when white supremacists were responsible for 18 of 34 such crimes.

Trump has previously played down the threat posed by white nationalism. After a gunman last month killed 49 Muslims in two consecutive mosque attacks in New Zealand, Trump was asked by a reporter whether he thought white nationalists were a growing threat around the world. “I don’t, really,” Trump replied. “I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.”
“All white supremacy, all neo-Nazis, all anti-Christianity, all ­anti-Semitism, all anti-Muslim activity should be condemned,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Mehdi Hasan, columnist for The Intercept and Al Jazeera English presenter, told MSNBC's AM Joy there is a global "epidemic of white nationalist terror" and a national security threat the U.S. president does not take seriously [timestamp 6:50]:
"This month alone ... in the United States, in real life, a guy burned down three black churches in Louisiana. Another guy tried to run over an interracial couple in New Orleans. Another guy was sentenced to prison in Oregon for running over and murdering a young black man. In California, a man drove his car into a crowd of pedestrians because he thought they were Muslim — put a teenage girl in a coma. And yesterday we saw this man, this alleged killer, 19-year-old, walking into a synagogue and opening fire, killing one person, injuring three."
Not only will Trump not acknowledge the threat, and in fact minimizes it, says Hasan, "He's providing the mood music for it."

“We forcefully condemn the evil of anti-Semitism and hate,” Trump told the Green Bay crowd saying he would "get to the bottom of it.” He added with reflexive conspiratorial flourish, “We’re going to get to the bottom of a lot of things happening in this country.”

But perhaps he should not have led with condemning Mexicans as rapists and criminals, attempting to ban Muslim visitors, and giving a wink and a nod to white nationalists. Infrequent, generic renunciation of hate crimes only under duress is unconvincing, perhaps deliberately so.

Refusing to walk back describing neo-Nazis as "very fine people" is simply Trumpish alpha dog behavior. Never exhibit weakness. Keep the rest subservient or one of the other dogs might think you ripe for deposing. As much credit as the right gets for strategy, it is often no more sophisticated than that. It is a feral instinct for survival. Weaker members of the pack seek out the alpha's favor for protection. Without them, he is in charge of nothing.

The sitting president may not be the business genius he claims, or the consummate deal-maker — he is clearly not as bright as he boasts — but he understands dominance.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Running the government like a massive con game

by digby

And it's not a very good one.

Leaders across the world know that America's promises are not worth the paper they are printed on and the president's word is a joke.

Presidents have certainly abrogated treaties in the past and there's been double-dealing. But this administration has turned the whole system into a blatant con game. I don't have any idea what it's going to take repair that. I'm not sure it can ever be repaired to tell you the truth. Why would any country ever trust us again?

Meanwhile, back in Afghanistan, women are going to pay the price

by digby

Does everyone remember when the Bush administration tried to sell some drivel that they invaded Afghanistan because of the Taliban's mistreatment of women? Yeah. They actually did that. Karen Hughes (remember her?) was in charge of the propaganda on that. It was true that women were systematically being tortured by the most repressive form of Islam on the planet, but nobody really cared about it until 9/11. And after the invasion and ongoing occupation things did improve for women. I'm not saying that justifies endless occupation but it does mean that there should at least be some effort to make it a priority that the country doesn't regress on women's rights once it's over.

Well, guess what? The ongoing talks with the Taliban are very likely to sell women down the river. And nobody cares, not really. Women's rights are always negotiable. I mean, they should be happy just to have the small gains they received during the war. If they have to give many of them up now, well, that's just the way it is.

For four hours, Khadeja begged her in-laws to take her to the hospital. The skin on her face and neck was peeling. The pain was excruciating. Her husband had thrown a pot of scalding water on her face and upper body.

Her head was bowed and sobs convulsed her body as she remembered the moment. “The pain . . . I can’t say how much I hurt.”

She eventually received treatment, but scar tissue on her neck makes breathing difficult and her hands are misshapen. Her husband — a man she was forced to marry at 16 by her father — was never held accountable. Such impunity for violence against women remains pervasive in Afghanistan.

The suffering of young women like Khadeja is why women rights activists say they are demanding a seat at the table in negotiations between the government and the Taliban over peace and Afghanistan’s future.

Women have made gains since the 2001 fall of the Taliban, but the country remains among the worst places in the world to be a woman. Activists fear the advances they have achieved will be bargained away in negotiations, with pressure heavy for a deal as the United States seeks to end its military involvement in the country.

The Taliban were notorious for their repression of women during their rule, including banning education for girls and imposing the all-encompassing burqa on all women. But activists are just as worried about the other side: Afghanistan’s leadership since the Taliban’s ouster has been dominated by conservatives, warlords and strongmen whose attitudes toward women are often little different.
The advances made since 2011 have been important. Women are now members of parliament, girls have the right to education, women are in the workforce and their rights are enshrined in the constitution. Women are seen on television, playing sports and winning science fairs.

But the gains are fragile, and their implementation has been erratic, largely unseen in rural areas where most Afghans still live, Samar said.

International funding for projects for women is drying up. Political will is also uncertain. Ghani refused to put legislation on the Elimination of Violence Against Women to a vote in parliament, fearing it would be defeated by the overwhelming conservative majority, say activists.

Nearly 18 years after the U.S.-led coalition ousted the Taliban, Afghan women still live under a crushing weight of discrimination. The 2018 Women, Peace and Security Index rated Afghanistan as the second worst place in the world to be a woman, after Syria.

Only 16 percent of the labor force is women, one of the lowest rates in the world, and half of Afghanistan’s women have had four years or less of education, according to the report’s data, compiled by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and the Peace Research Institute of Oslo. Only around half of school-aged girls go to school, and only 19 percent of girls under 15 are literate, according to the U.N. children’s agency.

Nearly 60 percent of girls are married before they are 19; of those, the average marry between 15 and 16, and to spouses selected by their parents, according to UNICEF. Most women in Afghanistan’s prisons are there for “morality crimes,” which include leaving abusive husbands or demanding to marry a man of their choice.

A survey released in January said only 15 percent of 2,000 men polled believed women should be allowed to work outside the home after marriage and two-thirds said women already had too many rights. The survey was conducted by U.N. Women and Promundo, a group promoting gender justice.

It's painful to consider that after all the death and suffering and money expended, women are going to be required to continue paying the price. I just don't think the world cares very much.

Read the whole story, here.

QOTD: KellyAnne Conway

by digby

Those subpoenas different individuals are trying to push aside, that we have an entire Mueller investigation, lasted 22 months, cost $30 million, expansive, expensive definitive inclusive investigation. No crime was charged.
When Tapper pointed out that there were indeed 33 people charged with crimes, Conway changed her tune and said "There are lots of crimes charged, not against President Trump. That's the big fish here."

Tapper reminded her that there were plenty of "big fish" such as Trump's national security adviser, campaign chairman, deputy campaign chairman, former fixer and campaign adviser, etc., Conway refused to acknowledge that he was correct, and instead did her best to distance herself and Trump from the Russia scandal, and then proceeded to lie about what was in the report, claiming that Trump was cleared of obstruction of justice.

Tapper again pointed out that Conway was lying and ended the interview after thanking her for coming on.

A lot of people complain that this blatant liar is invited on new shows but I think it's ok. Tapper called her on her lies and to everyone but Trump cultists, she was seen for the dishonest hack that she is. The problem is when the interviewers don't challenge her. But even then her lies are so obvious that I think most people can see through her.

I'd be a lot more worried if she was actually good at this. But she isn't.


Jesus H. Christ. What a horrible, horrible hack:

It's not the economy, stupid

by digby

I didn't enjoy reading the following screed from Hugh Hewitt and you probably won't either. But it's the best case scenario for Trump winning re-election. And it's chilling.

The 2020 election isn’t going to be close.

The first-quarter gross domestic product growth rate of 3.2 percent sets up the first reality that will be noted in November 2020 because it telegraphs where the economy will be then: not in recession. Recessions are charted when GDP growth is negative for two consecutive quarters or more. That can and has occurred in sudden fashion — financial panics don’t send “save the date” cards. But the economy over which President Trump is presiding is strong and getting stronger. Innovation is accelerating, not declining. A recession before Election Day looks less and less likely by the day.

Small wonder then that Trump dominates the GOP with an approval rating above 80 percent. His administration’s deregulatory push is accelerating. More and more rule-of-law judges, disinclined to accept bureaucrats’ excuses for overregulation, are being confirmed to the bench. Readiness levels in the U.S. military have been renewed. Our relationship with our strongest ally, Israel, is at its closest in decades.

Meanwhile, the Dems are facing a Hobbesian choice of Sens. Bernie Sanders or Kamala D. Harris, or former vice president Joe Biden. Sanders and Harris are too far to the left, Sanders by a lot. Biden is far past his best years. The nice folk lower down are looking for other rewards. The nomination going to someone such as South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg is possible, I suppose, but what happens when the dog chasing the car catches it? What was an entertaining and amusing aside suddenly becomes a commitment and, with that, well, comes a barrage of attacks. Where Trump deflects incoming with ease, the Democrats scatter, some limping away, some blown out of the picture.

This will come as news to #Resistance liberals, who are certain Trump will lose, because they dislike him so much. They still haven’t figured out that 40 percent of the country love him and at least another 10 percent are very much committed to considering the alternative in comparison to Trump, not reflexively voting against him. That decile is doing very well in this economy. Unemployment remains incredibly low. The markets are soaring. That’s not a given for the fall of 2020, but better to be soaring than falling 18 months out.

On immigration, border security has always been a legitimate concern (and Immigration and Customs Enforcement a legitimate agency). People don’t talk much about it as they decline to state anything that will earn them the label racist, but the reality of open borders is understood to be an unqualified disaster by most of the country, and most of the country understands the Democrats to be arguing for a de facto open-border system, if not a de jure one.

The Green New Deal sounds like a bad science-fair project where the smart kids got the colors to combine via an elaborate device and make all the “lava” flow black down the volcanoes’ sides and the village is destroyed. Medicare-for-all is a Professor Harold Hill production, headed for Iowa as was the Music Man. There’s not a lot of serious thinking or talking among the Ds about the People’s Republic of China and the “nine-dash line” in the South China Sea (which many may think is some sort of shorthand for their marks on the debate stage), or Huawei, which is just too complicated to try to debate in five-minute exchanges. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s turn as Madame Defarge may even wake up some of the wealthy-woke to their peril. It’s a circus coming to a cable-news network near you soon.

Last week’s message from a booming economy should have rocked the Democratic field. Alas, the party seems collectively intent on poring over the Mueller report yet again in the hope that, somehow, someway, there’s something there. But the probe is over. No collusion. No obstruction. Democrats have to campaign on something else besides a great economy, rising values of savings, low unemployment across every demographic, clarity about allies and enemies abroad, and a rebuilding military. It’s a tough needle to thread, condemning everything about Trump except all that he has accomplished that President Barack Obama couldn’t or wouldn’t. Not just tough — it’s practically impossible.

I think he's probably wrong about what the majority of people think about this current political situation but I do think Democrats need to consider whether an economic doom and gloom message is going to resonate as fully as they think it is. Of course a lot of people are still unhappy with their financial situation and are trying to handle debt and lack of upward mobility. But it's also not true that the country is massively unhappy economically.

Here's the latest polling on the subject:

CNN poll:

Overall, 71% say the nation's economy is in good shape, the highest share to say so since February 2001, and the best rating during Trump's presidency by two points. A majority give the President positive reviews for his handling of the nation's economy (51% approve.)

He's much more unpopular than that. But it's not because of the economy.


Understandably, Republicans and Democrats have differing perspectives on which problem is most important, but the starkest difference is seen for immigration. This month, 41% of Republicans consider immigration to be the top problem facing the country, contrasted with 18% of political independents and 5% of Democrats who say the same.

Conversely, by a narrower gap of 32% to 19%, Democrats are more likely than Republicans this month to see government as the top problem.

As Gallup has discussed previously, both parties have reason to consider the government the top problem, with a disproportionate share of Democrats citing Trump, while Republicans cite the Democrats or liberals in Congress. But a fair number of both party groups cite broader concerns about political corruption or gridlock.

Of the other top five problems mentioned as most important, healthcare and race relations/racism are more likely to be named by Democrats than Republicans. Combined economy or unemployment mentions are more likely to come from political independents than from either party group.

I get that for Democrats economics are the single most important issue. It always is. But they may find themselves running on a slightly discordant message if they aren't carefully considering how to frame their economic message.

It's the corruption and the cruelty that will resonate, IMO. And while that certainly connects to "kitchen table issues" it's a bigger story than that.

BTW: Hewitt is definitely wrong about one thing. It could definitely be close. And when that happens it puts the Republicans and their "friends" in a position to steal it.

He's said some grotesquely offensive things before, but this takes the cake

by digby

This is going to be a favorite talking point in the campaign
. It's his way of pandering to his most enthusiastic base, the Christian Right. They love this stuff:

Trump claimed Saturday that Democrats are in favor of “allowing children to be ripped from their mother’s womb right up until the moment of birth.”

Trump went on to falsely characterize what he said an “extreme late abortion” would entail in horrifically graphic—and not to mention misleading—language. “Your Democrat governor here in Wisconsin, shockingly, stated that he will veto legislation that protects Wisconsin babies born alive. Born alive,” Trump said in a disapproving tone. “The baby is born, the mother meets with the doctor, they take care of the baby, they wrap the baby beautifully, and then the doctor and the mother determine whether or not they will execute the baby.” Trump then put on an incredulous tone. “You hear late term, but this is where the baby is born, it’s there, it’s wrapped, that’s it,” Trump said as he made a guillotine motion with his hand, as if he were implying that the baby’s head would be sliced off.

Trump falsely claims Democrats support murdering babies.

"The baby is born, the mother meets w/the doctor. They take care of the baby. They wrap the baby beautifully. Then the doctor and mother determine whether or not they will execute the baby."

The crowd respond w/angry boos

Trump has previously accused Democrats of supporting the killing of babies, often falsely twisting comments by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to make it seem like Northam supports infanticide. “The governor stated that he would even allow a newborn baby to come out into the world,” Trump said at a rally in El Paso, Texas in February, “and wrap the baby, and make the baby comfortable, and then talk to the mother and talk to the father and then execute the baby. Execute the baby!” He even made a similarly misleading—yet much less graphic—claim during his State of the Union address. “Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth. These are living, feeling, beautiful, babies who will never get the chance to share their love and dreams with the world,” he said. The claims, of course, are false.

The Bible says you aren't supposed to bear false witness. But who cares what that moldy old books says, amirite?