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Hullabaloo


Friday, September 20, 2019

 
Friday Night Soother

by digby





These are the most magnificent sentient creatures. We must protect them.

These organizations are working to help and protect these elephants, and you can support their efforts to keep this species from going extinct.

Wildlife Conservation Society
WildAid's "Be Ivory Free" campaign
Save the Elephants - Elephant Crisis Fund
Elephants Without Borders
African Wildlife Foundation
International Elephant Foundation - Mounted Horse Patrol

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The Ukrainians have his number

by digby



Lol:

Ukraine is ready to investigate the connections Joe Biden’s son Hunter had with the Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings, according to Anton Geraschenko, a senior adviser to the country’s interior minister who would oversee such an inquiry.

Geraschenko told The Daily Beast in an exclusive interview that “as soon as there is an official request" Ukraine will look into the case, but “currently there is no open investigation.”

“Clearly,” said Geraschenko, “Trump is now looking for kompromat to discredit his opponent Biden, to take revenge for his friend Paul Manafort, who is serving seven years in prison.” Among the counts on which Manafort was convicted: tax evasion. “We do not investigate Biden in Ukraine, since we have not received a single official request to do so,” said Geraschenko.

His remarks last week came amid widespread speculation that U.S. President Donald Trump had made vital U.S. military aid for Ukraine contingent on such an inquiry, but had tried to do so informally through unofficial representatives, including his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and Giuliani’s adviser on Ukraine, Sam Kislin.

YOu just have to laugh.

But I wouldn't be surprised if Bill Barr says that it's perfectly reasonable to open this investigation and he sends and "official" request. They aren't even trying to hide their corruption now. They are just daring anyone to try and stop them.

By the way, some of this is obviously designed to make it possible to pardon Manafort by churning the waters. I'll be shocked if he doesn't do it.

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Whistleblowers multiplying and yet nothing happens

by digby



Apparently, there's a whole lot of possible wrongdoing in the IC these days:
The number of complaints made to a confidential hotline designed to allow the reporting of waste, fraud and abuse in the intelligence community has skyrocketed since Donald Trump took office, government records show.

According to the latest public report by the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, the hotline received 563 contacts last year, up from 251 in 2016 and 369 in 2017.

The numbers for the latest fiscal year are on pace to be even higher: There were 297 complaints in just the first six months — from October 2018 through last March, according to the report.

The report doesn't describe the complaints or tally how many of those rose to the level of an "urgent concern"—a category of serious complaints that must be turned over to Congress. Officials involved in the process say that designation is rare.

With the new DNI sharing these complaints with Trump's top henchman, Bill Barr,  and the White House whenever he wants to this seems like it might be a risky move. I'd be surprised if the numbers don't drop precipitously after this latest assault on the notion of executive accountability for anything. Who knows if these people will follow the whistleblower laws?

And anyway we all know they are all just Deep State Hillary Clinton stooges who are out to get the president. The only people who are telling the truth are those who are defending him in all circumstances.

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This observation by Politico spells it out pretty well

by digby




This piece is called "How Trump has handcuffed Washington" notes this salient fact:
DEMOCRATS decline to impeach the president because, in part, they’re worried about a sliver of members of Congress who have slivers of their constituencies who might or might not be offended by impeachment proceedings.
We are looking at a situation in which certain freshman Democrats are being encouraged by leadership to stand their ground against impeachment no matter what is revealed about the president because as that arch quote points out "a sliver" of their constituencies might (or might not) be offended. This is distorting the process.

Last night we learned that the president is trying to sabotage the 2020 election by extorting a foreign power to smear one of his rivals. There's nothing new about that. He was happy as a lark when Russia did it in 2016 and has suffered no consequences for doing it. Of course he's out there soliciting similar help from friends and foes alike. He considers this normal politics. He's said as much.

Some people might think that using millions of taxpayer dollars to extort foreign governments to do his campaign's dirty work is just a teensy bit beyond the pale and maybe worth taking a risky vote on in those districts with a sliver of possible Trump voters.  After all, if the Republicans can use the power of the presidency to steal elections they probably won't be able to keep their seats anyway. It seems like a risk worth taking.

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Just Wait 

by tristero

It's not merely that American democracy has collapsed. It's that the very concept of an American democracy in the ways we understood it when I was growing up is now unthinkable.

With this and this, every last delusion that moderates held about Trump has been punctured. The gloves are starting to come off. (That's right: up until now, I think we've been enjoying the halcyon years of the Trump presidency. He's now beginning to get serious.)

Meanwhile, in response, Pelosi and Schumer have offered Trump a nice, cute photo-op on guns.  If we still had even the shards of a real democracy left, they would be immediately laughed at and driven out of office.

This may seem a bit much, I know, but barring some kind of intervention from the all-knowing Flying Spaghetti Monster, the next year will demonstrate even to the most "moderate" among us that I'm not hyperventilating. I hope to be proven wrong, but I don't see how.


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"It was actually a beautiful conversation"

by digby


My Salon column this morning:


Back in August, a lot of us were wondering what in the world was going on when President Trump suddenly decided to withhold $250 million in military aid to Ukraine. The understandable knee-jerk assumption was that Trump was once again currying favor with Russian President Vladimir Putin, particularly since he'd apparently just spent hours at the G7 meeting in France hectoring the other leaders to allow Russia back into the group. Politico reported that a senior administration figure characterized the reported slow-walking as a "review" to ensure that the money was being spent in "the best interest of the United States."

That was an odd way of putting it, to say the least. Even the Trump administration had never come right out and said that Russian aggression against Ukraine was good for America, which would be one way to interpret the withdrawal of this support. Nonetheless, it's always fair to speculate that anything Trump does with respect to Russia is somehow related to his inexplicable need to please Putin, regardless of how pathetic and bizarre it appears to everyone else on the planet.

But there was something else going on at exactly the same time that seemed at least as possible as a motivation. I noted it here after reading this CNN story about Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, speaking with a Ukrainian official about allegations that former Vice President Joe Biden had been involved in the dismissal of a prosecutor in Ukraine who was investigating Biden's son Hunter. Giuliani had previously canceled a trip to Kyiv to press the Ukrainians to reopen the Biden investigation, after he got harsh pushback for interfering in in a foreign government's internal business. This latest story indicated that he was still on the case, and the big news at the time was that the State Department had helped set up the meeting, which seemed wildly inappropriate.

It appeared possible that Trump's overwrought defenses of Putin and his sudden withholding of $250 million in aid could be seen as an inducement (if not outright extortion) directed at new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in hopes of a criminal case against one of Trump's main rivals in the 2020 campaign.

On Sept. 5, the Washington Post published an editorial that spelled it out explicitly:
[W]e’re reliably told that the president has a second and more venal agenda: He is attempting to force Mr. Zelensky to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by launching an investigation of the leading Democratic candidate, Joe Biden. Mr. Trump is not just soliciting Ukraine’s help with his presidential campaign; he is using U.S. military aid the country desperately needs in an attempt to extort it.
A week or so later it was reported that House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff, D-Calif., had issued a subpoena to Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, which indicated that an urgent whistleblower complaint from the intelligence community was being withheld from Congress. I don't think many of us connected all the dots at that time, but on Thursday the picture started to come into focus.

Ever since Schiff sent this subpoena, this mystery has been at the top of the news. The daily drip has revealed that the whistleblower was someone high up in the administration connected to the intelligence community, and it ultimately became clear that the person implicated in wrongdoing being reported was the president himself.

We learned that the intelligence community's inspector general, Michael Atkinson, had found the whistleblower's complaint both "credible" and "urgent," but had been thwarted by Maguire from reporting the alleged wrongdoing to Congress as the law requires.

Later still, we learned that Maguire had consulted with the White House and Attorney General Bill Barr, who told him that this complaint did not fall under the relevant statute because it wasn't strictly an intelligence matter, and instructed him not to share the information with members of Congress. The word "privilege" came up again and again.

In other words, Trump's henchmen had circled the wagons once again around the president, conjuring up yet another excuse as to why they are not required to cooperate with congressional oversight or any form of accountability. But the details are getting out anyway, as they should have known they would.

The Washington Post reports that this whistleblower's urgent report was about Ukraine. It appears highly probable that it regarded the alleged extortion of Zelensky's government in hopes of digging dirt on Joe Biden for Trump's electoral benefit. We don't know the details, but it seems pretty clear that Giuliani has been working this for some time and that Trump himself is personally involved.

If there was any lingering doubt, all you had to do was observe Rudy Giuliani on television and social media last night. During a wild appearance with Chris Cuomo on CNN, Giuliani first denied it all and then admitted it, in an exchange reminiscent of the famous Jack Nicholson scene in "A Few Good Men":


Then he went one step further and also pretty much admitted that the president had extorted the Ukrainian government:



I won't go into the conspiracy theory he is referencing here. Hunter Biden has undeniably been involved in some dubious business, but the timeline of this particular complaint doesn't make sense, and there's no evidence that this desperate attempt to create a BizarroWorld scandal that mirrors the Russia investigation has any merit.

If all this pans out as the major scandal it appears to be, in a sane world it would mean the end of the Trump presidency. If it's shown that the president has extorted the leader of a foreign country to help his own re-election campaign, he isn't just committing a "High Crime," he's committing one that is explicitly named as an impeachable offense: bribery. It's right there in the Constitution. Naturally enough, Trump didn't even use his own money. He leveraged hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars for his own corrupt purposes.

But from what we can see already from the right-wing media it's likely to be, at best, "Oops, he did it again," and at worst a defense based on the theory that Trump has total immunity from any accountability whatsoever. This is essentially Bill Barr's version of the "unitary executive" view. After all, when ABC's George Stephanopoulos asked Trump whether, after everything that has happened, he would now call the FBI if a foreign emissary were peddling information about his opponent, he only said that he might. He also said he'd take the information because everybody does it: "It's called oppo research."

He didn't mention demanding "oppo" from an ally under threat of withdrawing military defense funds. But in Trump's megalomaniacal view of his presidency, any threat to him is defined as a threat to America, giving him the inalienable right to use the full power of the U.S. government to ensure his re-election. I will be shocked if even one prominent Republican contradicts him.

Update: They're all lining up nicely so far. And I haven't seen any movement by the Democratswither. So, it looks like the Republicans are going to be able to steal the 2020 election without much fuss. Nobody cares.

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He, Trump

by Tom Sullivan

Nobody could have seen this coming, right?

Attorneys working for the acting president filed a lawsuit Thursday asserting that a sitting president cannot “be investigated, indicted or otherwise subjected to the criminal process',” Period. Not by federal, state or local authorities for as long as he holds the presidency. Ponder that in all its implications.

Donald Trump's lawsuit is aimed at stopping Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance from enforcing a subpoena against Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, to produce eight years of his personal and corporate tax returns. Trump's attorneys argue that because the action against Mazars is an attempt "to criminally investigate a sitting President, it is unconstitutional.”

Paul Rosenzweig aided Ken Starr’s investigation of President Bill Clinton and believes this argument will fail in court. Trump's stacked courts:

“It cannot be the case that, as a matter of law, everybody associated with the president is immune from criminal investigation while he’s the president. But taken at its fullest, that’s what the president’s argument is,” Rosenzweig told VICE News.
Bess Levin of Vanity Fair elaborates on the Manhattan investigation's origins:
Vance, who agreed not to enforce the subpoena—issued to Trump’s longtime accounting firm Mazars USA—until a scheduled September 25 hearing, is investigating if executives at the Trump Organization filed false business records concerning hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who both claim to have had affairs with Trump, charges he, naturally, denies. The president’s former fixer, Michael Cohen, admitted to arranging the hush money payments and released audio of him discussing the Daniels payment with Trump.
It is just the latest in a series of lawsuits Trump has filed to keep his finances secret. He has sued congressional Democrats to keep them from obtaining his tax records which, by law, the chairman of the House Tax Committee may request from the IRS for any citizen. Trump has sued the state of New York over the TRUST Act, passed this year. Upon request, the state may release tax records of New York citizens to several congressional committees. New York's records would include copies of Trump's federal returns.

The latter suit Trump filed in a District of Columbia federal court before judges Trump appointed. New York's attorneys argued this week before U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols, a Trump appointee, that the case should be dismissed. It belongs in New York's courts. The case could stretch on for months. Winning cases through “delays, evasions, and lies,” was a Roy Cohn tactic Trump has used effectively.

Democrats requested Trump's federal records in April but have yet to request records from the state of New York. Trump filed a lawsuit against New York anyway.

Trump may be an idiot, but he's an idiot with a preternatural knack for gaming the courts and dodging taxes. He and his family have done so with near-complete impunity for decades. In this fight, Democrats are but learners. Trump is the Master.

Federal prosecutors are barred from issuing an indictment of a sitting president by Department of Justice policy. Now Trump asserts presidential immunity extends to state investigations of him and of any firms with which he and his organization have done business. He is above the law. He is The Law.

The House Intelligence Committee will have to take the Trump administration to court to get access to a whistleblower complaint filed through formal channels by a U.S. intelligence official. Details are sketchy, but a "promise" made by Trump to a foreign head of state raised national security concerns. The whistleblower, Joel Mathis writes at The Week, is "officially saying the government should protect itself from the president."

By statute that “urgent concern” ought to have been transmitted to congressional intelligence committees. Trump's acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, blocked the intelligence community's inspector general from releasing the report to Congress. Congress will have to take Trump to court. Trump himself views court action the way medieval lords viewed moats and boiling oil as ways for slowing down attackers.

Mathis sums up our plight:

This complaint may also represent the federal bureaucracy's last stand against the president. Unless the House of Representatives switches course and suddenly impeaches Trump — and there is little sign of such a development — there is no one else to step forward and save America from him.
We are watching this amoral, corrupt, emotionally stunted megalomaniac turn the government of the United States into a branch of the Trump Organization. He is stepping over and through Washington bureaucracy like H.G. Wells' Martian tripods, crushing normality as he goes, stopping here and there to raise his cell phone and fire a Twitter heat ray. He has proven as impervious to our usual weapons as Democrats are to the fact their usual weapons don't work against him.

The idea we might have to wait for some political version of common bacteria to end the destruction of a republic that survived the Civil War is not at all reassuring.

Ponder again what it means that Trump believes that so long as he holds the presidency he is untouchable.


Thursday, September 19, 2019

 
They're not going to take your cheeseburgers. They're going to make your cheeseburgers kill you.

by digby



The Trump administration is leaving not one stone unturned:

Over a century ago, Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” exposed unsafe and unsanitary conditions in our nation’s slaughterhouses. Sinclair singled out breakneck line speeds as a key source of misery, noting “The main thing the men wanted was to put a stop to the habit of speeding up, they were trying their best to force a lessening of the pace, for there were some, they said, who could not keep up with it, whom it was killing.”

Sinclair’s stomach-churning account led Congress to create a new agency in charge of food safety in slaughterhouses. Among the reforms implemented were rules to slow down line speeds, so that government inspectors could ensure that diseased or feces-covered meat and poultry did not end up on consumers’ plates. Now, if the Trump administration gets its way, pork slaughterhouses will be allowed to drastically increase their line speeds, with potentially disastrous results for workers and consumers.

A new rule, finalized today, would reduce the number of government food safety inspectors in pork plants by 40 percent, and remove most of the remaining inspectors from production lines. In their place, a smaller number of company employees — who are not required to receive any training — would conduct the “sorting” tasks that USDA previously referred to as “inspection.” The rule would also allow companies to design their own microbiological testing programs to measure food safety, rather than requiring companies to meet the same standard.

Equally alarming, the new rule would remove all line speed limits in the plants, allowing companies to speed up their lines with abandon. With fewer government inspectors on the slaughter lines, there would be fewer trained workers watching out for consumer safety. Faster line speeds would make it harder for the limited number of remaining meat inspectors and plant workers to do their jobs.

The experience from a long-running pilot project that involved five large hog slaughterhouses offers some insight into the possible impact of such radical deregulation. Consumer groups reviewed the government’s data from the five pilot plants and other plants of comparable size. They found that the plants with fewer inspectors and faster lines had more regulatory violations than others.

Indeed, the pilot project gave no indication that allowing companies to police themselves produces safe food. Nevertheless, USDA concluded that self-policing would ensure food safety, based on a technical risk assessment that — in violation of OMB guidelines — was not peer-reviewed before USDA published its rule. Later, three of the five peer reviewers indicated that the study was fundamentally flawed. USDA has pressed forward with its rule regardless, dismissing this criticism as mere technicality.

It’s not only consumers of meat who would pay a price for this misguided and dangerous new rule. There are more than 90,000 pork slaughterhouse workers whose health and limbs are already at risk under the current line speed limit of 1,106 hogs per hour. Pork slaughterhouse workers will tell you that they can barely keep up with current line speeds. They work in noisy, slippery workplaces with large knives, hooks and bandsaws, making tens of thousands of forceful repetitive motions on each and every shift to cut and break down the hogs.

USDA is ignoring three decades of studies indicating that faster line speeds and the forceful nature of the work in meatpacking plants are the root causes of a staggeringly high rate of work-related injuries and illnesses.

This has been the most chaotic, outrageous, lawless administration in history.

But you have to admit if you are a big corporation of any kind you have to be thrilled with the rollbacks of regulation that have taken place under Trump. Combined with the court-packing to deny the ability of people to successfully sue, they are happy as can be. This has been the most comprehensive destruction of the regulatory system in history. They have taken a wrecking ball to anything that protects the environment and our health and safety. It's actually kind of awe-inspiring.

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President Blabby at the Wall

by digby



As everyone wonders what in the world Trump blabbed to some foreign leader that cause the Inspector General of the DNI to term a whistleblower's complaint an urgent matter of national security, just note that he was blabbing just yesterday about the technology of his own wall because he can't stop bragging:

“Look at the inner tube to see what happens, because after the wall is up, we pour concrete and concrete goes into the tube, and in addition to that we have rebar,” Trump explained to reporters, referring to a stack of the hollow steel beams that would eventually make up the wall.

“So if you think you’re going to cut it with a blowtorch, that doesn’t work because you hit concrete,” he continued, “and if you think you’re going to go through the concrete, that doesn’t work because we have very powerful rebar inside.”

Trump also talked up the concrete filling being used for the beams, telling reporters that workers were using “a very powerful concrete.”

“And a lot of technological advances have been made with concrete,” he added. “It sounds pretty simple but it’s not. It’s a pretty powerful concrete. So you have the rebar, you have the outer crust and you have — the inside is concrete and it’s pretty amazing.”

The wall, which Trump said had been described to him as the “Rolls-Royce version” of a border barrier, had even undergone extensive testing to ensure that immigrants would be unable to scale the structure.

“We actually built prototypes and we have, I guess you could say, world-class climbers,” he said. “We had 20 mountain climbers. That’s all they do, they love to climb mountains.”

“Some of them were champions, and we gave them different prototypes of walls, and this was the one that was hardest to climb,” he continued, gesturing to the stack of beams behind him.

After allowing his acting heads of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, and the Army Corps of Engineers to discuss other features of the wall, the president began to elaborate on the structure’s technological assets.

“One thing we haven’t mentioned is technology,” Trump said. “They’re wired so that we will know if somebody’s trying to break through.” He then offered the floor to Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, acting head of the Army Corps, who quickly answered: “Sir, there could be some merit in not discussing that.”
It wouldn't surprise me if in the middle of bragging about his massive military build-up he ended up giving away the most tightly held nuclear secrets to Vladimir Putin . He literally doesn't understand why he shouldn't.

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Some smart Wall Streeters don't want to kill the Golden Goose

by digby




They see the value in letting everyone share in the eggs:

Jhoana Ocampo has worked in finance for 14 years. There, she is surrounded by people who fret about what could happen to their industry should Elizabeth Warren win the presidency and implement the tough regulatory policies that are so closely associated with her candidacy. And yet, Ocampo has given $400 to the Massachusetts Democrat and plans to max out to her presidential campaign, saying that Warren's policies resonate with her more than most.

“I’m just a firm believer that we all prosper when the middle class prospers,” Ocampo, who didn’t want her employer to be named and stressed she doesn’t speak on their behalf, told The Daily Beast. “Some people just don’t have the time; frankly they might not even care to really understand what she’s talking about. It could be perceived as being extreme until you look at what the plans really say. I might work in the financial services industry but I don’t have too many friends who have $50 million in the bank.”

Ocampo has also gone to fundraisers for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. But in Warren, she said, she saw something critically different. She’s “a very consistent advocate for the middle class,” she explained. “It was very important to me as I see that disappearing.”

Ocampo is part of what is so far a tiny, tiny minority of Warren donors in the financial industry. The senator, who has built a career warning about and legislating against the excesses of financial institutions—including crafting a consumer financial protection bureau to carry on that very mission—has reported receiving donations from only about 30 employees at the world’s top 20 investment banks.

It is a small crew composed of everyone from IT workers to risk managers at small firms and larger outfits. It’s also one that isn't quite yet comfortable trumpeting its politics. Ocampo, for starters, would only talk on the condition that her place of employment not be listed. Others declined to be named at all or declined to comment given their public-facing roles in various financial institutions.
[...]
One contributor, who shared information on the condition of anonymity, had worked in the financial industry for 20 years and had given to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in his first campaign for the presidency in 2015. This time though, he has given $500 to Warren, motivated by one major reason.

“She came out first of anybody for impeachment. I think that was the number one thing,” this individual said referring to Warren’s push for the House of Representatives to begin impeachment proceedings after reading Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

At the heart of Warren’s appeal among this small sect of finance industry types is a larger disgust with the current White House occupant. Many Wall Street denizens continue to support President Trump, who has slashed taxes and regulations in ways that have been highly favorable to their industry. But he is not entirely beloved. The aforementioned donor said that politics comes up often at work because of “orange Jesus,” a reference to President Trump.

“You cannot escape it because there’s so much shit in the news on a daily basis that it has to come up at least once a day,” this donor said. Though the donor had given to Warren, he said he would be supportive of any Democratic nominee and surmised that former Vice President Joe Biden would not end up winning the nomination, despite his early lead in the polls. No one else with whom this person directly works has openly supported another Democratic candidate so far but the donor joked that he was waiting to get turned into human resources for the amount of time Trump comes up with some coworkers who back the president.

These people are in the minority to be sure. But they are the smart ones. The "let them eat cake" attitude of Wall Street, the selfish, short-term thinking and total lack of big-picture understanding of our society and culture shows them to be fools, just as they were back in 2008 when their world came crashing down. They should be backing Warren's reforms. It's in their interest to redistribute wealth to make a stable society.

Our society is anything but stable and it's getting worse every day. Backing this grotesquely divisive imbecile is a terrible mistake. They will not escape the ramifications of that any more than the rest of us will.


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QOTD: Pompeo

by digby



Brian Stelter's newsletter reported this amazing little piece of new:
Speaking to reporters Wednesday off-camera while en route to Saudi Arabia, Mike Pompeo offered up some advice to reporters: When reporting, make sure you label those who regularly lie as liars. Yes, I am not making this up. The exchange was about reporting on the Houthis, but one can imagine the principle should naturally be extrapolated elsewhere. 
Here's exactly what Pompeo said: “Whenever you report about them, and you say, ‘The Houthis said,’ you should say ‘The well known frequently lying Houthis have said the following.’ This is important because you ought not report them as if these truth-tellers, as if these are people who aren’t completely under the boot of the Iranians and who would not, at the direction of the Iranians, lay claim to attacks that they did not engage in. Which clearly was the case here. So there you go, whenever you say Houthis, you should begin with, ‘the well-known, frequently known to lie Houthis,’ and then you can write whatever it is they say. And that’d be good reporting (laughter) and I know you care deeply about that good reporting.” 
Natural question: Does this recommendation about prominently labeling liars as "liars" apply to any, say, US politicians?
Not even a hint of self-awareness in any of that.

Remember also that Pompeo is a hardcore Iran hawk and Trump is an imbecile.

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"Foreign corruption inducing treason was the core impeachable offense in the eyes of the authors of the Constitution"

by digby





This bit of history relayed by David Frum is unfortunately very relevant today:


On the 20th of July 1787, Gouverneur Morris rose inside the stiflingly hot Independence Hall, in Philadelphia, to explain why he had changed his mind and now favored including a power of impeachment in the constitutional text.

Until that point, he and others had feared that an impeachment power would leave the president too dependent on Congress. He had thought that the prospect of reelection defeat would offer a sufficient control on presidential wrongdoing.

But the arguments of other delegates had convinced him—and particularly an example from then-recent British history. A century earlier, Great Britain had been ruled by a king named Charles II. King Charles was the son of Charles I, the king whose head was cut off during the English Civil War. Restored to the throne, Charles II learned to tiptoe carefully around his dangerous subjects. But there was a problem: Charles wanted more money than Parliament willingly offered him. His solution? He reached out to an old friend and patron: the king of France, Louis XIV.

Louis had sheltered Charles during exile. He knew that Charles had converted to Catholicism—a secret that could have cost Charles his throne and possibly his life if his own people had known it. Louis had no parliament of his own to worry about. He paid Charles an annual subsidy to cover Charles’s fiscal shortfall. In return, he asked Charles to hand over a British base on French soil—and to stay neutral in the war Louis was about to launch against the Protestant Netherlands.

These treasons would emerge into daylight after the overthrow of Charles’s brother and the Stuart dynasty in 1688. For the men of 1787, these events of the century before their own felt as vivid and central as the civil-rights era of the mid-20th century seems to us nearing the middle of the 21st.

So Gouverneur Morris said, according to notes taken by James Madison:

He was now sensible of the necessity of impeachments, if the Executive was to continue for any time in office. Our Executive was not like a Magistrate having a life interest, much less like one having an hereditary interest in his office. He may be bribed by a greater interest to betray his trust; and no one would say that we ought to expose ourselves to the danger of seeing the first Magistrate in foreign pay without being able to guard agst it by displacing him. One would think the King of England well secured agst bribery. He has as it were a fee simple in the whole Kingdom. Yet Charles II was bribed by Louis XIV. The Executive ought therefore to be impeachable for treachery; Corrupting his electors, and incapacity were other causes of impeachment. For the latter he should be punished not as a man, but as an officer, and punished only by degradation from his office. This Magistrate is not the King but the prime-Minister. The people are the King. When we make him amenable to Justice however we should take care to provide some mode that will not make him dependent on the Legislature.

Foreign corruption inducing treason was the core impeachable offense in the eyes of the authors of the Constitution.

Which is why a whistle-blower report filed with the inspector general for the intelligence community, reportedly concerning an improper “promise” by President Donald Trump to a foreign leader, has jolted Congress.

Earlier in the constitutional debates—back when he still opposed an impeachment provision—Morris argued that a corrupt or treasonable president “can do no criminal act without Coadjutors who may be punished.” Trump is surrounded by coadjutors, yet so far all are acting with impunity, joined now by the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, who is withholding from Congress the apparently explosive information.

Trump has been engaged in improper contacts with foreign governments for years, and built deep business relationships with foreign nationals. Russian assistance helped elect him. Money from wealthy Russians reportedly helped keep his businesses alive from 2006 to 2016. Since 2016, more and more foreign money has flowed Trump’s way. Trump literally has a hotel open on Pennsylvania Avenue to accept payments—there’s a big carpet in front, his name on the door, nothing even remotely clandestine about the flow of corruption. That corruption seeks returns. Again and again, Trump has acted in ways that align with the interests of foreign states, raising questions about his motives.

Exactly what was promised in this particular conversation, and to whom, America and the world wait to hear. Perhaps there exists a reasonable explanation for a conversation that the Trump administration is trying hard to keep from public view. But the basic grammar of all Trump scandals has been visible from the beginning: many secrets, no mysteries.

Trump finally tweeted about this asking if anyone thinks he's dumb enough to speak inappropriately on the phone to foreign leaders. The question answers itself. And it is possible that whever it was that Trump promised was something he thought was totaly appropriate --- like giving out the names of spies in Russia, for instance. I could easily see it. He thought Putin's idea to create a joint cyber-security force was terrific.

He's a dotard. So it's thoroughly possible that he's just too dumb to know that he was selling out the country. There is no dotard exception to the impeachment clause. Indeed, it may be more important to get rid of someone that stupid.

And yes, it's equally possible that this was some kind of corrupt promise to a foreign leader. He is a criminal, after all.

.
 
Trump IS a wartime president. Guess who the enemy is.

by digby




Ron Brownstein breaks down this fight between Trump and California over emissions rules. It's going to court and who knows who will win? Republicans have been trying to hobble California for a long time because its economic clout is such that if it makes rules companies often adopt them for the whole country because it doesn't make financial sense to do otherwise. But Trump's visit to California this time has been even more horrific than usual. He's basically saying we're dirty filthy disgusting people and he's going to clean things up by suing San Franciso for environmental crimes --- even as he's blocking environmental rules. (He's been threatening to do this for some time.)
President Trump said late Wednesday that his administration would issue a notice of environmental violation against the city of San Francisco because of what he described as its homelessness problem. 
Traveling aboard Air Force One as he returned to Washington from a three-day trip to California and New Mexico, Mr. Trump told reporters that San Francisco was in “total violation” of environmental rules because of used needles that were ending up in the ocean. 
“They’re in total violation — we’re going to be giving them a notice very soon,” the president said, indicating that the city could be put on notice by the Environmental Protection Agency within a week that its homelessness problem was causing environmental damage. 
He said tremendous pollution was flowing into the ocean because of waste in storm sewers, and he specifically cited used needles. 
“They’re in serious violation,” Mr. Trump said, adding, “They have to clean it up. We can’t have our cities going to hell.” 
San Francisco’s mayor, London Breed, called Mr. Trump’s comments “ridiculous.” 
“To be clear, San Francisco has a combined sewer system, one of the best and most effective in the country, that ensures that all debris that flow into storm drains are filtered out at the city’s wastewater treatment plants,” Ms. Breed said in a statement Wednesday night. “No debris flow out into the bay or the ocean.”
No, he doesn't make any sense. And the fact that he's doing this nonsense in the face of the climate crisis is outrageous.

But this is really just part of his American Carnage Reboot for 2020. As Brownstein writes:
However the courts resolve this fight, it’s clear that the latest confrontation between Trump and California is just one salvo in the widening conflict between Democratic states and the administration. As president, Trump has pursued a distinctive strategy toward deep-blue states: Rather than trying to persuade them, he’s been more likely to flog them as a symbol of failed policies that he uses to mobilize his base. In many respects, he’s governed as a wartime president, with blue states, rather than any foreign nation, as the enemy. And what’s clear is that Trump’s administration is growing more skilled at finding new ways to launch offensives against the states that he views as his adversaries.

“Now they have figured out, in effect, the dials of the combination lock to try to do some of this, in ways that are breathtaking and have enormous implications for the future,” said Kettl, the author of the forthcoming book The Divided States of America. “If you start looking at the implications of the Affordable Care Act regulations, Medicaid regulations—you have your hands on the jugular of state budgets. There are things about unemployment insurance and food stamps, there is much you can do with highway and bridges … There is an enormous universe of things that really, really matter to state and local governments in terms of their budgets.”

By sending out an early-morning tweet, Trump may have wanted to personally claim credit for confronting California over fuel economy. But more and more, the war between blue states and the administration may be fought far from the headlines, Kettl told me. Trump’s team, he said, has learned that by taking control of relatively obscure budgetary and regulatory decisions that don’t usually reach the front pages, “you can grab them by the throat and inflict real pain without it ever having to reach the level of a presidential tweet.”

It's sad that the constitution didn't anticipate a president and his henchmen abusing power like this.

Oh well.

.




 
What did he promise and to whom?

by digby



We've been talking about this high-level Intelligence Community whistleblower over the past couple of days and last night the Washington Post added some detail. Josh Marshall did a nice rundown of where this whole thing is at the moment:

For days we’ve been hearing about the standoff between Chairman Adam Schiff and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence over a whistleblower complaint. Josh Kovensky walked us through some of the details this afternoon. Now The Washington Post has escalated the story dramatically by reporting that the complaint is about President Trump himself and centers on a “promise” he made to a foreign leader. The complaint was filed on August 12th. So this is all quite recent.

There’s a lot of discussion and context in the Post article. But that’s the central reported detail. It’s not clear who the foreign leader was or what was promised or really anything else. The additional key detail is this: the complaint from the unidentified whistleblower was submitted to Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson. He determined that the complaint was credible and troubling enough to be a matter of “urgent concern”, a legal standard that requires reporting the matter to Congress.

Obviously, anyone in the government can file a whistleblower complaint. They can be frivolous or nonsensical. But the Inspector General determined it was serious and of a pressing nature. Atkinson was nominated to the position by President Trump in 2018 but he appears to be a career government lawyer. He worked at DOJ for 15 years prior to his nomination.

The decision to withhold the information from Congress was made by acting DNI Joseph Maguire, who’s in that position after the dismissal of Dan Coats. But the Post suggests that it’s not actually Maguire’s choice. The Department of Justice told him to withhold the information from Congress.

Here is the key passage from the Post …

Defenders of Maguire disputed that he is subverting legal requirements to protect Trump, saying that he is trapped in a legitimate legal predicament and that he has made his displeasure clear to officials at the Justice Department and White House. 
After fielding the complaint on Aug. 12, Atkinson submitted it to Maguire two weeks later. By law, Maguire is required to transmit such complaints to Congress within seven days. But in this case, he refrained from doing so after turning for legal guidance to officials at the Justice Department. 
In a sign of Atkinson’s discomfort with this situation, the inspector general informed the House and Senate intelligence committees of the existence of the whistleblower complaint — without revealing its substance — in early September.

So it appears that in the guise of legal guidance the DOJ instructed Maguire not to share the complaint with Congress. Atkinson took matters into his own hands, informing Congress of the existence of a complaint while not sharing its substance, in deference to the DOJ’s legal guidance.


Bill Barr runs the Justice Department. He protects Donald Trump. Period. So the DOJ’s role here is little mystery. It is worth noting here that this is a case in which there are legitimate constitutional issues. When it comes to classified information, the whole system is a bureaucratic system to operationalize judgments which are nominally the President’s. That’s why the President can actually declassify information by the very act of sharing them. It was his decision to make them secrets in the first place. He’s just changing his mind. Those who believe in maximal presidential power think the President’s authority is basically unconstrained dealing with foreign leaders. Bill Barr is one of those people. And he also wants to protect Trump from the rule of law. So Barr’s jurisprudence and personal corruption point in the same direction.

One final point. The Post article is sourced to “two former U.S. officials familiar with the matter.” That’s odd. This only happened about a month ago. Former officials shouldn’t really know anything about this unless somehow they were in the loop and retired like last week or something. That’s not totally implausible as people seem to be being pushed out of the ODNI in the wake of Coats’ departure. But it sounds (and this is just speculation based on news experience) that this information is being pushed out into the public realm using ex-officials as intermediaries. In other words, people on the inside think something is wrong and they’re using go-betweens with high-level clearances to get the information public. Again, this last point is speculation. But I think it’s a logical surmise.

This all sounds logical to me. Of course, this could add up to nothing. But the machinations we can see do not lead to that conclusion.

Various online sleuths have pointed out this odd interaction from last summer which may, or may not, be the conversation in question:





Maybe this is nothing. But the facts we know so far certainly are suspicious. Very suspicious.

.



 

“He got away with it until he didn’t.”

by Tom Sullivan

After hours wasted giving speech-questions Corey Lewandowski threw back in their faces Tuesday, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee finally brought in a pro. Barry H. Berke, a private attorney working for Democrats, systematically penetrated Lewandowski's smug-thug armor. In the end, Berke got the former Donald Trump campaign manager to admit he lies to the press and, by extension, to America news consumers. "I have no obligation to be honest to the media," Lewandowski said, prompting gasps from observers in the hearing room.

It wasn't the comeuppance one might have wished for, but might be enough to render stillborn Lewandowski's New Hampshire Senate run. Imagine the billboards, radio spots, and television ads.

Seeing Lewandowski's former boss brought low will require tactics more unorthodox than Berke's. Minds more clever and/or ruthless than mine might be required. Trump, after all, was tutored by Roy Kohn in the fine art of inflicting pain and getting even. He's demonstrated a complete disdain for proper procedure, norms of governance, and the rule of law. "Getting away with it" is how Trump has lived his whole life.

But even Roy Cohn finally crashed and burned. Michael Kruse discusses that in the context of a Cohn documentary from producer-director Matt Tyrnauer:

It’s the past quarter or so, though, of Tyrnauer’s film that is perhaps most salient at this stage of Trump’s first term. It deals with the less discussed but arguably much more trenchant lesson of Cohn’s life—not his decades of dark-arts untouchability but his brutal comeuppance. Cohn did not, in the end, elude the consequences of his actions. He could not, it turned out, get away with everything forever. He was a braggart of a tax cheat, and the Internal Revenue Service closed in; he was an incorrigibly unethical attorney, and he finally was disbarred; and only six weeks after that professional disgrace, six months shy of 60 years old, Cohn was dead of AIDS.

Now, less than 14 months out from next year’s election, with Trump facing historic legal and political peril, it’s getting harder and harder not to wonder what he might or might not have gleaned from watching Cohn’s wretched unraveling. Trump is beset by 29 federal, state, local and congressional investigations. Poll after poll shows he’s broadly disliked. He could win reelection, obviously, but it’s true, too, that he’s an unusually endangered incumbent. Trump, to be sure, is not weakened by physical sickness, and he has not been pursued by prosecutors and other committed antagonists for nearly as long as Cohn was. And as powerful as Cohn was perceived to be at his peak, he was never, it almost goes without saying, the most powerful man in the world. Even so, the question looms: Will Cohn’s most accomplished and attentive mentee ultimately suffer a similar fate?
The fate of the republic may depend on it.

“He got away with it,” Tyrnauer said of Cohn, “until he didn’t.”

The acting president learned well from Roy Cohn who was, attorney Arthur Liman wrote, “famous among lawyers for winning cases by delays, evasions, and lies.” That has a familiar ring to it. Trump picked up a few things. Democrats might want to take their cues instead from James T. Kirk.



Update: As I was just saying. Trump sues Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance over attempt to get tax returns


Wednesday, September 18, 2019

 
This one's for the OG bloggers ...

by digby

I don't know if anyone else will enjoy this but I'm sure the likes of Atrios, Kos, Aravosis, Amato, Madrak etc, will take some pride in it:




.

 
So boys can have their toys

Just watch it:



This is just the saddest --- and infuriating --- thing. What the hell is wrong with this country?



.
 
More power grab

by digby



They will literally stop at nothing:

The Trump administration urged the U.S. Supreme Court to give the president more control over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the agency that regulates mortgages and credit cards.

Asking the court to take up a pending appeal, administration lawyers said the Constitution requires that the president be allowed to fire the agency’s director for any reason. The 2010 law that set up the CFPB says the director can be removed only for “inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office.”

The administration’s position increases the chances the court will take up the issue in the nine-month term that starts in October. A ruling would come by June, only months before the 2020 presidential election.

The filing was a response to an appeal filed by a Seila Law, a California law firm being investigated by the CFPB over its sales pitches to indebted consumers. The firm is trying to derail the investigation by arguing that the CFPB was set up in violation of the constitutional separation of powers.

In a brief filed Tuesday, U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco agreed with the law firm that the CFPB’s structure is unconstitutional. But Francisco said the court should leave the bureau intact, and his brief left open the possibility that the CFPB could continue to press the investigation.

Francisco said the constitutional issue “has broad implications for the president’s ability to supervise the executive branch.“

This power grab is a huge problem whether Trump wins or loses in 2020.

And not incidentally, this was Elizabeth Warren's baby. This is another case of the Department of Justice putting its thumb on the scale for Donald Trump.

.

 
An Act of War?

by digby




Oh my:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran on Wednesday of having carried out an “act of war” with aerial strikes on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia last weekend, and he said the United States was working to build a coalition to deter further attacks.

Mr. Pompeo’s words were the strongest so far from any American official regarding the attack on Saturday in Saudi Arabia, which severely impaired production at the leading oil exporter and raised fears that tensions between Iran and the United States could escalate into a new war.

Despite Mr. Pompeo’s statement, President Trump pushed back against another American military entanglement in the Middle East, speaking only of unspecified new sanctions on Iran.

Asked about a possible American attack on Iran, Mr. Trump told reporters in Los Angeles: “There are many options. There’s the ultimate option and there are options a lot less than that.”

In Saudi Arabia, military officials displayed what they described as physical evidence that Iran had been responsible for the attack, but did not specify how they intended to respond or what they expected from their American allies.

The Houthi rebels in Yemen, who have been fighting a Saudi-led coalition for more than four years, have said they were responsible for the attack. Iran, a strong ally of the Houthis, has denied any responsibility. American and Saudi officials have said the Houthis had neither the sophistication nor the weapons to have carried it out.

“This was an Iranian attack,” Mr. Pompeo said. “We were blessed there were no Americans killed in this attack, but anytime you have an act of war of this nature, there’s always a risk that could happen.”

Nobody knows what he's really talking about. He says he's in a "very powerful position" whatever that means.

But this is the heart of the problem. The chickens are coming home to roost. Having a pathological liar and incompetent boob for a president has a price.

For a president with a loose relationship with the facts and poisonous relationships with allies, the attack on the Saudi oil fields poses a challenge: how to prove the administration’s case that Iran was behind the strike and rally the world to respond.

President Trump must now confront that problem as he struggles with one of the most critical national security decisions of his presidency. Over the next few days or weeks, he will almost certainly face the reality that much of the world — angry at his tweets, tirades, untruths and accusations — could be disinclined to believe the arguments advanced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others that Iran bears responsibility for the attack.

If Mr. Trump tries to gather a coalition to impose diplomatic penalties, tighten sanctions to further choke off Iranian oil exports or retaliate with a military or cyberstrike, he may discover that, like President George W. Bush heading into Iraq 16 years ago, he is largely alone.

Already, intelligence officials are hinting, in background conversations, that the evidence implicating Iran is just too delicate to make public. One theory gaining support among American officials is that the cruise missile and drone attack was launched from southwest Iran or in the waters nearby.

But the evidence gathered so far, one official said, “isn’t a slam-dunk,” deliberately using the phrase that George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director in 2003, came to regret when he employed it to argue, incorrectly it turned out, that Iraq was building weapons of mass destruction.

After the bitter Iraq experience, it would be hard for any American president to persuade the country and its allies to take his word that it is time to risk another war in the Middle East, barring incontrovertible evidence that could be made public. For Mr. Trump, it could be an especially tough sell.

“Painfully, the word of the president will be suspect,” Wendy R. Sherman, who negotiated the details of the Iran deal for the Obama administration, said on Tuesday.

Mr. Trump’s “hyperbole and outright fabrications through a daily tweet diet,” she said, has left him with “little credibility with Congress, allies and partners, let alone the American people.”

“All will be challenged to accept a Trump assessment of what occurred in the attack on Saudi oil facilities,” she added.
[...]
Even if American and other experts who are now in Saudi Arabia to conduct a forensic study conclude that Iran built the drones or cruise missiles, they may have a hard time establishing — especially for the public — where the weapons were launched from, or who shot them toward the Saudi oil fields.

“A military response on the sovereign territory of Iran is a very serious matter,” Mr. Tillerson cautioned. “And not one that anyone should take with less than fully conclusive information.”

Pentagon officials appear to agree. That is why the options now being discussed include alternatives like retaliating against Iranian facilities outside of Iranian territory and conducting cyberstrikes. If the latter option were chosen, it would be akin to the cyberoperations that blew up Iran’s nuclear centrifuges a decade ago and the move to wipe out military databases several months ago, after the shooting down of an American drone by Iran.

The Saudis seem to sense the credibility problem.

Even they have not yet publicly followed Mr. Pompeo in accusing Iran of responsibility. In a statement on Monday, the Saudi government urged an international investigation, led by the United Nations, to determine responsibility.

That move, unusual for a country that disdains the United Nations almost as much as the Trump administration does, seemed an acknowledgment that the world would not take Mr. Trump’s word, nor that of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

Over the past year, the crown prince has encountered credibility problems of his own. He has repeatedly denied that he sent or had knowledge of the Saudi team that killed the Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. The evidence suggests otherwise.

For Mr. Trump, the suspicions about any American assessment of responsibility will be colored by another problem: European officials blame him, as much as the Iranians, for creating the circumstances that led to the attack.

In their telling, it was Mr. Trump’s decision, soon after he fired Mr. Tillerson, to abandon the 2015 nuclear deal that set in motion the events that culminated in the crippling of the two Saudi oil fields.

For the past 18 months, Mr. Trump has been steadily reimposing sanctions on Iran. At first, the Iranians largely ignored those steps and remained part of the four-year-old agreement that limited Iran’s nuclear ability in return for lifting most sanctions on the country.

But as the administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign took its toll, Iranian officials began breaking out of the accord’s limits — arguing they would not be bound by an agreement Mr. Trump had abandoned — and seizing oil tankers.

The European argument is that Mr. Trump has unnecessarily provoked the Iranians. That is why France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, is leading an effort to undermine the American sanctions by issuing a $15 billion line of credit to Iran, in hopes of getting them back in compliance with the deal to which France was a partner.
[...]
The next few days will be critical. Michael J. Morell, the former deputy director of the C.I.A., who briefed Mr. Bush on Sept. 11, 2001, said Mr. Trump will face a difficult trade-off.

After he gets the intelligence agency’s “best assessment on who was behind the attack,” Mr. Morell said, Mr. Trump “must then balance the need to protect sources and methods with the need to inform Congress and the American people about why he takes or doesn’t take any action.”

“The credibility of the United States matters every single day,” he added. “And when it is eroded in the eyes of our allies over time, it then ultimately makes moments like this even more difficult.”

Pompeo is an Iran hawk and could easily be maneuvering Trump into a war. His NSC adviser is also a hawk. So are most of the Republicans in congress. Wars tend to be good for incumbent president, at least in the bginning.

All the stars are aligned although Trump is the wild card who could pull back. But we just don't know. And that's scary.

David Leonhardt laid out the best and worse case scenarios for a possible Trump strategy:

The motivation for the attack still isn’t clear. One possibility is that hard-liners within Iran ordered or encouraged it, out of a desire to scuttle the upcoming negotiations, as The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib explained. The hard-liners may have feared that Iran’s government was going to offer concessions — which would be a sign that Trump’s strategy might be working.

Another possibility, though, is that the Iranian government ordered it because it views Trump as a weak negotiator who is afraid of war. By escalating the situation, Iran may be betting that Trump will back down, as David Kirkpatrick and Farnaz Fassihi of The Times wrote. In that case, the combination of Trump’s tough sanctions and his generally chaotic foreign policy may have pushed the Middle East closer to war.



We'll see in the next few days.

.


 
Oh look. The corruption is even worse than we thought

by digby



More from Politico on Turnberry:

Since Donald Trump took office, the U.S. military has spent nearly $200,000 at the president’s luxury Scotland resort, according to figures and documents the Pentagon provided to the House Oversight Committee.

The spending, which has all occurred since August 2017, paid for the equivalent of hundreds of nights of rooms at the Turnberry resort over approximately three dozen separate stays, the committee said.


The Air Force confirmed last week that its crews had stayed up to 40 times at Trump’s property since 2015, but it has not provided a breakdown of the number of stays since Trump was elected. The figures provided to the House Oversight Committee suggest the vast majority of stays — if not all of them — have occurred since Trump took office, raising concerns among Democrats about a conflict of interest.

POLITICO first reported earlier this month that the Oversight Committee had been probing military spending at Turnberry since April to determine whether the money constituted a violation of the Constitution’s domestic emoluments clause, which prohibits the president from receiving any compensation from the federal government other than his salary.

After being elected, Trump chose not to fully divest himself from his business interests, choosing instead to put his holdings in a trust that he can receive money from at any time.

The committee’s probe has ramped up in the wake of POLITICO’s reporting on several overnight stays at the resort by U.S. Air Force crews, some of which have been multinight stays involving dozens of crew members and passengers.

The Pentagon documents showed that U.S. taxpayer funds “have been used to pay for more than three dozen separate stays involving hundreds of nights of rooms — all after the President was sworn into office,” according to a letter the committee’s chairman, Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) wrote to acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday.

The Democrats called the Pentagon’s response so far — about 21 pages of material turned over to the panel, but no underlying invoices or travel records — “woefully inadequate.”

But the department did reveal that the average cost of a room at Turnberry for military service members from August 2017 to July 2019 was $189, and that Turnberry expenditures during that time period “amounted to $124,578.96” — plus an “an additional $59,729.12” in unspecified charges to government travel cards.

“If both of these claims are accurate, it appears that U.S. taxpayer funds were used to purchase the equivalent of more than 650 rooms at the Trump Turnberry just since August 2017 — or the equivalent of one room every night for more than one-and-a-half years,” the congressmen wrote.

The Pentagon also provided documents reflecting charges at Turnberry that were higher than its stated average per diem allowances for hotel rooms, including 17 separate charges for $450 on June 25, 2018, 45 separate charges for around $300 on Sept. 26, 2018, and three charges for over $600 each on Nov. 18, 2018, according to the committee.

This is looking like a much bigger scandal than originally thought. It wasn't just a couple of Airman who found themselves at Turnberry one day, wondering how they got there. This has been a systematic choice to line Trump's pockets. I have little doubt that Trump knew all about it. He may have even ordered it, but didn't really have to. People know he loves money. They know he favors people who try to curry favor by brown-nosing him and putting cash in his pockets. And these Air Force personnel almost certainly believed that they could get away with spending 450 a night on a hotel room at trump's golf course because he's the president.

It's all madness.

Oh, and then there's this:
They are not the resort's only conspicuous guests. Earlier this summer, according to a staffer, a group of Saudi royals stayed at the resort for about a week at the tail end of extended travel, bringing a party of 25 people and more than a hundred pieces of luggage.
And this:
Though Trump has put his ownership interest in the Trump Organization into a trust, which is managed by his sons Donald Jr. and Eric, the president can withdraw money from it any time.
He needs access to cash while he's in the White House to pay all the hush money, of course. What's he supposed to do?

.


 
The administration is test driving a dictatorship

by digby



Greg Sargent does an excellent job of laying out the DNI whistleblower story. It's confusing and the media generally isn't making it less so. (They seem to be being led in various directions by Intelligence sources who may or may not have their own agenda.)

This story is about to get a whole lot more media scrutiny, because it involves secretive back-channel maneuvering, a possible threat to national security and potential lawbreaking at the highest levels of the Trump administration, possibly at the direction of President Trump himself — all with a whole lot of cloak-and-dagger intrigue thrown in.

And now the mystery of Rep. Adam Schiff and the whistleblower has taken an ominous new turn, one that should only underscore concerns that serious — and dangerous — lawbreaking might be unfolding.

At the very least, we’re seeing yet another serious erosion in checks on this administration’s norm-shredding — and, as I hope to explain, there are big and important principles at stake here.

The latest development: The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has informed Schiff, the California Democrat and chairman of the Intelligence Committee, that he will not forward a whistleblower’s complaint to the committee, as required by law.

Yet the legal rationale for refusing to do this appears specious — and raises further questions as to why this is happening at all.

This all started when Schiff announced that the Inspector General at the ODNI had alerted him to a whistleblower’s complaint that had been submitted to him. Schiff noted that the IG assessed the complaint as “credible.”

But as Schiff noted, the acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, has not forwarded the complaint to the Intelligence Committee.

There is a process for whistleblowers in such situations, one that has been established by federal law. A whistleblower must first submit a complaint to the IG, who determines whether it’s an “urgent concern” and “credible.” If so, the DNI “shall” forward the complaint to the congressional intelligence committees.

The idea here is that this process allows a member of the intelligence community to raise concerns about potential lawbreaking or other abuses with Congress, so it can exercise oversight over those abuses, while ensuring that classified information remains protected. This is done via the independent inspector general at first, insulating the whistleblower against agency-head retaliation, which is also provided for in the statute.

In this case, Schiff announced, the inspector general notified the committee that this whistleblower’s complaint did constitute an urgent concern and is credible — yet Maguire still hadn’t forwarded the complaint and relevant associated materials to the committee.

So Schiff called on the DNI to forward the materials, and if he failed to do that, to appear before Congress on Thursday.

Now Maguire has sent a new letter to Schiff once again refusing to forward the complaint.

Maguire’s stated rationale for this is that the complaint does not meet the definition of “urgent concern” under the law, because it doesn’t concern conduct by a person in the intelligence community or activity that falls under the DNI’s supervision.

Because we don’t know what the complaint entails, it’s hard to evaluate this claim. But there are reasons for skepticism about this stated rationale.

For one thing, even if the conduct may not be under the DNI’s supervision, the New York Times quotes informed sources saying the complaint itself was filed by a member of the intelligence community. That suggests direct relevance to the DNI.

For another, the inspector general did determine that the appropriate destination for the complaint is Congress’ intelligence committees.

Margaret Taylor, senior editor of the Lawfare Blog, told me this is important because the inspector general has his own counsel, who could have determined that this complaint falls in the category of something that should be forwarded to the committees under the statute.

What’s more, Taylor argued, the statute does not give the DNI the authority to decide that something doesn’t count as an urgent concern, once the inspector general has designated it as such.

“The inspector general makes the decision as to whether it’s an urgent concern or not,” Taylor said. “Under the statute as written, the Director of National Intelligence doesn’t have the discretion to not act or get a second opinion. He just has to forward it to the intelligence committees.”

This is not ambiguous. The administration's new Trump bootlicker is telling the congress to go to hell.

There’s a reason the statute is written this way. As Taylor points out, lawmakers wanted whistleblowers to be able to alert them — that is, Congress, with its oversight authority — to wrongdoing without the threat that agency heads will tamper with that process, say, for nakedly political reasons.

“Lawmakers decided that Congress’ oversight responsibilities could not be effectively carried out if employees are required to obtain the approval of the heads of their agency before exposing wrongdoing,” Taylor told me.

The DNI has offered another rationale as well, one that makes this potentially more troubling.

Over the weekend, Schiff told CBS News that he’d been informed by Maguire that he was not forwarding the complaint because he is “being instructed not to” by someone “above” him, a “higher authority.”

This appears to be a reference to the DNI’s suggestion, in a separate letter to the committee, that the complaint involves “confidential and potentially privileged communications by persons outside the Intelligence Community.”

“The executive branch seems to be relying on the potential assertion of executive privilege to not supply the information to Schiff,” Taylor told me. One also wonders who outside the intelligence community is being referred to here as enjoying such privileged communications.

Some Democrats think it's no big deal if Trump and the Republicans continue to erode all checks and balances because the American people only care about themselves and their "kitchen table issues" and so the Dems will win back the presidency in 2020 on that basis and all will be fine. But it's going to be impossible to put this genie back in the bottle. The weaknesses in our system have been exposed, the GOP is batshit crazy and the world has seen just how unreliable as a country. Sweeping all this under the rug will not work. They either take a stand and fight this right now or the other side wins even if it loses.

Update: I should add that anyone who thinks that an administration that is willing to defy the congress this way will adhere to the rules and norms governing out elections are fooling themselves. We saw how far they were willing to go in 2000 and did nothing about it. We saw what they did in 2016 and we're wanking on the kitchen table every day. So I'm afraid we can't act surprised if they simply steal it openly in 2020 and then stand there and say "what are you going to do about it?" They have every reason to believe we will do nothing.

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