Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Huge Serving Of Baked Alaska

How bad is the Graham-Cassidy Trumpcare bill in the Senate?  It's so awful, Republicans are trying to buy off GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski's vote by letting Alaska keep Obamacare.

Let that sink in for a bit.

According to the aide, here is a summary of what the new draft of the bill entails:
"This draft includes 3 separate provisions benefitting Alaska.

Alaska (along with Hawaii) will continue to receive Obamacare’s premium tax credits while they are repealed for all other states. It appears this exemption will not affect Alaska receiving its state allotment under the new block grant in addition to the premium tax credits.

Delays implementation of the Medicaid per capita caps for Alaska and Hawaii for years in which the policy would reduce their funding below what they would have received in 2020 plus CPI-M [Consumer Price Index for Medical Care].

Provides for an increased federal Medicaid matching rate (FMAP) for both Alaska and Hawaii."

The changes aren't final, and it remains to be seen whether they'll be enough to win Murkowski's vote.

Who knows if she'll vote for it, but Republicans are willing to let Alaska (and Hawaii) keep Obamacare and avoid massive Medicaid cuts just to get one vote.

So why isn't that good enough for everyone else in America, you ask?

Good question.

That's Some Funny-Looking Economic Anxiety You Got There

We've now reached the point where in the Trump era here in the Tri-State, the coal jobs are never coming back, but the white supremacists are coming in.

A burly young man pulls into the parking lot of a Walmart on a weekday afternoon. He leans out the window of his beat-up white sedan and grins. 
“Ya’ll looking for some neo-Nazis?” 
Meet Matthew Heimbach, the white nationalist who has set up shop in this small town an hour northwest of Louisville. From Paoli, he controls the Traditionalist Worker Party, a small but growing white nationalist organization. 
In the last few years, Heimbach, 26, has emerged as a leader for the “alt-right,” a movement that espouses racist, anti-semitic and nationalist ideologies. He has played a key role in uniting the fractious movement, an effort that coalesced with the deadly rally last month in Charlottesville, Va. 
“Heimbach is a well-known figure in the white supremacist community,” said Marilyn Mayo, who tracks hate groups for the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. “He bridges the gap between what I call the academic racists and the hard-core neo-Nazis.”

The Traditionalist Worker Party is a white-rights advocacy group that is anti-capitalist, anti-semitic and anti-diversity. The group’s ultimate goal is the creation of an all-white ethno-state that people of other races would need a visa to visit.

Young Matt here wants an apartheid state.  Charming guy, he just wants to kick me out of where I live because I'm black.  No big deal.

Heimbach’s plan to appeal to white working-class voters focuses less on Confederate statues and rallies, and more on grassroots community organizing. He said the Traditionalist Worker Party plans to start health clinics, support small businesses, combat food insecurity and work with those affected by the opioid crisis in under-served communities. 
That recruitment approach, Heimbach said, is modeled after “Hamas, Hezbollah, (and) traditionally, the Irish Republican movement.” 
The U.S. State Department considers those groups terrorist organizations. They have used bombings, assassinations and violent uprisings to advance their nationalist goals in Palestine, Lebanon and Ireland, respectively. They also have gained local influence by offering community services, building schools and providing food to families.
The community building is the part Heimbach hopes to emulate. 
“When the system is unable or unwilling to fulfill the needs of the community, the nationalists step up,” he said. 
Heimbach’s group held a canned food drive before the Pikeville rally. He said a few members in Texas helped out with Hurricane Harvey relief. Beyond that, though, the group hasn’t built any social service infrastructure. 
The Traditionalist Worker Party bills itself as nonviolent, except when provoked. Heimbach recently pleaded guilty to shoving a protester at a March 2017 Trump rally in Louisville, and the group has been involved in rallies that turned violent. 
The terrorists groups cited by Heimbach also legitimized themselves by winning elections. In 2016, the Traditionalist Worker Party endorsed a candidate in a Tennessee congressional race. Rick Tyler’s “Make America White Again” campaign garnered only 1.9 percent of the vote. In Heimbach’s version of events, he recalled it being closer to 5 percent. 

Worked for Sinn Fein, worked for Hamas, worked for Golden Dawn in Greece, why not the TWP?

“If we can go from 5 percent of the vote and in the next election cycle get 9 percent of the vote and then 12 percent of the vote, that’s the snowball starting to go down the mountain,” he said. 
He said he has lined up Traditionalist Worker Party candidates to run in 2018 for an Indiana county council seat and several local, nonpartisan races in Texas, North Carolina and Tennessee. 
Voters won’t hear claims of “Make America White Again” or see TWP logos on any campaign mailers. Instead, they’re likely to hear Heimbach catchphrases like “securing a future for our children,” “advocating for the silent majority” or appeals to “those left behind by globalism.” No one will use the word “white.” 
Heimbach said TWP doesn’t shy away from discussing race, but candidates are looking to avoid what he calls the “media firestorm of voting TWP.” 
“I think in 2018 we’re going to win at least several of these races and it’s not going to be a big media spectacle, because they’re not having to identify with a party, they just identify with their ideas,” said Heimbach.

They just have to identify with the idea of white supremacy.  Considering the majority of white voters already do (hi Trump!) they can probably get that 3, 6, 12% down to road.  How that will affect the Republican Party is anyone's guess.

But hey,  if they can make the trains run on time, right?

Russian To Judgment, Con't

We're apparently not waiting until Fridays anymore for the news dumps on Trump/Russia anymore, and Tuesday afternoon was a big one.  First up, confirmation that Team Mueller definitely has the White House square in the crosshairs.

Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, has asked the White House for documents about some of President Trump’s most scrutinized actions since taking office, including the firing of his national security adviser and F.B.I. director, according to White House officials. 
Mr. Mueller is also interested in an Oval Office meeting Mr. Trump had with Russian officials in which he said the dismissal of the F.B.I. director had relieved “great pressure” on him.

Why yes, Mueller is going after Trump for obstruction of justice.  And there's a lot of obstruction there to bust through.

The document requests provide the most details to date about the breadth of Mr. Mueller’s investigation, and show that several aspects of his inquiry are focused squarely on Mr. Trump’s behavior in the White House. 
In recent weeks, Mr. Mueller’s office sent a document to the White House that detailed 13 different areas that investigators want more information about. Since then, administration lawyers have been scouring White House emails and asking officials whether they have other documents or notes that may pertain to Mr. Mueller’s requests.
One of the requests is about a meeting Mr. Trump had in May with Russian officials in the Oval Office the day after James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, was fired. That day, Mr. Trump met with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, and the Russian ambassador to the United States at the time, Sergey I. Kislyak, along with other Russian officials. The New York Times reported that in the meeting Mr. Trump had said that firing Mr. Comey relieved “great pressure” on him. 
Mr. Mueller has also requested documents about the circumstances of the firing of Michael T. Flynn, who was Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser. Additionally, the special counsel has asked for documents about how the White House responded to questions from The Times about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. That meeting was set up by Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, to get derogatory information from Russians about Hillary Clinton.

Let me repeat this for the folks in the cheap seats: Trump is definitely a target in this investigation. There are three aspects here, the Russia money laundering, the Russian interference with the election, and the obstruction of justice to cover those first two up.  Kushner and the Trump kids (Eric and Don Jr.) are neck deep in the first, Flynn and Manafort are neck deep in the second, and Trump himself is neck deep in the third.  On top of that, there's a significant chance that all of these clowns are involved in all three aspects, and that Pence was brought in and up to speed on the last two.

And speaking of Manafort, there should be zero doubt now that he was a Russian asset

Less than two weeks before Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination, his campaign chairman offered to provide briefings on the race to a Russian billionaire closely aligned with the Kremlin, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Paul Manafort made the offer in an email to an overseas intermediary, asking that a message be sent to Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum magnate with whom Manafort had done business in the past, these people said.

“If he needs private briefings we can accommodate,” Manafort wrote in the July 7, 2016, email, portions of which were read to The Washington Post along with other Manafort correspondence from that time.

The emails are among tens of thousands of documents that have been turned over to congressional investigators and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team as they probe whether Trump associates coordinated with Russia as part of Moscow’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election.

There is no evidence in the documents showing that Deripaska received Manafort’s offer or that any briefings took place. And a spokeswoman for Deripaska dismissed the email ex­changes as scheming by “consultants in the notorious ‘beltway bandit’ industry.”

Nonetheless, investigators believe that the exchanges, which reflect Manafort’s willingness to profit from his prominent role alongside Trump, created a potential opening for Russian interests at the highest level of a U.S. presidential campaign, according to people familiar with the probe.

Several of the ex­changes, which took place between Manafort and a Kiev-based employee of his international political consulting practice, focused on money that Manafort believed he was owed by Eastern European clients.

The notes appear to be written in deliberately vague terms, with Manafort and his employee, Konstantin Kilimnik, never explicitly mentioning Deripaska by name.

Investigators believe that key passages refer to Deripaska. The billionaire is referenced in some places by his initials, “OVD,” and one email invokes an expensive Russian delicacy in what investigators believe is a veiled reference to Manafort’s past work with Deripaska.

Deripaska is bad news, by the way.  Had him flagged all the way back in August 2016 when it became clear that Manafort was on his way out.  He's arguably one of the most powerful members of Putin's circle of oligarchs, and he hired Manafort before.  In fact, Manafort's business dealings with Deripaska go all the way back to 2006, which if you'll recall is also the date when Mueller's investigation of Manafort stretches back to.

But yeah, at this point we've got to be getting close to the point where Mueller makes his recommendations about possible charges, "close" being "later this year" in this case.  We'll see.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Return Of The Revenge Of The Son Of Trumpcare, Con't

The Graham-Cassidy GOP Trumpcare But Worse legislation being rushed through the Senate right now that will effectively end not only the ACA but Medicaid as well, is, as Scott Lemieux points out, old-school perfidious "states' rights" garbage.

Essentially, Republicans are claiming that many people lack access to affordable healthcare because federal politicians haven’t been creative enough, and allowing the states to experiment will solve the problem. 
But this is abject nonsense. The politics of healthcare reform in America are difficult because powerful actors have a vested interest in an inefficient and inequitable status quo. But the policy question is not difficult. Under a market system, many people cannot afford access to basic medical care, and all but the most affluent cannot afford expensive treatment for a serious illness. To get needy people access to healthcare requires some combination of public expenditure and cross-subsidization of the sick by the healthy. (During his brief “Kimmel” phase, Cassidy understood this.) 
Though the ACA did not go far enough, it used tighter regulation and more generous subsidies to provide access to tens of millions of people. Cassidy-Graham would destroy this progress. States are no more likely to find a way to provide effective coverage to more people with less money and fewer rules than they are to discover a formula to convert urine into fine Cabernet Sauvignon. It can’t be done. 
Supporters of universal healthcare in California and other states that have used the ACA to cover as many people as possible might be tempted to find a silver lining here. Couldn’t states use the increased flexibility to create a single-payer system? Almost certainly not, because the block grants aren’t generous enough. As Sarah Kliff of Vox observes, states such as California and New York would have to spend a lot more money just to retain the coverage levels of the ACA. The “flexibility” offered by Cassidy-Graham is a ruse — it would make it easy for states to cover fewer people but exceptionally difficult for states to cover more people.

And Republicans are selling this as "giving power to the states" just like reactionaries did with, you know, slavery. Jim Crow, and interracial marriage.  It's weird then that so many Republican governors are against the legislation because they understand they're going to get screwed by it.

Understand that Graham-Cassidy is there for two reasons: to destroy President Obama's signature achievement by erasing him from the history books, and to brutally punish those who voted for him so that we never dare raise our voices, our hands, or our votes against the GOP ever again, and remember, the GOP doesn't get paid until they do it.

There's a significant chance that both will be successful results of this bill becoming law.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

Two more developments in Trump/Russia over the last day or so, first, Robert Mueller's office has interviewed the man who appointed Mueller to the office of special counsel to begin with, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, about Rosenstein's role in the firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office interviewed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein over the summer about his role in President Donald Trump's firing of former FBI Director James Comey, according to a person familiar with the matter. 
The questioning by investigators of the top DOJ official overseeing the probe is a rare occurrence, but the source said that Rosenstein has no plans to immediately recuse himself, an indication Mueller's office does not view him as a key witness in the obstruction of justice probe. 
Rosenstein wrote a memo detailing his concerns about Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton email server investigation that the White House initially cited as the reason for firing Comey. 
Ian Prior, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said in a statement, "As the deputy attorney general has said numerous times, if there comes a time when he needs to recuse, he will. However, nothing has changed."

Whether or not Rosenstein does need to recuse himself is a battle that will probably come later, but for now I would think that while the Comey firing is definitely a source of possible obstruction of justice charges, I don't think Rosenstein is the target.

But there may be some new wrinkles in what Mueller can go after if this story from Reuters is true.

U.S. President Donald Trump is using money donated to his re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee to pay for his lawyers in the probe of alleged Russian interference in the U.S. election, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Following Reuters exclusive report on Tuesday, CNN reported that the Republican National Committee paid in August more than $230,000 to cover some of Trump's legal fees related to the probe.

RNC spokesperson Cassie Smedile confirmed to Reuters that Trump's lead lawyer, John Dowd, received $100,000 from the RNC and that the RNC also paid $131,250 to the Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group, the law firm where Jay Sekulow, another of Trump's lawyers, is a partner.

The RNC is scheduled to disclose its August spending on Wednesday. The Trump campaign is due for a disclosure on Oct. 15.

The U.S. Federal Election Commission allows the use of private campaign funds to pay legal bills arising from being a candidate or elected official.

While previous presidential campaigns have used these funds to pay for routine legal matters such as ballot access disputes and compliance requirements, Trump would be the first U.S. president in the modern campaign finance era to use such funds to cover the costs of responding to a criminal probe, said election law experts.

Smedile said the RNC payments to Trump's lawyers were "from a pre-existing legal proceedings account and do not reduce by a dime the resources we can put towards our political work."

It was not clear how Trump's legal costs related to the Russia probe would be allocated between the campaign and the RNC, one of the sources said.

Dowd declined to say how the president's legal bills were being paid, adding: "That's none of your business."

If that money was donated by any Russians connected to this case, things could get real interesting fast on that front.  Remember that Mueller is definitely focusing on the money aspect of Trump/Russia, so Trump using the RNC to pay his legal bills, especially if the lawyers themselves may be connected to anything criminal Trump may have done, may be another avenue for Mueller to explore.  Yes, it's legal to use the money to pay for legal fees, but if the money came from illegal sources, well, that's another mess for Trump.

Stay tuned, kids.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Last Call For The State(s) Of Fake News

Why should the Trump Regime, Fox News, the Russians and Sinclair Broadcast Group have all the fun with fake news and propaganda when Republican governors want to benefit from it too? The solution if you're the Republican Governors Association? Make your own propaganda news outlet, of course.

Republican governors are getting into the “news” business.

The Republican Governors Association has quietly launched an online publication that looks like a media outlet and is branded as such on social media. The Free Telegraph blares headlines about the virtues of GOP governors, while framing Democrats negatively. It asks readers to sign up for breaking news alerts. It launched in the summer bearing no acknowledgement that it was a product of an official party committee whose sole purpose is to get more Republicans elected.

Only after The Associated Press inquired about the site last week was a disclosure added to The Free Telegraph’s pages identifying the publication’s partisan source.

The governors association describes the website as routine political communication. Critics, including some Republicans, say it pushes the limits of honest campaign tactics in an era of increasingly partisan media and a proliferation of “fake news” sites, including those whose material became part of an apparent Russian propaganda effort during the 2016 presidential campaign.

It’s propaganda for sure, even if they have objective standards and all the reporting is 100 percent accurate,” said Republican communications veteran Rick Tyler, whose resume includes Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign.

The website was registered July 7 through Domains By Proxy, a company that allows the originators of a website to shield their identities. An AP search did not find any corporate, Federal Election Commission or IRS filings establishing The Free Telegraph as an independent entity.

As of early Monday afternoon, The Free Telegraph’s Twitter account and Facebook page still had no obvious identifiers tying the site to RGA. The site described itself on Twitter as “bringing you the political news that matters outside of Washington.” The Facebook account labeled The Free Telegraph a “Media/News Company.” That’s a contrast to the RGA’s Facebook page, which is clearly disclosed as belonging to a “Political Organization,” as is the account of its counterpart, the Democratic Governors Association.

RGA Chairman Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, deferred questions through a spokesman to the group’s national staff. At RGA, spokesman Jon Thompson said the site is “just another outlet to share those positive results” of the GOP’s 34 Republican governors.

And remember, this site had been in operation for months before any actual news outlet had bothered to check out its credentials, even given our current climate of proraganda saturation bombing.

But that's how Republicans roll. Everything is a possible outlet for more pro-Republican, anti-Democratic party manipulation.

Hey, they learned from the best, right Donny?

The Trump Doctrine, World Tour '17 Edition

Donald Trump's speech at the UN today was just as idiotically belligerent and mind-numbingly awful as I expected it to be, if not worse as he openly threatened the genocide of North Korea in front of an audience of world leaders.

President Donald Trump condemned authoritarian regimes in harsh and Trumpian terms during his first United Nations speech, lashing out at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man,” lamenting Iran’s "pursuit of death and destruction,” and warning that major portions of the world are “going to hell.” 
The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” Trump said Tuesday in a major address before the U.N. General Assembly. “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”

The president insisted that the U.S. is “ready, willing and able” but cautioned that “hopefully this will not be necessary.” 
“That’s what the United Nations is all about. That’s what the United Nations is for,” he said. “Let’s see how they do. It is time for North Korea to realize that the denuclearization is its only acceptable future.” 
Trump also singled out Iran as he called on “the righteous many” to “confront the wicked few” to prevent “evil” from prevailing. 
“It is far past time for the nations of the world to confront another reckless regime, one that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing death to America, destruction to Israel and ruin for many leaders and nations in this room,” Trump said. “The Iranian government masks a corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy.”

If the leaders of the world's countries somehow weren't convinced that America is now the most dangerous rogue nation on earth before, this speech sealed the deal.  We're under control of a madman with a nuclear arsenal that can wipe out every human on the planet dozens of times over again and he can use them at any time.

Daniel Larison zeroed in on the problem with Trump:

Trump’s speech at the U.N. General Assembly this morning contained a lot of ill-advised and dangerous remarks, but this one stood out:

If the righteous many don’t confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph. 
U.S. foreign policy already suffers from far too much self-congratulation and excessive confidence in our own righteousness, so it was alarming to hear Trump speak in such stark, fanatical terms about international affairs. Paired with his confrontational rhetoric directed towards North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, and Syria, Trump’s choice to cast these states as the “wicked few” portends more aggressive and meddlesome policies and gives the leaders of all of these governments reason to assume the worst about our intentions. It was similar to Bush’s foolish “axis of evil” remarks in 2002. The statement itself is also rather odd in that it talks about the many being righteous, when religious texts normally present the righteous as being the relatively few and embattled against the wicked multitude. If the “wicked” are so few, they must be badly outnumbered and don’t pose as much of a threat as Trump claims elsewhere. It also strains credulity that Trump speaks on behalf of righteousness when he embraces so many abusive despots and enables Saudi-led coalition crimes in Yemen. 
Trump declared the nuclear deal an “embarrassment,” which strongly suggests that he won’t agree to recertify the deal when the next deadline comes up in mid-October. He emphasized the importance of sovereignty for the U.S., but in everything else he had to say he showed that he was happy to trample on the sovereignty of other states when it suited him. While his threat to “destroy” North Korea was framed as a defense of the U.S. and allies, it will only make the North Korean government more determined than ever to develop its nuclear arsenal and missiles. He hinted that the U.S. would interfere more in Venezuela, which will almost certainly be used by Maduro and his allies to their advantage.

In 2017, America is a founding member of the "wicked few".  The rest of the world will not tolerate us for long should we end up in wars with Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela as we are in Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen now.

By the way, note who did not receive any criticism whatsoever from Trump:  Russia.  A country we know who tried to influence our elections and possibly a lot more, and Trump gave them a pass because of course he did, he's using Putin's rhetoric now in public.

Sovereignty is not a point prior American presidents have pressed. When global leaders invoke sovereignty, they usually mean that no one possesses the right to oppose what they unleash within their borders. American presidents typically tailor their speeches at the UN to counterbalance a due respect for national sovereignty with calls for collective action against genocide, terrorism, disease, poverty, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

But now, Putin finally has an American president who considers national sovereignty as the end of the discussion, or at least in the cases where it serves their purposes. Trump’s call for a “respect for law, a respect for borders, a respect for culture” sounds unobjectionable – until it becomes clear that Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea will enjoy no such respect from Washington for their own sovereignty. Much as Putin said in 2015 that Russia recognizes “the fact that we can no longer tolerate the current state of affairs in the world,” Trump’s conception of sovereignty is inevitably reserves the U.S. the right to impose its will.

But the question remains: what will happen when the rest of the world decides something needs to be done about us?

I'm pretty sure that day is coming if we don't find a way to rein Trump in.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

We now have a lot more on the Paul Manafort FBI raid from July, and as you can imagine Trump's former campaign manager getting a no-knock lockpick special during breakfast, it's pretty amazing stuff.

Paul J. Manafort was in bed early one morning in July when federal agents bearing a search warrant picked the lock on his front door and raided his Virginia home. They took binders stuffed with documents and copied his computer files, looking for evidence that Mr. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, set up secret offshore bank accounts. They even photographed the expensive suits in his closet.

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, then followed the house search with a warning: His prosecutors told Mr. Manafort they planned to indict him, said two people close to the investigation.

The moves against Mr. Manafort are just a glimpse of the aggressive tactics used by Mr. Mueller and his team of prosecutors in the four months since taking over the Justice Department’s investigation into Russia’s attempts to disrupt last year’s election, according to lawyers, witnesses and American officials who have described the approach. Dispensing with the plodding pace typical of many white-collar investigations, Mr. Mueller’s team has used what some describe as shock-and-awe tactics to intimidate witnesses and potential targets of the inquiry.

Mr. Mueller has obtained a flurry of subpoenas to compel witnesses to testify before a grand jury, lawyers and witnesses say, sometimes before his prosecutors have taken the customary first step of interviewing them. One witness was called before the grand jury less than a month after his name surfaced in news accounts. The special counsel even took the unusual step of obtaining a subpoena for one of Mr. Manafort’s former lawyers, claiming an exception to the rule that shields attorney-client discussions from scrutiny.

“They are setting a tone. It’s important early on to strike terror in the hearts of people in Washington, or else you will be rolled,” said Solomon L. Wisenberg, who was deputy independent counsel in the investigation that led to the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999. “You want people saying to themselves, ‘Man, I had better tell these guys the truth.’”

A spokesman for Mr. Mueller declined to comment. Lawyers and a spokesman for Mr. Manafort also declined to comment. 

And if there was somehow any doubt at all that Manafort is rolling over on the boss because of that threat of an indictment, well it may not be just a threat as CNN follows up:

US investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the election, sources tell CNN, an extraordinary step involving a high-ranking campaign official now at the center of the Russia meddling probe. 
The government snooping continued into early this year, including a period when Manafort was known to talk to President Donald Trump
Some of the intelligence collected includes communications that sparked concerns among investigators that Manafort had encouraged the Russians to help with the campaign, according to three sources familiar with the investigation. Two of these sources, however, cautioned that the evidence is not conclusive. 
Special counsel Robert Mueller's team, which is leading the investigation into Russia's involvement in the election, has been provided details of these communications. 
A secret order authorized by the court that handles the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) began after Manafort became the subject of an FBI investigation that began in 2014. It centered on work done by a group of Washington consulting firms for Ukraine's former ruling party, the sources told CNN. 

Manafort's long been the center of Mueller's investigation, and while we've long suspected he was facing an involuntary stay in decidedly substandard federal housing, we now have confirmation that Mueller knows everything, even if somehow Manafort isn't rolling over.

There is a big caveat on that CNN leak story though, as the team at Lawfare blog reveals:

The CNN story is a different matter. The story discloses FISA wiretaps against a named U.S. person. Whatever Paul Manafort may have done, he is a citizen of this country, and this is an egregious civil liberties violation. It’s also a significant compromise of national security information. Simply put, FISA information should never leak. When it does, it erodes the systems through which the government protects national security—and it rightly erodes public confidence that the systems designed to protect civil liberties work as intended.

Political leaking of wiretapping information is the stuff of the Hoover era. It has no legitimate place in our politics.

That's a fair point to make, and something to keep in mind.  Leaking existence of a FISA warrant against a specific US person is a huge, huge deal, guys.

Still, I'm betting Trump is pissing himself tonight.  He knows that he's in real trouble.  This is the point in the chess match where the midgame is being fought and Trump's side just lost a rook, two knights and bishop, and Mueller maybe sacrificed a pawn or two, and that's because at this point we have to assume that Robert Mueller has Donald Trump's tax returns as part of his investigation.

In fact, people familiar with the type of investigation that Mueller is now running signal the near-certainty that Mueller has access to the president's tax returns. The purpose would be to use the tax returns as a road map to investigate potential Russian financial influence within Trump Organization limited liability companies.

"I believe Mueller has already obtained tax returns in the Russia investigation," Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor in the Securities and Commodities Fraud Section of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago, said on Twitter on Aug. 10. He later wrote in The Hill he often used tax returns in his own federal investigations, and that it is almost a necessity in an investigation like Mueller's. It's also done without knowledge of the subjects of the investigation.

"A federal prosecutor obtains tax returns by seeking an ex parte order from a federal judge. That means that the person who is being investigated doesn't know that the tax returns are being sought or if the judge issues the order," he said. "Basically, it's done in secret."

Mariotti also said that "the July FBI raid at the home of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort tells us a great deal about the status of … Mueller's investigation."

Before taking "an aggressive, public action" like having the FBI search a subject's home, Mariotti wrote, a "typical step" federal prosecutors take in white-collar investigations is obtaining tax returns.

"A prosecutor would first take steps that can be done covertly, without the subject knowing, to gather evidence that can serve as the basis for more aggressive actions like search warrants," he wrote. "I worked with federal prosecutors who obtained tax returns in every single white-collar investigation they worked on."

Mariotti also said it ordinarily would require a senior Justice Department official to sign off on a request to the IRS for tax returns in a non-tax federal investigation. But, in this case, Mueller already has that authority.

"Mueller has authority to do so because the statute permits 'United States attorneys' to obtain tax returns and he has the power of a 'United States attorney' pursuant to the special counsel regulations," he wrote, noting that "even the tax return of someone other than Manafort" could be helpful to Mueller, and that "he could have tax return information for many individuals."

A lot of people in the White House are suddenly wondering if it's too late to talk to Mueller.  It probably is, all the good deals I'm betting are taken.  What remains, well.

We'll see.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Last Call For The Man Who Saved The World

We come to pay respects tonight to Stanislav Petrov, a Russian man who died in May, and if you don't know the name, the fact you're breathing non-irradiated air is thanks to him.

Early on the morning of Sept. 26, 1983, Stanislav Petrov helped prevent the outbreak of nuclear war. 
A 44-year-old lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defense Forces, he had begun his shift as the duty officer at Serpukhov-15, the secret command center outside Moscow where the Soviet military monitored its early-warning satellites over the United States, when alarms went off. 
Computers warned that five Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles had been launched from an American base. 
“For 15 seconds, we were in a state of shock,” he later recalled. “We needed to understand, ‘What’s next?’ ” 
The alarm sounded during one of the tensest periods in the Cold War. Three weeks earlier, the Soviets had shot down a Korean Air Lines commercial flight after it crossed into Soviet airspace, killing all 269 people on board, including a congressman from Georgia. President Ronald Reagan had rejected calls for freezing the arms race, declaring the Soviet Union an “evil empire.” The Soviet leader, Yuri V. Andropov, was obsessed by fears of an American attack. 
Colonel Petrov was at a pivotal point in the decision-making chain. His superiors at the warning-system headquarters reported to the general staff of the Soviet military, which would consult with Mr. Andropov on launching a retaliatory attack.

After five nerve-racking minutes — electronic maps and screens were flashing as he held a phone in one hand and an intercom in the other, trying to absorb streams of incoming information — Colonel Petrov decided that the launch reports were probably a false alarm. 
As he later explained, it was a gut decision, at best a “50-50” guess, based on his distrust of the early-warning system and the relative paucity of missiles that were launched. 
Colonel Petrov died at 77 on May 19 in Fryazino, a Moscow suburb, where he lived alone on a pension. The death was not widely reported at the time. It was confirmed by his son, Dmitri, according to Karl Schumacher, a political activist who, after learning in 1998 of Colonel Petrov’s Cold War role, traveled to Russia to meet him and remained a friend. The cause was hypostatic pneumonia.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why we're not living in a nuclear wasteland.

Well, not yet, anyway.

Thank you for making the right call, Colonel Petrov.  Nazhderovye.

I (Don't) Want My Trump TV

If you still think FOX News is the center of Trump regime propaganda these days, it's not.  Your local Sinclair Broadcasting network affiliate is, and America's trusted neighborhood news outlets are now in the business of playing pro-Trump messages several times a week, including "Terror Alert" broadcasts that are manipulating people through fear in places like Provicence, RI.

The company that owns WJAR-TV is mandating the broadcast of multiple programs favorable to President Donald Trump on the state’s most-watched television station. 
Sinclair Broadcast Group, a rapidly growing media company that bought Channel 10 in 2014, produces “must-run” segments and distributes them to its local stations nationwide. They must air during daily news programming, Sinclair executives said. 
Sinclair is poised to become the nation’s largest owner of TV stations and, with its recent hire of former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn, viewers can expect to see more of the chain’s political programming. 
The practice, which has infused a political flavor into the 68-year-old WJAR’s broadcasts, started quietly there at least a year ago. 
Three of the segments have rattled viewers and WJAR’s own news reporters, according to Fletcher Fischer, the business manager and financial secretary of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1228, the union that represents broadcast workers there: 
‒ The Terrorism Alert Desk, advertised as a daily news update about terrorist activity. 
‒ News pieces from Epshteyn, Sinclair’s chief political analyst. 
‒ A clearly labeled opinion show featuring Mark Hyman, a former vice president of the company. 
These pieces are fed to Sinclair’s 174 stations in the United States every day.

Sinclair’s insertion of the segments into news programming has been harshly critiqued by Rhode Islanders and national commentators. 
Gloria Crist, a 54-year-old actress from Tiverton, says she’s stopped watching the station.
Rep. David N. Cicilline condemned the practice, saying: “Rhode Islanders rely on our local news being produced in Rhode Island, not directed by a national conglomerate for local broadcasters to deliver.” 
Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote, “What Fox News is for cable, Sinclair could become for broadcast: programming with a soup├žon — or more — of conservative spin.” 
And HBO’s John Oliver dedicated a show to what he calls Sinclair’s corporate propaganda. 
But Sinclair says it’s providing national commentary to “free up” reporters “to create more local news, which we considered to be squarely in the public interest.”

All while screaming about the "liberal media".

Sinclair mandating what news local stations have to broadcast should disturb the hell out of everyone but if you think Republicans are going to do anything about it, you're mad.   Some of the nation's largest local stations are running fake "terror alerts" daily, and believe me, people you know are watching.

Here in Cincinnati, Sinclair owns the CBS and the CW affiliates and the ABC and FOX affiliates in Dayton, as well as the ABC, CBS and CW affiliates in Columbus.  If the additional affiliates are approved, they'd have stations in Louisville and Lexington too.

And considering Sinclair is launching a "national investigative news team" to create these right-wing news segments to be played on nearly 225 stations daily, if you think the Democrats being able to get their message out was tough before, wait until two-thirds of the country is inundated by Sinclair's garbage for four years.

Russian To Judgment

I'm not a lawyer (IANAL as the Balloon Juice crew would say) but I gotta say that the first rule of being a White House lawyer when the boss is under federal investigation is "maybe you shouldn't get into lunchtime shouting matches about legal strategy with coworkers in public places where reporters from the New York Times can overhear."

President Trump’s legal team is wrestling with how much to cooperate with the special counsel looking into Russian election interference, an internal debate that led to an angry confrontation last week between two White House lawyers and that could shape the course of the investigation.

At the heart of the clash is an issue that has challenged multiple presidents during high-stakes Washington investigations: how to handle the demands of investigators without surrendering the institutional prerogatives of the office of the presidency. Similar conflicts during the Watergate and Monica S. Lewinsky scandals resulted in court rulings that limited a president’s right to confidentiality.

The debate in Mr. Trump’s West Wing has pitted Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, against Ty Cobb, a lawyer brought in to manage the response to the investigation. Mr. Cobb has argued for turning over as many of the emails and documents requested by the special counsel as possible in hopes of quickly ending the investigation — or at least its focus on Mr. Trump.

Mr. McGahn supports cooperation, but has expressed worry about setting a precedent that would weaken the White House long after Mr. Trump’s tenure is over. He is described as particularly concerned about whether the president will invoke executive or attorney-client privilege to limit how forthcoming Mr. McGahn could be if he himself is interviewed by the special counsel as requested.

When you understand that Cobb's job is to make sure that he's in it for saving Trump's ass and everyone else is expendable (including White House Counsel McGahn) you can see why things might be a little tense about Trump essentially ratting out his own people in order to try to save himself.

The Mango Mussolini ain't loyal.

The friction escalated in recent days after Mr. Cobb was overheard by a reporter for The New York Times discussing the dispute during a lunchtime conversation at a popular Washington steakhouse. Mr. Cobb was heard talking about a White House lawyer he deemed “a McGahn spy” and saying Mr. McGahn had “a couple documents locked in a safe” that he seemed to suggest he wanted access to. He also mentioned a colleague whom he blamed for “some of these earlier leaks,” and who he said “tried to push Jared out,” meaning Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, who has been a previous source of dispute for the legal team.

Oops.   Maybe not so loud next time, guys.

After The Times contacted the White House about the situation, Mr. McGahn privately erupted at Mr. Cobb, according to people informed about the confrontation who asked not to be named describing internal matters. John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, sharply reprimanded Mr. Cobb for his indiscretion, the people said.

Mr. Cobb sought to defuse the conflict in an interview over the weekend, praising Mr. McGahn as a superb lawyer. “He has been very helpful to me, and whenever we have differences of opinion, we have been able to work them out professionally and reach consensus,” Mr. Cobb said. “We have different roles. He has a much fuller plate. But we’re both devoted to this White House and getting as much done on behalf of the presidency as possible.”

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, is investigating connections between Russia and Mr. Trump and his associates, including whether they conspired to influence last year’s election. Mr. Mueller is also looking into whether Mr. Trump’s decision to fire James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director initially leading the investigation, constitutes obstruction of justice. He has asked the White House for emails and documents related to these matters, and Mr. Cobb has organized the requests into 13 categories, but officials would not describe them in more detail. So far, officials said the White House has not turned down any request.

Mr. Trump’s aides said they were scrambling to respond to the requests to avoid a subpoena that might make it look as if the White House was not cooperating. Mr. Cobb hoped to turn over a trove of documents this week, according to people close to the legal team.

Mr. Cobb argues that the best strategy is to be as forthcoming as possible, even erring on the side of inclusion when it comes to producing documents, because he maintains the evidence will show Mr. Trump did nothing wrong. Mr. McGahn has told colleagues that he is concerned that Mr. Cobb’s liberal approach could limit any later assertion of executive privilege. He has also blamed Mr. Cobb for the slow collection of documents.

Complicating the situation is that Mr. McGahn himself is a likely witness. Mr. Mueller wants to interview him about Mr. Comey’s dismissal and the White House’s handling of questions about a June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer said to be offering incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.

Mr. McGahn is willing to meet with investigators and answer questions, but his lawyer, Bill Burck, has asked Mr. Cobb to tell him whether the president wants to assert either attorney-client or executive privilege, according to lawyers close to the case. Mr. McGahn could face legal jeopardy or lose his law license should he run afoul of rules governing which communications he can divulge. He did not respond to requests for comment.

If Cobb gives up McGahn and everyone else, they can't invoke executive privilege later and get out of the trap.  And given Trump's long, long history of screwing his employees whenever it becomes slightly inconvenient for him personally, if I were Don McGahn I'd strongly consider rolling over on Trump before I ended up with a very long federal prison sentence.

After all, if everyone's innocent, McGahn should be taking Cobb's view.  The fact that Mueller is deep into grand jury proceedings and subpoenas, and with tomorrow's testimony by Trump business partner Michael Cohen in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee ready to happen, the clock for "giving up Trump to save yourself" may be running out.

And McGahn knows it.


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