Archive for February 14th, 2017
And by the way, I shouldn’t miss this chance to flog my favorite hobbyhorse again: FBI Director James Comey, who knew all about this, pushed hard not to make it public during the campaign. Instead he considered it more important to inform Congress that he had discovered additional copies of Hillary Clinton’s emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop. Priorities.
And as Drum says,
Just to make this clear: At the same time that Russian intelligence was hacking various email accounts in order to sabotage Hillary Clinton, multiple members of the Trump team had repeated phone calls with senior Russian intelligence officials. And during this entire time, Trump himself was endorsing a foreign policy that appeared almost as if it had been dictated to him by Vladimir Putin.
This is a strong statement, and in my opinion it is also a national emergency. But will Congress act? (See previous post.)
I predicted some time back that Trump would be out of office before March.
In early January, House Speaker Paul Ryan met on the issue of tax reform with a delegation from the president-elect. Attending were future chief strategist and senior counselor Stephen K. Bannon, future chief of staff Reince Priebus, future senior adviser Jared Kushner, future counselor Kellyanne Conway and future senior policy adviser Stephen Miller. As the meeting began, Ryan pointedly asked, “Who’s in charge?”
Simon Maloy’s piece begins:
White House press secretary Sean Spicer stood up before the Washington press corps on Tuesday and told several lies to cover up President Donald Trump’s lies about the scandal surrounding now ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn. These lies are important, and they make it clear that the White House’s official story of how the administration handled Flynn’s falsehoods about his contacts with the Russian government does not make sense.
One of the critical questions swirling around this scandal has been when exactly Trump learned that his national security adviser had discussed the Obama administration’s sanctions on Russia during a Dec. 29 phone conversation with the Russian ambassador to the United States. The only comment Trump has made on the issue came on Feb. 10, the day after The Washington Post reported that Flynn had indeed discussed the sanctions with the Russian ambassador and had falsely denied ever having done so. A reporter aboard Air Force One asked the president, “What do you make of reports that Gen. Flynn had conversations with the Russians about sanctions before you were sworn in?” Trump pleaded ignorance: “I don’t know about it. I haven’t seen it. What report is that?”
At today’s press briefing, Spicer revealed that this wasn’t true. “Immediately after the Department of Justice notified the White House counsel of the situation” in late January, Spicer said, “the White House counsel briefed the president and a small group of his senior advisers.” So Trump, by his spokesman’s account, knew about Flynn’s lies for several weeks and then, shall we say, misled reporters when asked about it.
When Major Garrett of CBS News asked Spicer at Tuesday’s press briefing if Trump had been “truthful,” Spicer tried to argue that Trump had not lied at all. The president, Spicer insisted, had been asked “specifically” about The Washington Post story and replied that “he hadn’t seen that at the time.” As the video and transcript of Trump’s interaction with the press demonstrate, that was another lie: Trump was asked about “reports” in general, said he didn’t know anything and was then told by a reporter that The Washington Post had reported on it.
So now we know, by the White House’s own account, that Trump has known since late January that his national security adviser lied to him, lied to the vice president and lied to pretty much everyone about his contacts with Russia. According to Spicer, the period between then and yesterday evening was spent “trying to ascertain the truth” about what Flynn had done and the ultimate result was that “the level of trust between the president and Gen. Flynn had eroded to the point that [Trump] felt he had to make a change.”
That doesn’t make much sense. Let’s review: . . .
An iceberg that threatens the ship of state. I think it must be obvious even to Trump’s followers that Flynn is just a symptom of a much larger problem. Trump picked Flynn, and Flynn is the third of Trump’s close associate that has had to resign because of close relations with Russia: Carter Page and Paul Manafort are the other two.
Trump is picking these men. That’s not good: he doesn’t know how to pick men (though, of course, there’s the interesting possibility that they were picked for him).
And worse: Trump knew all about this Flynn incident for weeks. His administration has said exactly that: we knew about it and we’ve been “working on it” for weeks. Fortunately all that work was able to completed within 24 hours of the Washington Post publishing the story. Coincidence? You be the judge.
The thing is, all of the above is public knowledge: widely reported and well known. So surely some of the Trump supporters must be starting to get a little uncomfortable. These are not subtle things. These are plain bald facts.
More to the point, will the GOP in Congress do anything?
Well, Trump is clearly very thin-skinned and quick to take offense, and when it happens he is extremely vindictive and impulsive. So I imagine their fear is simply much stronger than adherence to their principles (which has always been pretty loose: look at Jason Chaffetz for a great example, a “before-and-after” right in himself, all bark-and-growl at Hillary Clinton, lining up investigations for years to come, but quiet as a mouse with Trump—Chaffetz has more or less explicitly said that he will do nothing to investigate Trump) or to the Constitution. Plus they stand to make a lot of money if they go along because Trump has opened the lobbyist floodgate and by his very example has said, loud and clear, “Conflicts of interest are OK!” Kickbacks are okay now!
Those are pretty strong forces, much stronger (as it turns out) than the Republicans in Congress.
The funds in question would be kickbacks: corruption and extortion as usual. The regulation made that hard since kickback left a paper trail. Now it’s all better (for Tillerson and those he actually represents). Timothy Cama reports in The Hill:
President Trump signed legislation Tuesday to repeal a controversial regulation that would have required energy companies to disclose their payments to foreign governments.
The legislation is the first time in 16 years that the Congressional Review Act (CRA) has been used to repeal a regulation, and only the second time in the two decades that act has been law. It is the third piece of legislationTrump has signed since taking office three weeks ago.
It is the start of one front in an aggressive deregulatory effort that the Trump administration and the GOP Congress are undertaking to roll back Obama-era rules on fossil fuel companies, financial institutions and other businesses that they say have suffered for the last eight years.
The resolution repeals a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rule written under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law.
It was meant to fight corruption in resource-rich countries by mandating that companies on United States stock exchanges disclose the royalties and other payments that oil, natural gas, coal and mineral companies make to governments.
At a signing ceremony in the Oval Office, Trump said the legislation is part of a larger regulatory rollback that he and congressional Republicans are undertaking with the goal of economic and job recovery. . .
For all I know, this is a quid pro quo. Certainly it does Russia no harm, either.
The problem may that tax cuts leading to budget cuts have started to undermine the capability of the police department—it’s under-staffed, under-trained, under-equipped—rather than the police are incompetent. And budgets have been cut. “Work smarter, not harder.” “Do more with less.” “Think outside the box.” And so on: those work only up to a point. Some major police departments may be beyond that point. Or it may be simple incompetence and lack of understanding and current knowledge and best practices. I wonder how much open-sourcing there is among police departments, describing best practices, reforms that worked, reforms that failed and reasons for failure, detecting and corroborating corruption, and so on. Probably there are dozens of big forums devoted exactly to that: professional development and departmental improvement.
David Bernstein writes in Boston magazine:
It’s a Thursday afternoon in Roxbury, and as always the Grove Hall intersection on Blue Hill Avenue is bustling with action. Behind the street-front window of a salon, a young woman gets her hair dyed a bright shade of blue while customers flip through magazines and gossip. Several teenage girls giggle while crossing the street. In front of the wide windows of the Rainbow clothing store, a woman carries a small Minnie Mouse backpack for the toddler walking beside her. Up the road, a trio of rappers—dubbed Real, P-Nice, and Tone Tekk—freestyle back and forth. There is not a single visible sign that in this very spot earlier today, someone yanked out a gun and shot a man in the back.
The shooter was downright brazen, firing his gun in a busy commercial intersection in broad daylight before fleeing. He could afford to be so—whether he knew it or not: Boston police almost never arrest anyone for non-fatal shootings.
It seems obvious that people who commit such a crime—who point a loaded gun at someone and pull the trigger, indifferent to the lives of their intended victim or bystanders—should be arrested, prosecuted, and incarcerated. Few things should be higher on a police department’s priority list. Yet that’s not something the BPD or the district attorney’s office typically do.
During a six-month investigation, Boston obtained police records through a public information request and examined 618 shootings over 994 days, from the start of 2014 through September 20, 2016. The results were staggering: During that time frame, Boston police had arrested fewer than 4 percent of gunmen involved in non-fatal shootings. That means, for instance, that detectives have not arrested anyone for shooting 14-year-old Keira Harrison three times as she watched Fourth of July fireworks on Bower Street this past summer. And police have not captured whoever shot a 15-year-old in South Boston in August, or the person who shot a seven-year-old on Bowdoin Street. In fact, the data revealed that police had not made a single arrest in any of the 19 non-fatal shootings of Boston minors under age 17. (And that was before the October shootings of two-year-old and nine-year-old girls in separate incidents.)
Not that the BPD is doing such a great job of locking up murderers, either: During the same time . . .
Trump’s ties to Putin becoming clearer: Abe says Trump encouraged him to boost ties, dialogue with Putin
The rumor that Putin holds blackmail material that allows him to control Trump seems to be consistent with what Trump is doing. Note this story from The Japan Times:
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday he has earned U.S. President Donald Trump’s backing in seeking closer ties with Russia in a bid to resolve a long-standing territorial row over islands off Hokkaido that Japan wants returned.
“President Trump understands Japan’s (policy) to promote dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin to resolve the territorial issue,” Abe told a TV program after returning from the United States, where he held his first summit with Trump on Friday and Saturday in Washington and Florida.
Trump has adopted a softer stance toward Russia than his predecessor, Barack Obama, who was at odds with Putin over the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.
The Obama administration had been cautious about Abe courting Putin with economic cooperation and even requested that he refrain from visiting Russia at one point, government sources said earlier.
Abe also said that he agreed with Trump on the need to engage in dialogue with Putin to resolve outstanding global issues, including Syria and Ukraine.
At their summit Friday, Abe and Trump confirmed the strength of the bilateral alliance, with Trump affirming that the United States is committed to the defense of Japan, including if the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which are claimed by China, come under attack. . .
Congress really must investigate Russian influence on Trump. You will recall that Flynn is the third Trump surrogate to be forced out because of close ties to Russia. Before him there were Carter Page and Paul Manafort.
Is Russia running Trump? Congress really must investigate. And by a real Congressman, not Jason Chaffetz.
Robert Mackey writes in The Intercept:
Two important questions remain unanswered following the late-night resignation of Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn: What did the president know and when did he know it?
Flynn stepped down on Monday night, days after nine current and former U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials told the Washington Post that there was proof — in the form of intercepted phone calls — that he had lied to the public and to Vice President Mike Pence when he said that he had not discussed new sanctions imposed on Russia for election-related hacking in five conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on December 29 .
But Flynn’s claim in his resignation letter — that he had “inadvertently briefed the vice president-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador” — made no mention of what Trump, at that time the president-elect, knew of the calls.
Looking back at one of Trump’s own tweets, which he posted on December 30 — the day after Flynn secretly urged Russia not to respond to the Obama administration’s new sanctions — makes it hard not to wonder if he knew about his aide’s effort to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin to delay.
Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 30, 2016
Putin’s decision not to respond to the new sanctions reportedly surprised intelligence officials and led them to look more closely at their surveillance of the Russian ambassador’s communications, including his intercepted talks with Flynn. But Trump’s tweet suggests that it might not have surprised him.
Another new revelation — that Trump’s White House was warned late last month by Sally Yates, then the acting attorney general, that Flynn had lied about the content of his talks with the Russian ambassador — seems to suggest that Trump was feigning surprise on Friday when he was asked about reports that his aide had talked about sanctions.
Watch—Trump Fri nite claimed he hadn’t heard about WP story that Flynn talked sanctions. Story was out for a day—and DOJ told WH last month. pic.twitter.com/WOiT10mJOd
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) February 14, 2017
In an appearance on Good Morning America on Tuesday, Kellyanne Conway made it clear that the White House did not want to answer questions about when Trump knew that Flynn had discussed sanctions with the Russians.
“The fact is, I can’t reveal what the White House knew or didn’t know, and who in the White House did or didn’t know,” Conway said.
— Good Morning America (@GMA) February 14, 2017
Following Flynn’s resignation, demands for answers as to who authorized his outreach to the Russians came from senior Democrats in Congress, including Reps. Adam Schiff of the House Intelligence Committee, John Conyers Jr. of the House Judiciary Committee, and Elijah Cummings of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
“We in Congress need to know who authorized his actions, permitted them and continued to let him have access to our most sensitive national security information despite knowing these risks,” Conyers and Cummings said in a statement. “We need to know who else within the White House is a current and ongoing risk to our national security.”
While the Republicans who run those committees seem to have little interest in investigating Trump’s White House, Flynn could soon be compelled to testify under oath about who knew of his contacts with Russia by other Republican senators who are investigating Russian efforts to help Trump’s campaign, including Marco Rubio, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham. . .