Archive for February 15th, 2017
Jack Goldsmith writes at Lawfare:
The Washington Post reported on Monday that it was “unclear what the White House counsel, Donald McGahn, did” when Acting Attorney General Sally Yates told him last month that Michael Flynn had misled senior administration officials about his phone conversation with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. I noted yesterday morning that “it will be crucial to ask what McGahn did with this information, and when, and why.”
Yesterday afternoon Sean Spicer gave an answer:
We’ve been reviewing and evaluating this issue with respect to General Flynn on a daily basis for a few weeks, trying to ascertain the truth. We got to a point not based on a legal issue, but based on a trust issue, where a level of trust between the President and General Flynn had eroded to the point where he felt he had to make a change. …
Immediately after the Department of Justice notified the White House Counsel of the situation, the White House Counsel briefed the President and a small group of senior advisors. The White House Counsel reviewed and determined that there is not a legal issue, but rather a trust issue.
During this process it’s important to note that the President did not have his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, who he trusts immensely, approved by the Senate. When the President heard the information as presented by White House Counsel, he instinctively thought that General Flynn did not do anything wrong, and the White House Counsel’s review corroborated that (emphasis added).
This explanation raises new puzzles and questions. Before considering those puzzles and questions, consider this timeline: . . .
When the government throws in with corporations and turns against citizens: Text describing Federal frack rules disappears from Interior Department website
I get the feeling that the Trump administration is not interested in helping citizens (nor is the GOP Congress as it looks at shutting down the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau). Aileen Brown reports at The Intercept:
IN DONALD TRUMP’S first week as president, text describing two rules regulating the oil and gas industry was removed from an Interior Department website. The rules, limiting hydraulic fracturing and natural gas flaring on public lands, are both in the crosshairs of the Trump administration.
The changes were noted by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, or EDGI, which has been monitoring changes to federal websites since Trump’s inauguration.
On January 21, the Bureau of Land Management page, which describes various regulations for how the oil and gas industry should operate on federal land, still included a section on the Methane and Waste Prevention rule. The regulation was part of the Obama administration’s effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the effects of climate change. By January 28, the section was gone.
The rule, which is widely opposed by the oil and gas industry, limits fossil fuel companies’ ability to vent and flare gas on public land, which releases methane, a greenhouse gas around 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. It was one of the first Obama-era regulations to be targeted by a Republican-controlled Congress empowered by Trump. On February 3, at least five days after the site had been updated, the House of Representatives voted to repeal the methane rule using the Congressional Review Act, which gives Congress 60 days to eliminate federal regulations legislators don’t like. The bill awaits a Senate vote.
Also removed was text within a section on the Interior Department’s hydraulic fracturing rule, Obama’s primary attempt to limit the impacts of the controversial oil and gas extraction method. The page still notes that the rule exists, but it no longer describes what it does. The deleted text stated that the regulation was meant “to ensure that when operations are undertaken on lands where a BLM permit is required, steps are taken to ensure wellbore integrity, proper waste water management, and greater transparency about the process, including information about the composition of fracturing fluids.” . . .
If you continue, you’ll see a large chart with “before” and “after” results. It looks bad.
This was a bone-in pork shoulder, 3.5 lbs. My though was that I could cut a chunk from it and then use that chunk in a recipe rather than cooking the entire shoulder.
So I’ve been doing it and it works really well. The chucks (which I weigh) turn out to be close to 4.5 ounces, and I think cut the big chunk into small pieces. Yesterday I made a really good and fresh-tasting chili. Today:
First step: Prep
1/2 very large red onion, chopped—about 1.5 cups chopped
6-8 cloves garlic, minced—these should rest for 15 minutes before cooking
4-5 oz piece of pork shoulder, cut into small chunks—you could use tempeh or tofu (firm or extra-firm would be best)
1 c steamed cauliflower, cut into chunks (I happened to have this; can be omitted)
1 red or yellow bell pepper, chopped
[optional: 1 jalapeño, chopped]
10-12 cherry tomatoes, halved
10-12 pitted Kalamata olives, halved (which also checks for pits)
1 Meyer lemon, at the ready—I use Meyer lemons because the skin is very thin
Sherry (cream sherry or Amontillado sherry) at the ready
Second step: Cooking
Heat 9″ sauté pan (skillet with steep sides) on medium-high heat. Add:
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
the onion from above
big pinch of salt
a good amount of freshly ground pepper
about 3/4 tsp smoked paprika
about 1/2 tsp dried thyme
Sauté until onions are soft and transparent. Then add the cauliflower and the peppers and sauté some more. When the peppers have softened somewhat, add:
Stir for a few minutes as it cooks, then add peppers. Cook until peppers soften slightly, then add:
juice of the Meyer lemon, and then cut the peel into small pieces and add that as well
good splash of sherry
Cover, reduce to simmer, and let cook 30-minutes. Surprisingly tasty. I’m having it with Apothic blended red wine, which seems pretty good to me.
That’s what the investigation should focus on. Daniel Benjamin writes in Politico:
Hours after national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned amid reports that he misled top officials about his pre-inauguration talks with the Russian ambassador, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to encourage everyone to move on. “The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington?” he tweeted out Tuesday morning.
In a sense, Trump is right: The real story is not Flynn. But it isn’t government leaks, either. No, the “real story here” is Trump himself—and the continuing mystery of his ties to Russia.
As official Washington and the press home in on the permanent disarray in the White House, whether the disgraced Flynn broke the law and who will succeed him after his three-week tenure, the key question is getting lost in the shuffle: Who told Flynn to call Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States? Because I’m convinced Flynn didn’t do it of his own accord. Flynn is a bit player in a much larger story regarding the president’s relationship with the Kremlin, and it’s this story the press needs to focus on.
There is little doubt that Trump elevated Flynn because of his loyalty and the optics of having a recently retired three-star general parroting his views, which few other generals of that rank would consider doing. But Flynn was no grand strategist. He would not have been capable of running a complex political realignment with Russia, and he was woefully ill-cast for the role of national security adviser. An army intelligence officer who had spent most of his career in the Middle East and Afghanistan, Flynn had no background in diplomacy, not to mention Asian or European affairs. And it strains credulity that someone with such limited experience was acting on his own initiative when he spoke with Kislyak on December 29, the day of the sanctions announcement. If, as reported, he called five times in a single day, then he was on a mission, and probably not of his own devising.
My view is informed by several years of knowing and following Flynn. After being fired as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency—where he was already behaving erratically—Flynn slid into ever stranger behavior.
During a weeklong visit that I arranged for Flynn here at Dartmouth College in April 2015, he repeatedly made oddball remarks. I had known Flynn as a capable and genial colleague from my time in government, and I was surprised by the change I saw. He was warm and engaging, especially with students, but his views on Islam and the terrorist threat seemed increasingly extreme—a line about Islam not being a religion but a political ideology, which he would use frequently in later months, struck me as a sign that he had moved beyond mainstream U.S. government thinking. But what stuck out most was his fixation on Iran. His visit coincided with the sprint to the end of the framework negotiations for the nuclear deal, and Flynn declared repeatedly in public events and private discussions that Iran’s perfidy was so diabolical, it “didn’t deserve a place at the negotiating table.” When asked who should negotiate on behalf of Iran, he had no answer but insisted it shouldn’t be Iran. (Full disclosure: Despite the troubling remarks, which left faculty and students bemused, Flynn was a fine guest, meeting with everyone and, remarkably, declining the negotiated honorarium for his weeklong stay.)
Over the next year and a half, his behavior became even stranger—reckless Islamophobia, chanting “lock her up” at Trump rallies (referring to Hillary Clinton)—all bizarre for a military officer, let alone a three-star general. . .
Susan Hennessey and Helen Klein Murillo write at Lawfare:
The President is having a bad week. His National Security Adviser has resigned in disgrace as accusations of improper contacts between then-Candidate Trump and his associates embroil the already chaotic and dysfunctional White House. With mounting calls for bipartisan congressional investigations, a steady stream of media scoops regarding the ongoing investigation adds ever more fuel to the fire. Wherever it leads, the story of “the Russia Connection” will not be going away anytime soon.
Amidst the chaos, President Trump has found the “real scandal.” Surprisingly, Trump insists the scandal is neither the shocking onslaught of reports of contacts between his own campaign and intelligence agents of a hostile foreign power, nor his own refusal to provide information regarding his financial interests in Russia. Instead, the President once again takes aim at our own intelligence services.
The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by “intelligence” like candy. Very un-American!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2017
Specifically, he intimates that the NSA and FBI have given classified information to the “failing” New York Times and Washington Post—both outlets that have run bombshell stories with sourcing from former and current government officials.
Heated public rhetoric regarding leaking is common from both sides of the aisle, and it masks an ecosystem that is, in its own way, rather permissive about leaks. Still, Trump’s accusation raises a number of concerns. First, the President makes these accusations despite not knowing the actual source of these leaks. At least some of the information seems to be coming from his own White House. And nothing that has come to light is the kind of material that only the FBI or NSA would be aware of. Indeed, there is no particular reason to assume that any of these leaks are intelligence community leaks, rather than leaks by current and former White House officials with the knives out for Flynn.
Second, these tweets suggest that the President is more interested in hunting down leakers than in getting to the bottom of extremely serious allegations against his own administration. Whether Trump’s comments represent an intentional deflection or merely reflect misaligmed priorities, most people can agree without defending leaking that the leaks are probably not the “real scandal” here.
Finally, and perhaps most worryingly, . . .
Continue reading, though it quickly gets into more detail than I care to follow.
And by all means read “Let’s Talk About House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes Pointing a Finger at the FBI” for an example of clear and dispassionate analysis, which indicates that Nunes has no business chairing an intelligence comment (either he knows nothing about it, or he cannot think straight, or he is dishonest—any of those should disqualify him). The article is by Jane Chong and is well worth reading.
The NY Times editors write:
There is no overstating how unprepared Americans are to retire. Nearly half of private-sector employees — some 55 million people — do not have an employer-provided retirement plan. Most of them are low- to middle-income earners who will end up relying on Social Security for between half and all of their income in retirement.
And yet, as early as Wednesday, House Republicans are expected to pass a measure to thwart efforts by California, Illinois and other states to establish basic retirement savings plans for employees at companies that do not offer such coverage. In California, for example, participating employees would have a small percentage of pay deducted from their paychecks, unless they opted out. Those amounts would be pooled and managed by investment professionals chosen by the state in a bidding process; the plan would be overseen by a board of government and business leaders appointed by the governor and the Legislature.
Financial firms claim that the plans represent unfair government competition. That’s false, but that doesn’t seem to concern House Republicans as they use a fast-track process to derail the states’ plans, siding with the financial industry over ordinary savers.
First, under the plans, states establish the legal framework for deducting contributions from employees’ paychecks, but they do not run the plans. Second, state plans do not compete unfairly because mutual funds and other financial firms have not competed for the small-business market where employees without retirement coverage tend to work. If they had, tens of millions of Americans would not be without coverage, and the state plans probably wouldn’t be needed.
So why do financial firms object? One reason may be that, by law, state plans are transparent about their fees and operations. . .
First step: the continual lying and changing positions to get people to the “Who-can-tell?” point. Next step: take direct control of the media so that pesky questions do not get asked and awkward facts do not appear. (In this connection, Idaho has just banned any mention at all of climate change in the mandated science curriculum. The energy industry is the true force behind that sort of suppression: they are determined to keep selling coal and oil until we run out or civilization collapses. Literally.And it’s very Orwellian.)
That is the step now underway. You can see already that media who report awkward facts are now called “fake media” by Trump, and the story linked above identifies Trump’s idea of “true media,” those that do not ask awkward questions or mention pesky facts or do fact checking and in fact are happy to repeat lies. (I wish Congress could see this—and I’m sure many in Congress see it as well, but some (like Paul Ryan and Jason Cheffitz and others), they’ve decided to throw in their lot with the authoritarian. It will be interesting to see how that plays out. (As an aside: look at how blatantly and frequently Trup lies in the story about the “fake media.”)
All the overt signs show sincere desire to take over the US government for private ambitions—Trump just doesn’t know any better so operates from the same template he’s always used (to make big promises and run down the competition, get in, scoop up as much as you can, and when it crashes behind you, go on to the next scam), but Bannon is a true believer who has this power and is going to use it as best he can for his own ideals (which, unfortunately, are repugnant to most of the US, thank God).
At any rate, Joe Concha reports in The Hill:
CNN’s Jim Acosta said Wednesday that President Trump only called on conservative news outlets during his joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu because “the fix is in” on which outlets get to ask questions.
“You have a White House now that is in crisis,” said CNN host John King following coverage of the news conference. “And calling on conservative news outlets, fine. But it doesn’t answer questions the people should have. Questions that the American people, not just the news media, have.”
Acosta, who was at the White House but was not called upon and was heard shouting a question when the news conference ended, was asked by King for his take on the president’s choice of outlets that asked questions.
“The two questions that were asked or called upon from the president in this news conference went to the Christian Broadcasting Network, no accident, which is obviously owned by Pat Robertson, the televangelist down in Virginia,” said Acosta. “It’s a very conservative broadcasting network.”
Acosta then characterized TownHall.com, which got the second question, as “a very conservative website.”
“And so in the last three news conferences, all of the questions to the American news media have been handled by conservative press. And, I think, there’s no other way to describe it, but the fix is in,” the reporter said. . .
And do read the whole thing. These are dangerous times.