Later On

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Top Russian Officials Discussed How to Influence Trump Aides Last Summer—and the FBI just watched

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Why no action by FBI or other intelligence services? They seemed to have known exactly what was going on but acted merely as by-standers, curious to see what would happen. Matthew Rosenberg, Adam Goldman, and Matt Apuzzo report in the NY Times:

American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers, according to three current and former American officials familiar with the intelligence.

The conversations focused on Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman at the time, and Michael T. Flynn, a retired general who was advising Mr. Trump, the officials said. Both men had indirect ties to Russian officials, who appeared confident that each could be used to help shape Mr. Trump’s opinions on Russia.

Some Russians boasted about how well they knew Mr. Flynn. Others discussed leveraging their ties to Viktor F. Yanukovych, the deposed president of Ukraine living in exile in Russia, who at one time had worked closely with Mr. Manafort.

The intelligence was among the clues — which also included information about direct communications between Mr. Trump’s advisers and Russian officials — that American officials received last year as they began investigating Russian attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of Mr. Trump’s associates were assisting Moscow in the effort. Details of the conversations, some of which have not been previously reported, add to an increasing understanding of the alarm inside the American government last year about the Russian disruption campaign.

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The information collected last summer was considered credible enough for intelligence agencies to pass to the F.B.I., which during that period opened a counterintelligence investigation that is ongoing. It is unclear, however, whether Russian officials actually tried to directly influence Mr. Manafort and Mr. Flynn. Both have denied any collusion with the Russian government on the campaign to disrupt the election.

John O. Brennan, the former director of the C.I.A., testified Tuesday about a tense period last year when he came to believe that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was trying to steer the outcome of the election. He said he saw intelligence suggesting that Russia wanted to use Trump campaign officials, wittingly or not, to help in that effort. He spoke vaguely about contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials, without giving names, saying they “raised questions in my mind about whether Russia was able to gain the cooperation of those individuals.”

Whether the Russians worked directly with any Trump advisers is one of the central questions that federal investigators, now led by Robert S. Mueller III, the newly appointed special counsel, are seeking to answer. President Trump, for his part, has dismissed talk of Russian interference in the election as “fake news,” insisting there was no contact between his campaign and Russian officials.

The White House, F.B.I. and C.I.A. declined to comment, as did spokesmen for Mr. Manafort. Mr. Flynn’s attorney did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The current and former officials agreed to discuss the intelligence only on the condition of anonymity because much of it remains highly classified, and they could be prosecuted for disclosing it. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2017 at 3:04 pm

Brennan: CIA Was Original Source of Trump-Russia Investigation

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My God. Please just read this Kevin Drum post. I think it may be “Game over” for the U.S.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 May 2017 at 1:05 pm

Justices rule North Carolina improperly relied on race in redistricting efforts

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Robert Barnes reports in the Washington Post:

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature unlawfully relied on race when drawing two of the state’s congressional districts.

The decision continued a trend at the court, where justices have found that racial considerations improperly predominated in redistricting decisions by Republican-led legislatures in Virginia, Alabama and North Carolina. Some involved congressional districts, others legislative districts.

The states had contended their efforts were partisan attempts to protect their majorities, which the Supreme Court in the past has allowed, rather than attempts to diminish the impact of minority voters, which is forbidden.

But the justices declared North Carolina had relied too heavily on race in their efforts to “reshuffle,” in the words of Justice Elena Kagan, voters from one district to another. They were unanimous in rejecting one of the districts, and split 5 to 3 on the other. . .

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I wonder what Abraham Lincoln would make of the Republican party today.

I sure hope SCOTUS takes up the gerrymandering case and puts an end to gerrymandering now that an objective test has been developed.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 May 2017 at 10:18 am

Posted in Election, GOP, Government, Law

US spies heard Russian intelligence agent vowing to target Clinton: report

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Mark Hensch reports in The Hill:

U.S. spies reportedly heard a Russian military intelligence officer bragging about his organization planning to target Hillary Clinton in May 2016.

The officer told a colleague that GRU would cause havoc in America’s presidential election, Time reported Thursday.

The officer reportedly described the intelligence agency’s effort as retribution for what Russian President Vladimir Putin considered Clinton’s influence campaign against him while serving as secretary of State.

Senior U.S. intelligence officials told Time that American spies transcribed the conversation and sent it to headquarters for analysis.

Time reported that an official document based on the raw intelligence was then circulated.

“We didn’t really understand the context of it until much later,” a senior U.S. intelligence official said.

Putin publicly accused Clinton of conducting a major operation against Russia when protests erupted in more than 70 cities in 2011.

The Russian leader said that Clinton had sent “a signal” to demonstrators and that the State Department had actively worked to fuel the unrest.

The State Department countered that it had only funded pro-democracy organizations. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

18 May 2017 at 5:45 pm

A Malibu lawyer is upending California’s political system, one town at a time

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Robin Abcarian reports in the LA Times:

Kevin Shenkman, who is tall and bookish, does not look like the aspiring light heavyweight boxer he once was.

Clearly, though, he still relishes a good fight.

For the past several years, Shenkman, 38, who lives and practices law in Malibu, has been suing, or threatening to sue, cities all over Southern California, demanding they change the way they elect members of their city councils in order to increase the numbers of African-American and Latino representatives.

Many have agreed to do so, though some have resisted before capitulating.

Shenkman’s legal cudgel is the California Voter Rights Act, which for 15 years has made it easier for minority groups to prove that they are disenfranchised by at-large elections, where all voters of a city vote for all members of a city council.

Many believe this practice has institutionalized racial discrimination, allowing blocs of white voters to overwhelm the choices of blacks and Latinos. Until Shenkman sued Palmdale, for instance, where about two-thirds of residents are minorities, only one Latino, a Republican, had ever been elected to office.

“Obviously, the leadership did not represent the people they served,” said Darren Parker, who serves as chairman of the California Democratic Party’s African-American Caucus. “I’ve lived in the Antelope Valley for over 30 years, and had been trying to obtain some sort of equity or diversity in the leadership.”

In 2012, Parker decided the only way to change things was to sue the city for violating the California Voter Rights Act. He did some research and found a story about a young attorney who had sued Panda Express for failing to disclose that it put chicken broth in its steamed vegetables. Something about that appealed to Parker, who had once worked for McDonald’s, so he phoned Shenkman.

“When he called, I told Darren I had no idea what he was talking about, but I thought, ‘I’m a Democrat, and this sounds important, I’ll look into it,’” Shenkman told me. He asked his law partner, Mary Hughes, who happens to be his wife, what she thought. “She said, ‘You are crazy.’ I said, ‘Yeah, let’s do this.’ ”

He contacted three voting-rights experts — constitutional law professor Justin Levitt of Loyola Law school, Cal Tech history professor Morgan Kausser and demographer David Ely — who helped him figure out how to approach the case, and then brought in two experienced trial lawyers, R. Rex Parris (who happens to be the mayor of Lancaster) and Milton Grimes, perhaps best-known as the late Rodney King’s attorney.

Shenkman expected the Palmdale case to resolve quickly, but the city fought back. In 2013, the case went to trial. Palmdale lost. A judge ordered new, by-district elections.

In November, Palmdale elected its first Democratic Latino City Councilman, Juan Carillo, from a new district on the city’s east side, “one of our first success stories,” as Parker told me.

“I think Kevin was heaven-sent,” Parker said. “He is dedicated to serving others in spite of himself sometimes. I think he is so zealous that he forgets to eat and sleep.”

As the Voting Rights Act requires, Palmdale had to reimburse Shenkman’s legal costs, which were about $4.6 million.

Even if other cities didn’t see the benefit in switching to district elections for the right reasons, it soon became clear that moving to district elections was a sure way to avoid sky-high legal fees. Because they were probably going to lose.


Shenkman first came to my attention last week because he was the subject of a meandering profile on the Breitbart website, . . .

Continue reading.


. . . After he won in Palmdale, Shenkman was contacted by the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, a Lincoln Heights-based group with a decades-long history in “the voting rights business,” as its president Antonio Gonzalez put it. He considers district elections “a paramount tool in the voting rights toolbox.”

“Palmdale created a new conventional wisdom for cities, which is, ‘We are not going to win, so let’s work it out,’” Gonzales said. “We just sent another 15 demand letters, so we are up to 25 jurisdictions.”

Before the year is out, he said, “We’re going to do 100.”

As my colleague Phil Willon reported last month, out of California’s 482 cities, only 59 hold district elections, and no city that holds at-large elections has ever prevailed in a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

14 May 2017 at 12:23 pm

Comey’s Testimony on Huma Abedin Forwarding Emails Was Inaccurate

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Peter Elkind reports in ProPublica:

FBI director James Comey generated national headlines last week with his dramatic testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, explaining his “incredibly painful” decision to go public about the Hillary Clinton emails found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop.

Perhaps Comey’s most surprising revelation was that Huma Abedin — Weiner’s wife and a top Clinton deputy — had made “a regular practice” of forwarding “hundreds and thousands” of Clinton messages to her husband, “some of which contain classified information.” Comey testified that Abedin had done this so that the disgraced former congressman could print them out for her boss. (Weiner’s laptop was seized after he came under criminal investigation for sex crimes, following a media report about his online relationship with a teenager.)

The New York Post plastered its story on the front page with a photo of an underwear-clad Weiner and the headline: “HARD COPY: Huma sent Weiner classified Hillary emails to print out.” The Daily News went with a similar front-page screamer: “HUMA ERROR: Sent classified emails to sext maniac Weiner.”

The problem: Much of what Comey said about this was inaccurate. Now the FBI is trying to figure out what to do about it.

FBI officials have privately acknowledged that Comey misstated what Abedin did and what the FBI investigators found. On Monday, the FBI was said to be preparing to correct the record by sending a letter to Congress later this week. But that plan now appears on hold, with the bureau undecided about what to do.

ProPublica is reporting a story on the FBI’s handling of the Clinton emails and raised questions with government officials last week about possible inaccuracies in Comey’s statements about Abedin.

It could not be learned how the mistake occurred. The FBI and Abedin declined ProPublica’s requests for comment on the director’s misstatements.

According to two sources familiar with the matter — including one in law enforcement — Abedin forwarded only a handful of Clinton emails to her husband for printing — not the “hundreds and thousands” cited by Comey. It does not appear Abedin made “a regular practice” of doing so. Other officials said it was likely that most of the emails got onto the computer as a result of backups of her Blackberry.

It was not clear how many, if any, of the forwarded emails were among the 12 “classified” emails Comey said had been found on Weiner’s laptop. None of the messages carried classified markings at the time they were sent.

Comey’s Senate testimony about Abedin came as he offered his first public explanation for his decision to reveal the existence of the emails on Oct. 28, days ahead of the 2016 election and before FBI agents had examined them.

When agents obtained a search warrant that allowed them to read the messages, they turned out to be mostly duplicates of emails the bureau had obtained earlier in the investigation. Comey announced just before Election Day that nothing had changed in the Clinton case, which had been closed four months earlier without criminal charges.

During his testimony, Comey said that part of the reason for . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

9 May 2017 at 2:56 pm

Let’s electrify America!

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Kevin Drum has an excellent post at Mother Jones; it begins:

Yesterday I asked for a simple jobs pitch that Democrats could make to win back all those disaffected working class voters who put Donald Trump in the White House. A bunch of people had ideas, and by the power invested in me as author of this blog, three struck me as real possibilities:

Rebuild America. This is a simple infrastructure pitch. Democrats should all get behind a gigantic infrastructure bill that would rebuild roads, bridges, airports, sewer lines, you name it. There would, of course, be no real mention of paying for this. Or, if there is, we’ll tax the rich to do it.

Electrify America. This includes both infrastructure (solar panels, wind farms, etc.) and a huge program to push cars and trucks to mostly electric over the next ten years. For funding, see above.

Split Up America. This needs a better bumper sticker, but the idea is to make a big deal out of antitrust: new laws that would break up big companies on both Main Street and Wall Street and encourage the growth of smaller companies.

For what it’s worth, the electrification idea has real appeal. It would promise lots of jobs. It would clean up the air. It would address climate change. It doesn’t require a ton of retraining since the jobs mostly consist of standard construction and assembly-line work. Its impact would be spread across the entire country. And it hasn’t already been co-opted by Republicans. It’s an interesting idea. . .

Continue reading.

For “Split Up America” I suggested “Make Businesses Work,” the idea being that when a monopoly or oligopoly is broken up, businesses have to get to work and compete instead of just raking in profits.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2017 at 6:32 pm

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