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Rudy Giuliani, Explained

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Kevin Drum has an interesting take:

So: Rudy Giuliani. He’s been busy over the past few days doing interviews about Donald Trump’s involvement in building a Trump Tower in Moscow. After each interview he then “clarified” what he meant, ultimately ending with a statement today that nothing he said was based on talking to Trump anyway.

Many people are asking what the deal is with this. Is Giuliani nuts? Senile? Totally out of control? Or what?

He may be all or none of the above. But it’s obvious what Giuliani has been doing ever since he started representing Trump last year: tossing out chaff so vigorously that nobody can tell from day to day what the current story is supposed to be. The point of this—and this is the important part—is not just to confuse everyone. It’s to make Giuliani the bearer of bad news so that eventually, when Trump is forced to admit something damaging, it’s “old news” that he’s been “saying all along.” The complete explanation for Giuliani looks something like this:

  • Giuliani is chosen as Trump’s “lawyer” because TV networks love him and will always give him airtime.
  • In times of crisis, Giuliani starts tossing out story after story, creating confusion and making Giuliani, not Trump, the center of attention.
  • All of these stories are deniable by the White House since they come from someone whose actual position is kind of vague. Eventually, though, one of them sticks.
  • Later—which could be days or weeks depending on how long Trump lies low—Trump publicly acknowledges the final story and says it’s already been litigated to death and is old news.
  • By then, (a) everyone really is confused, (b) they don’t remember all the details from a few weeks ago, and (c) there’s some new scandal that’s seized everyone’s attention. So Trump’s confession slides under the radar.

This isn’t a foolproof hack of the media, but . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 January 2019 at 1:42 pm

A Betrayal: A teen who helped police against MS-13 is hung out to die

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Hannah Dreier reports in ProPublica:

IF HENRY IS KILLED, his death can be traced to a quiet moment in the fall of 2016, when he sat slouched in his usual seat by the door in 11th-grade English class. A skinny kid with a shaggy haircut, he had been thinking a lot about his life and about how it might end. His notebook was open, its pages blank. So he pulled his hoodie over his earphones, cranked up a Spanish ballad and started to write.

He began with how he was feeling: anxious, pressured, not good enough. It would have read like a journal entry by any 17-year-old, except this one detailed murders, committed with machetes, in the suburbs of Long Island. The gang Henry belonged to, MS-13, had already killed five students from Brentwood High School. The killers were his friends. And now they were demanding that he join in the rampage.

Classmates craned their necks to see what he was working on so furiously. But with an arm shielding his notebook, Henry was lost in what was turning out to be an autobiography. He was transported back to a sprawling coconut grove near his grandfather’s home in El Salvador. In front of him was a blindfolded man, strung up between two trees, arms and legs splayed in the shape of an X. All around him were members of MS-13, urging him on. Then the gang’s leader, El Destroyer, stepped forward. He was in his 60s, with the letters MStattooed on his face, chest and back. A double-edged machete glinted in his hand. He wanted Henry to kill the blindfolded man.

For years, the gang had paid for Henry’s school uniforms, protected him from rival gangs and given his grandmother meat for the family. In exchange, Henry had delivered messages and served as a lookout. Then the gang started asking him to come to shootouts, to help show strength in numbers. They also beat him for 13 seconds — an initiation ritual — and asked him to choose a gang name. He eventually settled on Triste, the Spanish word for “sad.” What you become when your parents abandon you as a toddler and go to America and leave you behind in a slum.

Henry hunched over his notebook, oblivious to the kids around him. Now he was 12, standing in the coconut grove, and it was time to complete the final initiation rite. He took the machete. It was sharper, with more teeth, than the one he used for chores at home. El Destroyer traced his index finger on the trembling man to show Henry where to cut: first the throat, then across the stomach.

“Your first killing will be hard,” El Destroyer told him. “It will hurt. But I’ve killed 34 people. I’m too tired to do this one.” He said the devil was there in the grove and needed fresh blood. And if Henry didn’t kill the man, the gang would kill them both.

So, to live a little longer, I had to do it.

But now, Henry wrote, he wanted to escape the life that had followed him from El Salvador. If he stayed in the gang, he knew he would die. He needed help.

He tore out the pages and hid them inside another assignment, like a message in a bottle. Then he walked up to his teacher’s desk and turned them in.

A week later, Henry was called to the principal’s office to speak with the police officer assigned to the school. In El Salvador, Henry had learned to distrust the police, who often worked for rival gangs or paramilitary death squads. But the officer assured Henry that the Suffolk County police were not like the cops he had known before he sought asylum in the United States. They could connect him to the FBI, which could protect him and move him far from Long Island.

So after a childhood spent in fear, Henry made the first choice he considered truly his own. He decided to help the FBI arrest his fellow gang members.

Henry’s cooperation was a coup for law enforcement. MS-13 was in the midst of a convulsion of violence that claimed 25 lives in Long Island over the past two years.

President Trump had seized on MS-13 as a symbol of the dangers of immigration, referring to parts of Long Island as “bloodstained killing fields.” Police were desperately looking for informants who could help them crack how the gang worked and make arrests. Henry gave them a way in.

Under normal circumstances, Henry’s choice would have been his salvation. By working with the police, he could have escaped the gang and started fresh. But not in the dawning of the Trump era, when every immigrant has become a target and local police in towns like Brentwood have become willing agents in a nationwide campaign of detention and deportation. Without knowing it, Henry had picked the wrong moment to help the authorities.

HENRY HAD TRIED to escape MS-13 before.

From the day he joined the gang, he was part of an operation that trafficked in a single product: violence. Other criminal enterprises attract members who want to get rich and who sell drugs or women or stolen goods to achieve that aim. Violence is a tool for carving out territory and regulating the marketplace. MS-13, by contrast, was established by Salvadoran refugees in Los Angeles who were seeking community after fleeing civil war. The gang offers a sense of security and belonging to its members, who kill to strengthen the group and move up the ranks. Members sometimes sell marijuana and cocaine, but major cartels have been uninterested in partnering with the gang, because purposeless violence is bad for business. MS-13 kills in large groups to minimize betrayal, and it uses machetes, a weapon even the poorest can afford.

In his first few years running with the gang in El Salvador, Henry witnessed more than a dozen murders. He learned how soft skin feels when you slice into it and how bodies, when they are sprayed with bullets, look like they are dancing. Then, in 2013, a shaky truce between MS-13 and the rival gang Barrio 18 broke down. The country’s slums became as dangerous as any war zone. One afternoon, when he was 15, Henry was playing cards in an abandoned lot when he got a call from a stranger. The voice on the phone told him that if he did not leave the country within 24 hours, he would be disappeared — along with his grandparents. To protect his family, Henry set out that night to join his mother and father on Long Island. Before he left, his grandfather made him promise he would use the new start to break with the gang.

Henry made the journey north through Mexico stowed away in the back of a livestock truck. Some 200,000 unaccompanied children from Central America have shown up at the U.S. border since 2013, and nearly 8,000 continued on to Long Island, most to join parents who had settled there years earlier. The suburbs have proved an ideal landing spot — close to low-wage work around New York City and filled with illegal basement apartments. By the time Henry arrived, so many Salvadorans were living in Suffolk County that El Salvador had opened a consulate in the town of Brentwood, the only foreign government with an office on Long Island.

Henry entered the U.S. legally, turning himself over at the border and pleading for asylum. He was granted release pending a final hearing that could be years away, and sent to join his mother. He didn’t recognize her when she ran up to him at JFK Airport, clutching welcome balloons; in all the time she’d been gone, she had never sent him a photo. As they headed to her apartment, he learned that she had long ago separated from his father. He soon became acquainted with her abusive boyfriend, who one day threw hot cooking oil at her head, landing her in the hospital with third-degree burns. His father helped Henry lie about his immigration status and age to get a job in a factory, where he worked 12-hour shifts punching perforations in toilet paper for $9 an hour. On payday, he handed over almost all his earnings to his mother, who expected him to pay for rent and groceries. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

The US has become a hostile, unreasoning place for its most vulnerable. Take a look at these additional reports:

Former MS-13 Member Who Secretly Helped Police Is Deported – Also by Hannah Dreier, and a follow-up to the story above.

What It Was Like Reporting on a Teenager Marked for Death by the Gang MS-13 – Dreier comments on the emotional and psychological impact of reporting the story

He Drew His School Mascot — and ICE Labeled Him a Gang Member – Dreier reports on another injustice by the US.

Long Island Schools Move to Curb Police Role in Detaining Immigrant Students – A step in the right direction

The Hunted: What happens when you say no to MS-13 – A grim report.

The Disappeared: Police on Long Island wrote off missing immigrant teens as runaways. One mother knew better

Written by LeisureGuy

22 January 2019 at 12:36 pm

What does a $1.1 million lobbying contract buy in Trump’s Washington?

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I recently started reading an interesting newsletter, Popular Information, written by Judd Legum. The newsletters are brief, clear, and generally single-topic. Today’s newsletter:

Atiku Abubakar, the former vice president of Nigeria, had not visited the United States for twelve years. He is currently running for president and his inability to travel to the United States was being used by his political opponents in Nigeria as proof of his corruption and unsuitability for public office.

A former U.S. government official confirmed to Popular Information that Abubakar was formally barred from obtaining a visa pursuant to a presidential proclamation targeting corrupt foreign officials.

Then everything changed.

With the election less than a month away, Abubakar arrived in the United States last Thursday and promptly checked into the Trump hotel.

What happened? In November, Abubakar hired a key member of Trump’s political operation with a $1.1 million per year lobbying contract.

Abubakar’s visit was almost entirely ignored by the U.S. media. But it’s a story that reveals a lot about how things work in Trump’s Washington.

$40 million in suspect funds

The corruption allegations against Abubakar are detailed in a 2010 bipartisan report by the U.S. Senate, “KEEPING FOREIGN CORRUPTION OUT OF THE UNITED STATES: FOUR CASE HISTORIES.” Abubakar denies all allegations of corruption in the report and has never been criminally charged.

The report says that Abubakar, through his wife, Jennifer Douglas Abubakar, funneled $40 million in “suspect funds” to the United States, including millions in “bribe payments.” An alleged bribe which came from a major German corporation, Siemens, looms large.

Siemens has admitted in court to engaging in widespread bribery and bank records link the corrupt activity to Abubakar and his wife.

In December 2008, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission alleged in a formal complaint against Siemens AG, a German company, that, among other actions, in 2001 and 2002, Siemens wire transferred $2.8 million in bribe payments to a U.S. bank account belonging to Ms. Douglas as part of a scheme to bribe Nigerian officials.

In response to this and other legal actions, Siemens admitted to engaging in widespread bribery payments, pled guilty to criminal violations and settled civil violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and agreed to pay over $1.6 billion in civil and criminal fines. Ms. Douglas has denied any wrongdoing, but the Subcommittee has obtained financial records showing the transfer of over $1.7 million from Siemens AG to Ms. Douglas’ account at Citibank.

A freezer full of cash

Abubakar was also implicated in the investigation of William Jefferson, the former Congressman who is serving a 13-year sentence for corruption. Abubakar denies any wrongdoing connected to the case and has not been charged.

But the FBI raided Abubakar’s Maryland home during their investigation. An affidavit released by the FBI describes a scheme between Jefferson and Abubakar.

The documents included an affidavit signed by an F.B.I. agent who said that the Nigerian vice president, Atiku Abubakar, now a candidate for president of that oil-rich West African nation, asked for at least half of the profits of a technology company controlled by Mr. Jefferson that was seeking to do business in Nigeria.

About the same time last year, the documents said, Mr. Jefferson told colleagues of his plans to bribe Nigerian officials, including Mr. Abubakar, in exchange for their help in winning business in Nigeria, and that Mr. Abubakar would be paid as much as $500,000 in cash.

According to the FBI, cell phone records and conversations between Jefferson and a confidential informant confirmed the scheme. The FBI did not provide conclusive evidence that any money was paid to Abubakar. But the FBI says the $90,000 in cash found in Jefferson’s freezer was intended for Abubakar. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s interesting.

Representative William Jefferson was known by the nickname “Dollar Bill” Jefferson because he was so open in his corruption. Good riddance.


Written by LeisureGuy

21 January 2019 at 10:04 am

The Horror of Trump’s Wounded Knee Tweet

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Alyssa Mt. Pleasant and David A. Chang report in Politico:

On Sunday, President Donald Trump took aim at one of his favorite targets: Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is hoping to unseat him in 2020. Responding to a video Warren posted on Instagram in which she drinks a beer in her kitchen and introduces her husband, Trump tweeted:

“If Elizabeth Warren, often referred to by me as Pocahontas, did this commercial from Bighorn or Wounded Knee instead of her kitchen, with her husband dressed in full Indian garb, it would have been a smash!”

Trump has long attacked Warren for claiming Cherokee and Delaware ancestry, belittling her as “Pocahontas” and, more recently, challenging her to prove her claims using a DNA test. But his invocation of Wounded Knee—one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history—is a new low.

On December 29, 1890, the U.S. 7th Cavalry massacred hundreds of Lakota near Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota. It was hardly the largest settler massacre of Native peoples, but it is the most infamous. To Native peoples it has long been a symbol of U.S. brutality, a reminder of the immorality of a nation that claimed it was bringing civilization but instead brought a slaughter.

Wounded Knee was the culmination of decades of tension and conflict on the Plains as Native peoples resisted American efforts to expropriate their lands and confine them to reservations. The U.S. government forced unfair treaties on tribal nations, wrenched away their land, failed to live up to its own treaty obligations, and failed to stop settler squatters from invading Native lands. In the late 1880s, a politically potent spiritual movement that Americans called the Ghost Dance grew from the teachings of the Paiute prophet Wovoka and caught fire among the Native peoples of the Plains. As historian Tiffany Hale recounts, it was a complex movement of beliefs and practices offering solace, hope and courage, but American fears fixated on one notion within it: that the proper practice of a prayerful dance would hasten the departure of the whites and the return of lands to Native control and Native ways of life.

The movement spurred American fears of an “Indian uprising,” and in December 1890, President Benjamin Harrison ordered the Army to suppress the Ghost Dance and arrest its leaders. When the U.S. Indian police arrived to arrest the Hunkpapa Lakota holy man Sitting Bull, a Lakota shot a policeman, and the police shot and killed Sitting Bull. Fearing further violence, the Miniconjou Lakota Chief Spotted Elk (also known as Big Foot) decided it was time to move. Under his leadership, a group of Lakota set out across 200 miles of frozen prairie from the Cheyenne River Reservation to the Pine Ridge Reservation. Other Hunkpapa Lakota fleeing the Ghost Dance crackdown joined him and their numbers swelled to around 400 people—mostly women and children.

Members of the 7th Cavalry intercepted the Lakota refugees on December 28, 1890. Ordering them to make camp at Wounded Knee Creek, Army officials demanded they give up their guns. This made Lakota people, who were hunters, vulnerable to violence and hunger. The next morning, after giving up their rifles, the Lakota were subjected to a destructive search operation. Soldiers scoured the camp for hidden guns, tearing apart the women’s bundles, smashing dishes and seizing knives, awls, tent stakes—anything with a sharp edge. During the search, according to several accounts, a man named Black Coyote either did not understand the order to surrender his rifle (he was deaf and did not speak English) or resisted because it was valuable to him. A scuffle broke out, and someone (it is unclear who) fired a shot. Then, the Americans unleashed their firepower.

The women and children ran, but many were gunned down by bullets and cannon shells fired by U.S. soldiers as they fled. Those who made it past the firing lines could find little shelter in the flat and denuded December prairie, and many were murdered by cavalry troops who hunted them down. While a few Lakota men managed to grab a gun or a knife, they were no match for the Army’s strafing and shelling. The slaughter was relentless. American Horse, an Oglala Lakota who spoke to many survivors of the carnage, reported that as little boys emerged from the ravines, they were immediately surrounded and “butchered.” Powder-burns on the dead made a clear case for atrocity: Only guns held close to the body in point-blank executions leave such marks. Historian Jeffrey Ostler concludes, “By the late afternoon, when the firing finally subsided, between 270 and 300 of the 400 people in Big Foot’s band were dead or mortally wounded. Of these, 170 to 200 were women and children, almost all of whom were slaughtered while fleeing or trying to hide.” At least 20 American soldiers received the Medal of Honor for their part in the massacre.

Wounded Knee was an atrocity on such a scale that, in a way, it became a symbol for all the other atrocities. It is no coincidence that Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is one of the most influential popular books on the larger atrocity that is American policy toward Native peoples, or that Wounded Knee, South Dakota, became the site of militant Native resistance in 1973. So when Trump made light of Wounded Knee, he invoked an episode that still remains raw and powerful in Native memory today.

Not only does his tweet joke about a massacre, his continued taunts reinforce insidious stereotypes about Native peoples, and especially Native women. The popular story of “Pocahontas”—about an Indian maiden in love with a settler man—is itself a Disney fantasy, and one that, as historian Honor Sachs argues, “props up white supremacy.” There’s more. To Trump, real Indians are clearly a defeated remnant of the past, frozen in time at Bighorn and Wounded Knee, wearing “Indian garb.”

Here’s the thing: In 2019, there are over 570 tribal nations in the United States that are recognized by the federal government, in addition to scores of nations that are recognized by state governments or are seeking recognition. Native Americans are modern people living in urban, suburban, reservation and rural communities. As citizens of sovereign tribal nations, Native peoples have rights and responsibilities that are determined by their nations’ distinct governance practices. Tribal governments, for their part, have laws and policies to address the needs of their citizens: Some nations issue passports for their citizens; they run schools, health care facilities, child welfare offices, libraries and museums. The list goes on and on, undermining antiquated ideas about Native peoples that continue to circulate in pop culture.

While Trump’s tweets rely on stereotypes evoking the Disney character and hypersexualized women dressed up as “Poca-hotties” at Halloween, the reality for modern Native Americans, and for Native women in particular, is different. Earlier this month Indian Country celebrated as Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk) and Deb Haaland (Pueblo of Laguna) entered the U.S. House of Representatives. At the same time, Native Americans are all too familiar with depressing statistics about Native women who face appalling rates of domestic violence, rape and murder. As Amnesty International reported in its 2007 study Maze of Injustice, Native American and Alaska Native women are 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than women in the general population in the U.S., and over 34 percent of Native women will be raped in their lifetime. More recently, researchers reported the shocking number of Native women who have disappeared: According to statistics compiled by the Urban Indian Health Institute, 5,712 Native American and Alaska Native women and girls were reported missing in 2016 alone. Native women are also four times more likely than non-Native women to see their children removed from their custody, and Native children are 14 times more likely to be held in state foster care. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

The article concludes:

. . . If Warren really wants to counter Trump and his gleeful invocation of genocidal violence she should denounce the use of Pocahontas as a racist and misogynist slur. She should use her platform to shift the narrative about Native peoples in the United States, pointing to their enduring sovereignty and the imperative that the American government rectify the harm it has done them. She can draw attention to the recently lapsed Violence Against Women Act, redouble efforts to renew this important legislation and advocate for practical solutions to gaps in jurisdiction and funding that will help Native American women and tribal nations pursue justice. It should go without saying she should abandon and apologize for her talk about her undocumented family lore of Indian ancestry, but she has to go beyond that. It’s time Elizabeth Warren uses this as an opportunity to defend Native women, and not just herself.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 January 2019 at 9:43 pm

Trump’s Entire Shutdown Approach, Encapsulated in One Tweet

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David Graham has a column in the Atlantic. I’ll excerpt the beginning down to the eponymous tweet:

Imagine you were charged with choosing an artifact to put in a time capsule so that future Americans could understand the current government shutdown. This is an unrealistic scenario, of course. No single item can explain the current moment, and moreover, there’s no reason to believe that the shutdown is actually going to end.

But playing along with the game, your best bet would be this Donald Trump tweet from Friday morning: . . .

Continue reading.

His explanation of why the tweet so perfectly embodies the Trump approach, with its strengths (loud) and weaknesses (everything else), is quite cogent.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 January 2019 at 2:47 pm

A Shutdown for the 99 Percent, Concierge Government for the 1 Percent

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Eoin Higgins reports in the Intercept:

THE GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN is into its fourth week with no end in sight. President Donald Trump started the crisis on December 22 by refusing to sign a funding bill unless it contained money for his southern border wall.

A wide range of interests across the economic spectrum are jeopardized. But not all interests are suffering equally: Wealthier and more powerful interest groups have been granted preference by the government.

Over Christmas, the shutdown threatened to stop the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, from issuing flood insurance certificates. According to federal law, FEMA must provide flood insurance certifications before banks may issue federally backed mortgages to prospective homeowners living in federally designated floodplains — even in areas that FEMA has determined should not be built on due to high risk of flooding. The National Flood Insurance Program of 1968 ensures that FEMA has the ability to issue and pay out claims for the insurance.

Without the certificates, roughly 40,000 closings a month would be at risk, resulting in millions in lost revenue for banks and mortgage companies. So it came as no surprise when interest groups successfully lobbieda bipartisan congressional cohort to temporarily reauthorize the NFIP through May on the eve of the shutdown. The stopgap bill was signed into law by Trump on December 21, hours before the federal government shuttered.

“There are 140 million Americans who live in coastal counties, millions of whom depend on this program to protect them from flood risk,” said former Rep. Tom MacArthur, a Republican from New Jersey who lost his seat in the midterm elections, during the brief House debate on the bill. “Without this program, they cannot buy or sell homes.”

But that wasn’t the end of it. Despite the reauthorization, FEMA believed that the shutdown meant that the agency could not, by law, provide these certifications. The reason? A law called the Anti-Deficiency Act prohibits government agencies from entering into contracts or spending money if the projects aren’t funded.

Craig Fugate, the former administrator for the agency from May 19, 2009 to January 20, 2017, disagrees with FEMA’s take. The NFIP is solvent, Fugate explained, subject to a different funding source and funding code, and generates its own revenue. That allows the NFIP to continue operations in the face of a shutdown. There’s no lapsed funding for the program and thus, no need to stop it from working, even in a shuttered FEMA. “As long as they’re reauthorized, they’re up and running,” said Fugate.

Nevertheless, FEMA announced on December 26 that the agency was not going to issue the certifications, citing the shutdown and anti-deficiency. The reaction from interest groups was as swift as it was predictable.

The National Association of Realtors, the largest lobbying group for the industry, made its displeasure over the possibility of lost revenue and closed home sales known. “Today’s surprise FEMA ruling jeopardizes tens of thousands of home sales across America,” said the association’s Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Shannon McGahn, “as NAR estimates up to 40,000 closings are disrupted each month that the NFIP cannot issue flood insurance policies.”

Once the rage of the business sector — and Congress — was made clear to the White House, the administration ordered FEMA to resume issuing the certificates. “Upon realizing the trouble they were in — especially with Republicans — they back tracked pretty quickly,” Stephen Ellis, executive vice president for government watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, told The Intercept in an email.

In a December 28 statement, the agency announced that it would consider the 48-hour lapse in the program to never have happened, and that the program would be regarded as having continued without interruption since December 21.

“FEMA worked with the administration and industry partners during this funding lapse to assess the impact and determine what options exist to enable the NFIP [National Flood Insurance Program] to allow the sale and renewal of flood insurance policies to continue,” Alex Bruner, a FEMA spokesperson, told The Intercept in an email.

Looking at what happened to the NFIP, said Fugate, gives a lot of insight into the priorities of the government when it comes to the shutdown. Federal workers in the Transportation Security Administration, the Secret Service, and other agencies are expected to work without pay. Public lands are being destroyed by garbage and misuse in the absence of rangers. Those effects haven’t spurred the president or Congress to act.

“As long as the only people feeling pain are federal employees, nobody really cares about shutdowns,” said Fugate.

But when the unintended consequences of the political struggle affect the rich, the rich apply pressure. And the government doesn’t even allow half a week to go by before fixing the problem. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 January 2019 at 8:51 am

A New Right-Wing Smear Campaign Targets a Former FBI Official to Distract From Russia Scandal

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David Corn writes in Mother Jones:

What happens when the politics of personal destruction intersect with a Trumpian conspiracy theory? Unfortunately, I’ve seen it, thanks to House Republicans who, with the help of conservative media, have waged an unfounded crusade against a former FBI official named James Baker.

This campaign has been underway for over a year, as part of the larger GOP effort to distract attention from the core components of the Trump-Russia scandal, namely Moscow’s attack on the 2016 election to help Donald Trump and interactions between Trump’s circle and Russia. As I wrote nearly a year ago, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), one of the chief distractors, had penned a column for the right-wing Newsmax suggesting that Baker, who had been the general counsel for the FBI, had clandestinely passed me what we now call the Steele dossier: the series of private memos written by a former British intelligence officer that contained allegations that Moscow had a covert project to cultivate and co-opt Trump and that the Trump camp had secretly communicated with the Kremlin. (Yes, the documents also referenced the alleged pee tape.) I had published an article on October 31, 2016, that first revealed the existence of the Steele memos and the FBI’s interest in his reports. And this was Jordan’s point: Baker, on behalf of the bureau, had slipped me these documents as part of a secret FBI operation to thwart the election of Trump. Here was the Deep State at work! And I was a cog in its dirty-tricks machine.

Well, no. When House Republicans first tried to float this conspiracy theory in December 2017, I notedthat Baker, a veteran Justice Department official whom I have known for years, had not been a source for me on this article. Reporters tend not to discuss their sources, but in this instance I believed it was important to counter the dissemination of inaccurate information, especially information that was being used to demonize Baker, an innocent and dedicated civil servant. I did send a copy of the Steele memos to Baker a week after I had posted the article on them. (My story had reported that Steele, whom I had not identified by name, had already provided copies to the bureau.) I asked if anyone in the bureau could talk to me about the documents. That’s what reporters do. No one at the FBI would. End of story.

But not for the tinfoil-hat-wearing Republicans and their accomplices in the right-wing media. In October, Jordan and his partners-in-diversion, including Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), called Baker to the House for two private grilling sessions. And now conservatives are using a portion of the unreleased transcripts from those interviews to shift attention from the Trump-Russia scandal to one of their favorite tangents: how the FBI handled the Steele memos.

Their latest stab at pushing the Baker-Corn-Steele conspiracy theory is based on a portion of the Baker interviews when he was questioned by Jordan. The congressman was pressing Baker on whether he had given me any information, and Baker’s attorney, Daniel Levin, interrupted to say Baker couldn’t discuss his interactions with reporters. The key exchange:

Jordan: So he [can] talk to me only about what Mr. Corn may have gave him via information or actual documents or recordings or anything else, but he’s not allowed to talk to me about information he may have given to Mr. Corn himself?

Levin: That’ s right. As a general matter, that’s right. I mean, if you want to ask specific questions we can figure it out. But as a general matter, I am not comfortable having him talk about things he has said to reporters while the Department [of Justice] still has an ongoing investigation.

Levin was referring to a criminal leak investigation that involved Baker. He did not disclose what this probe was focused on. He did say that it was being mounted by John Durham, the US attorney in Connecticut who once investigated the CIA’s destruction of videotapes of interrogation sessions that involved torture.

Jordan and Meadows have gone to town with this, writing Durham this week and demanding information on the investigation of Baker. And right-wing media outlets have pounced on this as yet another sign of a deceitful get-Trump cabal within the FBI. Following the lead of Jordan and Meadows, Byron York, in the conservative Washington Examinerasserted that the leak under investigation by Durham “appeared to be dossier-related.” York claimed that the Baker testimony “revealing the criminal investigation is a new and important part of the story of the FBI’s handling of the Trump-Russia investigation.” (The headline of his piece: “FBI interview makes big news—so why is it still secret?”) Another Examiner article insinuated that the leak was connected to Baker’s relationship with me. The Washington Free Beacon reported that this was the “first confirmation Baker was the subject of a criminal leak probe.”

Fox News has especially gone batty over this. In a “Hannity Watch” on the “Deep State,” Fox News’ Sean Hannity breathlessly . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 January 2019 at 6:28 pm

Posted in GOP, Media, Memes, Politics

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