Browsing the blog archives for March, 2018.

Trump Convicts Himself, Tweet by Tweet

Trump Maladministration

Trump won’t shut up. These tweets are from yesterday:

And these are from this morning:

Does an innocent man say stuff like this? For that matter, does a guilty man who isn’t dumber than a pair of socks say stuff like this? As Andrew McCabe explained,

“This is part of an effort to discredit me as a witness,” he told the Times.

“Here is the reality: I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey,” McCabe said in a public statement.

Well, yeah; the blind could see it. So will any future grand juries. Or judges.

Trump  has not been so direct in attacking Mueller himself before now, probably on advice of counsel. Benjamin Hart writes,

The New York Times revealed one possible reason for Trump’s especially intense wrath of late: the special counsel’s office had sent over a list of questions to the White House to set up a possible interview with the president. Last week, Mueller subpoenaed documents relating to the Trump Foundation, crossing a “red line” the president had set dictating that Mueller not delve into Trump and his family’s personal finances.

The investigation, in other words, appears to be drawing ever closer to the president and he’s responding the only way he knows how: by preparing to take out his enemy, no matter the consequences.

Thankfully for Trump, the Republican response to this increasingly likely scenario has consisted mostly of silence.

At Vox, Emily Stewart writes that Jeff Sessions may have violated his recusal pledge when he fired Andrew McCabe.

That decision [for Sessions to fire McCabe] has prompted a number of questions, including whether McCabe’s firing was politically motivated — or performed at the urging of President Donald Trump — and why it was done so vindictively, taking place as it did just two days before McCabe would have been eligible to receive a full federal pension after more than 20 years of service. Another question has begun to percolate as well: Should Sessions, who recused himself from all matters related to the 2016 presidential campaign — which included anything involving the Clinton Foundation — have been able to fire McCabe at all? ,,,

… Writing at the New York University School of Law-based blog Just Security, Ryan Goodman, a professor of law at New York University, made the argument on Saturday that Sessions violated his promise recuse himself from matters involving the 2016 election — a decision Trump had been furious about for quite some time.

“Some might contend that Sessions’ recusal covered only the Clinton and Trump campaigns, and that McCabe’s firing involved the Clinton Foundation investigation as a separate matter,” he wrote. “But Sessions unequivocally assured senators of his intentions during his confirmation hearings in response to a clear and specific question from the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA). Sen. Grassley asked a follow-up question that went right to the point. In response, Sessions very clearly said his recusal would cover any matters involving the Clinton Foundation.”

The stated reason for McCabe’s firing is that in 2o16 McCabe allowed FBI officials speak to Wall Street Journal reporters about the investigation into Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. Of course, if that were the real reason, McCabe would be retiring today with his full pension.

Also too: See Sean Illing, Cambridge Analytica, the shady data firm that might be a key Trump-Russia link, explained. And the AP reports that the Kushners have been caught lying to New York City about rent-controlled apartments as part of a scam to toss tenants out of their homes.

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Trump Is a Disease: McCabe and Russia

Trump Maladministration

This was tweeted before Andrew McCabe was fired, possibly costing him his pension and proving to the world that Donald Trump is a nothing but a malicious son of a bitch. And today the SOB couldn’t keep himself from compounding the damage:

Trump is a disease. Some are trying to argue that McCabe’s firing was recommended by the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility, meaning it wasn’t really a political decision, but Trump himself blew that argument out of the water with that tweet. We don’t know what the OPR’s reasons were, but nothing short of criminal activity should have cost McCabe his pension, IMO.

Here is McCabe’s statement on his firing.

This attack on my credibility is one part of a larger effort not just to slander me personally, but to taint the FBI, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals more generally. It is part of this Administration’s ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the Special Counsel investigation, which continue to this day. Their persistence in this campaign only highlights the importance of the Special Counsel’s work.

McCabe is vowing to talk, talk, talk.  Which makes one wonder what Trump thought he was going to accomplish.

Aaron Blake at WaPo:

It’s readily apparent why getting McCabe fired might send a message that Trump likes. But might it also come back to bite Trump?

Trump has now, after all, cemented the enemy status of a top-ranking official at the FBI (its No. 2) and onetime acting director. He previously did that by firing McCabe’s superior, former FBI director James B. Comey, and Comey has rewarded that decision by leaking unhelpful things and testifying about Trump in a negative light. He is now set to release a book.

But the McCabe and Comey situations are also somewhat different. Trump arguably terminated Comey more out of fear of how he was conducting the Russia investigation; he appears to have gone after McCabe because of vendetta and possibly to send a signal to others in law enforcement who might run afoul of him. Trump’s successful push to get McCabe fired is also undeniably more personal in nature, given McCabe was ousted just 26 hours before he was to gain full retirement benefits. McCabe was already basically out the door, and firing him now — regardless of how valid the reasons in the yet-to-be-released inspector general’s report (and those reasons might be completely valid!) — comes off as even more spiteful.

This former CIA Director sounds concerned.

See also “Five reasons Trump would have wanted Andrew McCabe fired.”

But let us turn to the other issue of the day, which is Russia. Two days ago, after prolonged foot-dragging, the Trump Administration finally announced sanctions on Russia.

In its toughest challenge to Russia to date, the Trump administration accused Moscow on Thursday of an elaborate plot to penetrate America’s electric grid, factories, water supply and even air travel through cyber hacking. The U.S. also hit targeted Russians with sanctions for alleged election meddling for the first time since President Donald Trump took office.

However, many have noted Trump himself is holding back in criticizing the Russians.

When it comes to Russia, there is the Trump administration — and there is the president.

The Trump administration denounces Russia for using nerve agent on British soil. President Donald Trump says nothing for days, then calls it “a very sad situation.”

The Trump administration castigates Russia for indiscriminate killing in Syria. Trump says nothing about it.

The Trump administration sanctions Russian hackers for meddling in the 2016 election. Trump muses that it could have been China or “many other people.”

The Trump administration condemns Putin’s unveiling of a new generation of Russian nuclear weapons. Trump remains silent.

Trump’s intelligence community stands by its conclusion that the Kremlin sought to help elect Trump in 2016. Trump insists the Russians actually opposed his election because he’s “a big military person.”

Trump’s national security adviser calls the evidence of Russian interference “incontrovertible.” Trump rebukes him on Twitter the next day.

The Trump administration pushes to harden America’s defenses for the 2018 midterms. Trump won’t even convene a meeting on the subject.

The Trump administration reassures NATO countries that America has their back against Russian intimidation. Trump complains incessantly that they need to pay more for their own defense.

You know, if a foreign country had been responsible for cyber hacking into America’s electric grid, factories, water supply and air travel, any other president would have raised hell about it. Trump can’t be bothered.

Of course, it’s possible that this has little to do with Putin. See (from a a couple of months ago) “Set aside Putin and follow the money”: a Russia expert’s theory of the Trump scandal:

Putin is happy to sow confusion and distrust in America’s system, of course, but to assume that’s the basis of this operation is to overlook a much simpler motive: money.

The financial connections between Trump and various Russian banks and oligarchs (business elites with ties to the Kremlin) stretch back decades, which is likely a big reason why Trump won’t release his tax returns. Trump’s election, Gunitsky contends, presented Russian oligarchs with an opportunity to recoup losses and leverage Trump’s debts for political gain.

So that’s it, folks. America is being sold out to the Russian oligarchs.

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Japan Went to Jared

Trump Maladministration

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meeting with the Usual Suspects in Trump Tower, November 17, 2016.

Remember the meeting with Shinzo Abe in Trump Tower, a couple of weeks after the election, when people were somewhat alarmed that Ivanka and Jared sat in? And remember the Mar a Lago national security meeting in February 2017?

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago, February 10, 2017

Yesterday Caleb Melby of Bloomberg News reported that by some coincidence the government of Japan entered into a real estate deal with Jared Kushner & family shortly after the February meeting. On March 31 2017, Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corp. closed on a stake in a building in Brooklyn, 175 Pearl Street, owned by the Kushner family. The government of Japan owns a controlling interest in Nippon Telegraph & Telephone. In effect, the government of Japan and the Kushner family are co-owners of the building.

The Brooklyn transaction represented a premium of more than 60 percent on a price-per-square-foot basis over what Kushner Cos. and its partners paid four years earlier, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The deal enabled the Kushner group to take larger ownership stakes in nearby buildings in Brooklyn’s chic Dumbo neighborhood that have signed tenants such as Etsy Inc. and WeWork Cos.

Kushner Cos. is now a co-owner with the NTT unit. The Japanese firm owns 23 percent of the building through limited liability companies plus more through a Normandy-controlled investment fund, a person familiar with the arrangement said. A day after the companies bought 175 Pearl St., the NTT company purchased a stake in Normandy itself. Kushner Cos. maintains a non-controlling share of less than five percent.

The sale was made through a New Jersey company called Normandy, and until yesterday it wasn’t publicly known that Japan was the real purchaser.  This is what was reported in March 2017:

Normandy Real Estate Partners is set to close Friday on the $100 million purchase of a majority stake in  at Dumbo HeightsThe Real Deal has learned. The 204,000-square-foot property, which has remained vacant for over a year, is part of the complex being developed by Kushner Companies, RFR Realty and LIVWRK.

Normandy, a New Jersey-based real estate investment firm, will take the lead on redevelopment and leasing efforts at the eight-story property. Kushner Companies, LIVWRK and RFR will move into a “single-digit” minority position, sources said. Invesco, which was an equity partner in the building, is being bought out, sources added.

It was not immediately clear if brokers were involved. Representatives for Kushner, RFR and Blackstone declined to comment, while Normandy and LIVWRK did not respond to requests for comment.

Wait, Blackstone? Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman is one Trump’s BFFs. There are allegations floating around that Trump owes Blackstone a ton of money, although I don’t know if that’s been verified. Blackstone has been doing a lot of business with Trump’s buddies, the Saudis, lately.

So I did a little more digging. The Pearl Street property is part of a complex of properties in Brooklyn (including the old Watchtower building) that the Kushners bought and have been developing into office towers. Blackstone was involved in the financing.  This is from May 2017:

For Jared Kushner, last summer was a whirlwind of deal-making. On the campaign trail, in the weeks leading up to the Republican National Convention, the real estate scion was endeavoring to convince his father-in-law, Donald Trump, to install new advisers. At the same time, as CEO of his family’s namesake company, Kushner was helping negotiate one of the largest real estate deals ever completed in Brooklyn, the purchase of a famed commercial property overlooking the East River.

On both fronts, Kushner prevailed. The first week of August, along with two partner firms, he succeeded in acquiring Brooklyn’s Watchtower complex, owned for decades by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, for $340 million. Two weeks later he secured the resignation of Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, paving the way for Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, to take on senior White House roles.

Kushner stepped down from his role as CEO of Kushner Companies (now simply “Kushner”) in January, prior to Trump’s inauguration, and has agreed to divest himself of some assets. But he remains the beneficiary of more than 200 family-owned properties across the U.S., including 25-30 Columbia Heights. That arrangement puts the property’s prospective tenants in an unusual situation. However indirectly, they will be paying rent to a man with an office in the West Wing. Not only that, but a man who has positioned himself as the behind-the-scenes connection point between business and the administration, responsible for overseeing the president’s innovation office and brazenly at ease orchestrating public-private deals.

I love all the name dropping. Here we get to it:

Kushner did not hold back from mixing business and politics while traveling on Trump’s first overseas trip last week, even as reports that he had attempted to establish back-channel communications with Russia began to surface. For example, Stephen Schwarzman, cofounder and CEO of the Blackstone Group—which provided financing for the Columbia Heights acquisition—joined Kushner in Riyadh, while riding high on the news that Saudi Arabia had agreed to invest $20 billion in a Blackstone infrastructure fund. (Schwarzman heads the White House’s business-advisory council.)

Of course, Blackstone might not have been involved in the deal with Japan,but I thought it was interesting. Now, back to Bloomberg:

Trump’s victory was a source of acute concern in Japan. He ran a protectionist, Japan-bashing campaign, vowed to drop a Pacific trade deal, accused Tokyo of manipulating its currency, threatened to remove U.S. troops from the country and even suggested Japan might have to develop its own nuclear weapons. When Trump won, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe skipped a planned Peru visit and flew to New York to be the first head of state to personally congratulate the president-elect in a Trump Tower meeting that included Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, who was still running Kushner Cos. at the time.

Trump warmed to Abe and, after taking office, White House officials asked Finance Minister Taro Aso to join Abe on his next visit for trade talks with Vice President Mike Pence. The Japanese leaders extended their push in a February 2017 trip to the White House, where Aso and Pence talked about economic cooperation. Afterward, Abe joined Kushner and other members of the Trump family aboard Air Force One for a flight to Mar-a-Lago, the Florida resort owned by the president.

NTT Urban Development and Normandy bought the Brooklyn property six weeks later from the Kushner group, which included Invesco Ltd. Atlanta-based Invesco had a majority stake in the property, which was operated by Kushner and Aby Rosen’s RFR Holding LLC.

Now, a year later, the Pearl Street property still sits empty and undeveloped. And ugly, I might add.  This is what it looks like:

175 Pearl Street, Brooklyn

Needs some work, I’d say. See also Rachel Maddow’s report on this last night.

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Yes, the Democrats Can Win White Working-Class Voters Without Throwing Social Justice and Equality Under the Bus

Trump Maladministration

My favorite thing about yesterday’s apparent Democratic victory in Pennsylvania 18 yesterday was this:

Republicans had banked heavily on selling their tax cuts to voters as proof that they’re getting things done for working- and middle-class people. But in the final days, Republicans dialed down their messaging about the tax cuts, because it wasn’t working.


At the beginning of February, almost two-thirds of GOP ads were about the Republican tax law, according to a Politico analysis. By election day, the same groups had pivoted sharply to decrying so-called sanctuary cities, as Politico reported:

Since the beginning of March, tax ads have been essentially non-existent. Only two are on the air now — one from the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action which briefly mentions the tax law, and a radio ad from a progressive group attacking Saccone for supporting the law.

That doesn’t mean Republicans are going to stop messaging on taxes for the 2018 midterms. They were all but doubling down during a GOP press conference on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

I think this is an example of Washington Republicans being out of touch with the voters. They’ve gone to the well with tax cuts too many times. Even people who have noticed a little bit more money in their paychecks probably realize that tax cuts do not magically make the overall economy better. They might even realize that increased deficits will ultimately lead to cutting benefits they need, like unemployment benefits and Medicare.

There was some speculation that Trump’s tariffs were aimed at winning yesterday’s election. If so, that didn’t work, either.  It probably helped the Dems that the United Steelworkers Union was going door to door for Conor Lamb. The Union does not like Lamb’s opponent, Saccone, who has an anti-worker voting record.

Conor Lamb ran as an old-fashioned labor Democrat.

Lamb’s performance also demonstrates how vital union support is for Democrats running in white, blue-collar Trump country. Lamb, who ran as a staunch defender of Medicare and Social Security, engaged heavily with the United Mine Workers and won their support after he promised to back legislation that would fund their pensions. Lamb downplayed his connection to the national Democratic Party and elided differences on cultural issues, but he pulled in Trump-voting Democrats by promising a robust defense of popular safety net programs.

The DCCC put very few resources into this race, even though Lamb was the sort of “centrist” candidate the DCCC usually loves. Lamb was careful to not badmouth Trump. He’s opposed to an assault-weapons ban and single-payer health care but supports restoring Obamacare to its former glory. He says he is personally opposed to abortion but does not support legal restrictions on abortion. (This is significant, since he is replacing a guy whose opposition to abortion rights was his signature issue.) However, he also said he was not going to support Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, which is probably why he was dissed by the DCCC.

Back to Greg Sargent:

There is a robust argument underway among Democrats over whether they should prioritize outreach to the suburban and educated white voters, mostly women, who are deeply distressed and energized by Trump, or redouble their focus on the blue-collar whites that Trump lured away. But last night’s results perhaps suggest that the GOP agenda is unpopular among both those demographics (as some Democratic pollsters have noted), meaning that this may be a false choice. If that holds, it will ensure a broad map with many districts seriously in play — and a better shot for Democrats at capturing the House.

Right after the 2016 election there was a huge uproar about whether the Democrats should emphasize “identity politics” and social issues or economic populist issues. And I wrote that this was a false choice. One set of issues does not negate the other. On a local level you might want to emphasize one set of issues over the other, depending on demographics, but there’s no reason on earth that Dems can’t run on economic populism and still be the party of social justice and equality.

And it looks like the Republican agenda is a vote killer.

Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg suggests that the results show not just that the GOP tax plan is failing, but also that the whole Trump/GOP agenda is an albatross for Republicans. Trump has fully embraced Paul Ryan’s plutocratic agenda — trying and failing to repeal a huge chunk of the safety net and passing a huge permanent tax cut for the wealthy and corporations — while continuing the drumbeat of racist and xenophobic cultural provocations (with a hasty, haphazard gesture toward protectionism in the form of the tariffs thrown in). But Lamb apparently won back large numbers of disaffected blue-collar Democrats, or at least outperformed Hillary Clinton among them. As Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman told me: “He overperformed Clinton by the most in old union precincts.”

These are exactly the people who are supposed to believe Trump when he tells them his tax plan is good for them. They didn’t. And the surge of suburban voters against Trump appeared to continue. In short: The pluto-populism isn’t working.

Remember, Trump ran as an actual populist. He was going to give everybody better health care and jobs and protect Social Security and Medicare and all that. But instead, when it became apparent he had no real agenda or plan, he just signed on to Paul Ryan’s “starve the poor” policies.

BTW, now Paul Ryan is trying to claim that Conor Lamb ran as “a conservative,” which is especially funny considering that Lamb opposes  Ryan’s agenda

But he also campaigned on a pro-union platform. He toed the Democratic line on health care, aired advertisements opposing Ryan-backed reforms to Medicare and Social Security, and hammered the Republican tax bill, arguing it would balloon the deficit and lead to cuts to entitlement programs.

To paraphrase another Republican politician, “Rarely is the question asked: Is our Republicans learning?” We’ll see.

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Putin Fires Tillerson

Trump Maladministration

Seriously, does it get more bare-assed than this? This was Rex Tillerson, yesterday.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal in Britain “clearly came from Russia” and “certainly will trigger a response.”

Tillerson says he doesn’t know whether Russia’s government had knowledge of the poisoning. But he is arguing the poison couldn’t have originated anywhere else. He says the substance is known to the U.S. and doesn’t exist widely. He says it’s “only in the hands of a very, very limited number of parties.”

Tillerson calls the poisoning “a really egregious act” and says it’s “almost beyond comprehension” that a state actor would use such a dangerous substance in a public place.

But he says he won’t elaborate on what response might follow.

This interview took place while Tillerson was returning from Nigeria to Washington, and I’m not sure exactly when Tillerson left Africa. But I believe it was yesterday late afternoon or evening.

The British Evening Standard ran this news story 14 hours ago, and I’m not sure when Tillerson said this, but it may have been before he got on the plane —

“There is never a justification for this type of attack, the attempted murder of a private citizen on the soil of a sovereign nation, and we are outraged that Russia appears to have again engaged in such behavior. We have full confidence in the UK’s investigation and its assessment that Russia was likely responsible for the nerve agent attack that took place in Salisbury last week. There is never a justification for this type of attack – the attempted murder of a private citizen on the soil of a sovereign nation – and we are outraged that Russia appears to have again engaged in such behavior. From Ukraine to Syria – and now the UK – Russia continues to be an irresponsible force of instability in the world, acting with open disregard for the sovereignty of other states and the life of their citizens.”

Three hours ago, Trump tweeted this.

According to several news stories (such as), this tweet amounted to Tillerson’s pink slip. This is how Trump fired Tillerson. Well, Putin hired Tillerson, so I guess he might as well fire him, too.

The one event from yesterday that doesn’t fit the timeline is the bullshit announcement from the House Intelligence Committee that there was “no collusion” with Russia and the investigation was ending. This came as a surprise to the Democrats on the committee.  This appears to have happened before Tillerson went rogue and criticized Russia. However, if Tillerson had informed the White House what he was going to say before he said it, one might think the House Republicans were ordered to issue a report to cover Trump’s ass.

Charles Pierce, after noting that Tillerson in recent weeks had missed appointments because of “fatigue,” said:

The official line from Camp Runamuck was that the president* shuffled Tillerson out for cause, leaving the rest of us to recall what Tillerson had said about the poisoning of the Skirpals. However, the Post also has reported that Tillerson knew he’d been fired on the previous Friday, so what the hell did he have to lose by speaking his mind on Monday?

If that was the case, they kept it damned quiet. Maybe, but one of Tillerson’s deputies has told the Associated Press that the Secretary was caught by surprise and learned about his dismissal when the president* tweeted about it on Tuesday morning. (Jesus, you wouldn’t run a gas station this way.) In any event, they had a health-related out, and they declined to use it. Graceless is as graceless does. This was defenestration, pure and simple.

I seriously doubt that Tillerson knew he’d been fired on Friday. He was supposed to have still been in Africa today, actually, but canceled today’s appointments yesterday because, he said, he had to attend to something in Washington.

Tillerson was a really bad Secretary of State, but I fear Mike Pompeo will be much, much worse.

Update: This is probably unrelated:

President Donald Trump’s longtime personal aide John McEntee was fired because he is currently under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security for serious financial crimes, a source familiar with his firing told CNN.

The charges are not related to the President, the source said.
Minutes after news of his departure broke, the Trump campaign announced McEntee would be joining the reelection effort as a senior adviser for campaign operations.
McEntee was escorted out of the White House suddenly, without being given a chance even to retrieve his coat. This seems weird, considering he’d been working at the White House all along without a security clearance, but all of a sudden he was so “hot” he had to be booted out immediately.
Update: David Frum connects the dots.  So does Jonathan Chait. Trump and Mouth of Sauron Sarah Sanders both refuse to say that Russia had anything to do with the poisoning of the ex-spy.
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The Sixteen Democrats Who Voted to Weaken Dodd-Frank

Trump Maladministration

This past week the Senate passed a bank deregulation bill. This comes under the heading of why are they wasting our time on this crap in my book.

The Sixteen Weenies are:

Bennet, Colorado
Carper, Delaware
Coons, Delaware
Donnelly, Indiana
Hassan, New Hampshire
Heitkamp, North Dakota
Jones, Alabama
Kaine, Virginia
Manchin, West Virginia
McCaskill, Missouri
Nelson, Florida
Peters, Michigan
Shaheen, New Hampshire
Stabenow, Michigan
Tester, Montana
Warren, Virginia

What did this crew vote for?

The bill — one of the few important bipartisan pieces of legislation to move through Congress — would peel back key parts of Dodd-Frank, the 2010 law that was one of former President Barack Obama’s signature achievements, while leaving most of its regulations intact.

It has several elements aimed at scaling back lending rules. They include: relaxed mortgage regulations for small banks; broad exemptions from oversight for regional banks with up to $250 billion in assets; a mandate that the Federal Reserve tailor its rules for big banks; and easier capital and liquidity requirements for a number of the nation’s largest lenders.

The bill includes a handful of consumer protections, such as a requirement that credit reporting companies like Equifax provide free credit monitoring to members of the military — a proposal that has alarmed conservatives who warn that it would expose the firms to lawsuits.

Democrats who helped draft the bill argue that the legislation is an overdue recalibration of Dodd-Frank that would help make it easier for small and midsize banks to provide credit, particularly in rural areas.

Well, that sounds benign. But let’s hear from the other side.

Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat who worked with the Obama administration on banking industry oversight after the 2008 crash, pledged to fight the bill, even if she faced long odds.

“There’s Democratic and Republican support because the lobbyists have been pushing since the first day Dodd-Frank passed to weaken the regulations on these giant banks,” she said during a morning press conference.

She added: “People in this building may forget the devastating impact of the financial crisis 10 years ago – but the American people have not forgotten. The American people remember. The millions of people who lost their homes; the millions of people who lost their jobs; the millions of people who lost their savings, they remember and they do not want to turn lose the big banks again.”

She was joined in her rebuke of the legislation by Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, who said in a statement: “Now is not the time to deregulate banks that have more than $3.5tn in assets and lay the groundwork for another massive financial collapse. Now is the time to take on the greed and power of Wall Street and break up the largest financial institutions in the country.”

Here’s the Vox explanation:

The provision of the bill that has garnered the most attention is one that would raise the threshold at which banks are subject to certain federal oversight, including stress tests that measure a bank’s ability to withstand an economic downturn. Under current law, banks with assets of $50 billion or more are considered systematically important financial institutions (often referred to as SIFIs) and are therefore subject to stricter oversight from the Federal Reserve.

The Senate bill would increase the SIFI threshold to $250 billion. Banks with assets of less than $100 billion would be freed of current oversight requirements, and those between $100 billion and $250 billion would no longer be subject to tougher rules after 18 months, although the Fed could determine periodic stress tests and other tailored oversight measures. That would free up a lot of regional banks from the heightened regulatory scrutiny they face today, including BB&T, SunTrust Banks, Key Bank, and American Express. The bill could affect about two dozen banks in total.

There was an argument, some say, for cranking up the $50 billion limit a tad, but pushing it up to $250 billion is asking for trouble. That’s according to the Congressional Budget Office, anyway.

Among other parts of the bill, CBO analyzed Section 402, which would change the supplementary leverage ratio, or SLR, a simple calculation of total equity divided by total assets. The section lets “custodial banks,” which do not primarily make loans but instead safeguard assets for rich individuals and companies like mutual funds, to eliminate reserve funds parked at central banks from the calculation, reducing leverage by as much as 30 percent. This would juice returns for these banks but also layer on additional risk, by allowing them to hold less equity to offset losses in a crisis.  …

… According to CBO, Section 402 would cost taxpayers $45 million over the next 10 years, a measure of the potential for failure of the custodial banks, as well as JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup. This would cost both the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s Deposit Insurance Fund, as well as its Orderly Liquidation Fund, used to unwind complex banking institutions during a crisis.

Ironically, I recently found an article on Democratic Senators Most Likely to Lose to a Republican in November. There are five Democrats up for re-election who are currently behind in polls against either their general election opponent or Generic Republic. All five of them are on the list above. Behind in polls:  Tester, Montana; Manchin, West Virginia; McCaskill, Missouri; Donnelly, Indiana; and Heitkamp, North Dakota. Stabenow is slightly ahead in a squeaker.

Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Voting to weaken Dodd-Frank is terrible politics. Ross Barkan writes at The Guardian:

This week, it became clear again Democrats have not truly internalized 2016. Democrats in the Senate joined the Republican majority to vote in favour of gutting key banking regulations passed in the wake of the 2008 crash, leaving dissenters like Elizabeth Warren to howl into the wind.

Beyond the immorality of the votes, they represented poor politics – a concession to the banking lobby in exchange for further distance from the beating heart of the party.

“I hope that our bipartisan work can rub off on the rest of Congress so we can break through the partisan gridlock that has plagued Washington for too long,” said Jon Tester, one of the moderate Democrats who worked on the legislation. …

… It’s worth considering when bipartisanship can still exist in this deeply polarizing moment. It cannot live where there is a growing national consensus, as over the severity of climate change or the scourge of mass shootings.

It cannot live in any kind of economic matter that benefits the working class or the poor, even after Donald Trump managed to shred rightwing economic orthodoxies on his way to the presidency – never mind that he’s governing like a Koch brothers pawn.

Democrats and Republicans can only come together to feather the nests of the rich and powerful. Weakening Dodd-Frank confirms the worst suspicions of any cynical voter – that the political class really is colluding to screw them over.

What Tester doesn’t understand is that this “bipartisan work” will not “rub off” on Congress. This bill only exists because the largest funders of the Democratic party want it to exist. Big donors on the Republican side will kill efforts to ban assault weapons, fix our healthcare system or end our reliance on fossil fuels.

There is only bipartisanship when the rich demand it. Where no demand exists, the war commences. And make no mistake, 21st-century American politics is war.

I realize there’s an argument that more conservative states will only elect conservative Democrats. The problem is that this assumes the most palatable challenger to a hard-core conservative is a “centrist” conservative. But, seriously, there’s no center any more. Voters who don’t want the crazy right-wing asshole Republican to win are not looking for a candidate who is a watered-down crazy right-wing asshole. They want something that’s clearly different.

Here in Missouri, I never hear liberals gush about how much they like Claire McCaskill. People shuffled off to the polls and voted for her six years ago to keep the misogynist creep the Republicans nominated out of office. But there’s no real enthusiasm. To win in a state like this, Democrats have to whip up enthusiasm among not-crazy voters who are not Democratic loyalists, and I don’t see them doing that. McCaskill does have a primary opponent, but I didn’t know that until I looked it up. So far, there’s no primary campaign.

The one thing McCaskill has had going for her is the Missouri Republican Party, which is pretty much a clown act. But her current Republican opponent, state attorney general Josh Hawley, hasn’t yet said anything stupid about “legitimate rape” and, interestingly, is keeping some distance between himself and the Republican establishment in Washington, including Mitch McConnell. If he runs a smart race he’ll probably beat McCaskill pretty easily. (Although, so far, he hasn’t been running much at all. But it’s early yet.)  The only thing that might help her is if Trump is seriously tanking in the Fall and Hawley is put on the spot to support Trump or not. Or, if Hawley were to lose to his primary opponent, Courtland Sykes, McCaskill will enjoy six more years in Washington. Sykes is a one-man carnival sideshow even by Missouri standards.

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Now Putin and Trump Are Coordinating Antisemitic Slurs

Trump Maladministration

Yesterday Trump lobbed a weird insult at Chuck Todd. Referring to Meet the Press, he said,

“A show now headed by ‘Sleepy eyes Chuck Todd,’” Trump said Saturday. “He’s a sleeping son of a bitch.”

Trump first used the moniker in April of 2017 when questioning why Todd and NBC News were not covering his claim that the Obama administration illegally spied on his campaign. Trump has a longstanding feud with NBC News and Todd, whom he considers to be biased against his administration.

“When will Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd and @NBCNews start talking about the Obama SURVEILLANCE SCANDAL and stop with the Fake Trump/Russia story?” Trump tweeted last year.

I had never noticed Todd looking particularly sleepy, so I wondered what this was about. But my friend Jeffrey Feldman explained it.

The “sleepy eyes” thing is an antisemitic dog whistle, in other words. The interesting thing is that yesterday,  in another interview with Megyn Kelly, Vladimir Putin blamed 2016 interference on Jews.

Putin suggested those responsible for the meddling could be Ukrainian or Jewish people with Russian citizenship, or Americans who funded the interference.

“Maybe they’re not even Russians,” he told Kelly.

“Maybe they’re Ukrainians, Tatars, Jews, just with Russian citizenship. Even that needs to be checked,” he added. “Maybe they have dual citizenship. Or maybe a green card. Maybe it was the Americans who paid them for this work. How do you know? I don’t know.”

Both slurs took place on the same day. One might think it was a coordinated effort.

There are calls for Trump to denounce what Putin said, although (except for Jeffrey Feldman) I’m not hearing much about what Trump said.

See also Haaratz. Trump won’t criticize Putin, of course.

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The Summit That Won’t Happen

Trump Maladministration

So let’s talk about the proposed Trump-Kim summit. I’m betting it will never happen. Indeed, the White House already is walking it back.

Jeffrey Lewis wrote in Foreign Policy,

Although President Trump seems to be under the impression that the meeting would be to discuss the elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, the North Koreans haven’t said anything remotely like that.

In fact, all we have from the North Koreans is the secondhand account of a South Korean diplomat of his boozy dinner with Kim Jong Un and an email sent by the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations to Anna Fifield at the Washington Post.

What Kim said, according to the South Korean envoy Chung Eui-yong, was pretty thin gruel: that North Korea would not need nuclear weapons if “military threats towards the North are cleared and the security of its regime is guaranteed.” The email to Fifield didn’t seem to mention it at all, merely offering to explain North Korea’s position to the United States.

Jonathan Chait describes how this came about.

Donald Trump snared headlines across the world by announcing yesterday he would meet with North Korea, breaking with years of American policy that held such a meeting could only happen if North Korea made concessions on its nuclear program first. It turns out Trump’s foreign policy masterstroke did not come as the result of a Metternichtian calculation but instead a completely spontaneous outburst.

South Korean official Chung Eui-yong was in the White House yesterday meeting with other officials. Trump decided to see Chung right away; maybe Fox News was in repeats or something. Trump “then asked Mr. Chung to tell him about his meeting with Mr. Kim,” reports the New York Times. “When Mr. Chung said that the North Korean leader had expressed a desire to meet Mr. Trump, the president immediately said he would do it, and directed Mr. Chung to announce it to the White House press corps.”

It sounds from this account that Trump had no real idea that North Korea has always wanted a face-to-face meeting with the U.S. president, and the U.S. has always imposed conditions. That would certainly be the logical interpretation of this account, given that, in the last week, Trump has confused North Korea with the other, extremely different South Korea, and demanded a laughably tiny $1 billion trade concession from China when he was supposed to demand $100 billion. It certainly appears Trump believed, in the moment, that North Korea had not been interested in a meeting until then, so he needed to take the deal before they changed their mind. Whatever. Art of the Deal.

Trump confused North and South Korea? Yes, Trump claimed that North Korean officials called him on the phone.

“Now we’re talking,” Trump said, referring to North Korea. “They, by the way, called up a couple of days ago; they said, ‘We would like to talk.’ And I said, ‘So would we, but you have to de-nuke.’”

We Now Know that this conversation never happened. The only phone conversations he had was with South Korean officials, which suggests he was confused about which country he was talking to.

Regarding the $1 billion trade concession from China, Matt Yglesias explains that Trump boldly announced he was asking for a $1 billion concession. Which is a joke, because the actual trade deficit is $375.2 billion, or more than $1 billion per day.  Trump was supposed to ask for a $100 billion concession, apparently. That rumbling sound you hear is China laughing its ass off.

With this promising start, what could go wrong?

The Kim family has been wanting a summit meeting with the U.S. for at least 20 years. Back to Jeffrey Lewis:

North Korea has been desperate for a state-visit from a sitting U.S. president since at least the Clinton administration. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders has said that the United States has not made any concessions, but let’s be clear: THE MEETING IS THE CONCESSION. …

… Trump seems to have thought that Kim would meet to give up his nuclear weapons. But for Kim the meeting is about being treated as an equal because of his nuclear and missile programs.

In other words, in agreeing to this meeting Trump didn’t exactly accomplish anything any other president couldn’t have accomplished. It’s just that Trump’s predecessors weren’t idiot enough to agree to a summit meeting with whichever Kim was ruling North Korea at the time. And with no one with any expertise on North Korea in Trump’s administration, there’s really no hope that such a summit meeting wouldn’t be an unmitigated disaster for the U.S.

Now Sarah Sanders is explaining that the summit won’t take place unless Kim Jong Un agrees to conditions on denuclearizing first, which is the same policy the past several previous presidents followed, which is why no summit ever happened. Back to Jonathan Chait:

Which means Trump shot off his mouth and got excited and then his advisers had to explain to him why he can’t do that. Or maybe they haven’t explained it to him and are backing out without his permission. Whatever the explanation, the major policy change Trump announced appears to be completely moot because he plays the president on television but isn’t really president.

At American Conservative, Daniel Larison writes that there’s a real possibility that such a summit, were it to happen, would make everything so much worse. If the meeting produces no results, which is likely, the two nations might not be able to just slip back into the old status quo of mutual saber rattling. Actual armed conflict could happen. No sensible person wants that, but we’re not dealing with sensible people here. On either side.

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Elites on Free Speech: Shut the Bleep Up

Trump Maladministration

There’s much fainting and grasping for smelling salts among the editorial page elites these days. Young people aren’t listening to them, I take it.

You’ll remember Brooks advising us that the reason we don’t get anywhere with the gun control debate is that gun control advocates are too nasty to the second amendment activists, and we must all simply treat the rubes  simple country people gun enthusiasts with respect and let them lead the way to sensible legislation. No, seriously that’s what he said. If in a subsequent column so much as hinted at the death threats and smears the fascists thugs gun enthusiasts were visiting upon the student survivors of the Parkland school massacre, I must have missed it.

Now Brooks has a column up in which he tries to put himself in the place of a Young Person and understand all this disrespectful heckling of their betters public intellectuals going on at colleges these days. This is what he came up with:

Today’s young people were raised within an educational ideology that taught them that individual reason and emotion were less important than perspectivism — what perspective you bring as a white man, a black woman, a transgender Mexican, or whatever.

These students were raised with the idea that individual reason is downstream from group identity. Then along came the 2016 election to validate that point of view! If reason and deliberation are central to democracy, how on earth did Donald Trump get elected?

The fact that young people and minorities and a lot of other groups routinely get shafted by an economic and political elite who aren’t listening to them doesn’t cross his mind. That they have genuine grievances that our government refuses to address is not on his radar. He doesn’t like their tone, apparently.

And isn’t it the case that whenever oppressed peoples rise up against their overlords, the overlords always complain but we did so much for them! How could they turn on us like that?

 For example, well-paid elitist idiot  public intellectual Christina Hoff Sommers was recently heckled at a talk she gave at Lewis & Clark Law School in Oregon. Bari Weiss at the New York Times wasn’t having it. “Yes, these future lawyers believe that free speech is acceptable only when it doesn’t offend them. Which is to say, they don’t believe in it at all,” she sniffed.

Whereupon Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept called out Weiss for her long career of “trying to ruin the careers of Arab and Muslim scholars for the crime of criticizing Israel.”

Anyone remotely familiar with the wars over the Middle East Studies Department at Columbia University, in which Weiss played a starring role, knows that her claim here — that the campaign was just a benign attempt to protect students’ rights — is utterly false. The campaign was designed to ruin the careers of Arab professors by equating their criticisms of Israel with racism, anti-Semitism, and bullying, and its central demand was that those professors (some of whom lacked tenure) be disciplined for their transgressions.

Greenwald provides links, testimony and examples. In other words, to Bari Weiss, free speech is acceptable only when it doesn’t offend her. And, in fact, egregious twit public intellectual Sommers was allowed to finish her speech. Indeed, there is broad suspicion that the students were set up. Alex Pareene:

Last weekend, the Lewis & Clark College chapter of the Federalist Society, the enormously influential legal arm of the conservative movement, invited contrarian political personality Christina Hoff Sommers to speak on campus. They did this mainly because they knew it would annoy or outrage liberal, left-wing, and feminist students, and some small number of them would ask the school to cancel the appearance or show up to protest it. All of that happened. Some students protested and heckled Sommers, footage of which was immediately made grist for the “free speech wars” mill.

But the New York Times editorial page isn’t done making an ass of itself.  It’s also hosting a column by Katherine Mangu-Ward, editor in chief of hard-core libertarian Reason magazine. She blames our dysfunctional public discourse on Jon Stewart.

WTF? Seriously. I’m not making that up.

The explosion of the smugs-vs.-trolls phase of our political discourse is traceable to a now infamous 2004 confrontation between Jon Stewart and Tucker Carlson in the waning days of “Crossfire,” in which Mr. Stewart, a comedian, dropped his jester’s mask and accused Mr. Carlson and his ilk of undermining serious discourse with their partisan feuding and made-for-TV talking points. “Stop hurting America,” was his specific request. Mr. Carlson sputtered and fumed; it was generally agreed that Mr. Stewart won the day. …

… for many on the right, the real lesson of the Stewart-Carlson exchange was “Do as I say, not as I do.” Mr. Stewart urged sincerity and good-faith efforts at dialogue when lecturing Mr. Carlson but practiced the opposite when it suited him. Mr. Stewart’s smugness was itself a form of trolling. And conservatives, no matter what liberals might think of them, are not stupid. The clear lesson was that if you want to win, stop being the debate team kid in the bow tie and start being the class clown who gives that guy a wedgie.

The idea that right-wing television pundits had been the “debate team kid in the bow tie” before the famous Crossfire incident is too ludicrous even to qualify as farce. For years, the Right had engaged in such verbal aggression in public debate that whoever represented “the Left” on television — often, someone more centrist than Left — was never allowed to speak. At some point in the 1980s, right-wing political hacks began the tactic of simply refusing to stop talking and allow whoever they were debating to get a word in edgewise. Many years ago I wrote,

For years it’s been an ironclad law that no progressive is allowed to speak on a television political talk show without having a rightie goon at his side, shouting him down. I once decided that if I ever saw Joe Conason appear on Hardball and be allowed to finish a sentence without interruption I could die happy.

Crossfire itself encouraged the degradation of political discourse by turning two hacks screaming talking points at each other into a crude form of reality television. This was, of course, Jon Stewart’s point, totally lost on clueless ideologue hack editor-in-chief Mangu-Ward. The hosts, of course, never corrected the many lies or provided any sort of editorial context; it was all propaganda. This works well for demagogues, but not so much for poor schmucks who are serious about public policy.

So, having set the Rule of Public Debate is that the “winner” is the guy who talks loudest and won’t shut up and listen, the elites are shocked, shocked I tell you, that public discourse ain’t what it probably never was to begin with.

Alex Pareene’s takedown of this whole conceit of anti-free speech liberalism is worth reading, and savoring.

If you think offensive speech shouldn’t be aired in certain contexts and venues, you don’t believe in free speech. Which is why it is incumbent on Weiss, and her bosses, to ask me to come to the offices of the New York Times and give a talk to the editors and columnists of the opinion page about how stupid they are.

It is absolutely necessary, for the sake of democratic ideals, that the staff attend my talk, and they must listen politely (and quietly) as I condescendingly dismiss their idiotic worldviews and personally insult them. They cannot yell at me or express indignation in any way. For them not to allow this to happen would be an alarming sign of the decline of liberalism in the West. …

… I can criticize editorial page editor James Bennet as clearly not up to the task of running a vibrant and interesting op-ed section at a time when finding smart new voices has never been easier or more necessary, but I can’t also call him a pompous twit to his face, while he just has to sit there and take it, because it would be anti-speech of him to object.

How is that acceptable? How will the minds of the New York Times opinion section staff ever be expanded, how will they ever leave their ideological bubble, if they aren’t exposed to ideas that challenge them, like “all of you are charlatans”?

Preach it, brother Alex.

And you know what this is heading for, don’t you? The Right wants laws and regulations quashing campus speech, for the sake of “freedom.”  That’s the whole point of this obviously coordinated campaign.

At Slate, Jamelle Bouie discusses some real threats to free speech. And they aren’t coming from the young folks, or the Left.

What actually looms are more traditional threats to free speech, from the state using its power to suppress dissidents and minorities (or protect those who would), to extremist groups using the threat of violence to monopolize and control public space. Focusing on campus protesters in the face of this danger is like worrying about the crumbs on your floor when your kitchen is on fire.

For example,

On campuses, it’s clear the most dangerous attacks on free expression are coming from state lawmakers. Last year in Wisconsin, the GOP-controlled Assembly passed a bill that would suspend or expel University of Wisconsin students who disrupted campus speakers or presentations. Gov. Scott Walker supports the measure, which is based on a proposal from the conservative Goldwater Institute in Arizona, and backed by Americans for Prosperity, a right-wing advocacy group.

Stunts like Sommers’s trolling of the students, or anyone inviting professional trolls like Milo Yiannopoulos to speak anywhere, look to me like coordinated efforts to accomplish exactly that — take away the free speech of college students on their own campuses. Further,

Republican lawmakers in several states proposed bills that would protect drivers who caused injury or death to someone blocking a roadway, as long as they exercised “due care.”

And how about,

In 2016, Arizona passed a statute that bars the state from “entering into government contracts with companies or persons who engage in or advocate for economic boycotts of Israel,” a policy that banned pro-boycott speakers from Arizona college campuses.

Alabama, Arizona, Texas, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Mississippi all have laws that ban the positive portrayals of homosexuality in public schools. In Alabama, the law states that “any program or curriculum in the public schools in Alabama that includes sex education or the human reproductive process shall, as a minimum, include and emphasize…in a factual manner and from a public health perspective, that homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of the state.”

Bouie doesn’t mention it, but several states have laws dictating what doctors must say to women seeking abortions, including medical “facts” that aren’t true, such as “abortion causes breast cancer.” See “New laws force doctors to lie to patients about abortion” at MSNBC.

President Trump encouraged team owners in the National Football League to fire players who protested police brutality by taking a knee during the national anthem, a clear call to punish speech. The White House took a similar line on a sports journalist who labeled the president a “white supremacist.”

We can go on and on about the many ways Trump has signaled his contempt for the First Amendment. But I think the point is made.

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Bob Mueller’s New Best Friend

Trump Maladministration

George Nader seems to be another key to Trump’s various plots. Josh Marshall:

George Nader was returning to Dulles airport on January 17th, apparently from abroad, when he was met by FBI agents with search warrants and a subpoena. Nader was planning to travel on to Florida to Mar-a-Lago for a celebration of Trump’s first year in office. Presumably, he planned to meet Trump himself or other members of the Trump inner circle. The FBI swooped in, confiscated Nader’s electronics, began questioning him at length and appear to have presented him with evidence and knowledge that more or less immediately turned him into a cooperating witness. He’s been cooperating ever since and has recently made at least one appearance before Mueller’s grand jury.

This isn’t something that happens when you’re pursuing a vague lead or someone didn’t file the right form. This has all the hallmarks of a serious counter-espionage, counter-intelligence investigation. The FBI confiscated his electronic equipment and all its records. They apparently presented him with evidence against him serious enough to compel immediate cooperation. They also appear to have wanted to stop him from making that trip to Mar-a-Lago and conveying whatever goods or information he had with him, though this is admittedly an inference and less certain than the other points.

Nader was a participant and perhaps a convener of that Transition meeting in the Seychelles which brought together a representative of President Trump (Erik Prince) with representatives of Putin and the United Arab Emirates.

If you’d forgotten (as I had) the Transition meeting in the Seychelles, here’s the background, from nearly a year ago:

SHORTLY BEFORE Donald Trump’s inauguration, Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater and head of Frontier Services Group, traveled to the Seychelles, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, and met with a Russian official close to President Vladimir Putin. According to the Washington Post, the meeting between the Russian and Prince, who presented himself as an unofficial envoy of Trump, took place “around January 11” and was brokered by Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, to establish a backchannel between the president-elect and Putin.

The identity of the Russian individual was not disclosed, but on January 11, a Turkish-owned Bombardier Global 5000 charter plane flew Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, to the Seychelles, flight records obtained by The Intercept show. Dmitriev’s plane was an unscheduled charter flight and flew to the island with two other Russian individuals, both women. The RDIF is a $10 billion sovereign wealth fund created by the Russian government in 2011. …

… During the same period in January when Dmitriev and Prince were in the Seychelles, Alexander Mashkevich, a Kazakh businessman linked to a shady Trump investment vehicle known as Bayrock, also arrived to meet with Zayed, who was “holding court” at his mansion on the island, a source familiar with the meetings said. Abdulrahman Khalid bin Mahfouz, a Saudi billionaire whose grandfather founded the first Saudi private bank and whose father allegedly helped Al Qaeda, was also present. The meetings came several weeks after Zayed flew to New York to meet with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, former chief strategist Steve Bannon, and Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser who is now a subject in the federal Russia probe.

Now we know that George Nader was at that meeting, representing Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the effective ruler of the Emirates. The New York Times reported:

The meeting, convened by the crown prince, brought together a Russian investor close to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia with Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater and an informal adviser to Mr. Trump’s team during the presidential transition, according to three people familiar with the meeting.

More on George Nader, from Josh Marshall:

He was also in close and on-going contact with the Trump Transition and during the Presidency. He appears to have been an interlocutor with Jared Kushner in Kushner’s dealings with Gulf states, which connect up with Kushner family’s failed attempt to secure a loan from Qatar and subsequent Kushner green-lighting of the Saudi/UAE et al. blockade of Qatar. Finally, Mueller’s investigators are reportedly examining whether Nader helped facilitate illegal transfers of foreign funds to the Trump campaign during the 2016 election.

But what about this Erik Prince guy?

Prince, the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, never held a formal role in the Trump campaign, the transition team, or the administration, but has been a vocal supporter of Trump nonetheless. According to the Post, Prince donated $250,000 to the Trump campaign after the Republican National Convention and developed a close relationship with Bannon. The Intercept has reported that Prince later lobbied contacts inside the Trump administration to set up a private network of intelligence contractors for the C.I.A., an idea that U.S. officials and the White House appeared to reject.

When he was first asked about the Seychelles meeting, on CNN, Prince told anchor Erin Burnett that he had been there “on business” to meet with Emirati officials and that he only had a brief meeting with “some fund manager—I can’t even remember his name” over a beer. (“The meeting had nothing to do with President Trump,” a spokesman for Prince said at the time. “Why is the so-called under-resourced intelligence community messing around with surveillance of American citizens when they should be hunting terrorists?”)

Speaking of Betsy DeVos, this morning she made a weird appearance at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and refused to talk to any students. She then held a press conference at her hotel at which she claimed to have spoken to students, but then ended abruptly after only eight minutes.  I don’t think anyone asked her about her brother.

Back to the New York Times:

The meeting in the Seychelles also took place against the backdrop of a larger pattern of secretive contacts between the Trump team and both the Russians and the Emiratis. In the weeks after the 2016 presidential election, Crown Prince Mohammed aroused the suspicions of American national security officials when they learned that he had breached protocol by visiting Trump Tower in Manhattan without notifying the Obama administration of his visit to the United States.

Mr. Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and a senior transition adviser, met at Trump Tower with Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to Washington at the time, and discussed setting up a back channel to communicate with Moscow during the transition — circumventing American diplomatic channels normally used during a presidential transition. Mr. Kushner met a few days later with a Russian banker close to Putin, Sergey N. Gorkov — whose bank was also under sanctions — in what Mr. Kushner has said was an attempt to establish a direct line of communication to Mr. Putin during the transition.

Speaking of Jared Kushner, ABC News is reporting that several White House staffers — although not Kushner — were terminated today because of their security clearance problems.

Drippity drippity drip.

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