Search result for 'jared kushner'.


More on the Kushner Family Business

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Trump Maladministration

Josh Marshall has more on the Kushner family cash-in and their pitch to Chinese investors, including photo evidence that investors are being promised access to Trump.

You’ve probably heard that the Kushner family was caught over the weekend literally selling visas to immigrate to the United States in exchange for funding a $150 million dollar New Jersey real estate project. The sale itself is actually legal. It’s part of a highly controversial and widely abused program which provides visas to foreign nationals in exchange for $500,000 investments in US projects which by certain standards are judged to create jobs in impoverished or economically distressed parts of the United States. It’s become a widely abused vehicle for real estate developers looking to fund luxury development projects.

Whether Jersey City is “economically distressed” depends on who you are. There are a lot of luxury high-rise apartments there already. If you are looking for something cheaper, however, I found a 500 sq. foot third-floor walkup for a mere $1680 a month.

In other words, if you want to do something for Jersey City’s economically distressed residents, building another luxury high-rise ain’t it. That’s the biggest problem with living in the New York City area, actually. Middle- and lower-income people are squeezed to death because The Rent Is Too Damn High. Builders want to build luxury places to wealthy people, because they get more rent per square foot, and that’s all that gets built. Housing for everybody else can get downright squalid, if not nonexistent. The waiting lists for subsidized and low-cost housing are years long.

Trump – as well as the Kushner family’s connection to him – was explicitly invoked as the “key decision maker” in getting the visas. A Times reporter posted this picture of  the presentation to Twitter, which I’ve marked up to identify the people  in the slide …

You have to go to Talking Points Memo to see the photo, but it’s pretty damning.

This is needless to say, the most open and flagrant kind of monetizing of the Presidency – as bad as anyone could have imagined from the conjoined Trump/Kushner families. The fact that this ‘nationalist’, ‘crack down on illegal immigration’ White House is connected to cash for visas activities like this just adds a layer of oily crust to the corruption.

And that’s the stuff we know about. Reporters just happened to get wind of the Chinese presentation and showed up to cover it. How much are we not hearing about?

Let us not forget that Jared Kushner’s father served time in federal prison for illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion, and witness tampering. That doesn’t mean Kushner necessarily is dishonest himself, but it says something about Kushner family values.

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Bob Mueller’s New Best Friend

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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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Bob Mueller Is Still Investigating

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Trump Maladministration

The latest:

Rick Gates done gone and flipped, folks. And he must have flipped good.

The lead Russia investigator asked a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia Tuesday to dismiss a series of criminal charges against Gates, including tax and bank fraud, in exchange for his guilty plea and testimony in the wider probe into the 2016 presidential election.  …

… The additional leniency comes after Gates agreed to a plea deal last Friday with Mueller that stipulates he must cooperate “in any and all matters” that the special counsel’s office decides are “relevant.”

Gates likely can help the government in its prosecution of his longtime business partner Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman who is fighting Mueller’s indictments for money laundering, failing to register as an agent of a foreign government, and bank and tax fraud.

Gates is also expected to provide a wider window for Mueller into the Trump campaign, where he worked as deputy chairman under Manafort and later as a liaison to the Republican National Committee.

But Manafort is still fighting. The Gates news was yesterday; today Manafort pleaded not guilty to some of the charges against him, including some brand new ones.

Manafort and Gates were originally indicted in Washington in October on charges of conspiracy and fraud stemming from their lucrative lobbying work in Ukraine — a case that arose out of Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign and possible ties to the Trump campaign.

second federal indictment charging the pair with new tax and bank fraudcharges related to real-estate loans was lodged against them in Virginia last week.

Soon after, prosecutors announced they had struck a cooperation agreement with Gates, who is a former Trump campaign aide. And hours later, Manafort was hit with new charges in Washington — including an accusation that he secretly recruited and funded a group of former European politicians to lobby in the United States on behalf of Ukraine.

Josh Marshall writes,

Let’s start with one key point: The main deliverable Vladimir Putin wanted from the Trump administration, whatever role he played in the latter’s election, was an end to the punitive sanctions imposed by the US and Europe after the Russian seizure of the Crimean Peninsula and incursions into eastern Ukraine in February 2014. There are many parts of the package Putin wanted and Trump seemed to want to provide, from things as limited as the late 2016 sanctions imposed by President Obama to as maximal and aspirational as the disruption of the NATO alliance. But the end of the 2014 sanctions and the acceptance of Russian sovereignty in Crimea was the core deliverable at the heart of a broader rapprochement or even global US-Russian partnership. That was the big thing Russia wanted and indeed still wants.

Manafort wasn’t simply at the heart of the 2016 election story, he was at the center of this origination point story as well. Manafort’s meal ticket and main client was Viktor Yanukovych, the Russia-aligned President of Ukraine. Yanukovych was driven from power by his inability to manage the cross-cutting fissures in Ukraine, the pulls of Russia and the EU, specifically his decision to reject a deeper association with the EU and swing around to a redoubled bond with Russia. It was Yanukovych’s fall from power and subsequent flight to Russia which at least triggered the annexation of Crimea and Russia’s shadow war in the east. In other words, the fall of Manafort’s client in Ukraine was the triggering event which led to the punitive sanctions the removal of which was the core thing Vladimir Putin was hoping to receive from Donald Trump. That Manafort, who’d been Yanukovych’s political advisor and fixer for a decade would end up running Trump’s campaign is, to put it mildly, remarkable. 

Do read all the juicy details in Josh Marshall’s piece. Note that we have to wait until September for Mueller’s trial. But we’re not done.

Reports are that people being interviewed by Mueller are being asked very pointed questions about what Trump might have known about stolen Democratic Party emails before they were released.

Witnesses who were involved with Trump’s campaign are being asked if the president knew that WikiLeaks was going to publish the stolen emails, according to NBC News. Particular attention has been paid to Trump’s infamous July 2016 public comments at a news conference shortly after WikiLeaks began publishing Democratic National Committee emails.

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump told reporters at the time.

The investigators are also probing whether Trump had prior knowledge of WikiLeaks’ plans to publish the Democratic emails and why Trump has consistently taken pro-Russia policy positions that have seemingly conflicted with his otherwise hawkish foreign policy views. There have also been questions about the connections between Roger Stone and Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks and a man known to have been compromised by the Russian government. It had already been reported in The Atlantic that Stone exchanged direct messages with WikiLeaks, and in November it came out in The Atlantic that Assange had asked the Trump campaign to be made into Australia’s ambassador to the United States.

Even better, Mueller has taken an interest in Trump’s business dealings in Russia before he began campaigning for president:

Three people familiar with Mueller’s investigation have told CNN’s Kara Scannell, Pamela Brown, Gloria Borger, and Jim Sciutto that the special counsel has started questioning witnesses about Trump’s dealings in Russia — specifically the fate of a Trump Tower in Moscow — and when exactly Trump made the decision to run for president. Mueller may also be digging into whether there’s any compromising information on Trump that might connect the two, one source speculated to CNN. …

…Mueller’s team is trying to pinpoint when Trump became serious about a presidential run, and if it might coincide with any sketchy business dealings. A source told CNN that “a witness told Mueller’s team his impression was that Trump was serious about running back in 2014,” and that Mueller’s team also wanted to know if Russians had visited Trump Tower in New York before 2015. This unnamed witness reportedly said no.

Trump’s 2013 trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant has attracted much attention in the Russia scandal — and the CNN report says that Muller also put it under scrutiny. Investigators are interested in who Trump met with during his time there.

That Russia visit has long been an odd bullet point in the Trump-Russia saga — one that has continued to pop up because the Russian financiers who helped bankroll the pageant helped arrange the infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Don Jr. regarding promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The CNN report suggests that Mueller is also interested in the scrapped plans for a Trump Tower in Moscow — both the one in 2013 connected to the Miss Universe pageant and a renewed attempt led by Trump Organization lawyer Michael Cohen in 2015. (Cohen says he ended negotiations in January 2016.)

But wait, there’s more. Recently Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign announced that a fellow named Brad Parscale would be campaign manager. Who is Brad Parscale? The short answer is that he was the guy in charge of digital strategy in the 2016 campaign. “Digital strategy” in this case was mostly about getting word out on social media, especially Facebook. Here’s a December 2017 article by Sean Illing at Vox explaining why this is a big deal.

In June 2016, the Trump campaign hired Cambridge Analytica to take over its data operations.

We know from the reporting of Nicholas Confessore and Danny Hakim at the New York Times that Jared Kushner, who was charged with overseeing Trump’s digital operations, is the reason Cambridge Analytica joined the Trump campaign.

Kushner hired a man named Brad Parscale, a Texas-based digital expert who had worked previously for team Trump. According to Confessore and Hakim, Cambridge Analytica convinced Parscale (who has since agreed to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee) to “try out the firm.” The decision was reinforced by Trump’s campaign manager, Steve Bannon, who is also a former vice president of Cambridge Analytica.

It’s not clear to what extent Cambridge Analytica helped (Parscale denied that Cambridge was of any use in a recent 60 Minutes interview), but we do know that Trump’s digital operation was shockingly effective. Samuel Woolley, who heads the Computational Propaganda project at Oxford’s Internet Institute, found that a disproportionate amount of pro-Trump messaging was spread via automated bots and anti-Hillary propaganda. Trump’s bots, they reported at the time of the election, outnumbered Clinton’s five to one.

So there’s more detail about what all these bots were up to, and then …

In early July, Shane Harris of the Wall Street Journal released a series of reports that offered some of the most compelling evidence yet that Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian hackers.

Harris interviewed a man named Peter Smith, a pro-Trump GOP operative who sought to acquire the 30,000 deleted emails from Hillary Clinton’s private server. Of the several hacker groups Smith reached out to, at least two had connections to Russia — that’s according to Smith.

Smith told Harris that he was in regular contact with Gen. Michael Flynn, who at the time was one of Trump’s closest confidants — and of course later became Trump’s national security adviser.

Here’s a key passage from the Harris report, which my Vox colleague Andrew Prokop highlighted at the time:

“He [Smith] said, ‘I’m talking to Michael Flynn about this — if you find anything, can you let me know?’” said Eric York, a computer-security expert from Atlanta who searched hacker forums on Mr. Smith’s behalf for people who might have access to the emails. …

…In phone conversations, Mr. Smith told a computer expert he was in direct contact with Mr. Flynn and his son, according to this expert. … The expert said that based on his conversations with Mr. Smith, he understood the elder Mr. Flynn to be coordinating with Mr. Smith’s group in his capacity as a Trump campaign adviser.

Harris examined intelligence reports that described the efforts of Russian hackers to retrieve emails from Clinton’s server and pass them along to Flynn, who would then share them with the Trump campaign.

By itself, Harris’s reporting makes no connection to Cambridge Analytica. But in August the Associated Press published a report that helped connect the dots. In an amended public financial filing, Flynn was forced to disclose “a brief advisory role with a firm related to a controversial data analysis company that aided the Trump campaign.”

The “data analysis company” is none other than Cambridge Analytica. The precise amount of money Cambridge paid to Flynn is unknown, as are the details of Flynn’s role.

Of course, Jared also in the news for losing his temporary security clearance. He is now downgraded to seeing only “secret,” as opposed to “top secret,” material. That ought to remove him from any further dealings in foreign policy, but we’ll see. See also Charles Pierce.

Trump today is spinning his wheels over the Nunes memo and the phony issue that the FBI and Justice Department somehow stricked a judge into issuing a FISA warrant based on the Steel Dossier. I’ve already discussed this to death here.  Trump is furious at Jeff Sessions for not prosecuting somebody already.

Sessions has responded by saying, “We have initiated the appropriate process that will ensure complaints against this Department will be fully and fairly acted upon if necessary. As long as I am the Attorney General, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this Department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution.” It occurs to me that working for Trump is its own punishment.

White House Communications Something Hope Hicks testified before the House Intelligence Committee yesterday, and today she announced she will be resigning. Make of that what you will. White House press official Josh Raffel, who mostly works for Kushner, is leaving also.

And that’s just the stuff that’s happened the past several hours.

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House of Bad Security Clowns

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Trump Maladministration

Conservative opinion writer Kathleen Parker explains why Rob Porter was kept at his job without a security clearance. He was one of the few people working at the White House “who knew how to do anything,” Parker says.

Most likely, Rob Porter was deemed too valuable to the White House given that he, and virtually no one else, including the president and Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, understood how the legislative branch of government works. Whatever his military achievements, Kelly may be the least-qualified chief of staff in recent history, including his lackluster predecessor, Reince Priebus, who is James A. Baker III by comparison. …

… Kelly has pleaded ignorance about Porter’s alleged abusive background, saying he only recently found out about it. But it appears that Kelly was informed last fall and that White House Counsel Donald McGahn knew a year ago. The Post reported Thursday: “When McGahn informed Kelly this fall about the reason for the security clearance holdup, he agreed that Porter should remain.” …

… The shock and awe emanating from the White House about Porter aren’t so much a commentary on the man, but testament to the surreal and potentially perilous incompetence surrounding the president.

I would have left out “potentially,” but yeah.

Dozens of White House staff lack permanent security clearances. This includes Jared Kushner; officials say he is not expected to receive a security clearance in the near future.

The president’s son-in-law and close adviser has been allowed to see materials, including the President’s Daily Brief, that are among the most sensitive in government. He has been afforded that privilege even though he has only an interim clearance and is a focus in the ongoing special counsel investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to influence the election.

Get this–

Those in [White House Counsel Donald] McGahn’s office, people familiar with the matter said, feel they cannot take action on other people whose background checks have dragged on because they did not take similar steps with Kushner.

Porter and Kushner and who know who else in the White House surely had and have access to all the intelligence given to Trump, including his famously dumbed-down daily briefs that he apparently can’t read, but which have to be explained to him.

Trump, the Post reports, “has opted to rely on an oral briefing of select intelligence issues” because reading the brief — which every president has been able to do since its existence began — “is not Trump’s preferred ‘style of learning,’ according to a person with knowledge of the situation.”

Trump does not receive his verbal briefing daily, but instead “about every two to three days on average in recent months, typically around 11 a.m.” That’s when “executive time” ends and Trump has to turn off Fox News to listen to officials for a while, before he gets more screen time later in the day.

And then he can’t be bothered to listen to the explanations:

The early briefing sessions had a more freewheeling quality, according to current and former administration officials. Five or more White House aides might join Trump for the briefing, in addition to his briefer and intelligence officials.

The meetings were often dominated by whatever topic most interested the president that day. Trump would discuss the news of the day or a tweet he sent about North Korea or the border wall — or anything else on his mind, two people familiar with the briefings said.

On such days, there would only be a few minutes left — and the briefers would have barely broached the topics they came to discuss, one senior U.S. official said.

This causes one to suspect that people like Kelly, Porter and Kushner are the ones really driving anything the White House actually does. Kushner’s prior experience at being a big shot include turning the once-respected New York Observer into a combination Trump propaganda rag / shopping circular for the Upper West Side and blowing the family fortune on an overpriced white elephant on Fifth Avenue. If he ever actually succeeded at anything, I must have missed it. On top of that, he deliberately falsified security clearance forms and has extensive foreign business ties that ought to have disqualified him for a White House job by themselves.

As for John Kelly, he obviously has failed to bring order to the White House. He also is an immigration hard liner who was among those who were behind the scuttling of the Graham-Durbin budget deal at the “shithole” meeting.

Just three weeks ago, Kelly was being called “President Kelly” at the right-wing National Review. “Donald Trump runs a Twitter account. President John Kelly is running the administration,” Kevin Williamson wrote. Yes, but running it badly.

This is Trump’s latest tweet, btw.

 

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Merry Whatever

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holiday, Trump Maladministration

Even though it’s not a religious holiday for me, I have to admit I appreciate that there’s one time of year when everything comes to a screeching halt. Routines go out the window; businesses close. There’s nothing left but to say, “Oh, yeah. It’s Christmas.” It helps one appreciate normal, especially when all those insipid made-for-television Christmas romance movies go away.

In the unintended consequences department, we learn that Trump’s announcement about moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem has killed Christmas tourism in the Holy Land.

Chalk the absence of visitors up to President Donald Trump’s Jerusalem speech, which outraged Muslims, scared off tourists, and unnerved Christian clerics. It also bushwhacked Vice Preside Mike Pence’s planned (now postponed) trip to Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Cairo, which was meant to express solidarity with Mideast Christians. Church leaders were refusing to meet him.

“Who was advising Trump?” one prominent Bethlehem Christian asked me plaintively. Good question. Because the backlash against Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital makes one wonder what Trump and Pence thought they would gain.

According to what I have read here and there, those advising Trump to do this included his go-to guy on Middle East Peace, Jared Kushner; and his veep, Mike Pence.

And then there is Pence, a fervent Christian who urged the president to keep his pledge to his evangelical base and move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. If he thought this move would help Holy Land Christians, he was very wrong.

One of the terrible ironies here is that Palestinian Christians and Palestinian Muslims have co-existed peacefully for generations. The reason the Palestinian clergy want to keep a distance from Mike Pence is that they fear making enemies of Muslims.

Ordinary Christians in Jerusalem and Bethlehem worry that Trump’s perceived challenge to Muslim holy sites will destabilize the city and affect them. They are a minority who have lived for centuries alongside their Muslim Palestinian brethren, and always hope for calm.

On the West Bank, Palestinian Christians do not face persecution for their religious beliefs. Christian restaurants in Bethlehem serve alcohol without any problem, and Christian women walk with hair uncovered. “In Bethlehem, we are a minority, but the Palestinian government supports Christians here,” Canawati said. “The post of mayor always goes to a Christian.” …

…”Most Christian Palestinians feel caught in the middle,” says the Rev. Peter Vasko, a Brooklynite and longtime resident of Jerusalem, who heads the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land, which aims to help Christians remain there. “Israeli soldiers look at Christians as Arabs, while Palestinian radicals see them as traitors to the cause.”

Christian evangelicals in the U.S. think that moving the embassy to Jerusalem is a great idea; Christians who actually live in Israel, however … not so much.

The divide between evangelicals and other Christian denominations reflects two views of Jerusalem — one traditional and political, the other literal and theological. The key to understanding this rift is the evangelical belief in what is necessary to pave the way for the second coming of Jesus.

For many Holy Land Christians, Trump’s declaration was about as welcome as a biblical curse.

Hours before the declaration on Dec. 6, Jerusalem’s Orthodox Christian patriarchs and heads of local churches sent Trump a letter predicting that “such steps will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us farther from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive division.”

And yet, across the ocean, Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Christian Family Research Council, said on a White House visit that “evangelical conservatives are grateful” to Trump for his decision on Jerusalem.

I’m afraid the best we can hope for is that someday Tony Perkins and the whackjobs who admire him find Jesus.

Meanwhile, at the North Pole, there’s a climate crisis.

On a more cheerful note, someone — maybe the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come — sent Steve Mnuchin a gift-wrapped box of horse manure. This was generous; I would have just sent some well-used kitty litter. Horse manure is too good for Mnuchin.

And so as not to be a complete downer this Christmas, here’s my favorite Christmas carol. Enjoy.

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Waiting on the Alabama Returns

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Trump Maladministration

I just checked the news for the latest on voter turnout in Alabama. Word is that turnout is “high”; they expect about 25 percent of registered voters to vote.

WTF, Alabama? The whole country is biting its nails over this election, and the best you can do is 25 percent?

Last night at a rally Roy Moore’s wife Kayla actually said this —

Classic. In other news …

The European Parliament has accused Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross of insider trading.

Earlier this year, Luke Ming Flanagan, an Irish politician and member of the European Parliament, the European Union’s governing body, commissioned a report on the 2008 eurozone banking crisis. The final version of this report, written by two Irish financial analysts, was presented in Brussels last week to a group of 52 European Parliament members affiliated with left-leaning parties. And it included a section covering Ross’ investment in the Bank of Ireland, in which he was a major shareholder and a member of the board of directors. The report alleges that when Ross sold off his holdings in the bank for a massive profit in 2014, he possessed inside information that the bank was relying on deceptive accounting practices to mask its losses and embellish its financial position.

You’ll have to read the article for details, which look pretty incriminating. But jeez louise, the guy cheats but still had to lie about being a billionaire. Pathetic.

How about this one — after dumping Matt Lauer, the Today Show’s ratings have gone up. Not surprised.

By now you’ve heard about the tweet Trump sent after Sen. Gillibrand called for him to be investigated for sexual assault.

Because, you know, nothing says “I’m not really a sexual predator” more than hurling sexist and demeaning insults at  women. And then, even better, deny that an obviously sexist comment was a sexist comment. Absolutely brilliant.

Elsewhere — take Steve Mnuchin. Please. Far, far away. He’s turning into one of the most annoying members of Trump’s cabinet, which is saying something. Bess Levin writes for Vanity Fair:

When Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin claimed that more than 100 people in his department were “working around the clock” on forthcoming analysis regarding the G.O.P.’s tax plan, those he credited with “running scenarios” on the bills were surprised, given that such analysis did not, in fact exist. Their time had been spent, they told The New York Times, running models on “individual provisions or policy ideas”—a far cry from the detailed, thorough analysis that Mnuchin had repeatedly promised was right around the corner, and would definitively prove that the cuts paid for themselves. With the clock running down and the Inspector General digging into the mysterious case of the missing Treasury analysis, the former Goldman partner turned foreclosure mogul pulled through on Monday with a report clocking in at a single page and fewer than 500 words that says the Senate plan will totally pay for itself—assuming a set of circumstances that are about as likely as Jared Kushner bringing peace to the Middle East.

Seriously; the Treasury analysis is on one piece of paper, which is not nearly big enough to cover Mnuchin’s lying ass.

For real-live economists and tax experts, Mnuchin’s “analysis” is an infuriating disgrace. “The Treasury’s one-page note is a pathetic joke,” Jason Furman, a professor of Practice at Harvard Kennedy School and former Chairman of Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, told me. “I feel awful for the dozens of talented Treasury economists who have worked for years developing sophisticated models for dynamic analysis and dynamic scoring only to be completely shut out of this process. Instead of doing an analysis, the Treasury Department assumed a can opener, using an assumption they made about growth in the budget they put together long before they even had a tax-reform plan. Then they mechanically calculated the consequences of that growth assumption for the budget finding that the tax cuts pay for themselves, a result that a consensus of top economists in the recent Booth survey rejected.”

And so on. Paul Krugman said,

The document was a shameless attempt to fool the public — carefully worded to imply that economic experts at Treasury (they’re still in there somewhere, maybe locked in a closet) had actually done an analysis to that effect, without explicitly saying so. In fact, there was no economic analysis; Trump officials just made up numbers that would give them the result they wanted.

Even reporters hardened to Trump administration lies seemed shocked by the brazenness of this bait-and-switch. What made Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, think he could get away with it?

And the answer is, Paul Ryan’s been getting away with fantasy numbers for years. Why not Mnuchin?

And all of our futures may hinge on bleeping Alabama. I need a drink.

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Another Foreign Policy Unforced Error: Jerusalem

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Trump Maladministration

Following Trump’s slurred announcement that the U.S. Embassy in Israel would be moved to Jerusalem, the State Department updated its Worldwide Caution alert to be sure Americans traveling abroad know there are Terrorists Out There. Of course.

Trump had absolutely no idea why the move to Jerusalem might be problematic.

President Trump did not completely grasp the ramifications of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, several advisers told The Washington Post.

Trump wanted to seem “pro-Israel” and focused on “making a deal,” two advisers told the Post.

According to the newspaper, some administration officials voicing their support for the decision included Vice President Pence and adviser Jared Kushner, who is also Trump’s son-in-law.

Others, though, advocated against the move, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis.

Trump on Wednesday recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announced plans to relocate the U.S. Embassy there.

WaPo:

The decision to shake off warnings from senior officials such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and align himself instead with prominent proponents of the move, including Vice President Pence and major donor Sheldon Adelson, underscored the president’s determination to break with past policy and keep a key campaign pledge — despite the potential risks to U.S. interests in the region and the goal of Middle East peace.  …

… Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, had supported the move from early in Trump’s candidacy, and Pence, who is to visit Israel this month, told Trump that his base would love the decision, something the president liked to hear.

An important outside voice advising Trump to make the leap was [Sheldon] Adelson’s, according to several people familiar with the two men’s conversations. At a White House dinner earlier this year, Adelson made the issue a main topic, one person said. In the months that followed, Adelson periodically asked others close to Trump what was causing the delay and expressed frustration, these people said. …

… “It’s insane. We’re all resistant,” said one Trump confidant who recently spoke to the president about it. “He doesn’t realize what all he could trigger by doing this.”

While Trump appeared to have made up his mind, he continued to solicit input, two White House officials said, even asking random acquaintances about the Middle East in recent months. Several advisers said he did not seem to have a full understanding of the issue and instead appeared to be focused on “seeming pro-Israel,” in the words of one, and “making a deal,” in the words of another.

The WaPo article goes on to say that the announcement had nothing to do with any peace process, but rather was mostly about Trump wanting to keep a campaign promise. Of course, it was a stupid promise because moving our embassy to Jerusalem helps neither Israel nor the United States.

Presidents need to be able to play multi-dimensional chess. Trump can’t manage one-dimensional tic-tac-toe without screwing it up.

Juan Cole:

Some sections of the crazy quilt that makes up the Trump administration want to push Iran back out of the Arab world and weaken it, in support of Israel and Saudi Arabia. Those actors have just been handed a big setback by Trump’s slurred and crazed announcement that he will move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and recognize it as the capital. …

… It isn’t that everyone doesn’t already know that Washington is on board with screwing over the Palestinians and humiliating the Arabs. But Trump just flaunted it in everyone’s face.

But let us consider the Saudi cold war with Iran. Given the open Saudi signals of cooperation with Israel against Tehran and given the Al Saud’s embrace of Trump, Riyadh is implicated in the Jerusalem decision whether they like it or not. In the propaganda wars between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Iran just got a big boost.

Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani called up Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan and the two agreed that Jerusalem is the permanent capital of Palestine. Turkey is majority Sunni, while Iran is a Shiite republic. Any attempt to block Iran’s influence would have to aim at instigating bad relations between these two, among the most populous and wealthy countries in the Middle East.

Trump managed to bring Turkey and Iran together by what they called his “wrong” and “illegal” action. In fact, Rouhani called for all 56 Muslim-majority countries to make a stand against the US. Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Jerusalem will always be Arab and Islamic. The country’s Leader, Ali Khamenei, also weighed in, pledging to organize the Muslim world for a response. So now the Iranians (not Arabs) are the champions of Arab nationalism, while Saudi Arabia and Egypt are supine. So Trump is helping make Iran a leader of the Muslim world. Good job.

Charles Pierce:

People who believe that the president* is a dealmaking genius—or, more precisely, the people who are paid to tell him they believe it—likely will see this move as a clever ploy to shock both sides into serious negotiations. Sensible people, however, will see this move as a man who fingerpaints with botulism. World leaders, of course, are basically aghast. Even Jared Kushner’s new pals, the Saudis, consider this a reckless idea. From Haaretz:

“Any U.S. announcement on the status of Jerusalem prior to a final settlement would have a detrimental impact on the peace process and would heighten tensions in the region,” Saudi Ambassador Prince Khalid bin Salman said in a statement. “The kingdom’s policy – has been – and remains in support of the Palestinian people, and this has been communicated to the U.S. administration.”

Jared Kushner is, of course, dumber than a bag of hammers, and the fact that this walking tribute to privileged cluelessness is in charge of our Middle East policy ought to scare the stuffing out of all of us. Politico reports that Kushner — who pushed for the move of the embassy — has no clue why this would jeopardize his good relations with the Saudis or threaten any negotiations regarding the Palestinians.

With the exception of Benjamin Netanyahu, world leaders have expressed strong condemnation of Trump’s move. And, truly, it was an unforced error. I’m not aware of any pressure being put on Trump to mess with the status quo. He did it because he wanted to.

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Is Mueller Closing In?

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Trump Maladministration

It sure seems so

President Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, pleaded guilty on Friday to lying to the F.B.I. about conversations with the Russian ambassador last December, becoming the first senior White House official to pledge cooperation in the special counsel’s wide-ranging inquiry of election meddling.

Documents released as part of Mr. Flynn’s plea agreement show that his pre-inauguration discussions with Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, about foreign policy were part of a coordinated effort by aides running Mr. Trump’s transition into the White House. In at least one instance, federal prosecutors say, Mr. Flynn was directed by a “very senior member” of Mr. Trump’s presidential transition team.

So what exactly did Flynn lie about?

He’s charged with lying about conversations he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on December 22nd, 2016 and on December 29th, 2016.

In the first set of conversations, Flynn apparently asked that Russia either delay or defeat a resolution in the United Nations Security Council. Flynn lied to the FBI about whether Russia ever described their response to this request to him, claiming that they did not.

In the second set of conversations, Flynn requested and received assurances that Russia would not respond strongly to President Obama’s announcement that he was placing new sanctions on Russia in retaliation for their meddling in our election. He dishonestly claimed not to remember that Russia had made these assurances to him.

In return for pleading guilty to these charges, Flynn will be expected to cooperate with the investigation. If he doesn’t do so satisfactorily those other charges, including the kidnapping charge which also implicates his son, could be reintroduced.

 Flynn did not make these contacts on his own initiative.

Flynn’s stipulation of the facts underlying his December 2016 conversations with then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. At least one of those two conversations Flynn undertook at the direction of a “very senior” transition official, the stipulation says.

The documents do not say who directed Flynn to discuss sanctions with Kislyak — a conversation Flynn later reportedly lied about to Vice President Mike Pence, a lie that was the stated reason that Trump fired Flynn in February. But Flynn’s statement, following his Friday guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with Mueller’s probe, shows that the transition team, at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, was informed at every stage of his discussions with Kislyak.

Who was this “very senior” transition official who gave the order? Nobody really knows. Bloomberg speculates that it was Jared Kushner. Others are reporting that it was Trump himself.

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn is expected to testify that President Trump instructed him to contact Russian officials during the 2016 campaign, according to a report by ABC News.

Flynn is saying that Trump “directed him to make contact with the Russians,” ABC’s Brian Ross said Friday, just moments after Flynn entered a guilty plea for lying about his contact with Russians during the presidential transition period.

Oh, let it be true, please …

Or, it could have been Pence. Josh Marshall:

The first point to note is that Flynn was the person running the Trump foreign policy operation. That is what a modern National Security Advisor does. From everything we know, it’s what Flynn was doing in the latter months of the campaign and certainly during the transition. In other words, it’s not clear that there was anyone in the campaign who outranked Flynn on foreign policy matters. Other than the President-Elect or conceivably the Vice President-Elect, Flynn is the guy who would do the directing rather than getting direction.

Let’s walk through this again.

The “senior official” is the one who talked with Flynn about how to handle his discussions with Kislyak about the sanctions. It was the “very senior member” of the transition who specifically told Flynn to contact foreign governments about the Israel resolution at the UN. The language is very specific about the direction. “On or about December 22, 2016, a very senior member of the Presidential Transition Team directed FLYNN to contact officials from foreign governments…”

The ‘very’ in “very senior member” seems like an almost over the top effort to convey just who it was the prosecutors are talking about. It’s hard to see that that is not either Pence or President Trump, though it also strikes me as perhaps a bit too coy to refer to the incoming President as a member of transition team.

See also Mother Jones. And there’s more …

Flynn clearly kept the President’s team in Mar-A-Lago fully up to date about his conversations with Kislyak, in more or less real time. There were repeated calls with the “senior official” about Kislyak. Critically, after the full round of calls with Kislyak, Flynn “spoke with senior members [note the plural] of the Presidential Transition Team” about his conversations with Kislyak. …

… The clear takeaway is that basically all of Trump’s top advisors, including the President and almost certainly Vice President Pence, were in the loop about these calls even if they did not themselves speak to Flynn directly.

All this may account for why Trump’s behavior has been more erratic than usual lately.

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The Trump Campaign: Too Screwed to Collude?

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Trump Maladministration

In light of Jeff Sessions’s testimony today, I call your attention to Paul Waldman’s commentary:

Unlike his boss, who claims he possesses “one of the greatest memories of all time,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a man who gazes into the past and sees only a fog of out-of-focus associates and half-remembered events. But in his testimony today before the House Judiciary Committee, Sessions may have hit on the new Trump administration defense for the Russia scandal, one that can be applied to almost any future revelation.

Its essence is that the Trump campaign was such an ungodly, bumbling mess that it was simply incapable of colluding with the Russians in their campaign to undermine Hillary Clinton, help Donald Trump get elected, and generally disrupt and discredit the American electoral system.

As weaselly a defense as that may seem, it contains a good bit of truth. With each new revelation about the campaign’s contacts with Russia, a picture is filling out. It’s one not of a well-organized collusion conspiracy, but instead of a bunch of nincompoops engaging in a kind of ongoing, ad hoc, fitful sort-of-collusion, one that involved lots of meetings, lots of emails, and lots of contacts between various Russians with Kremlin connections and people at different levels of the campaign. Whether it fits your definition of “collusion,” it was one heck of an incompetent conspiracy.

Yesterday the Atlantic published some private direct messages sent through Twitter between Julian Assange and Donald Trump, Jr.  What struck about these is that Junior seemed to have no clue what to do with Assange. Assange clearly was trying to rope Junior into collusion. Junior didn’t always respond, as if he wasn’t sure who Assange actually was, but he was too dim to have realized he should have nothing to do with Assange and did go along with some of his suggestions.

See also Charles Pierce:

To get back to Junior, however, how stupid do you have to be to get involved even marginally in something like this? Assange believes in nothing but himself. He’d sell Junior to the Somali pirates if he thought that would advantage him in some way. No game is worth that candle. And you can see how desperately WikiLeaks wanted to keep Junior on the string. (That request for the president*’s tax returns, so that WikiLeaks could publish them and thereby establish a neutral bona fides for future anti-Clinton news dumps, is positively Machiavellian—and it would’ve worked, too.) And now, in another perfectly predictable development, those emails are in the hands of congressional investigators. Apologies, again, to Eric Trump, who heretofore will be known as The Smart One.

Anyway, Paul Waldman continues:

There was the meeting that Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort had with Russians connected to the Kremlin on the promise of dirt about Hillary Clinton. There were the contacts multiple Trump officials like Papadopoulos and Carter Page had with Russians, and the fact that others within the Trump campaign were likely more aware of these contacts than we had been led to believe. Among other things, Papadopoulos was told that the Russians had “thousands of emails” that could prove damaging to Clinton, before the Russian hacks came to light; we still don’t know whom in the Trump campaign he relayed that juicy tidbit to. And I promise you, there will be more revealed about Michael Flynn; the fact that Trump was so incredibly eager to protect him after he left the White House is a flashing red light.

And Julia Ioffe reports on secret correspondence between Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks, which was essentially acting as an agent of the Kremlin during the campaign (and may still be to this day). Perhaps most striking, when WikiLeaks released a batch of information, it wrote to Trump Jr. suggesting that his father tweet about the revelations, which Trump did just 15 minutes later.

So to review, this appears to be what happened in that case: 1) Russia hacks the emails of Democrats, including Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. 2) Russia passes some of what it finds to WikiLeaks for public release. 3) WikiLeaks asks Trump’s son to promote the release. 4) Trump urges media to focus on WikiLeaks’ findings.

Was that a violation of the law? Maybe not. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump Jr.’s defense will be, “Hey, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing!”

You know, they probably didn’t. Take Michael Flynn, for example. Today Sessions, whose infamous lack of recall suggests brain damage, had to deny that he knew anything about Flynn’s alleged plan to kidnap U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen and return him to Turkey, where he is wanted to stand trial for being the “mastermind” behind an attempted political coup in 2016. In exchange for Gulen, Flynn would have been paid $15 million. And this was while Flynn was part of the Trump campaign.

Flynn brings us to another dim bulb named Steve Bannon. During the time Chris Christie was in charge of the transition, Christie wanted to keep Flynn completely away from the administration. Gov. Beachball may be an asshole, but he’s not an idiot. But Nancy Cook wrote at Politico,

But when Christie was fired from his transition perch on Nov. 11 — replaced by soon-to-be Vice President Mike Pence — Flynn and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon celebrated by tossing binders full of potential personnel picks, carefully culled by Christie’s team, into trash bins with a sense of ceremonial glee.

And do we want to talk about Stephen Miller? If that boy has an IQ in triple digits I’m the Tooth Fairy. Josh Marshall wrote last week:

According to the Times, Miller is the “senior policy advisor” referenced in the Papadopoulos court documents. He was the only unnamed player still unidentified. This means that Miller was one of the top Trump advisors Papadopoulos was keeping posted on his efforts to set up meetings between Russian officials and Trump campaign officials, perhaps even (preposterous as it may seem) a meeting between Trump and Putin himself. …

… Miller came to Trump via Jeff Sessions. He was a top staffer to Sessions in the Senate. By 2016 he had risen to Communications Director. And when Sessions endorsed Trump in late February 2016 he brought Miller into the Trump circle. As a speechwriter and advisor, Miller played a key role taking Trump’s instinctive racist-nationalist politics and aligning it with the comparable policy mix Sessions had been pushing, with no great luck, in the Senate for years. Here’s an interesting look at the relationship.

We still don’t have a terribly good explanation of how Jeff Sessions got on the Russia bandwagon, how he ended up having as multiple private conversations with then-Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak over the course of 2016, including one private meeting in Sessions’ senate office in September. Miller seems like at least one likely conduit. At a minimum, Miller getting updated on Papadopoulos’ adventures makes it much less credible that Sessions knew nothing about the channels opening up between the campaign and Russia.

And of course, in the center of this nest of nincompoops is the Mega Moron himself, Donald Trump, who is something like a perfect storm of idiocy. “Dimmer than a 5-watt bulb,” this guy says. Bob Mueller, save us.

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Noted in Passing

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Trump Maladministration

The Rapture was yesterday. So far, nobody has turned up missing.

Stupid is as stupid does:

Presidential son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has corresponded with other administration officials about White House matters through a private email account set up during the transition last December, part of a larger pattern of Trump administration aides using personal email accounts for government business.

Kushner uses his private account alongside his official White House email account, sometimes trading emails with senior White House officials, outside advisers and others about media coverage, event planning and other subjects, according to four people familiar with the correspondence. POLITICO has seen and verified about two dozen emails.

Some people don’t like to do what they’re told.

NFL players used the national anthem to show their defiance to President Donald Trump’s criticism, with at least 100 players kneeling or sitting in protest and one team staying in the locker room.

Most teams in the early afternoon games locked arms in solidarity. At least three team owners joined their players.

If Colin Kaepernick gets an NFL job soon, he should send Trump a thank you card.

It looks like Angela Merkel has been elected to a fourth term.

It looks like there are three definite Republican nos on the new atrocity health care bill, McCain, Paul, and now Cruz. And Susan Collins sounds like a no to me, too.

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