Trump, Pence, Sessions: This Is What Abusive Men Do

Women in Colorado protest a speech by Mike Pence, June 2017.

Trump is expected to announce today that any medical facility that so much as refers a woman to an abortion clinic will lose federal family planning funds.

The rule, which is to be announced Friday, is a top priority of social conservatives and is the latest move by President Trump to impose curbs on abortion rights, in this case by withholding money from any facility or program that promotes abortion or refers patients to a caregiver that will provide one.

The policy would be a return to one instituted in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan that required abortion services to have a “physical separation” and “separate personnel” from other family planning activities. That policy is often described as a domestic gag rule because it barred caregivers at facilities that received family planning funds from providing any information to patients about an abortion or where to receive one.

Of course, it would be a known sexual predator; a man facing multiple, and credible, accusations of sexual assault; a man who has been rampantly promiscuous for years without apparently caring if the women he impregnated terminated the pregnancies or not, would be the one who comes up with something like this. It’s a pattern.

Mr. Trump is set next week to give the keynote speech at the “Campaign for Life” gala held by the Susan B. Anthony List. Ms. Dannenfelser has called Mr. Trump “the most pro-life president in our nation’s history.”

More proof that the entire anti-abortion movement is one big amoral cesspool. They don’t care about babies. They don’t care about women. They just care about control. But this is even worse:

Women in an exodus from Central America since 2014 have succeeded in winning asylum or other protections in the United States as victims of a pandemic of domestic abuse in that region. Because of recent cases that established fear of domestic violence as a legitimate basis for asylum, those claims often found more solid legal grounding in U.S. immigration court than claims of people who said they were escaping from killer gangs.

Now the Trump administration, determined to stop the stream of people to the border from Central America, is moving to curtail or close the legal avenues to protection for abused women like L.C. While the #MeToo movement has swept the country, bringing new legitimacy to women’s stories and consequences for men who abused, on immigration President Donald Trump is going the other way.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, from his position as the top official in charge of the immigration courts, is leading a broad review to question whether domestic or sexual violence should ever be recognized as persecution that would justify protection in the United States.

Yes, they’re all so pro-life they’re sending these women and girls back to near certain death rather than grant them asylum, because you know women and girls who are literally running for their lives must also be drug dealers and rapists.

Here is L.C.’s tale:

A woman from Honduras, who shall be identified only by her initials, L.C., was granted asylum in an immigration court in Chicago early this year. She came to the United States with her teenage daughter, fording the Rio Grande in Texas, after the girl had the extremely bad fortune of being a passer-by witness to a noonday massacre on a street near their home. Gunmen from the Mara 18 gang murdered eight people, mostly bus dispatchers, because the bus company was balking at paying a tax to the gang.

Soon the killers came to L.C.’s house, threatening to abduct her daughter for the sex trade and demanding that L.C. pay the gang for her child to be spared.

But that story of fear was not what convinced the immigration judge that L.C. had met the legal standard for asylum. Rather, it was her account of 16 years of beatings and sexual assault by her husband. In one of the last episodes before she fled, he had pressed a pistol to her temple to show how easy it would be to kill her.

Here’s more about our family-friendly, pro-life government: It was reported nearly a month ago that hundreds of immigrant children had been taken from their parents at the border.

On Feb. 20, a young woman named Mirian arrived at the Texas border carrying her 18-month-old son. They had fled their home in Honduras through a cloud of tear gas, she told border agents, and needed protection from the political violence there.

She had hoped she and her son would find refuge together. Instead, the agents ordered her to place her son in the back seat of a government vehicle, she said later in a sworn declaration to a federal court. They both cried as the boy was driven away.

For months, members of Congress have been demanding answers about how many families are being separated as they are processed at stations along the southwest border, in part because the Trump administration has in the past said it was considering taking children from their parents as a way to deter migrants from coming here.

…new data reviewed by The New York Times shows that more than 700 children have been taken from adults claiming to be their parents since October, including more than 100 children under the age of 4.

This week the Trump Administration declared it was going ahead with this plan, which is what they’ve been doing for months, anyway. The Department of Health and Human Services is inspecting military installations in Texas and Arkansas to be sure they are suitable for children. This no doubt has thrilled the Defense Department, which normally doesn’t sign on to be baby sitters.

Jeffie Sessions is in on this as well. This is from last month:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Monday that the Justice Department will begin prosecuting every person who illegally crosses into the United States along the Southwest border,a hard-line policy shift focusing in particular on migrants traveling with children.

Apparently, it’s families or single women traveling with children that do all the damage. Single men are less threatening, at least to Jeffie Sessions.

In separate speeches — one in Scottsdale, Ariz., the other in San Diego — Sessions said the Department of Homeland Security will begin referring such cases to the Justice Department for prosecution. Federal prosecutors will “take on as many of those cases as humanly possible until we get to 100 percent,” he said.

“If you cross the border unlawfully . . . then we will prosecute you,” Sessions said. “If you smuggle an illegal alien across the border, then we’ll prosecute you. . . . If you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally. It’s not our fault that somebody does that.”

This no doubt results in long-standing trauma to these children, to which the Trump Administration is oblivious. These are sick, twisted people. And so is Mike Pence. Pence keeps his head down and out of the headlines, but if anyone in the Trump Administration is playing the role of Aunt Lydia, it’s Pence. So I don’t want to leave him out.

Someday someone will make films about the atrocities committed by the Trump Administration while citizens looked on.  We’ve got to get these people out of office asap.

The North Korea Debacle

So much going on with Trump it’s hard to keep track. While I’m digesting what’s going on with the various Michael Cohen and Trump Junior scandals blowing up in Trump’s face, let’s look at North Korea.

FYI, the BBC just reported that North Korea has stopped talking to South Korea.

North Korea says it will not resume talks with the South until issues between the two countries are resolved.

Its chief negotiator dismissed the South Korean authorities as incompetent and senseless. Pyongyang is angry at continuing US-South Korea joint military exercises. …

…He also criticised the South Korean authorities for allowing “human scum” (a reference to a North Korean defector) to speak at the Seoul National Assembly.

The joint exercises have been going on for a long time, and few believe that’s the real reason North Korea is pissed off. The real reason is that John Bolton flapped his mouth on Face the Nation and said that the U.S. would follow the “Libya model” in treating North Korea.

Paul Waldman wrote yesterday,

Here’s where we see how Trump is being played from the other side, most specifically by his new national security adviser, John Bolton. Bolton, who has long advocated that we start bombing North Korea at the earliest possible opportunity, made a point of saying publicly that we should look as a model to the arrangement made with Libya in 2003, in which it gave up its nuclear weapons program in exchange for sanctions relief and a reintegration into the international community.

Which, if you knew nothing about anything, might sound perfectly fine. But to the North Koreans, there’s almost nothing more provocative you could say than bringing up Libya. North Korean officials regularly cite the experience of Libya as precisely the reason they won’t give up their nuclear weapons. Moammar Gaddafi did so, and what happened to him? He was deposed and killed. The same fate befell Saddam Hussein.

Now, Bolton is many things, but stupid and ignorant are not among them. He knew perfectly well how the North Koreans would react if he brought up Libya.

We can quibble about whether Bolton is or isn’t stupid and ignorant, but the point is that Bolton appeared to be deliberately shooting down any possibility that an accomodation will be made with North Korea. And Trump, of course, is too stupid to see he’s being played by his own man.

And then there’s this:

Vipin Narang, an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said it was likely to be the bragging that Kim had been forced to the table by Trump’s successful use of “maximum pressure” with sanctions and threats that had stung the Pyongyang regime most.

Kim has portrayed his diplomatic opening as a natural consequence of completing the decades-long project to build a nuclear arsenal.

“The North Koreans were prepared to ignore a lot of what the administration said before the summit, but it was the victory lap before the race that has really set them off,” Narang said.

If you have any idea what Kim Jong Un really wants, this makes sense.

What does Kim want? Economic assistance and an end to sanctions, obviously. He also wants a summit alongside the leader of the global hegemon, which would grant him enormous prestige. That’s something the United States has withheld from North Korea in the past, but Trump has already granted it. And above all, Kim wants to ensure his own survival and that of his regime.

Which is why most everyone except Trump seems to realize that there is no way Kim is going to give up his nuclear weapons, which he sees — quite rationally — as a guarantee against foreign invasion or a move to depose him.

The last thing Kim wants is any loss of face with his own people, or other Asian nations.

The Panmunjom Declaration recently signed by the two Korean leaders was partly designed to create “the optics of success for Trump.” I’m sure they were also intended to create the optics of success for Kim.

But Trump started celebrating a tad prematurely:

Since the moment he agreed on a whim to a summit between himself and Kim Jong Un, President Trump has been almost giddy about the breakthrough he’s about to achieve, even musing about his upcoming Nobel Peace Prize.

But like everything about being president, it’s turning out to be more complicated than Trump understands.

The release of North American prisoners also was a gift to Trump.  A good quasi-Confucian would have receprocated with humble and conciliatory language, at least, but that’s not a game Trump knows how to play. Trump’s bragging and Bolton’s “Libya” comments were not what Pyongyang expected. I suspect the only thing that might save the Singapore summit is if Trump did some ritual groveling now. I’m not holding my breath.

Megan McArdle Is an Idiot

 

Somebody explain this paragraph to me

Before the ink was dry on our new tax bill, outraged blue states were screaming about the cap on the deductibility of state and local taxes. Their governments were also frantically seeking ways around it, and small wonder. For decades, high-tax states with a lot of wealthy residents enjoyed a hefty subsidy from the rest of America. Legislators were understandably panicked over what voters might do when handed the rest of the bill.

This is from Megan McArdle in Wapo, who is one of those wonders who keeps getting plum writing jobs in spite of having the brain of a turnip.

At no point in this column does McArdle explain how people in high-tax states are getting a subsidy from the rest of America. It’s long been known that it works the other way around; with some exceptions, higher-tax “blue” states are subsidizing the lower-tax “red” states.

Here’s where it’s coming from:

Last fall, when the Trump Administration was pushing for its Tax Bill of Doom, Mnuchin and the rest of the Swamp Creatures pushed the idea that people in high-tax states were getting a break on their income taxes because they could deduct high state and local taxes from their federal returns. However, even with that “advantage,” the data show us that the high-tax “blue” states are still subsidizing the low-tax “red” states, not the other way around. And that’s because people who make tons of money tend to be concentrated in “blue” cities, because they are better places to live, and that’s where their jobs are.

The lie about how “red” states were subsidizing “blue” states was one of the selling points of the tax bill. McArdle is too dim to realize it was a scam.

Glenn Kessler explained,

Indeed six states–California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Texas, and Pennsylvania–claim more than half of the value of all state and local tax deductions nationwide, according to IRS data. (Texas has no state income tax.)

As it happens, the high-tax states also tend to be the wealthiest states — and also blue states in presidential elections. Under this particular provision, one could perhaps make the case that they are being subsidized by low-tax states. But when you step back and look at the total revenue and spending picture, blue states could make the case that they are subsidizing other states, as various reports show they receive far less in federal spending than they pay in federal taxes.

A report released on Oct. 3 by the New York State Comptroller said that New York generated 9.4 percent of the federal government’s income-tax receipts, even though it represented 6.1 percent of the U.S. population. It received 5.9 percent of federal spending allocated to the states. According to the report, New York contributed $12,914 per capita in tax revenue to the federal budget — but received $10,844 in per capita federal spending. The problem has only gotten worse in the three years since the report was last produced, state officials said.

“In New York state, the idea that we are being subsidized by other states holds no water,” Deputy New York Comptroller Robert Ward said in an interview.

And, of course, since the very wealthy made out like bandits in the tax bill, one can’t weap for them too much. But those blue states have a lot of low- and middle-income taxpayers also, who are there because that’s where their jobs are, but they struggle with higher costs of living and really need that tax deduction to get by. And there’s a bigger issue here about income inequality, as well as the fact that those blue states and cities are the biggest drivers of the American economy — just imagine if the whole USA were Mississippi — and yet people who live there have less of a say than rural red state voters about who gets to be president.

Just don’t get me started.

Eric Greitens vs. the People

You might have heard that a case against Gov. Eric Greitens was dismissed yesterday. This was the felony invasion of privacy charge that centered on a photograph Greitens allegedly took of his hairdresser-mistress without her consent. As I understand it, the prosecutors decided they didn’t have the evidence they wanted — in particular, the photograph — and asked for the case to be dropped while jury selection wasn’t yet finished, which means that double jeopardy hadn’t attached. They can reopen the case if they get more evidence.

(One of Greitens’s lawyers, Scott Rosenblum, has a reputation for being able to get anybody out of anything. He recently defended a guy indicted for murdering his neighbor. The neighbor was on his own property and unarmed, and forensic evidence showed he was on his knees when the defendant shot him in cold blood. There was a videotape of the shooting and a credible eyewitness. The jury acquited the defendant. I’m not kidding.)

Anyway, local pundits had been saying all along that the invasion of privacy case probably wouldn’t stand up, for a whole lot of reasons. But Greitens still faces a more credible charge of misusing a mailing list in his 2016 campaign for governor. That one involves  misappropriation of the mailing list and tampering with computer data. Plus, the legislature is still thinking of impeaching him. They might yet do it. Greitens is, apparently, a five-alarm asshole, and even his fellow Republicans dislike him.

What I want to talk about, though, is the way Greitens and the state legislature are still working together to screw unions. Last year the legislature passed, and Greitens signed, a so-called “right to work” law that allows employees at union work sites to opt out of paying union dues. We all know how that weakens unions; I don’t need to explain it here.

Missouri might be a right-wing state, but it’s still pro-union. A petition drive got more than 300,000 signatures, putting a reforendum to repeal the law on the November ballot.

Greitens and his political cronies formed a committee called Freedom to Work that tried to get enough signatures to put a “right to work” referendum on the same ballot. In spite of spending more than $750,000, they failed to get enough signatures. Meanwhile, a number of other measures qualifed to be on the ballot without anybody having to spend that kind of money.

The Kansas City Star editorial board on May 13 explained the next move:

Last week, lawmakers resorted to Plan B: If actual voters won’t sign on to a right-to-work measure, then legislators can ram through their own proposal. There was no time to waste. The legislative session ends at 6 p. m. Friday.

In the span of a few hours Wednesday evening, two Missouri House committees gave their approval to put a right-to-work law in the state’s constitution. The bill received initial approval Friday.

I believe amending the state constitution has to be approved by a statewide vote.

… But lawmakers weren’t done yet. Also on Friday, a Senate bill to shift the union-backed referendum from November to the August ballot received approval.

The August ballot is the primary election. Obviously, the legislators are assuming fewer people will turn out, giving the popular pro-union measure less of a chance to pass.  But it gets better.

It should be noted that Greitens’ nonprofit, A New Missouri Inc., was a driving force behind the right-to-work push and a big source of the money that went to Freedom to Work.

So the governor’s backers gave to the nonprofit, then saw the money transferred to Greitens’ allies in the form of payments for work on the unsuccessful right-to-work amendment.

Got that? Lots of money changed hands among friends of the governor, but they didn’t manage to gather the needed signatures.

Here is where the money trail goes dark. A New Missouri does not have to report where its funds come from, yet it donated $1.2 million in January to Freedom to Work. On Wednesday, A New Missouri gave another $500,000.

And some of the players receiving payments on the right-to-work campaign are also the same people that Greitens surely wants to keep in his corner as he goes to trial this week on a felony invasion of privacy charge and then faces down the possibility of impeachment.

The whole episode highlights how freely dark money flows across Missouri’s political landscape and how many built-in advantages lawmakers and elected officials have.

So, yes, Greitens is dirty as all get-out. And here’s the punch line, which I’m sorry is behind a subscription wall. In 2015 Joe Klein published a book titled Charlie Mike: A True Story of Heroes Who Brought Their Mission Home. From an Amazon blurb: This true story of two decorated combat veterans who find a new way to save their comrades and heal their country is “a great look at two of the best veteran organizations going and the incredible humans who make the effort work” (Jon Stewart).

Yeah, one of the heroes is Eric Greitens. Zachary Roth writes for Talking Points Memo,

In 2015, the Time magazine writer Joe Klein published his latest book, “Charlie Mike.” Named for the military slang meaning “Continue Mission,” it follows the efforts of a group of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans as they build a charity designed to help their fellow vets keep serving their country as volunteers.

The book’s central character is the charity’s founder, a former Navy SEAL named Eric Greitens, who Klein portrays as a kind of paragon of warrior-scholar virtue: physically brave, determined, and rugged, but also humble, loyal, morally upright, intellectually curious, and rigorously self-sacrificing — constantly pushing himself to do more in his quest to make the world better.  

Klein depicted Greitens as unfailingly noble, selfless, clean, loyal, brave, reverent, etc. I actually wasn’t aware of this book until now, but it must have helped Greitens get elected governor. All I saw of him were his campaign ads of shooting up corn fields with various military weapons. Joe Klein should stop writing books.

 

The Blood on Trump’s Tiny Hands

Today will be the opening ceremony of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. According to the most recent reports, 37 Palestinians have been killed and about a thousand more injured in demonstrations.

Haaretz is reporting that the minister Trump chose to speak at the opening today has said that Jews go to hell. That’s in the headline, which I suspect every Israeli has read today. And even better, Robert Jeffries has a bunch of anti-Islamic crap on his public website that I’m sure everyone in the Middle East is reading today. Plus,

Jeffress once said that “the dark dirty secret of Islam” is that “it is a religion that promotes pedophilia,” and that Islam is “a heresy from the pit of hell.”

Here is Jeffress’s take on the cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

Why is there so much conflict between Muslims and Jews today? Muslims cannot accept the fact that the eternal covenant God made to Abraham in Genesis 12 went through Isaac and not through Ishmael. Thus, the land that God promised Abraham and his descendants rightfully belongs to the descendants of Isaac (Jews), not to the descendants of Ishmael (Arabs).

Muslims didn’t like the Scripture, so they rewrote it. They came up with a fanciful story that Abraham and Hagar took Ishmael and fled to Mecca. There, Ishmael became the forerunner of Muhammad and all Muslims. They took the story of God’s blessing Abraham and Isaac, and they said, “No, it was really Abraham and Ishmael.” They took the story of Genesis 22, when Abraham took Isaac to Mount Moriah to offer him as a sacrifice, and said, “No, it was Ishmael who was offered on Mount Moriah.” They completely fabricate a story to make their point.

I’m sure Muslims are loving that. And now everyone in the Middle East knows that this creep is one of Trump’s favorite advisers. Just days after ending the Iran nuclear deal. And, of course, an hour after the Iran deal ended, Israel just coincidentally attacked Syria.

My question is, would it have been possible for Trump to screw up in the Middle East even more? What — short of nuking Jordan — would it take for Trump to screw up even worse?

Another Trump Mystery: What Really Happened to the Inauguration Money?

ABC News reports,

Special counselRobert Mueller’s team has questioned several witnesses about millions of dollars in donations to President Donald Trump’s inauguration committee last year, including questions about donors with connections to Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, sources with direct knowledge told ABC News.

Those interviewed included longtime Trump friend and confidant Thomas Barrack, who oversaw the fundraising effort, as well as individuals familiar with the massive inaugural fund, according to sources with direct knowledge. …

… The billionaire runs a fund with hundreds of millions in real estate and private equity holdings in the Middle East. Barrack oversaw the largest inaugural fundraising effort in U.S. history, bringing in $107 million — more than double what President Barack Obama raised for his first swearing-in festivities.

According to a source who has sat with the Mueller team for interviews in recent weeks, the special counsel is examining donors who have either business or personal connections in Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Several donors with those ties contributed large sums to the non-profit fundraising entity — gifts that topped out at $1 million dollars, according to public records.

According to the FED, it’s illegal for foreign nationals to contribute to a presidential inauguration committee. If any of that money can be traced to foreign sources, it’s a problem.

However, there’s another problem with Trump’s inauguration fund, because it’s widely suspected a huge amount of it wasn’t really spent on the inauguration.

How big is the discrepancy between what was taken in and what was spent? I found this at Annenberg FactCheck.org:

Inauguration costs are divided up into two categories. In one category is all the fun stuff: the inaugural balls, luncheons and Springsteen appearances. That’s also the category for things like the 20 JumboTrons placed around the National Mall and the special payment to keep the Smithsonian Institution open for the day. The fun events don’t cost taxpayers a dime. Presidential inauguration committees raise money from private donors for all the fun stuff. A spokesperson for Obama’s inaugural committee told ABC News that the committee raised about $45 million to cover the costs of events in the fun category. (A full accounting will eventually be filed with the FEC, probably in April.) Adjusting for inflation, Obama’s estimated total is about $41.4 million in 2005 dollars — or slightly less than the $42.3 million Bush raised for his second inauguration.

I found a more recent source that said Obama’s committee raised $53.2 million, although I’m not sure if that was for the first or second inauguration. There are other expenses related to the inauguration that taxpayers do pay for, and if you add it all together it can come up to $170 million or so. And of course you can find old articles in right-wing media complaining that Obama’s inauguration cost $170 million and Bush’s only $42.3 million, but they are confusing apples with apples, oranges and the rest of the farm. In fact, Bush’s and Obama’s inaugurations cost about the same, figuring for inflation. But right now, we’re only talking about the “fun stuff” paid for by the inauguration fund and not taxpayers.

So Trump’s inaurugation committee raised $107 million. In tax filings released this year, the Trump inauguration committee claimed to have spent $104 million on the “fun stuff.” But how? How was Trump’s inauguration twice as expensive as anyone else’s? Especially since the best Trump could do for a headliner was … Toby Keith?

And note that the Obamas had ten official inaugural balls after the 2009 ceremony; Trump had only three. And spent twice as much money?

I’m betting Trump’s committee spent no more than $50 million, if that. Money got shuffled around on paper to hide it somewhere. For example:

The company that received the biggest payment — $26 million — was WIS Media Partners of Marina del Rey, Calif. Records show that the firm was created in December 2016, about six weeks before the inauguration, and its founder, according to a person familiar with the firm, was Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a longtime friend of Mrs. Trump’s. Otherwise there is very little information available about the company.

Another $25 million went to another even-production company in Maryland. There’s $51 million right there. The tax filings don’t tell us what these two event-production companies did with the money.

To add to the suspicion, at various times last year, the White House claimed all the money had been audited and the audit would be made publicly available by various dates that came and went. It seems to have taken someone a long time to cook the books properly.

At ProPublica, Ilya Marritz wrote in March,

In this week’s episode of “Trump, Inc.,” we dig into the inauguration. We’ve found that even experienced inaugural planners are baffled by the Trump committee’s massive fundraising and spending operation. We also noticed that two members of the inaugural committee have been convicted of financial crimes, and a third — the committee’s treasurer — was reportedly an unindicted co-conspirator in an accounting fraud.

Of course.

Greg Jenkins led former President George W. Bush’s second inaugural committee in 2005, which raised and spent $42 million (that would be $53 million in today’s dollars). Asked about how Trump’s team managed to spend so much more, Jenkins said, “It’s inexplicable to me. I literally don’t know.”

“They had a third of the staff and a quarter of the events and they raise at least twice as much as we did,” Jenkins said. “So there’s the obvious question: Where did it go? I don’t know.”

Steve Kerrigan, who led both of former President Barack Obama’s inaugural committees, agreed. “There was no need for that amount of money,” said Kerrigan. “We literally did two inaugurations for less than the cost of that.”

According to Trump’s filing, slightly more than half of the money went to four event planning companies, including the firm owned by the first lady’s friend, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff. Her company, WIS Media Partners, paid the co-creator of “The Apprentice,” Mark Burnett, to help with the festivities, as The New York Times reported.

Melania Trump has since cut off her work with Wolkoff after the disclosure of the spending. Wolkoff and WIS Media Partners did not respond to a request for comment.

Ooo, Elliott Broidy has a lot to answer for.

Another inaugural organizer was Rick Gates, the former deputy to former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. Gates pleaded guilty this year to lying to the FBI and to conspiracy in a vast money laundering scheme, charges that came from Mueller’s office.

At the time that Gates worked on the inauguration, he had not been indicted, but his dealings with former Ukrainian strongman Viktor Yanukovych had already come under scrutiny. Gates’ business partner, Manafort, was forced off of the Trump campaign in the summer of 2016 after it was reported he got nearly $13 million of undisclosed payments from Yanukovych. Gates did not respond to requests for comment.

And then there’s this:

We found one more thing that set this inauguration apart: Some of the donations are almost impossible to trace. As the Center for Responsive Politics reports, two “dark money” groups, which do not disclose their donors, gave $1 million each. Trump’s inaugural committee appears to have been the first to accept significant donations from dark money groups.

So, I’m saying that at least $50 million raised by the inauguration committee was not spent on the inauguration and probably is sitting around in a slush fund somewhere, if it hasn’t already gone into a lot of pockets belonging to the Trump family and their various enablers-in-crime.

Pay to Play?

The simplest explanation for the recent Michael Cohen revelations is that Cohen was merely cashing in on his relationship to Donald Trump any way he could.

Trump’s unexpected win left corporations scrambling for someone who could give them insight into how the new administration would operate, and anyone with real or perceived access to Trump had plenty of opportunities to cash in.

“Everyone was hiring ‘Trump whisperers’ in 2017 — every single hanger-on in the Trump orbit made a fortune in 2017,” one Republican consultant told Politico. “And not necessarily to influence them, just to try to figure out who are the right people to talk to.”

“The question was ‘Who is the real influence?’” the consultant said. “Is it Gary Cohn? Steve Bannon? Wilbur Ross? How do we get to Jared and Ivanka? Does anyone know Dina Powell? Does anyone listen to Steven Mnuchin? There’s no point talking to Reince Priebus, right? Every single client we had was trying to figure it out.”

Cohen portrayed himself as the one person who could answer these questions. One GOP strategist described his pitch to CNN: “I don’t know who’s been representing you, but you should fire them all. I’m the guy you should hire. I’m closest to the president. I’m his personal lawyer.”

However, we don’t know where all the money went. And until we do …

Greg Sargent has a taxonomy of possibilities for what went on with Cohen’s “Essential Consultants” shell company.

  1. Trump didn’t know about “Essential Consultants” and received no benefits from it, except for the payment to Stormy Daniels, which he reimbursed.
  2. Trump didn’t know about “Essential Consultants” but benefited from it quite a bit. Cohen might have used it to pay off a lot of other people on Trumps behalf, for example.
  3. Trump knew about “Essential Consultants” and knew he was benefiting from it.
  4. Trump knew about “Essential Consultants’ and received money directly from it.

Cohen could get into deep trouble under all of these scenarios, but Trump probably wouldn’t for possibilities #1 or #2. And even under #3 and #4 he might not get into trouble unless someone can show there was a direct quid pro quo discussed with these payments.

Consider that none of the companies that paid Cohen can offer explanations for what they paid him for that aren’t downright laughable. As Amy Sorkin points out, Essential Consultants looks a whole lot like a Trump slush fund.

Cohen, in this scenario, was just doing the paperwork and providing a vehicle for payments. If there is anything else the companies that paid him were getting, they need to offer better explanations. To put the matter most bluntly, if Cohen was Trump’s bagman, was Essential Consultants anything more than the bag?

This returns to the basic who-is-paying-whom question. Trump, at one point, said that he did not know where the money that Cohen used to pay Clifford came from. Perhaps he just let other people take care of the getting-it-back-to-Michael part; using other people’s money is a prime Trump business directive. But, again, Cohen took care of Trump’s problems—Trump’s expenses. That’s what he was being paid back for, and that is the transaction that the companies that paid him risk being drawn into.

Consider that Trump may have actually baited some companies into giving money to Cohen:

What is important to keep in mind here is that when Trump came into office the pharmaceutical companies were terrified and flying blind as to what would happen under President Trump. There was actually an out of the blue statement Trump made in the second week of January 2017 about cracking down on the Big Phrma that had the big companies terrified. He told a press conference on January 11th that the pharmaceutical companies were “getting away with murder.” He had repeatedly talked about reining in drug prices on the campaign trail. But in January he seemed to be upping the ante dramatically. It even crosses my mind, in retrospect, whether this comment wasn’t intended to scare companies into Cohen’s arms.

So they sign up Cohen, based it seems simply on being a friend of the President. Then they meet with Cohen, decide he can’t deliver and have no more communication with him. Notwithstanding this, they decide to pay him the entire $1.2 million. “As the contract unfortunately could only be terminated for cause, payments continued to be made until the contract expired by its own terms in February 2018.”

The story is that Novartis had its first and only meeting with Cohen early in 2017, and at that meeting they realized he was an empty suit who was cashing in. They had no more dealings with him, yet they continued to pay him. Was that because they were afraid if they didn’t pay him they’d piss off Trump?

Plus you’ve got payments from AT&T (which wanted approval for a controversial merger with Time Warner) and Korea Aerospace Industries (looking for defense contracts), etc. Cohen had nothing to offer them except access to Trump.

WaPo also reported today that a Russia-linked company that hired Michael Cohen registered alt-right websites during election.

Columbus Nova, a company whose U.S. chief executive, Andrew Intrater, and Russian investment partner Viktor Vekselberg have both reportedly been interviewed by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team, is listed as the registrant behind a handful of domains for websites named after the alt-right that were created during the 2016 election.

It is unclear if any of these websites were launched or ever hosted content.

Scratch anything close to Trump, and there’s a Russian.

What I Think of the Current News Cycle

https://bullshit.ist/the-land-of-silly-97522e4819c

The Creature just screwed the planet by announcing he is dumping the Iran deal, and Eric Schneiderman resigned as AG of New York after sexual assault allegations.

There is no way the first item won’t made the world worse instead of better. The second may or may not be a problem, depending on who gets put into Schneiderman’s place. May I suggest … a woman? Someone who is up to speed on Michael Cohen and the Kushner Company?

Right-Wing Hypocrisy, It Burns

So after more than a year of irrational whining about how dirty and illegal it was for Democrats supporting Hillary Clinton to pay for opposition research on Donald Trump leading up to the 2016 elections — even though everybody does oppo research on election opponents and there’s nothing illegal about it, and even though Clinton didn’t seem to use anything in the Steele dossier, that I can think of, anyway  — now we’re learning that Trump (allegedly) paid for oppo research on our most recent actual President, Barack Obama, and officials supporting the Iran deal. Not election opponents, note; civil servants doing their jobs.

The idea was that if these public officials doing their jobs as public officials could be personally smeared, and their careers ruined, it would give Trump an excuse to dump the Iran deal. Never mind making a rational argument why dumping the Iran deal would be good for America, because there is no such argument that can be made. Trump wants to do it because he wants to do it — if President Obama had cured cancer, Trump would be trying to bring cancer back — and dirt on the officials who did the deal would cover his ass, he thinks.

The difference between oppo research on an election opponent and oppo research to be used to pull a con on the American people to make stupid policy changes is lost on the Right, of course. Drawing that line requires a level of critical thinking their lizard brains are incapable of. But Juan Cole calls it

There is only one word for a sitting US administration that deploys a foreign intelligence firm linked to that of a foreign government with a vested interest in shaping US intelligence to bamboozle Congress and the US public by smearing dedicated (and as it turns out upright) public servants. That word is treason.

Unfortunately, it isn’t treason in the narrow criminal sense. But by now no one with half a brain doesn’t understand that Trump would abolish the Constitution and representative democracy itself if he could.

All that said, there are still a lot of “allegedlies” surrounding this story, because everyone allegedly involved in it is denying it. Josh Marshall explains,

We have a pretty stunning development about aides to Donald Trump apparently (though they deny it) hiring the same Israeli dirty ops/private intel firm that Harvey Weinstein used to cover up his history to mount an operation against public supporters of the Iran deal.

We start with this story in The Guardian. It’s very hedged and key details are not included. But the gist is that aides to Donald Trump hired an Israeli security firm to dig up dirt on two prominent supporters of the Iran nuclear deal. They are Ben Rhodes and Colin Kahl, both Obama administration national security hands who were involved in the negotiation. They both continue to be prominent supporters of it into the Trump era. Last night I said that it sounded like Black Cube, the firm that surveilled and ran black ops operations against Harvey Weinstein’s accusers on his behalf.

Then overnight Kahl came forward with a story from around the time the firm was reportedly hired in which someone approached his wife about investing in their children’s charter school. You can read the thread here. There was a backstory and details. But it sounded to the Kahls like an intelligence operation — not altogether uncommon for people in that line of work to see. So they eventually cut off communication.

Then a short time ago, Laura Rozen confirmed with Kahl that the purported firm which reached out to the Kahls was ‘Reuben Capital Partners’. That’s the same name used by Black Cube in the Weinstein operations, first reported in The New Yorker by Ronan Farrow last year.

Apparently Black Cube didn’t find any sufficiently dirty dirt, since the targeted parties were not publicly smeared. I’m surprised The Trumpettes bothered with oppo research, though. It’s so much more efficient to just make shit up, which is what the Right usually does.

Anyway — here’s the original UK Independent/Guardian article. See also Ronan Farrow in the New Yorker, Chas Danner and Margaret Hartmann at New York and Steve M.