Michael Cohen’s Tapes

I wasn’t going to mention Michael Cohen’s tape of Trump discussing paying off a Playboy model, because, I mean, we know Trump is a dog. And it will make no difference to his base. There’s a chance the payment violated campaign finance law, of course. The most interesting part about it is that it involves the guy who owns American Media/the National Enquirer. The world would be a better place without the National Enquirer.

The real significance is that this is just the beginning. Manafort’s first trial is about to begin. There will be more trials. There will be a steady drip of revelations from now on. Charles Pierce:

My guess is that Cohen has tapes of everything. (If he’s smart, he does, anyway.) There will be a flood of them, sooner or later. I’ll let the legal ethics wonks parse out exactly how badly Cohen has blown up the canons of ethics. I suspect his law license is as far down his list of priorities now as it was when he was running clean-up errands. But he’s the first member of the inner circle to put a bargaining chip on the table. There will be other chips from other people. This is far from the last deal to go down.


If I’m the president*’s actual lawyers, I’m begging Rudy to stop helping now.

Is U.S. Intelligence Treating Trump Like a Foreign Spy?

In Charles Pierce’s words, last night “The New York Times took a 40-pound dunghammer to everything the president* has said on the subject of Russian ratfcking since election night in November of 2016 and left nothing but rubble behind.”

From the NY Times:

Two weeks before his inauguration, Donald J. Trump was shown highly classified intelligence indicating that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had personally ordered complex cyberattacks to sway the 2016 American election.

The evidence included texts and emails from Russian military officers and information gleaned from a top-secret source close to Mr. Putin, who had described to the C.I.A. how the Kremlin decided to execute its campaign of hacking and disinformation.

Mr. Trump sounded grudgingly convinced, according to several people who attended the intelligence briefing. But ever since, Mr. Trump has tried to cloud the very clear findings that he received on Jan. 6, 2017, which his own intelligence leaders have unanimously endorsed.

About the top-secret source close to Putin:

Ultimately, several human sources had confirmed Mr. Putin’s own role. That included one particularly valuable source, who was considered so sensitive that Mr. Brennan had declined to refer to it in any way in the Presidential Daily Brief during the final months of the Obama administration, as the Russia investigation intensified. Instead, to keep the information from being shared widely, Mr. Brennan sent reports from the source to Mr. Obama and a small group of top national security aides in a separate, white envelope to assure its security.

And the next question is, why make this public now? The answer is, as Kevin Drum says, it’s likely Trump burned those sources a long time ago.

The American intelligence community has been on edge over Trump practically from the start. But after Helsinki their hair must be on fire. This is basically a declaration of war against Trump, a public accusation that he’s known all along Putin ordered the election interference. One way or another, this is not going to end well.

Some people are alarmed.

Roll Call noted that the president’s intelligence briefings somehow dropped off the White House schedule for a couple of days.

For the second consecutive day since he broke with America’s spy agencies over Russia’s election meddling, President Donald Trump on Wednesday will not get an intelligence briefing.

The daily presidential guidance email sent out each evening by the White House initially featured only one item, an 11:30 a.m. Cabinet meeting. It was was updated Wednesday morning to include a 2 p.m. press briefing with Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Trump’s public schedule typically begins with a late-morning intelligence briefing in the Oval Office after his “executive time” in the White House residence, during which he tweets while watching cable news. He also uses that time to call lawmakers and friends, aides say.

The official guidance for Tuesday also did not include an intelligence briefing. Those sessions typically include senior intelligence leaders briefing Trump — and previous commanders in chief — on the top threats and developments from around the world, which can change in important ways from day to day.

There is an intelligence briefing on his schedule for today, and maybe there is an innocent explanation for the skipped briefings. But at this point it’s hard to believe anything can be innocent about the Trump White House.

Oh, and the punch line? House GOP refuses to renew election security funding as Democrats fume over Russian interference. Seriously. See also House Republicans defeat attempt to subpoena Trump interpreter.

Also, Washington is still trying to figure out what “agreements” were made at the surrender summit.

Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, told reporters in Moscow yesterday that “important verbal agreements” were reached on a series of national security issues when the two leaders met one-on-one in Helsinki for more than two hours, joined only by translators. He mentioned the preservation of the New Start and INF arms control treaties and said Putin made “specific and interesting proposals” related to Syria.

“But officials at the most senior levels across the U.S. military … had little to no information Wednesday,”Karen DeYoung, Missy Ryan and Anton Troianovski report. “At the Pentagon, as press officers remained unable to answer media questions about how the summit might impact the military, the paucity of information exposed an awkward gap in internal administration communications. … Defense Secretary Jim Mattis did not attend Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting with Trump and has not appeared in public this week or commented on the summit. …

“The uncertainty surrounding Moscow’s suggestion of some sort of new arrangement or proposal regarding Syria, in particular, was striking because Gen. Joseph Votel, who heads U.S. Central Command, is scheduled to brief reporters on Syria and other matters Thursday. … Nonmilitary officials who were provided minimal, indirect readouts expressed confidence that no agreement had been struck with Putin on Syria, and that Trump — who early this year expressed a desire to withdraw all U.S. troops from that country — made clear to Putin that no American departure was imminent.

We’ll see. I want to link to a post written by Marcy Wheeler before the surrender summit.  “I believe Trump is cornered — has allowed himself to be cornered. And in spite of everything, Trump is prepared to go alone into a meeting on Monday with Vladimir Putin — the guy wielding both carrots and sticks against Trump — and make a deal.” And that deal probably involves Syria and Trump stepping aside to allow Russia to compromise U.S. intelligence. See also “At Helsinki Summit, Putin Re-enacts the June 9 Trump Tower Meeting.”

Trump’s Retreat

Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow, 1812

The full route may take a few more months, but I think it’s finally begun. Even the staid Business Insider is reporting that Trump is a “controlled spy.”

By now it’s clear that Trump was utterly gobsmacked by the reaction to the “surrender summit.” He probably still doesn’t understand what he did wrong. But he seems to think he fixed everything with his non-correcting correction yesterday, not noticing that nobody but his most besotted followers believed him. It certainly hasn’t stopped the criticism and speculation that Trump is working for Putin.

The Financial Times, also not exactly a left-wing rag:

Senior Republicans need now to step out of the shadow of Mr Trump — and remember their party’s honourable role in crafting the bipartisan foreign policy that saw the US through the cold war. The party of Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan should recoil at President Trump’s behaviour in Helsinki. It needs to rediscover its soul, before it is too late.

The Financial Times op ed is headlined “Trump, Putin and the betrayal of America.” Do read the whole thing.

Today, Captain Oblivious has gone back to bragging about his great success in Moscow. But now Moscow is sending out press releases about a “military agreement” reached in Helsinki. Say what?

Russia announced it was ready to pursue agreements reached by Presidents Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump “in the sphere of international security,” though the White House and Pentagon would not confirm any agreements had been made or offer any details. …

… “The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation is ready for practical implementation of the agreements reached between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump in the sphere of international security achieved at the Helsinki summit,” Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, a Russian military spokesman, said in a statement Tuesday.

The Russian military “is ready to intensify contacts with the US colleagues in the General Staff and other available channels to discuss the extension of the START treaty, cooperation in Syria, as well as other issues of ensuring military security,” Konashenkov said.

Since nobody but Trump, Putin and the interpreters know what was said in the closed-door summit, nobody has any idea what the Russians are talking about. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen wants the U.S. translator to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on what was said. Any senator who doesn’t support that proposal is a Russian tool, just like Trump. And Roy Blunt.

“Um…,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said, pausing when asked if he wants to know what Trump said in the meeting. “I don’t understand the value of that two-hour meeting, but that’s the president’s decision to make not mine.”

You’re a senator, Senator. The Constitution says you have something to say about the president’s conduct of foreign policy. Remember?

Blunt, Devin Nunes, and some other obvious tools to the contrary, it’s clear the GOP establishment is shaken to its core by what happened in Helsinki. They may be more reluctant to cover Trump’s ass going forward.

Speaking of bare asses — A judge denied Paul Manafort’s request for a change of venue. More interesting, yesterday Bob Mueller asked a judge to grant immunity to five potential witnesses against Manafort so that they can’t plead the Fifth.

Manafort’s trial starts next week.

The Fruits of GOP Health Care in Missouri

Missouri is one of the states that didn’t expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, and as a result its smaller rural hospitals are closing. The New York Times has a story about a woman, pregnant with twins, who went into early labor and suffered a four-hour road trip to get to a hospital that would accept her as a patient.

The hospital that had been nearly around the corner from her house had just closed. An emergency room 20 or so minutes away (on bumpy country roads, while the mother was in active labor) wouldn’t accept her because they weren’t set up for obstetric emergencies, apparently. The emergency room called for an ambulance, which arrived 25 minutes later, to take the mother to a medical center in Cape Girardeau, nearly 80 miles away. Fortunately, the twins were healthy after being delivered by c-section. But the mother ended up traveling about 100 miles to get to an obstetrician, bouncing around in car and ambulance while in active labor. Those of us who have given birth can appreciate what she went through.

I notice many commenters to the story criticize the mother for having children. Sorry; having babies is a basic human thing to do. The troglodytes want to simultaneously deprive women of a right to have babies and a right to abortion at the same time, it seems. Poor pregnant women must seem terribly inconvenient to them. And many commenters blamed her for voting for Trump. But the mother in the story is African American, which suggests to me a low probability that she was a Trump voter.

At some point, instead of blaming people for getting on with their lives in spite of dysfunctional government, we need to blame dysfunctional government. Indeed, we may need to do some basic rethinking about what government is for.  We seem to have forgotten something.

Small hospitals in poor rural areas live or die by Medicaid, so states that didn’t accept the federal Medicaid expansion killed their own hospitals. See, for example, “Lack of Medicaid expansion played part in Fulton hospital closing” in the Columbia (Missouri) Daily Tribune, July 27, 2017.

When the owners of Fulton Medical Center announced Monday they would close the hospital because of mounting losses from uncompensated care and low patient numbers, they did not say it was because Missouri didn’t expand Medicaid.

They didn’t have to. The mayor of Fulton said it for them.

“That was one of the things they were hanging their hat onto to stop the bleeding and of course, that did not happen,” Mayor LeRoy Benton said.

The hospital lost $1 million between January and May, prompting University of Missouri HealthCare to put its minority stake up for sale and NueHealth on Monday to set Sept. 22 as the closing date. It will be the fourth rural hospital to close since advocates for Medicaid expansion began predicting that outcome if the state did not accept federal help to expand coverage for poor adults.

Now nursing homes are facing similar pressures. The uncertainty of federal health care policy as Congress debates repeal of the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid cuts, combined with cuts in state payments and a higher threshold to receive services, are straining the budgets of residential care facilities, said Nikki Strong, executive vice president of the Missouri Healthcare Association.

“We are looking at job losses all across the state,” Strong said. “Facilities have nowhere left to cut because they are currently underfunded. We are probably going to look at facility closures.”

The Fulton hospital was bought and saved at the last minute, but other hospitals around the state have closed, including the Twin Rivers Regional Medical Center that was a few minutes from the pregnant woman’s home.

Missouri has had a right-wing legislature for many years, and most recently they’ve been actively engaged in what I call the Kansas Two-Step:

One, cut taxes, especially for corporations, to attract job growth.

Two, cut essential services and education to make up the budget shortfall that inevitably follows, especially when the job growth doesn’t materialize.

The other essential functions of the legislature include thinking up damnfool ways to limit access to abortions while passing whatever “gun rights” bill the NRA is promoting. Oh, and protecting the rights of puppy mill owners. And that’s about it, as far as I can see.

But my next question is, why are obstetric services in particular hurt by hospital closing? Why wouldn’t an emergency room be prepared to deliver babies, even by c-section? The NY Times article doesn’t say, but I suspect the problem is that private for-profit insurance really does not like covering obstetric care and won’t unless forced to. Without some kind of mandate to cover it, pregnancy and maternity services are among the first considered “nonessential” and dropped by insurers. Apparently there’s no profit to be made from human gestation. Facilities that are mostly dependent on private insurance reimbursement may want to minimize the obstetric services they provide.

You’d think the allegedly pro-life state government would care about lowering Missouri’s above-average infant mortality rate, but I guess not.

You might remember we recently had a sudden change in the governor’s office. The new governor is Republican Mike Parsons. Here are some recent stories about him.

Parsons Signs Income Tax Cut.

Parsons Vetoed Program for Stroke and Heart Attack Victims.

Parson signs budget that blocks funding to Missouri Planned Parenthood clinics.

The Kansas Two-Step continues.

On a national level, of course, the Republican Party spent the entire Obama Administration claiming they had a better way to fund health care. Paul Ryan in particular had some nice talking points about “patient-centered health care” which, according to the details, basically meant getting government out of the way so that private insurers could make bigger profits by not paying for health care. But as we all remember when a Republican majority House and Senate had a clear path to passing any health care bill their black little hearts desired, they failed.

And, of course, who can forget this fool:

So many great options, he said. All of them involve weakening the Affordable Care Act without replacing it with anything. I notice he’s not talking about health care any more. On to bigger disasters!

I’m finally seeing some ads from Josh Hawley, the Republican running against Claire McCaskill. I’ve seen this one over and over and over —

OMG, we can’t have libruhls in charge of anything! That’s not Missouri’s way! Missouri’s way is to make a laboring woman suffer a four-hour trip to get to a hospital! Because we’re cutting back on health servvices! But rich people get tax cuts and we keep those puppy mills open!

The state is doomed.

What About that Putin-Trump Presser, Eh?

Possibly the dumbest reaction I’ve seen so far of today’s Trump debacle is from Ross Douthat.

While much of the world sputters in outrage and astonishment at Trump’s performance today, others of us are saying yeah, we told you so. He’s a stooge.

Jonathan Swan at Axios:

“I just have no words. As press in this room, we are all sitting in here speechless and stunned. Trump cast doubt over the U.S. intelligence community and endorsed Putin’s denial. Trump was given an opportunity to denounce the meddling and he didn’t; he just pivoted to lines about the missing server and Hillary’s emails. While Putin spoke forcefully, lying, Trump nodded along. There’s no way of sugar coating or spinning this.”

Jonathan Chait, At Summit With Russia, Trump Betrays His Country in Plain Sight

Standing next to Vladimir Putin, after a meeting Putin had requested, President Trump was asked by a reporter if he believed the findings of his own intelligence agencies that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election. He began by floating unfounded accusations that the FBI had ignored his opponent’s misdeeds. Then he proceeded to express his doubts. “All I can do is ask the question,” said Trump. “My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I’ll say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

Trump told the world he trusts the denial of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin — the very man who did the deed! — over his own government’s intelligence. Trump can’t think of a reason why Putin would have interfered in the election. The fact that Russia has interfered in multiple elections, the fact its propaganda arm had broadcast its preference for Trump, the fact American intelligence concluded Russia intervened, that Robert Mueller has produced multiple indictments detailing evidence of this interference, all mean less to him than Putin’s say-so. Putin admitted at this press conference he wanted Trump to win.

Eric Levitz, Trump Endorses Putin Proposal to Have Russian Operatives Work on Mueller Probe

At the press conference hours later, Trump was asked whether he held “Russia at all accountable” for tensions between Moscow and Washington — and if so, to specify what precisely he held Putin responsible for.

“We have both made some mistakes,” Trump replied. But instead of naming a single, specific mistake that Russia had made (like, say, invading Crimea, or meddling in American and European elections, or, ostensibly, making a habit of launching botched assassination attempts with Soviet-era nerve agents on the streets of the United Kingdom), the president focused on the great mistake that America had made — when it chose to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“The probe is a disaster for our country,” Trump said. “I think it’s kept us apart, it’s kept us separated. There was no collusion at all. Everybody knows it.”

And yeah, Trump thinks this is a swell idea:

Trump went on to endorse Putin’s idea for how that probe should operate going forward: Russian law enforcement would agree to interrogate the 12 Russians that Mueller had indicted — and allow members of his team to observe those interrogations — in exchange for the United States agreeing to interrogate American intelligence officials whom the Kremlin has accused of committing crimes against Russia (with Russian law enforcement in the room).

Here’s a portion of the actual transcript:

A question for each president; President Trump, you first.

Just now, President Putin denied having anything to do with the election interference in 2016. Every U.S. intelligence agency has concluded that Russia did.

What — who — my first question for you, sir, is who do you believe?

My second question is would you now, with the whole world watching, tell President Putin, would you denounce what happened in 2016 and would you warn him to never do it again?

TRUMP: So let me just say that we have two thoughts. You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server — haven’t they taken the server. Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee?

I’ve been wondering that, I’ve been asking that for months and months and I’ve been tweeting it out and calling it out on social media. Where is the server? I want to know where is the server and what is the server saying?

With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. My people came to me, Dan Coates came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia.

I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be. But I really do want to see the server.

But I have — I have confidence in both parties. I — I really believe that this will probably go on for a while, but I don’t think it can go on without finding out what happened to the server. What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC? Where are those servers? They’re missing; where are they? What happened to Hillary Clinton’s e-mails? 33,000 e-mails gone — just gone. I think in Russia they wouldn’t be gone so easily. I think it’s a disgrace that we can’t get Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 e-mails.

So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

And what he did is an incredible offer. He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer. OK?

The DNC servers were never missing, and I would point out that whatever might have been in Hillary Clinton’s emails doesn’t excuse Trump’s failure to defend the United States.

Paul Waldman, For Republicans, Russian sabotage of our elections is no big deal:

When it comes to Republicans, we’re faced with two related issues. First, there are members of their party who actively benefited from Russian manipulation of our election, and even sought out help that turned out to come from Russia, whether they fully understood it at the time. Second, much of the rest of their party is now arguing that it’s really no big deal if the Russians manipulate American elections, so long as the GOP is the one that benefits.

And today we got the extraordinary spectacle of the president of the United States standing alongside the Russian dictator, saying he takes that dictator at his word and belittling the investigation into Russia’s attack on American democracy. Which led the former director of the CIA to tweet this:

Oh, and this happened yesterday:

A Russian woman with close ties to the National Rifle Association was arrested Sunday and charged with “conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government,” according to a criminal complaint unsealed Monday.

Mariia Butina is accused of acting as an unregistered agent on Russia’s behalf between 2015 and 2017, in collaboration with “others known and unknown, including an official of the Russian Federation,” according to the complaint.

Butina is a former assistant of Alexander Torshin, a top official at the Russian Central Bank who is reportedly under investigation by the FBI for channeling money to the NRA to benefit Trump’s 2016 campaign. The pair have been under scrutiny by journalists and investigators for months, thanks to aÂbombshell January report in McClatchy that first revealed the FBI’s financial probe.

Butina and Torshin have close ties to the NRA, which is not named in the criminal complaint or supporting affidavit but is referred to as a “Gun Rights Organization.”

David Ignatius wrote this yesterday:

In putting all the detail into the indictment, Mueller was giving Russian intelligence a hint of how much America can see. But this public disclosure may mask much deeper capabilities — perhaps a capacity to expose many more layers of GRU military-intelligence operations and those by the Russian civilian spy services, the FSB and the SVR. American intelligence agencies rarely tip their hand this way by disclosing so much in an indictment; clearly they did so here to send messages.

Explains one former CIA officer: “Given that we clearly had so much of the Russian internal communication and cyber footprints, they must be asking what else do we have? Do we have communications between the units and more senior officers in the GRU? With the General Staff? With the Kremlin? With Putin? Probably not the latter directly, but the Russians are very bureaucratic and it’s hard for me to imagine there is not a clear trail of higher level approvals, progress reports, etc.”

Friday’s indictment is a legal document. But it’s also a shot across the Kremlin’s bow. The message is: If you don’t stop cyber-operations against the United States, we have the detailed information to identify and disrupt your intelligence services, officers, sources and methods. Mueller isn’t asking Russia to stop; he’s warning them of the consequences of going forward.

A lot of people have been assuming that Trump pooh-poohs allegations of Russian interference in the election because he fears it makes his administration seem illegitimate. After today I don’t see how anyone can assume that Trump wasn’t just plain compromised all along. Today was a big, fat, public quid pro quo.

Back to Ignatius:

The indictment also sends a message to President Trump and members of his entourage who are potential targets of Mueller’s probe: Here’s a hint of what we know; how much are you willing to wager that we don’t know a lot more about Russian contacts and collusion? For example, the indictment is a proffer of Mueller’s information about contacts between GRU cut-out “Guccifer 2.0” and Roger Stone, Trump’s friend and adviser. What else does Mueller have? …

…And here’s a spooky final question: How much has the intelligence community told Trump about its operations against Russia? If you were one of the American intelligence officers who helped gather the information that’s included in Friday’s indictment, what would you think about the fact that Trump has asked for a private meeting first with Putin?

And, of course, we don’t know what Trump and Putin said to each other behind closed doors today.

See also Charles Pierce, The Crisis Is Upon Us.

Update: John McCain’s finest hour?

U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released the following statement today on President Trump’s meeting and press conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki:

“Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory. The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake.

“President Trump proved not only unable, but unwilling to stand up to Putin. He and Putin seemed to be speaking from the same script as the president made a conscious choice to defend a tyrant against the fair questions of a free press, and to grant Putin an uncontested platform to spew propaganda and lies to the world.

“It is tempting to describe the press conference as a pathetic rout — as an illustration of the perils of under-preparation and inexperience. But these were not the errant tweets of a novice politician. These were the deliberate choices of a president who seems determined to realize his delusions of a warm relationship with Putin’s regime without any regard for the true nature of his rule, his violent disregard for the sovereignty of his neighbors, his complicity in the slaughter of the Syrian people, his violation of international treaties, and his assault on democratic institutions throughout the world.

“Coming close on the heels of President Trump’s bombastic and erratic conduct towards our closest friends and allies in Brussels and Britain, today’s press conference marks a recent low point in the history of the American Presidency. That the president was attended in Helsinki by a team of competent and patriotic advisors makes his blunders and capitulations all the more painful and inexplicable.

“No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant. Not only did President Trump fail to speak the truth about an adversary; but speaking for America to the world, our president failed to defend all that makes us who we are–a republic of free people dedicated to the cause of liberty at home and abroad. American presidents must be the champions of that cause if it is to succeed. Americans are waiting and hoping for President Trump to embrace that sacred responsibility. One can only hope they are not waiting totally in vain.”

About the New Indictments

Just saw this on my Facebook feed:

The Lawfare blog:

The timing of the indictment given the upcoming Helsinki summit is a powerful show of strength by federal law enforcement. Let’s presume that Mueller did not time this indictment to precede the summit by way of embarrassing Trump on the international stage. It is enough to note that he also did not hold off on the indictment for a few days by way of sparing Trump embarrassment—and that Rosenstein did not force him to. Indeed, Rosenstein said at his press conference that it is “important for the president to know what information was uncovered because he has to make very important decisions for the country” and therefore “he needs to know what evidence there is of foreign election interference.” But of course Rosenstein and Mueller did not just let Trump know. They also let the world know, which has the effect—intended or not—of boxing in the president as he meets with an adversary national leader.

Put less delicately: Rosenstein has informed the president, and the world, before Trump talks to Putin one-on-one that his own Justice Department is prepared to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, in public, using admissible evidence, that the president of the Russian Federation has been lying to Trump about Russian non-involvement in the 2016 election hacking.

Of course, a normal U.S. president probably would have called off the scheduled summit with the Russian president. You know, the summit in which only translators will be present so that nobody can know what Trump and Putin say to each other. That summit.  Trump’s only response so far has been to blame the hacking on Barack Obama.

Among other details you might not have heard, Maryland learned this week that its voter registration platform belongs to a Russian oligarch.

Speaking of Russian oligarchs, don’t miss the New Yorker article by Adam Davidson on Trump’s Scottish golf course, which is losing him tons of money:

This property has not received the attention it deserves. It is, by far, the biggest investment the Trump Organization has made in years. It is so much bigger than his other recent projects that it would not be unreasonable to describe the Trump Organization as, at its core, a manager of a money-losing Scottish golf course that is kept afloat with funds from licensing fees and decades-old real-estate projects.  …

… Using what appears to be more than half of the company’s available cash to purchase Trump Turnberry makes no obvious sense for any business person, but especially for Donald Trump. It is a bizarre, confounding move that raises questions about the central nature of his business during the years in which he prepared for and then executed his Presidential campaign.

The question about this and other Trump properties: “There simply isn’t enough money coming into Trump’s known business to cover the massive outlay he spent on Turnberry,” Davidson writes. So where did this money come from? If you keep reading, you will notice the word laundering does turn up quite a bit. See also “Trump’s Mystery Money.”

By all appearances, Trump is Putin’s tool.

See also:

The nation’s top intelligence officer said on Friday that the persistent danger of Russian cyberattacks today was akin to the warnings the United States had of stepped-up terror threats ahead of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

That note of alarm sounded by Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, came on the same day that 12 Russian agents were indictedon charges of hacking the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Mr. Coats said those indictments illustrated Moscow’s continuing strategy to undermine the United States’ democracy and erode its institutions.

“The warning lights are blinking red again,” Mr. Coats said as he cautioned of cyberthreats. “Today, the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack.”

What’s the Trump Administration doing to protect the voting system? Nothing at all, that I’ve heard.


In total, Friday’s announcement brought the count for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team to 191 criminal charges against 32 people and three Russian companies, including Trump’s former campaign head, Paul Manafort; Manafort’s assistant, Rick Gates; his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn; a foreign policy advisor, George Papadopoulos; and 25 Russian nationals. (In an investigation delegated at least in part by Mueller’s office to federal prosecutors in New York, FBI agents also raided the offices of Trump’s longtime attorney, Michael Cohen, who has not been charged with anything so far.)

The end game, of course, is to weaken the U.S. and the European alliances. And it’s all going according to plan so far. See Amy Zegart, “The Self-Inflicted Demise of American Power” at The Atlantic.

Many experts believe the chief challenge of managing President Trump’s foreign policy is keeping Trump on message. They’re wrong. Trump isn’t misspeaking when he ignores his talking points, insults allies, or congratulates Putin on winning a sham election. He’s not veering off script when he declares that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat just because Kim Jong Un posed for a photo in Singapore. Trump is actually on message nearly every day and in every tweet. It’s just not a message that most serious national-security experts want to hear. Deep in the recesses of our brains, we experts just cannot believe that an American president would pursue so many profoundly shortsighted policies—or that he would actually believe he’s doing a good job.

Trump has a foreign-policy doctrine, all right. He’s been advancing it with remarkable speed, skill, and consistency. Its effect can be summed up in one neat slogan: Make America Weak Again.

He’s going a heck of a job, folks.

Happy Friday the 13th

Cartoon by Bob Rogers before he was fired from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for being critical of Donald Trump.

What a day! The Creature makes a complete ass of himself in Britain, and then Bob Mueller indicts 12 Russians for hacking Democrats during the 2016 election campaigns.

Let’s start with the hack. Well, no, let’s start with the House. Politico is reporting that House Republicans are pushing to impeach Rod Rosenstein.

House conservatives are preparing a new push to oust Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, according to three conservative Capitol Hill sources — putting the finishing touches on an impeachment filing even as Rosenstein announced the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers for interfering in the 2016 election.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, in fact, had the impeachment document on the floor of the House at the very moment that Rosenstein spoke to reporters and TV cameras Friday. …

… Conservative sources say they could file the impeachment document as soon as Monday, as Meadows and Freedom Caucus founder Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) look to build Republican support in the House. One source cautioned, however, that the timing was still fluid.

After the spectacle Jordon et al. made of themselves yesterday you would think they’d all be a bit more humble, especially since somebody who is probably in the House now is in big trouble

A congressional candidate requested and received documents allegedly stolen from Democratic Party entities by Russian intelligence operatives during the 2016 election, a federal indictment filed Friday alleged.

The indictment brought by special counsel Robert Mueller alleges that the unidentified candidate made the electronic request on Aug. 15, 2016, and in return received “stolen documents related to the candidate’s opponent.”

Oh,  my, I wonder who that is? And there’s more.

The indictment also mentions “Guccifer 2.0” sending documents to a “then-registered state lobbyist and online source of political news” and to a reporter in August of 2016.

The lobbyist received 2.5 gigabytes of data stolen from the DCCC, according to the indictment, including “donor records and personal identifying information for more than 2,0000 Democratic donors.”

The details about this interaction align with the account of Aaron Nevins, a Florida-based Republican political operative who admitted to asking “Guccifer 2.0” for any stolen documents relevant to his state. Nevins told the Wall Street Journal that he received details about the Democrats’ get-out-the-vote strategy in Florida and other swing state, and posted it on his blog, HelloFLA.com, under a pseudonym.

“Guccifer 2.0” subsequently flagged the blog post to Trump ally Roger Stone, who said he did not share the stolen data with anyone.

And in a wonderfully juicy concidence, the Russians made their first attempt at hacking Hillary Clinton’s email server on the same day that Trump famously said “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” I guess they were listening.

In Britain (not “England,” Donald) The Creature denied trashing Prime Minister May even after the Sun posted the recording of the interview in which he trashed her. Smooth.

See also Charles Pierce, This Ongoing National Disgrace Is Perfectly Fine with Republicans in Congress. See also Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and the Rise of Radical Incompetence.

Caligula 2.0

I haven’t been watching the Peter Strzok hearing, but it sounds something like a ccross between a bad high school debate tournament and a demolition derby, with elements of the Battle of Agincourt thrown in.

It’s said a high point of the day was Louie Gohmert accusing Strzok of lying to his wife. This made me wonder if we could put House Republicans to work cross-examining every man in America who has lied to his wife. This would include each other. It would keep them too busy to do anything else. Oh, well.

Do read Paul Waldman, The Peter Strzok fiasco wrecks the GOP’s bogus conspiracy theory

You don’t have to like Peter Strzok, or James B. Comey, or Robert Mueller, or anyone else involved in these various investigations. But you have to ask, and you have to keep asking: What do Republicans think the FBI actually did to effectuate this anti-Trump conspiracy they say existed to deny him the presidency? Because the facts, here on Planet Earth, show that they did what they were supposed to do: They began an investigation into this profound threat to American democracy, but kept quiet about it so it wouldn’t affect the election.

Especially in contrast to how Clinton was treated, that was either an extraordinary gift to Trump, or it was them doing their jobs precisely how they should have. But it can’t be anything else.

Basically, we’re in Caligula territory, folks.


Having stunk up the NATO summit, The Creature trotted out today and declared that he had convinced European allies to boost defense spending beyond previous targets. The European allies prompty declared they had agreed to no such thing. The Creature also boasted about receiving a “nice letter” from Kim Jong Un. But Kim is apparently having great fun making Trump look like a fool. Today the North Korean delegation stood up American counterparts at a scheduled meeting about remains of American war dead.

Well, so much for the winning. See Paul Glastris, “Winning Is Not Enough.”

The Dada President

So this morning I wake up and check the news, and I see that today The Creature is ranting that Germany is “captive to Russia.”

“Germany, as far as I’m concerned, is captive to Russia because it’s getting so much of its energy from Russia,” Trump told NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, in a fiery on-camera exchange that was among the harshest in the history of the post-World War II alliance.

“We have to talk about the billions and billions of dollars that’s being paid to the country we’re supposed to be protecting you against,” Trump said, referring to European purchases of Russian natural gas.

This is the same guy who is planning a one-on-one meeting with Vladimir Putin with only translators present. This is the same guy who, just a few days ago, delivered a signature unhinged rally speech that in which he pounded allies, Democrats and some Republicans with demented hate speech and then declared that Putin is just a regular guy. “He’s fine. We’re all fine. We’re people.”

(See Jonathan Chait, “Trump Is Training His Base to Hate NATO and Like Putin.”)

There are reasons to be concerned about the Russian-German pipeline, which has been in the works for several years. (See “The Russian pipeline to Germany that Trump is so mad about, explained.”) There are means of addressing those concerns that rise above the level of playground insults, however.

Related: “Good Work, Republicans” at Talking Points Memo.

Brett Kavanaugh Explained

Kavanaugh is a right-wing hack whose opinions on cases depend less on “settled law” than on whether the plaintiffs are Republicans or Democrats.

Although it’s been widely reported that he thinks presidents should be immune from pesky things like subpoenas and prosecutorial scrutiny, he held a different opinion back when he was helping Ken Starr investigate Bill Clinton. Josh Marshall:

Kavanaugh was a young legal gun (early 30s) on one of the most thoroughly corrupt and brazenly partisan investigations in American history, the do-over Independent Counsel investigation which Ken Starr ran for most of the 1990s, investigating almost every aspect of Bill Clinton’s time in office and the decades which preceded his presidency. Kavanaugh, in addition to being part of the investigation, was also a or the principal author of the notorious Starr Report, a voluminous and gratuitous play-by-play narration of the Clinton-Lewinsky Affair and a brief for impeachment.

In that document, Kavanaugh argued for a comically broad theory of what constituted obstruction of justice and impeachable offenses. He suggested that Clinton’s efforts to delay being interviewed by the Independent Counsel amounted to obstruction of justice and that lying to his staff and the American people were impeachable offenses. Needless to say, by this standard, President Trump commits numerous impeachable offenses every single day.

But of course, his supporters say, he is more mature now.

Many commentators are now arguing that the youthful Kavanaugh had one view while the more seasoned District Court Judge saw the matter differently a decade later. Please. Kavanaugh showed a judicious flexibility to allow his views to evolve as they were applied to either Democrats or Republicans, to political foes or friends. There is nothing more pressing and relevant in this political moment than the President’s subservience to the rule of law. Kavanaugh has been all over the map on that question, depending on whether the President was a Republican or Democrat. That all needs to be sorted out before he becomes the deciding vote on whether President needs to answer to the law.

Democrats must pound Kavanaugh with this in the Senate hearings. If they don’t … well, then, there’s no point to them, is there?

It should go without saying that Kavanaugh is entirely on board with Citizens United jurisprudence, weaponizing the Court against organized labor and finally overturning Roe v Wade in its entirety. But we should not overlook his focused opposition to the Affordable Care Act and the way he is likely to use his power on the Court to further gut the law and send us back to the era of no coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Susan Collins has said that she would be loathe to vote for nominee who would overturn Roe, but of course they’re not supposed to directly ask nominees if they would overturn Roe, because somebody made up that rule sometime and they all abide by it. But Kavanaugh has history.

In a high-profile case involving abortion late last year, Kavanaugh wrote in dissent of a decision from the DC Circuit’s full bench to permit a 17-year-old undocumented immigrant to seek an abortion while in federal custody.

The Trump administration had denied the teen’s request, saying it did not want to be “facilitating” abortions for unaccompanied minors. Kavanaugh argued that the majority “badly erred” in their decision to allow the process anyway.

He characterized the ruling as creating a new right for undocumented immigrant minors in US custody to receive “immediate abortion on demand.”

Kavanaugh, along with two GOP-appointed colleagues wrote: “The Government has permissible interests in favoring fetal life, protecting the best interests of a minor, and refraining from facilitating abortion,” adding that the decision was “a radical extension of the Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence.”

This previous case may indicate how he could rule in future cases involving abortion.

May indicate? It’s a freaking 90-f00t-high flashing neon sign saying that he’ll vote against reproductive rights at every opportunity.  They might as well put the statue of Justice Taney back on the lawn in Maryland if crap like Kavanaugh  is sitting on the Court.

Statue of Roger B. Taney being removed from Maryland state house, August 2017

The New York Times editorial board:

Senate Democrats need to use the confirmation process to explain to Americans how their Constitution is about to be hijacked by a small group of conservative radicals well funded by ideological and corporate interests, and what that means in terms of the rights they will lose and the laws that will be invalidated over the next several decades.

We’re witnessing right now a global movement against the idea of liberal democracy and, in places like Hungary and Poland, its grounding in an independent judiciary. Mr. Trump and Senate Republicans appear happy to ride this wave to unlimited power. They will almost certainly win this latest battle, but it’s a victory that will come at great cost to the nation, and to the court’s remaining legitimacy.

Americans who care about the court’s future and its role in the American system of government need to turn to the political process to restore the protections the new majority will take away, and to create an environment where radical judges can’t be nominated or confirmed. As those tireless conservative activists would be the first to tell you, winning the future depends on deliberate, long-term organizing in the present, even when — especially when — things appear most bleak.

It would take a miracle to keep this creep off the Court, but at least I want to see Democrats make an all-out fight of it.