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New York Times, C.I.A. Developed Tools to Spy on Mac Computers, WikiLeaks Disclosure Shows Technology, Vindu Goel, March 23, 2017. The C.I.A. developed tools to spy on Mac computers by injecting software into the chips that control the computers’ fundamental operations, according to the latest cache of classified government documents published on Thursday by WikiLeaks.
Apple said in a statement Thursday evening that its preliminary assessment of the leaked information indicated that the Mac vulnerabilities described in the disclosure were previously fixed in all Macs launched after 2013. However, the documents also indicated that the Central Intelligence Agency was developing a new version of one tool last year to work with current software.
The leaked documents were the second batch recently released by WikiLeaks, which said it obtained a hoard of information on the agency’s cyberweapons programs from a former government worker or contractor. The first group of documents, published March 7, suggested that the C.I.A. had found ways to hack Apple iPhones and Android smartphones, Microsoft Windows computers, Cisco routers and Samsung smart televisions. Since the initial release of the C.I.A. documents, which the agency has not confirmed are authentic, major technology companies have been scrambling to assess whether the security holes exploited by the C.I.A. still exist and to patch them if they do.
Health Insurance Vote
Roll Call, Republican Members Opposed to GOP Health Care Bill, Lindsey McPherson, March 22, 2017. If the tally stands, it's enough to sink bill on House floor. CQ Roll Call has confirmed the following members as “no” votes on the American Health Care Act, absent further changes. If this tally stands on the floor, the bill will fail.
Washington Post, Trump communications may have been ‘incidentally’ intercepted, Nunes says, Karoun Demirjian, March 22, 2017. House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes said U.S. intelligence agencies may have picked up communications involving President Trump as part of court-approved surveillance of foreign intelligence targets in the period between Trump’s election and his inauguration.
Palmer Report Opinion, Devin Nunes just unwittingly outed Paul Ryan as a conspirator in Donald Trump’s Russia scandal, Bill Palmer, March 22, 2017. Devin Nunes (shown in a file photo), a useful idiot who has no idea how politics works despite having been in Congress for fourteen years, set his career on fire today for no apparent reason. He got his hands on classified Trump-Russia intel through unofficial channels, and instead of following proper channels, he went running to Donald Trump and then to the media. But the real story of the day is who told him to do it: Speaker Paul Ryan.
Procedurally, as chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes should have taken the information to his committee’s ranking member Adam Schiff. Then they could have jointly taken it to the FBI to verify if it was real. That kind of bipartisanship would give them both cover for however they decided to proceed with it next. Instead, Nunes went running straight to the House leader of his own party, Paul Ryan. This was an inappropriate move, but perhaps he was merely unsure of his footing and he wanted advice from a trusted colleague. But what happened next is the real story.
Paul Ryan, who has long cynically demonstrated that he understands how politics and government work, knew full well that the only appropriate advice he could offer Nunes would be to redirect him back to Schiff. Instead, according to various accounts, Ryan (shown in an official photo) made no effort to stop Nunes from running straight to Donald Trump with the evidence. In so doing, Ryan was certainly aware that he was committing obstruction of justice. Ryan sent Nunes to deliver secret evidence in a crucial FBI investigation directly to the subject of that investigation. That’s Obstruction 101. And while Nunes might honestly be too dumb to have understood as much, Ryan knew better. So why did he do it? The only explanation is that Paul Ryan himself is a conspirator in the Trump-Russia scandal.
New York Times, Roger Stone, the ‘Trickster’ on Trump’s Side, Maggie Haberman, March 22, 2017. In President Trump’s oft-changing world order, Roger J. Stone Jr., the onetime political consultant and full-time provocateur, has been one of the few constants — a loyalist and self-proclaimed “dirty trickster” who nurtured the dream of a presidential run by the developer-turned-television-star for 30 years.
But two months into the Trump presidency, Mr. Stone, known for his pinstripe suits, the Nixon tattoo spanning his shoulder blades and decades of outlandish statements, is under investigation for what would be his dirtiest trick — colluding with the Russians to defeat Hillary Clinton and put his friend in the White House. Now under scrutiny by both F.B.I. and Senate investigators, Mr. Stone has hired two lawyers to represent him. But in an interview, Mr. Stone maintained that this was “a scandal with no evidence.”
“There is still not an iota of proof that anyone on the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians,” said Mr. Stone, who met Mr. Trump through their mutual mentor, the McCarthy-era fixer and lawyer Roy M. Cohn. Mr. Stone learned from Mr. Cohn that all press is good press, and to hit back, hard and often, and he is doing just that.
His recent book, “The Making of the President 2016,” is part paean to Mr. Trump and part pushback against the claims related to Russia. While promoting the book, Mr. Stone has said he believes his communications were monitored by the government, and he supports Mr. Trump’s contention that there must have been surveillance of him as a candidate.
His own writings mirror, and perhaps feed into, Mr. Trump’s belief that there is a broad intelligence community effort to undermine the current White House. He tweeted in protest of “smears” that he wanted to respond to during Monday’s hearing.
CNN, New lawsuit accuses Saudi government of involvement in 9/11, Ellie Kaufman and Kristina Sgueglia, March 22, 2017. Families of 850 victims who died on 9/11 and 1,500 people injured that day are suing the Saudi government, accusing it of providing material and financial assistance to al Qaeda for years leading up to the worst terrorist attack on US soil. It's one of largest 9/11-related lawsuits to be filed since Congress passed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act over a presidential veto in September.
The act allows American citizens to bring lawsuits against states or countries accused of sponsoring terrorist attacks in the United States. The complaint, filed Monday in federal court in Manhattan, alleges that the Saudi government, through its ministries and officials and a vast network of charities linked to the government, provided financial, practical and material support to al Qaeda. "9/11 could not have happened without Saudi Arabia's support for al Qaeda," Jim Kreindler, attorney and co-chairman of the plaintiffs' committee, told CNN.
CNN has reached out to representatives for the kingdom of Saudi Arabia but hasn't received a response. Saudi Arabia has denied any role in the September 11 attacks and has never been formally implicated, but 15 of the 19 hijackers that carried them out were of Saudi descent.
The complaint cites parts of FBI and CIA reports, including the "28 pages," a declassified document released in July that found that some of the 9/11 hijackers were in contact with and received support from individuals likely connected to the Saudi government.
An earlier suit that is seeking class-action status represents the families of 1,400 victims who perished in the attacks. It has been the subject of an ongoing court battle since 2004 -- before passage of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act -- and was held up at times in part because it named Saudi Arabia as a defendant.
The original suit was amended Friday to consolidate with insurance companies seeking reimbursement for property damages, and those injured seeking damages. Together, these two suits represent the majority of the victims in the terror attacks suing the kingdom. Nearly 3,000 people were killed that day.
Trump Transition: Labor Dept. Nominee
Washington Post, Acosta to face questions on his work record, plans for defending workers, Jonnelle Marte, March 22, 2017. Lawmakers may probe Acosta's work history — paying particular attention to his time at the civil rights division of the Justice Department — to seek clues as to how he would run the Labor Department.
Terrorist Attack In London
Washington Post, Attacker kills 3, injures 20 in vehicle and knife assault near British Parliament, Mike DeBonis, Juliet Eilperin and David Weigel, March 22, 2017. An assailant fatally stabbed a police officer at the gates to Britain’s Parliament compound Wednesday after plowing a vehicle through terrified pedestrians along a landmark bridge. The attacker was shot and killed by police, but not before claiming a total of three lives in what appeared to be Europe’s latest high-profile terrorist attack.
Personal details about the suspected attacker were not immediately made public. Police said the man traced a deadly path across the Westminster Bridge, running down people with an SUV, then ramming the vehicle into the fence encircling Parliament. More than 20 people were reported injured.
Washington Post, Britons are denouncing Donald Trump Jr.’s attack on London’s mayor, Isaac Stanley-Becker, March 22, 2017. Donald Trump Jr. took a break on Wednesday from defending his father's agenda on Twitter to weigh in on the attack outside the British Parliament that left four people dead, including a police officer and the alleged assailant. The president's oldest child took aim at Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, who was quoted last year by the Independent, a London newspaper, saying terrorism preparedness had to become part of the fabric of major cities. That message took on new meaning Wednesday as an attacker drove his car through pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and then fatally stabbed an officer at the gates of Parliament.
House Health Insurance Vote
Washington Post, GOP health-care plan, facing conservative revolt, lacks the votes for House passage, The Republican health-care overhaul suffered a significant setback as personal appeals by both the president and vice president failed to sway conservatives to back the bill. A spokeswoman for the House Freedom Caucus said that “more than 25” members of the group oppose the bill. The Republican health-care overhaul spearheaded by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) and backed by President Trump suffered a significant setback Wednesday, as personal appeals by both the president and vice president failed to sway conservatives to back the bill.
In a last-ditch effort to persuade key GOP opponents of the bill to stand down, Vice President Pence huddled with members of the House Freedom Caucus in his office Wednesday morning, while Trump met with 18 House Republicans at the White House. While Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who met with Trump, came out in favor of the bill Wednesday, that single switch was not enough to put the measure over the top. GOP leaders can afford only 22 defections, given that one Democrat is expected to be absent Thursday. A Freedom Caucus spokeswoman said Wednesday that “more than 25” members of the group oppose the bill.
Supreme Court Nomination
Washington Post, Democrats probe Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch on his independence from Trump, Elise Viebeck, Robert Barnes and Ed O'Keefe, March 22, 2017. Democratic senators pressed Judge Neil Gorsuch to explain his views on issues such as the Constitution’s emoluments clause and the notion of "high crimes and misdemeanors."
Videos of JFK Assassination Experts At News Conference
Citizens Against Political Assassinations (CAPA), At CAPA Forum, JFK Experts See Need, Momentum Forum Assassination Records Release, Staff report, March 22, 2017. Videos of March 16 news conference at the National Press Club by independent film maker Randy Benson, producer/director of The Searchers documentary on JFK assassination witnesses and researchers.
Around the Nation
Palmer Report, Hawaii Republican Leader Beth Fukumoto quits Republican Party over Donald Trump, joins Democrats, Bill Palmer, March 22, 2017. Just how much damage is the increasingly unpopular and toxically scandalous Donald Trump doing to the Republican Party? Well, for one thing, the leader of the Hawaii Republican Party just decided to become a Democrat. Representative Beth Fukumoto, who until recently had been the Republican Minority Leader in the Hawaii House of Representatives, concluded there wasn’t enough room for her and Trump in the same party – so she officially resigned from her own party today.
Beth Fukumoto posted a YouTube video today announcing her resignation from the Republican Party, effective immediately. But she’s not giving up her legislative seat. Instead she’s seeking membership in the Democratic Party. She had long been pushing back against Donald Trump’s openly racist and xenophobic policies, which had led to friction with some of her fellow Republicans in the Hawaii Legislature. And now she’s had enough.
Whistleblower Chief Smacked
Washington Post, Trump withdraws reappointment nomination of popular whistleblower advocate, Joe Davidson, March 22, 2017. An important refuge from management retaliation for federal truth tellers — a.k.a. whistleblowers — is the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), a small, understaffed independent agency that regularly challenges the biggest dudes on the block.
But now, whistleblowers and their advocates are worried that the office’s vigilance under Carolyn Lerner could be endangered by President Trump’s notice to the Senate “withdrawing from further Senate consideration” her reappointment nomination.
This worry is fueled by the Trump administration’s early agency gag orders, as well as the stern White House rebuke of State Department workers who complained — on an approved, internal dissent channel — about Trump’s first immigration executive order left a chill. The “new administration hasn’t demonstrated any tolerance for those who dissent against its actions,” said Tom Devine, legal counsel of the Government Accountability Project, which represents whistleblowers.
Washington Post, Supreme Court nominee faces grilling from senators during Day Two of confirmation hearings, Robert Barnes, Ed O'Keefe and Sean Sullivan, March 21, 2017. Democrats, still angry over the circumstances of Neil Gorsuch's nomination, plan to aggressively question the appeals judge 9shown in a file photo from February). But Democrats are outnumbered 52-48 in the Senate, and it is unclear how hard they want to fight.
Washington Post, Documents show Trump aide hid payments from Ukraine party with Russia ties, lawmaker alleges, Andrew Roth, March 21, 2017. Paul Manafort resigned as Trump’s campaign manager in August after his name surfaced next to payments totaling $12.7 million in a registry of secret payments from the Party of Regions called the “black ledger.” Manafort has denied receiving those payments.
A Ukrainian lawmaker released new financial documents Tuesday allegedly showing that a former campaign chairman for President Trump laundered payments from the party of a disgraced ex-leader of Ukraine using offshore accounts in Belize and Kyrgyzstan.
The new documents may revive questions about the ties between the Trump aide, Paul Manafort, and the party of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, who has been in hiding in Russia since being overthrown by pro-Western protesters in 2014. He is wanted in Ukraine on corruption charges.
Manafort, who worked for Yanukovych’s Party of Regions for nearly a decade, resigned from Trump’s campaign in August after his name surfaced in connection with secret payments totaling $12.7 million by Yanukovych’s party. Manafort has denied receiving those, listed in the party’s “black ledger.”
Health Insurance Vote
Roll Call, McConnell Warns Republicans Against Voting Against GOP Health Care Bill, Eric Garcia, March 21, 2017. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a warning Tuesday to Republicans considering voting against the GOP repeal of the 2010 health care law on Thursday.
“I would hate to be a Republican whose vote prevented us from keeping the commitment we’ve made to the American people for almost 10 years now,” McConnell (shown in an official photo) said in an interview with The Associated Press. The Kentucky Republican said he expected President Donald Trump to convince reluctant Republicans to support the repeal.
“The president has been very effective in helping in the House with the health care bill,” he said. “And we intend, once it comes over from the House, to have the president weigh in with our folks as well.”
Washington Post, Trump’s closing pitch underwhelms, Jennifer Rubin, March 21, 2017. President Trump’s breathtaking lack of interest in or grasp of policy made his appearance on Capitol Hill in favor of Trumpcare pathetically underwhelming.
The Post reports: "Assuring Republicans they would gain seats if they passed the bill, the president told Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, to stand up and take some advice. But after the meeting, Meadows told reporters that the president had not made the sale, that the call-out was good-natured and that conservative holdouts would continue to press for a tougher bill. “I’m still a ‘no,’” he said. “I’ve had no indication that any of my Freedom Caucus colleagues have switched their votes.”
Even for Trump, his vapidity was striking. And, laughably, he let it be known it’s all about him and his thirst for approval. ( “‘We won’t have these crowds if we don’t get this done,’ he said, referring to his Monday night rally in Kentucky.”)
Huffington Post, Trump Fails To Close Deal On Health Care Repeal, Michael McAuliff and Matt Fuller, March 21, 2017. The president told the House GOP there will be primaries if his repeal fails, but conservatives said they “do not have the votes.” President Donald Trump made a personal pitch for his Affordable Care Act repeal bid Tuesday, promising that Republicans who vote against the bill will face political consequences.
With a House vote on the Republican plan set for Thursday, both more moderate and more conservative lawmakers are raising serious objections and questions about whether the bill can pass. Trump argued that the party’s future ― and by extension, his legacy ― is on the line. And if members did not fall in line, especially the conservatives of the House Freedom Caucus, Republicans would pay a price.
“If the Freedom Caucus kills this bill, which they could, then they will have voted to continue Obamacare, which, as the president pointed out, in 2018 probably means we would lose the House and the Senate,” said Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.). “This is do or die on Thursday for the Republicans in the midterm election,” Collins said.
Trump Labor Secretary Nomination
Washington Post, Labor nominee Acosta cut deal with billionaire guilty in sex abuse case, Marc Fisher, March 21, 2017. President Trump is a witness in a lawsuit over how federal prosecutors, including Alexander Acosta, a former U.S. attorney in Miami, handled the accusations against billionaire Jeffrey Epstein. On eve of hearing, questions linger over whether labor nominee will stand up for workers.
There was once a time — before the investigations, before the sexual abuse conviction — when rich and famous men loved to hang around with Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire money manager who loved to party.
They visited his mansion in Palm Beach, Fla. They flew on his jet to join him at his private estate on the Caribbean island of Little Saint James. They even joked about his taste in younger women. President Trump called Epstein a “terrific guy” back in 2002, saying that “he’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”
Now, Trump is on the witness list in a Florida court battle over how federal prosecutors handled allegations that Epstein, 64, sexually abused more than 40 minor girls, most of them between the ages of 13 and 17. The lawsuit questions why Trump’s nominee for labor secretary, former Miami U.S. attorney Alexander Acosta, whose confirmation hearing is scheduled to begin Wednesday, cut a non-prosecution deal with Epstein a decade ago rather than pursuing a federal indictment that Acosta’s staff had advocated.
Although Epstein’s friends and visitors once included past and future presidents, rock stars, and some of the country’s richest men, he is no longer a social magnet. Epstein pleaded guilty to a Florida state charge of felony solicitation of underage girls in 2008 and served a 13-month jail sentence. Politicians who had accepted his donations, including former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson and former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, have scurried to give them back. (Harvard University kept a $6.5 million gift, saying it was “funding important research” in mathematics.)
But Epstein’s unusually light punishment — he was facing up to a life sentence had he been convicted on federal charges — has raised questions about how Acosta handled the case.
Former Palm Beach police chief Michael Reiter, whose department conducted the initial investigation into Epstein’s behavior, said in a civil lawsuit deposition that Epstein got off easy. “That wasn’t an appropriate resolution of this matter,” Reiter said, arguing that the charges leveled against Epstein were “very minor,” compared with what the facts called for. In a letter to parents of Epstein’s victims, Reiter said justice had not been served.
Prosecutors in Acosta’s Miami office who had joined the FBI in the investigation concluded, according to documents produced by the U.S. attorney’s office, that Epstein, working through several female assistants, “would recruit underage females to travel to his home in Palm Beach to engage in lewd conduct in exchange for money. . . . Some went there as much as 100 times or more. Some of the women’s conduct was limited to performing a topless or nude massage while Mr. Epstein masturbated himself. For other women, the conduct escalated to full sexual intercourse.”
Around the Nation
Center for Public Integrity, Powerful South Carolina political consultant implicated in indictments of a veteran state senator, Glenn Smith and Andy Shaine, March 17, 2017. Investigation echoes findings of Capitol Gains series. A powerful South Carolina political consultant featured in a Center for Public Integrity/Post and Courier investigation is implicated in indictments accusing a state senator of pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations for his personal use.
Sen. John Courson of Columbia is charged with three counts: two for misconduct in office and one for converting campaign cash for personal expenses. A bond hearing date has not been set.
Courson, 72, is accused of funneling nearly $250,000 from his campaign war chest through the political consulting firm of First Impressions, doing business as Richard Quinn and Associates, according to the indictments. The Quinn company then shifted about $133,000 of that money back to Courson through multiple transactions, the charging documents allege.
Trump Team Conflicts?
Palmer Report, Paul Manafort funneled his Russian payments through bank owned by Trump’s pal Dmitry Rybolovlev, Bill Palmer, March 23, 2017. Here’s a connection that perhaps we should all have seen coming. Just one day after it was finally confirmed that Paul Manafort had indeed taken millions of dollars in payments from a Kremlin intermediary, as had long been suspected, additional information is coming to light about how that money was funneled from Russia to Manafort. And it turns out to have been facilitated by one of Donald Trump’s Russian pals as well as one of Trump’s cabinet members. The Associated Press is now reporting that the money flowed from Russia to Paul Manafort by way of the Bank of Cyprus. If the name of this bank sounds familiar, it’s because four weeks ago Palmer Report pieced together that Wilbur Ross and Dmitry Rybolovlev both have (or had) ownership stakes in that bank. Ross was also the vice chair of the bank.
Trump, JFK, CIA
AlterNet, Is Trump Really at War with the CIA? The Jury Is Still Out, The president's upcoming decision on thousands of still-secret JFK records will be revealing, Jefferson Morley, March 22, 2017. From the fever swamp of Alex Jones' InfoWars, Jerome Corsi reports that "JFK researchers" are saying President Donald Trump is at risk for assassination because of his differences with the Central Intelligence Agency. I have been a JFK researcher for 35 years. Corsi has distorted what most of us think to serve a fear-mongering political agenda. "JFK researchers: Trump at risk for assassination" is a lousy piece of journalism, less a story than a conspiratorial meme. But it does reveal an important untold story about Trump and the CIA. As Corsi reports, the president faces a big JFK decision later this year.
At a Sunshine Week conference on JFK assassination records, held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on March 16, attorney Larry Schnapf made a hard-to-refute point: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy is still a crucial story in American political life. The Invisible Government, a bestseller about the CIA written while JFK was still alive and published after his death, was an early statement of the "deep state" concept, now debated by pundits from Remnick to Greenwald to Gingrich.
In his remarks, Schnapf likened President Trump's differences with the CIA to Kennedy's and speculated they could provoke a deadly response. “Donald Trump must understand the threat to his life from enemies within the Deep State is real," Schnapf said. Schnapf was extrapolating from a common suspicion about JFK's death. President Kennedy, a pro-civil rights, pro-peace president, was assassinated under mysterious circumstances in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. The belief that CIA personnel were involved in JFK's death is not proven. (Nor is it unfounded, as my forthcoming biography of legendary spook James Jesus Angleton will show.)
Palmer Report, Donald Trump’s narcissistic misreading of FBI Director James Comey has cost him dearly, Bill Palmer, March 21, 2017. Too late now. There was a brief window, when Donald Trump first came into office, where he could have gotten away with firing James Comey (shown in an official photo). It would have been controversial, because you’re not supposed to fire the Director of the FBI without cause, but Comey was so widely hated by Democrats that Trump could have gotten away with it. But because Trump completely misread Comey, he’s now stuck with an FBI Director who’s tearing him limb from limb. For all we know, the egomaniacal Comey may have rigged the election in Trump’s favor just so he could go down in history as the guy who took down a traitorous president.
SouthFront, Russia Set Military Base In YPG-Held Area Of Afrin? Voiceover by Harold Hoover, March 21, 2017. Russia is setting up a military base in the Afrin canton area controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units in northwestern Syria. The agreement on establishing the base was concluded on Sunday, according to YPG spokesman Redur Xelil.
The base will reportedly be located at the village of Qatmah. Russian military servicemen have already arrived in the area with armoured vehicles, trucks, and troop carriers. According to the YPG spokesman, Russian military advisors will allegedly train YPG fighters and increase cooperation with the YPG in combating terrorism.
FBI, NSA House Testimony On Russian Influence
Washington Post, After extraordinary hearing on FBI’s Russia probe, Trump is dealt his hardest truth, Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker, March 20, 2017. FBI director James Comey’s testimony on wiretapping and the Russia probe put the White House on the defensive, and threatens to damage the president’s credibility not only with voters, but also with lawmakers of his own party, On the 60th day of his presidency came the hardest truth for Donald Trump.
He was wrong. James B. Comey (shown in a file photo) — the FBI director whom Trump celebrated on the campaign trail as a gutsy and honorable “Crooked Hillary” truth-teller — testified under oath Monday what many Americans had already assumed: Trump had falsely accused his predecessor of wiretapping his headquarters during last year’s campaign.
Trump did not merely allege that former president Barack Obama ordered surveillance on Trump Tower, of course. He asserted it as fact, and then reasserted it, and then insisted that forthcoming evidence would prove him right.
But in Monday’s remarkable, marathon hearing of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Comey said there was no such evidence. Trump’s claim, first made in a series of tweets on March 4 at a moment when associates said he was feeling under siege and stewing over the struggles of his young presidency, remains unfounded.
Comey did not stop there. He confirmed publicly that the FBI was investigating possible collusion between Trump campaign officials and associates with Russia, part of an extraordinary effort by an adversary to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. election in Trump’s favor.
Questions about Russia have hung over Trump for months, but the president always has dismissed them as “fake news.” That became much harder Monday after the FBI director proclaimed the Russia probe to be anything but fake.
Washington Post, FBI chief confirms probe of possible coordination between Kremlin and Trump campaign, Ellen Nakashima, Karoun Demirjian and Devlin Barrett, March 20, 2017. Extraordinary disclosure comes as Comey rejects Trump wiretapping claims. In a sprawling hearing, James B. Comey acknowledged the existence of a counterintelligence investigation into the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, and said that probe extends to the nature of any links between Trump campaign associates and the Russian government.
The acknowledgment was an unusual move, given that the FBI’s practice is not to confirm the existence of ongoing investigations. He spoke at the first intelligence committee public hearing on alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election, along with National Security Agency head Michael S. Rogers.
Associated Press via Boston Globe, Comey confirms Russia inquiry, Staff report, March 20, 2017. FBI Director James Comey is publicly confirming for the first time that the FBI is investigating Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, including any potential coordination between Trump campaign associates and Russia’s government.
Comey is testifying before Congress. He says he’s authorized by the Justice Department to make the disclosure. Typically, the FBI does not discuss or even confirm the existence of ongoing investigations.
Comey says the probe is part of the FBI’s counter-intelligence mission. He says the investigation includes the nature of any links between individuals associated with Trump’s campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between Russia’s efforts and the campaign. Comey says the investigation will also look at whether crimes were committed. He says he can’t provide details about the investigation.
Foreign Policy Magazine, The Multibillion-Dollar U.S. Spy Agency You Haven’t Heard of, James Bamford, March 20, 2017. How President Trump might turn an all-seeing spy apparatus on innocent American citizens. On a heavily protected military base some 15 miles south of Washington, D.C., sits the massive headquarters of a spy agency few know exists. Even Barack Obama, five months into his presidency, seemed not to have recognized its name. While shaking hands at a Five Guys hamburger restaurant in Washington in May 2009, he asked a customer seated at a table about his job. “What do you [do]?” the president inquired. “I work at NGA, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency,” the man answered. Obama appeared dumbfounded. “So, explain to me exactly what this National Geospatial…” he said, unable to finish the name. Eight years after that videotape aired, the NGA remains by far the most shadowy member of the Big Five spy agencies, which include the CIA and the National Security Agency.
Despite its lack of name recognition, the NGA’s headquarters is the third-largest building in the Washington metropolitan area, bigger than the CIA headquarters and the U.S. Capitol. Completed in 2011 at a cost of $1.4 billion, the main building measures four football fields long and covers as much ground as two aircraft carriers. In 2016, the agency purchased 99 acres in St. Louis to construct additional buildings at a cost of $1.75 billion to accommodate the growing workforce, with 3,000 employees already in the city.
Supreme Court Confirmation Hearing
Washington Post, Gorsuch’s first day of hearings features sharp-edged differences alongside a familiar confirmation script, Robert Barnes,, Ed O'Keefe and Sean Sullivan, March 20, 2017. Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch (shown in a file photo) promised to remember the “modest station we judges are meant to occupy in a democracy” if he is elevated to the nation’s highest court, as the hearing began amid Democratic doubts about his impartiality and whether he should be before them in the first place.
Trump Approval At Historic Low
Huffington Post, Donald Trump’s Approval Rating Is In The Toilet, Mary Papenfuss, March 20, 2017. He hits a new low: 37 percent, the worst in 72 years of polling for a young presidency. President Donald Trump’s latest approval rating has sunk to a new low, according to the latest Gallup poll. Only 37 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing, and 58 percent disapprove, the daily poll found Sunday. Those are the worst ratings since he took office eight weeks ago. His approval rating stood at 45 percent just nine days ago.
Trump’s approval rating is lower than any other president at this point in his first term since Gallup started tracking the numbers 72 years ago in 1945. Barack Obama’s rating at this point in his presidency was 60 percent. It’s not clear which of several issues may have torpedoed the president’s numbers.
It’s been a tough week for Trump. His health plan was zapped by the Congressional Budget Office, which revealed some 24 million Americans would be cut out of health insurance over the next decade. His revised travel ban was blocked again in court. And he’s being hammered over his insistence that he was wiretapped during the presidential campaign by Obama, despite what his own intelligence officers are saying and the findings of the intelligence committees in both the House and Senate.
New 9/11 Class Action Against Saudi Arabia
BuzzFeed, Hundreds Of 9/11 Victims And Their Family Members Are Suing Saudi Arabia, Claudia Koerner, March 20, 2017. The lawsuit, which required an act of Congress to be filed, accuses members of the Saudi government of assisting the 9/11 hijackers. Ashton v. the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (Case 1:17-cv-02003) was filed in the Manhattan federal courthouse of the Southern District of New York by the law firms Kreindler & Kreindler LLP and McGarry Salzman Penson & Lim.
The Hill, 9/11 victims suing Saudi Arabia: report, A collection of more than 800 people hurt by the 9/11 terrorism attacks have filed a lawsuit (Ashton v. the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) against Saudi Arabia for its role in the incident.The lawsuit includes people injured on Sept. 11, 2001, and those whose family members were killed in the attack, BuzzFeed said Monday.
The plaintiffs are seeking monetary damages from the Saudi Arabian government, it continued, which they accuse of providing funds and support to al Qaeda. The lawsuit also accuses Saudi Arabia’s government of knowing that at least three of the 9/11 hijackers had ties to al Qaeda, BuzzFeed added.
“Saudi Arabia was duplicitous,” the suit said, noting its government did not notify the U.S. that the trio had passports marked with a secret indicator highlighting their al Qaeda ties.
“It presented a public face to the United States and other Western countries of a nation fighting al Qaeda and terrorism while at the same time, as detailed herein, Saudi government actors gave al Qaeda substantial material support and resources.”
Monday’s suit additionally argues the 9/11 attacks could not have occurred without Saudi involvement. “As a result, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is liable to plaintiffs for all damages resulting in the injuries and deaths in September 11th Attacks,” the suit said.
The legal action took years of work and the involvement of Congress before its materialization on Monday.Former President Obama vetoed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) last September, arguing it would undermine sovereign immunity. JASTA allows U.S. citizens to sue nations like Saudi Arabia in American courts even if they lack a state sponsor of terror designation.
Obama charged that the measure could produce reciprocal legislation overseas, exposing U.S. diplomats and military service members to similar legal action. The Senate ultimately overrode Obama’s veto last September in an overwhelming 97-1 vote.
Fifteen of the 19 hijackers involved in the 9/11 attacks came from Saudi Arabia, inspiring victims and their families to seek legal restitution from the foreign nation. The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks killed 2,977 — and the 19 airplane hijackers — while injuring more than 6,000 others.
First Daughter Takes Office
Associated Press, First daughter Ivanka Trump gets West Wing office, Catherine Lucey, March 20, 2017. Cementing her role as a powerful White House influence, Ivanka Trump is working out of a West Wing office and will get access to classified information, though she is not technically serving as a government employee, according to an attorney for the first daughter.
Since President Donald Trump took office, his eldest daughter has been a visible presence in the White House, where her husband, Jared Kushner, already serves as a senior adviser. On Friday, she participated in a meeting on vocational training with the president and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Jamie Gorelick, an attorney and ethics adviser for Ivanka Trump, said Monday that the first daughter will not have an official title, but will get a West Wing office, government-issued communications devices and security clearance to access classified information. Gorelick said Ivanka Trump would follow the ethics rules that apply to government employees.
"Our view is that the conservative approach is for Ivanka to voluntarily comply with the rules that would apply if she were a government employee, even though she is not," said Gorelick, who also helped Kushner with the legal strategy that led to his White House appointment. "The White House Counsel's Office agrees with that approach."
Ivanka Trump's role has already come under scrutiny because there is little precedent for a member of the first family with this kind of influence. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A person with knowledge of Ivanka Trump's thinking, who requested anonymity to discuss private conversations, said she believes she can offer more independent perspective to her father by not serving as a White House staffer.
Around the Nation
New York Times, How to Con Black Law Students: A Case Study, Elie Mystal, March 20, 2017. This month, Bethune-Cookman, a historically black university in Daytona Beach, Fla., announced an “affiliation” deal with Arizona Summit Law School, a for-profit institution in Phoenix. A joint scholarship program will send Bethune-Cookman students and students from other historically black colleges to the law school. Other programs, including intensive LSAT prep classes, have been announced as part of the deal.
Bethune-Cookman doesn’t have a law school, so it makes sense that it would want to partner with an accredited institution. But there’s a problem: Arizona Summit, formerly known as the Phoenix School of Law, may be accredited, but only 25 percent of its graduates passed the Arizona bar exam on their first try last year.
That’s an embarrassing result for any school. To compare, the law school at Arizona State posted a 77 percent pass rate for first-time test takers of the same bar. Statewide, 64 percent of first-time test takers passed. In other words, Arizona Summit’s results weren’t even in the ballpark of respectability.
Arizona Summit can’t blame the aptitude of its students for its low bar passage rate. The median LSAT score at Arizona Summit is 143, which is on the low end, but about the same as the median score at Florida A&M University College of Law. Still, over half of Florida A&M law school graduates passed the Florida bar last summer. And Florida A&M charges about $14,000 in yearly in-state tuition, a fraction of the cost of Arizona Summit, which charges about $45,000 in tuition and fees per year. That doesn’t include the cost for Bethune-Cookman students to move from Florida to Phoenix.
New York Times, David Rockefeller, Philanthropist and Head of Chase Manhattan, Dies at 101, Jonathan Kandell, March 20, 2017. David Rockefeller, the banker and philanthropist with the fabled family name who controlled Chase Manhattan bank for more than a decade and wielded vast influence around the world for even longer as he spread the gospel of American capitalism, died on Monday morning at his home in Pocantico Hills, N.Y. He was 101.
Chase Manhattan had long been known as the Rockefeller bank, although the family never owned more than 5 percent of its shares. But Mr. Rockefeller was more than a steward. As chairman and chief executive throughout the 1970s, he made it “David’s bank,” as many called it, expanding its operations internationally.
His stature was greater than any corporate title might convey, however. His influence was felt in Washington and foreign capitals, in the corridors of New York City government, in art museums, in great universities and in public schools.
Mr. Rockefeller could well be the last of a less and less visible family to have cut so imposing a figure on the world stage. As a peripatetic advocate of the economic interests of the United States and of his own bank, he was a force in global financial affairs and in his country’s foreign policy. He was received in foreign capitals with the honors accorded a chief of state.
JIP Editor's note: A chart showing some of his and his family's relationships is attached.
Intercept, For Donald Trump, a Terror Attack Will Be an Opportunity Not a Curse, Peter Maass, March 19, 2017. Among the alterations in American politics since Trump’s inauguration, this may be the most frightening one: a terror attack on U.S. soil will be used by the White House as an excuse for implementing an extra-legal agenda that could only be pushed through in a time of crisis.
What the courts will not allow today, what protesters will hit the streets to defend tomorrow, what even the pliant Congress would have a hard time backing — the White House is almost certainly counting on all of this changing in the wake of a domestic terrorist attack.
This macabre turn, in which terrorism becomes an opportunity rather than a curse, has ample precedents that tell us one thing: be prepared.
It wasn’t long ago that 9/11 was used as a pretext for invading Iraq. Although it was almost immediately clear that Iraq had nothing to do with the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told President George W. Bush on the evening of September 11, “Part of our response maybe should be attacking Iraq. It’s an opportunity.”
Just a few years earlier, Rumsfeld, along with Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney, had signed a now-infamous letter calling for the removal of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The with-us-or-against-us atmosphere after 9/11 enabled them to carry out the task.
How Washington Works
Washington Post, Let’s start telling the truth about what the Supreme Court does, Brian Leiter, March 19, 2017. Brian Leiter is a professor at the University of Chicago Law School. Ordinary Americans may be understandably perplexed by the controversy over nominating a judge to the highest court in the land. Isn’t appointing a top judge like appointing a top chemist? You want someone technically competent and professionally responsible, and that is all.
But all lawyers and all political insiders making the choices know that is not so. Consider what is obvious: There is no difference in terms of qualifications and expertise between President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Merrick Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and President Trump’s nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. Why all the high political drama?
The answer is simple and has to do with the fact that law is not anything like science — and that what the Supreme Court does has little to do with the dispassionate application of clear laws to clear facts.
This should hardly be surprising. The court decides only about 80 cases each year and chooses those from 7,000 to 8,000 lower-court cases that parties want to appeal to the court. The Supreme Court chooses the most difficult among this vast array of lower-court cases to decide.
Given the complexity of the law and the complexity involved in saying what really happened in a given dispute, all judges, and especially those on the Supreme Court, often have to exercise a quasi-legislative power: They have to decide what should be done based on their own moral and political values, since existing legal standards conflict, or are indeterminate, or are silent on the problems they confront. The Supreme Court, as the final court of appeal in our system, is the super-legislature of last resort. And that is why Republicans blocked Garland’s nomination and why Trump chose Gorsuch. Republicans expected Garland to vote against their objectives on the super-legislature. Trump expects Gorsuch to vote with the Republicans.
None of this is controversial among insiders. Supreme Court nominations are controversial because the court is a super-legislature, and because its moral and political judgments are controversial. As a super-legislature, it has limited jurisdiction, depending on what cases are brought before it, but those cases are important enough. Just as no one would expect Republicans or Democrats to assent to appointments to the Senate without regard to political ideology, it is naive to expect anything similar in the case of nominations to the Supreme Court.
And that is why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would not let Garland be voted on last year and why Trump nominated Gorsuch. Perhaps it is time to tell the truth to the public so that we might have honest hearings about the moral and political views of the nominees.
JFK Facts.org, Now an audiobook: Oswald, the CIA & Mexico City (The Lopez Report), Jefferson Morley, March 19, 2017. Thanks to Dave Giglio, you can now listen to a key JFK assassination document: the HSCA report about Lee Oswald’s visit to Mexico City. Written by Ed Lopez and Dan Hardway, staffers for the House Select Committee on Assassination, the Lopez Report (as it is commonly known) was the first serious examination of the CIA’ machinations in September and October 1963 around the man who would be accused of killing President Kennedy six weeks later.
Lopez and Hardway’s probe showed the Warren Commission was largely ignorant and wholly clueless about Oswald’s visit to the Mexican capital. Their report became the foundation for subsequent works by journalist Anthony Summers, historian John Newman, and independent scholar Bill Simpich, which deepened and clarified the story that the Warren Commision missed.
They demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that Oswald’s visit was of deep interest to top CIA officials, belying the official story that Oswald was an unknown figure of only “routine” interest. They also showed that when questioned about Oswald, James Angleton, David Phillips, Ann Goodpasture, and Ann Egerter, among others, lied under oath.
Washington Post, White House installs political aides at Cabinet agencies to monitor loyalty, Lisa Rein and Juliet Eilperin, March 19, 2017. The unusual shadow government of political appointees, which reports to the White House deputy chief of staff for policy, is charged with making sure the secretaries and their staff members carry out President Trump’s agenda and stick to approved talking points, according to officials with knowledge of the arrangement.
The political appointee charged with keeping watch over Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and his aides has offered unsolicited advice so often that after just four weeks on the job, Pruitt (shown in a file photo) has shut him out of many staff meetings, according to two senior administration officials.
At the Pentagon, they’re privately calling the former Marine officer and fighter pilot who’s supposed to keep his eye on Defense Secretary Jim Mattis “the commissar,” according to a high-ranking defense official with knowledge of the situation. It’s a reference to Soviet-era Communist Party officials who were assigned to military units to ensure their commanders remained loyal.
Most members of President Trump’s Cabinet do not yet have leadership teams in place or even nominees for top deputies. But they do have an influential coterie of senior aides installed by the White House who are charged — above all — with monitoring the secretaries’ loyalty, according to eight officials in and outside the administration.
This shadow government of political appointees with the title of senior White House adviser is embedded at every Cabinet agency, with offices in or just outside the secretary’s suite. The White House has installed at least 16 of the advisers at departments including Energy and Health and Human Services and at some smaller agencies such as NASA, according to records first obtained by ProPublica through a Freedom of Information Act request.
These aides report not to the secretary, but to Rick Dearborn, the White House deputy chief of staff for policy, according to administration officials. A top Dearborn aide, John Mashburn, leads a weekly conference call with the advisers, who are in constant contact with the White House.
Washington Post, Gorsuch hearings position Trump to begin reshaping the Supreme Court, Ed O'Keefe and Robert Barnes, March 19, 2017. Neil Gorsuch and his conservative credentials have earned broad support among Republicans. But Democrats remain angry about the 13-month vacancy created after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked a hearing for Barack Obama’s pick to succeed Antonin Scalia.
When Judge Neil Gorsuch (shown in an official photo) arrives on Capitol Hill on Monday morning to begin his confirmation hearings for a seat on the Supreme Court, he will give President Trump his first chance to make a lasting imprint on the federal judiciary — and Republicans a fresh test to work their will now that they control all of Washington’s levers of power.
Gorsuch, a federal appeals court judge from Colorado, was promoted by conservative legal activists because of his sterling credentials, a decade of right-of-center rulings and his allegiance to the same brand of constitutional interpretation employed by the late justice he would replace, Antonin Scalia.
Palmer Report Analysis, Rex Tillerson makes things even worse while refuting reports he was “fatigued” in South Korea, Bill Palmer, March 19, 2017. This week a South Korean news outlet reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had to cut short his diplomatic visit there because he was “fatigued.” Even as concerns about the health of Tillerson continue to grow with each overseas trip he takes, he’s stepped forward to offer a rare interaction with a reporter in order to push back against the sentiment – but in so doing, he’s only exacerbated the controversy.
Amid previous reports that Tillerson’s diplomatic trips have been scheduled around his need for excess sleep and naps, this latest incident set off a number of red flags. But now he’s told a reporter from the Independent Journal Review (essentially a mouthpiece for the Trump administration) that South Korea has the story all wrong. Tillerson’s explanation: “They never invited us for dinner, then at the last minute they realized that optically it wasn’t playing very well in public for them, so they put out a statement that we didn’t have dinner because I was tired.”
Around the Nation
Washington Post, Columnist Jimmy Breslin, bard of the New York streets, dies at 88, Paul Duggan, March 19, 2017. Jimmy Breslin, long the gruff and rumpled king of streetwise New York newspaper columnists, a Pulitzer Prize winner whose muscular, unadorned prose pummeled the venal, deflated the pompous and gave voice to ordinary city-dwellers for decades, died March 19 at his home in Manhattan. He was 88.
For an “unlettered bum,” as Mr. Breslin called himself, he left an estimable legacy of published work, including 16 books, seven of them novels, plus two anthologies of his columns.
What set him apart as a writer was the inimitable style of his journalism across the last great decades of ink-on-paper news, in the 1960s for the old New York Herald Tribune and later for the Daily News and the city pages of Long Island-based Newsday, where his final regular column appeared in 2004. Hard-nosed and lyrical, the Pulitzer Prize-winner took stock of his city from the bottom up.
Zero Hedge, Senator Hints That Trump May Resign: "I Think He Is Going To Get Himself Out," Tyler Durden, March 19, 2017. It’s no secret that there is a concerted effort underway to do everything possible to remove President Donald Trump from office.
From Russian ties to business conflicts of interests, both Democrats and Republicans are actively working to find chinks in the President’s armor. But for those with hope of change in their hearts, Democrat Senator Diane Feinstein (shown in an official photo) says there is a possibility that Trump will eventually remove himself from office by filing his own resignation. Speaking to a crowd during a town hall-style Questions and Answers session, Feinstein was asked how Congress is going to deal with Trump’s alleged illegal activities:
Journalist: We don’t know what’s happening but we know that he is breaking laws every day, he’s making money at Mar-a-lago, he’s getting copyrights in China, he has obvious dealings with Russia, the Dakota pipeline… there’s some many things that he’s doing that are unconstitutional… how are we going to get him out?
Feinstein: We have a lot of people looking at this… Technical people… I think he’s going to get himself out… I think sending sons to another country to make a financial deal for his company and then have that covered with government expenses… I think those government expenses should not be allowed.. we are working on a bill that will deal with conflict of interest… it’s difficult…
New York Times, In Rocky Week, Trump’s Self-Inflicted Chaos on Display, Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Maggie Haberman, March 18, 2017. President Trump had plenty of meaty legislative challenges to address, including the Republican health care plan and his first budget. Yet he kept getting sidetracked by controversies of his own making.
Minutes before President Trump was to take the stage in Nashville last week to make his case for the health care overhaul he had promised, he received some unwelcome news that shifted his script.
A Federal District Court judge in Hawaii had just placed another stay on his ban on travelers from six predominantly Muslim countries, dealing his order a second legal setback in two months. As a country music duo crooned in an auditorium still filling with adoring supporters of Mr. Trump, the president fumed backstage and huddled with his staff for a hasty redrafting of the speech.
When Mr. Trump emerged, he decided to relegate the health care overhaul, which he has identified as a top domestic priority, to a brief mention more than halfway through the speech. He instead replaced its prime billing with an angry diatribe against the travel ban ruling and the judge who had issued it.
“I have to be nice, otherwise I’ll get criticized for speaking poorly about our courts,” he said. But he could not help himself: The president soon suggested that the court that had just ruled against him should be destroyed. “People are screaming, ‘Break up the Ninth Circuit!’ ”
Once again, Mr. Trump’s agenda was subsumed by problems of his own making, his message undercut by a seemingly endless stream of controversy he cannot seem to stop himself from feeding.
Washington Post, Inside Trump’s White House, New York moderates spark infighting and suspicion, Philip Rucker and Robert Costa, March 18, 2017. Outspoken, worldly and polished, a group of Manhattan business figures-turned-presidential advisers — often aligned with President Trump’s eldest daughter and son-in-law — is scrambling the still-evolving power centers swirling around the president.
On the other side are aides driving much of Trump’s nationalist agenda, led by chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon. Led by Gary Cohn and Dina Powell — two former Goldman Sachs executives often aligned with Trump’s eldest daughter and his son-in-law — the group and its broad network of allies are the targets of suspicion, loathing and jealousy from their more ideological West Wing colleagues.
Supreme Court Nomination
New York Times, What Gorsuch Has in Common With Liberals, Akhil Reed Amar, March 18, 2017. The Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil M. Gorsuch describes himself as a constitutional “originalist.” But originalism, which we are likely to hear a lot about during his confirmation hearings this week, comes in several flavors and is more complicated than the conversation about Judge Gorsuch or the Supreme Court would suggest.
Originalists believe that faithful constitutional interpreters must build on the solid bedrock of the Constitution’s text, as that text was originally understood when drafted and ratified. For example, what did the Article III words “judicial power” mean in 1787-88? What did ratifiers of the 14th Amendment in 1866-68 understand themselves as doing when declaring that states must honor the basic “privileges” and “immunities” of American citizens?
Justice Antonin Scalia, whose seat Judge Gorsuch seeks to fill, described himself as an originalist and championed originalism on the court. Justice Clarence Thomas is also a professed originalist, as was President Ronald Reagan’s Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork.
Washington Post Opinion, So far, Trump has been mercifully incompetent, Dana Milbank, March 18, 2017. During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump remarked often on the stupidity of our leaders. He was under the impression that the rest of the planet was indulging in some sort of global guffaw at our expense. “How stupid are we? The world is laughing.” If so, what must the mirthful world think of our current state of affairs? This past week alone....
Washington Post, Why does WikiLeaks keep publishing U.S. state secrets? Private contractors, Tim Shorrock, March 16, 2017. When WikiLeaks released more than 8,000 files about the CIA’s global hacking programs this month, it dropped a tantalizing clue: The leak came from private contractors. Federal investigators quickly confirmed this, calling contractors the likeliest sources. As a result of the breach, WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange said, the CIA had “lost control of its entire cyberweapons arsenal.”
Intelligence insiders were dismayed. Agencies “take a chance with contractors” because “they may not have the same loyalty” as officers employed by the government, former CIA director Leon Panetta lamented to NBC.
But this is a liability built into our system that intelligence officials have long known about and done nothing to correct. As I first reported in 2007, some 70 cents of every intelligence dollar is allocated to the private sector. And the relentless pace of mergers and acquisitions in the spies-for-hire business has left five corporations in control of about 80 percent of the 45,000 contractors employed in U.S. intelligence. The threat from unreliable employees in this multibillion-dollar industry is only getting worse.
Washington Post, Seizure-inducing tweet leads to a new kind of prosecution, Max Ehrenfreund and Antonio Olivo, March 18, 2017. A Maryland man is charged with intentionally inducing a seizure by sending a message to a Newsweek journalist. Experts said it’s a new era for such types of alleged crimes.
Trump Foreign Policy
Washington Post, ‘People will simply starve to death’: Why Trump’s plan to slash U.N. funding could lead to global calamity, Amy B Wang, March 18, 2017. The world is facing its “largest humanitarian crisis” since 1945, according to the United Nations.
Around the Nation
Washington Post, Chuck Berry, wild man of rock who helped define its rebellious spirit, dies at 90, Terence McArdle, March 18, 2017. Chuck Berry, the perpetual wild man of rock music who helped define its rebellious spirit in the 1950s and was the sly poet laureate of songs about girls, cars, school and even the “any old way you choose it” vitality of the music itself, died March 18 at at his home in St. Charles County, Mo. He was 90.
St. Charles County police announced the death in a Facebook post on its Website, saying officers responded to a medical emergency at Mr. Berry’s home and administered lifesaving techniques but could not revive him. No further information was available. “While no individual can be said to have invented rock and roll, Chuck Berry comes the closest of any single figure to being the one who put all the essential pieces together,” reads Mr. Berry’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.
A seminal figure in early rock music, he was all the rarer still for writing, singing and playing his own music. His songs and the boisterous performance standards he set directly influenced the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and later Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger.
In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine named him No. 6 on its list of the greatest guitarists of all time. Mr. Berry so embodied the American rock tradition that his recording of “Johnny B. Goode” was included on a disc launched into space on the Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1977. Besides Mr. Berry, members of the rock hall of fame’s inaugural class included Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, James Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino and the Everly Brothers. Of those he survived, Mr. Berry remained the most indefatigable and acclaimed performer, playing concerts all over the world well into his 80s.
Orlando Sentinel, Feds: Winter Park man cites KKK, Nazis in threat against congressman, Christal Hayes, A Winter Park man was charged Friday with threatening to hunt down a congressman and hang him from a lamppost, according to federal court documents. Charles Zachary Howard is accused of calling a congressman’s office in Washington D.C., last week and leaving a voicemail rife with profanities and threats, a complaint alleges.
“...We’re going to hunt your a-- down, wrap a rope around your neck and hang you from a lamppost,” part of the voicemail said. The congressman’s name was not released in court documents. In the voicemail, Howard also mentioned the KKK, the Freemasons and Nazis and suggested the congressman should prepare for the “battle” and the “apocalypse,” prosecutors said.
JFK Assassination Research
JFKFacts, Judge Tunheim: I saw Oswald’s KGB file and it was five feet tall, Jefferson Morley, March 18, 2017. The Soviet intelligence service has a massive file on accused presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald (shown in a passport photo) that has never been public, said federal judge John Tunheim, former chairman of a government declassification panel. Tunheim said he reviewed the file in Moscow in 1994 on behalf of the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), which declassified millions of pages of JFK documents in the 1990s. “The KGB file stood five feet tall when you stacked all the boxes up,” Tunheim told a Washington press conference on Thursday.
Tunheim (shown in an official photo) said he was allowed to look at the records, which were in Russian. He was told that they related to the Soviet security services’ daily surveillance of Oswald, a former Marine who lived in the Soviet Union from October 1959 to May 1962.
“We came very close to getting it released,” Tunheim said. “But I didn’t get any help from the State Department, and, in the end, the KGB chose not to let it go.” Tunheim was the keynote speaker at a conference organized by Citizens Against Political Assassinations.
JFK conspiracy theories involving the KGB have never been substantiated and are considered by historians to be among the less plausible scenarios behind the murder of the liberal president in Dallas on November 22, 1963.
SouthFront, Turkey Imposes Duties on Grain Imports from Russia, Staff report, March 18, 2017. Russia has been deprived of the right to duty-free supply of grain in Turkey. Turkey has deprived Russia of the right to duty-free supply of wheat, corn and sunflower’s oilseed meal from March 15. According to experts, this will have a negative impact on Russian exports, as Turkey is the second buyer of Russian grain after Egypt.
According to the new conditions, Russia will be forced to pay import duty equal to 130 percent, supplying wheat. Experts connect the reasons with the ban on import of Turkish tomatoes and other vegetables to Russia.
Politico, Sen. Murray signals interest in Acosta's role in billionaire's sex plea deal, Josh Gerstein, March 17, 2017. A key Democratic senator is exploring Labor Secretary nominee Alex Acosta's role in what critics have described as a "sweetheart plea deal" given to a billionaire sex offender while Acosta was the top federal prosecutor in south Florida.
The top Democrat on the Senate HELP committee, Patty Murray of Washington (shown in an official photo), sent a letter to the Justice Department Thursday asking for records on a variety of topics, many of them relating to Acosta's service as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights under President George W. Bush.
However, the last of Murray's requests seeks: "All documents and communications authored by or referencing Mr. Acosta related to the investigation of Jeffrey Epstein." Epstein, a wealthy financier, came under investigation by state and federal authorities over allegations that he had members of his personal staff solicit teenage girls at a local high school to come to his home to engage in sexual activities for money.
As the U.S. attorney in Miami, Acosta agreed not to file any federal charges against Epstein, a wealth financier, if he pleaded guilty to state charges involving soliciting prostitution and soliciting a minor for prostitution. Soon after the deal was cut in 2008, two women filed suit claiming that the decision to forgo federal prosecution violated a federal law - the Crime Victims Rights Act - because they and other teenagers Epstein paid for sex were never adequately consulted about the plea deal or given an opportunity to object to it. The suit remains pending nearly a decade later.
While Acosta's involvement in the Epstein saga drew media attention as soon as his nomination was announced, senators have been relatively quiet about the issue before Murray raised it in her request to the Justice Department this week.
Miami Prosecutor Finds No Wrongdoing When Jailers Scalded Mentally Ill Prisoner To Death
Miami Herald, Prosecutors find no wrongdoing in shower death at Dade Correctional mental health unit, Julie K. Brown, March 17, 2017. The corrections officers who locked a schizophrenic inmate into a rigged shower — one that at least five inmates said was cranked up to scalding temperatures — committed no crime, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle announced Friday.
The state attorney’s two-year investigation into the June 23, 2012, death of Darren Rainey at Dade Correctional Institution concluded that the officers — Sgt. John Fan Fan, Cornelius Thompson, Ronald Clarke and Edwina Williams — did not act with premeditation, malice, recklessness, ill-will, hatred or evil intent when they locked Rainey into the shower.
They also said that there was no evidence that the shower was scalding, even though it appears clear that the police detectives who arrived at the scene immediately after the incident didn’t take the water temperature.
White House Picks Fight With Brits
New York Times, White House Tries to Soothe Britain, Angry Over Spy Claim, Peter Baker and Steven Erlanger, March 17, 2017. The White House scrambled to deal with an unusual rupture after suggesting that President Barack Obama used a British spy agency to conduct surveillance on Donald J. Trump last year. The agency denied the contention as “nonsense” in a rare statement. By Friday, the flap had turned into a full-blown international incident as British politicians expressed outrage.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said on Friday that “we’ve received assurances from the White House that these allegations would not be repeated.”
Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, contacted Kim Darroch, the British ambassador to Washington, on Thursday night to try to deal with the unusual rupture between the United States and its closest international ally. The White House did not immediately comment on Friday morning.
The flap started when Mr. Spicer, in the course of defending Mr. Trump’s unsubstantiated accusation that Mr. Obama ordered the future president’s phones tapped last year, read from the White House lectern comments by a Fox News commentator asserting that the British spy agency was involved. Andrew Napolitano, the commentator, said on air that Mr. Obama used Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, the signals agency known as the GCHQ, to spy on Mr. Trump.
Washington Post, Trump says he has ‘strong support’ for NATO, but said member nations ‘must pay what they owe,’ Abby Phillip and David Nakamura, March 17, 2017. At a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the president said some NATO countries owe “vast sums” in dues, which is “very unfair to the United States.” President Trump on Friday said he has “strong support” for NATO, but he emphasized during a White House summit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that member nations “must pay what they owe” to support the alliance.
At a joint news conference, Trump said some NATO countries owe “vast sums” in dues, which is “very unfair to the United States.” “These nations must pay what they owe,” Trump said, with Merkel standing next to him in the East Room.
Yet Trump appeared to misstate how NATO financing works, arguing each nation agreed to contribute 2 percent of gross domestic product. In fact, the organization long ago set a goal that each member would devote at least 2 percent of GDP to defense in their own budgets. They “contribute” their capabilities to NATO, not monetary assessments. Those who haven’t reached 2 percent, which is the majority of nations, don’t “owe” or have to make up shortfalls of the past.
New York Times Opinion, Let Bannon Be Bannon! David Brooks, March 17, 2017. Steve Bannon, the Prince of Darkness, outside the White House in February. President Trump has abandoned Steve Bannon’s governing philosophy, and with it, the benefits the working class counted.
Washington Post, Kellyanne Conway’s spouse headed for senior Justice Department post, Devlin Barrett, March 17, 2017. The husband of White House adviser Kellyanne Conway is poised to be nominated to lead the Justice Department’s civil division, a powerful post overseeing the federal government’s lawsuits on a wide variety of issues, including defending President Trump’s executive order on immigration.
White House officials plan in coming days to announce the nomination of George Conway, a New York lawyer, according to people familiar with the matter. Conway has worked for decades at the law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, specializing in securities litigation and other corporate legal issues. His name had repeatedly surfaced as being under consideration for a number of jobs at the Justice Department, including solicitor general, who oversees the government’s cases before the Supreme Court. His expected nomination to lead the civil division was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
Kellyanne Conway is one of Trump’s most high-profile aides, appearing frequently on television to promote and defend White House policies. The Justice Department’s civil division is an important but mostly behind-the-scenes part of the government. Its lawyers are responsible for defending federal policies and agencies in court, and for pursuing alleged wrongdoing by corporations.
During the Obama administration, the civil division racked up tens of billions of dollars’ worth of financial penalties against major corporations. Some of those settlements resolved probes of international banks for their handling of residential mortgage-backed securities that contributed to the financial collapse of 2008. Other settlements stemmed from investigations into whether pharmaceutical companies sold billions of dollars of prescription drugs under false pretenses.
Threat To Trump Seen
President Trump (Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr)
InfoWars, JFK Researchers: Trump at Risk For Assassination, Jerome Corsi, March 17, 2017. Power structure against JFK still exists, warns researchers. President Trump is at more risk of assassination from the Deep State than any president since President John Kennedy. That was the consensus warning issued by a meeting of top JFK assassination researchers held at the National Press Club on Thursday.
“I’m really worried, whether you like Donald Trump or not – I’m concerned about where this is going,” Lawrence Schnapf, a New York attorney and co-chair [sic. Schnapf is a member of the board, not co-chair] of the Citizens Against Political Assassination (CAPA), the group sponsoring the press conference and seminar. “The Deep State that conspired to assassinate JFK is still in place today,” Schnapf stressed. “CAPA is going to do everything we can to get the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to make public all the JFK assassination records, even if we have to take legal action.”
“But Donald Trump must understand the threat to his life from enemies within the Deep State is real.”
CAPA sponsored the meeting to urge President Trump to sign an executive order demanding the National Archives make public all remaining JFK assassination documents that are currently scheduled for release on Oct. 26, in final compliance with the JFK Records Act of 1992 as implemented by the Assassinations Record Review Board (AARB).
On Oct. 26, NARA is expected to release some 3,600 documents still held secret, nearly 54 years since JFK was assassinated in Dallas, TX, on Nov. 22, 1963. In addition, NARA possesses approximately 40,000 that remain heavily-redacted – documents that CAPA is urging President Trump to insist also must be released on Oct. 26, without redactions, to allow the American public to read these documents in complete form, as they were originally written.
An index of the 3,600 still secret documents released by NARA suggests the documents still kept secret by the CIA largely involve the deep and complicated ties the CIA had to Lee Harvey Oswald, the “lone-gun assassin” identified by the Warren Commission.
“We may never know how many documents the CIA destroyed or if the 3,600 documents NARA is planning to release are all secret JFK assassination documents that may exist deep buried within the CIA,” explained Andrew Kreig, J.D., a Justice Integrity Project editor and CAPA member who organized the conference.
“If President Trump would lend his authority to the release of all JFK documents in a not-redacted fashion, the American public would finally get a chance to see how the Warren Commission lied and covered up the extent to which we now understand Lee Harvey Oswald worked as a field operative, for the Deep State that continues today to menace President Trump.”
Famed forensic pathologist and medical school professor Cyril H. Wecht, J.D., M.D., chaired the conference and gave a graphic demonstration why he considered the Warren Commission’s “single bullet theory” nonsense, demonstrating his points by arranging two members of the audience to adjust their chairs to sit as President Kennedy and Governor John Connelly sat in the presidential limousine that fatal day in Dallas.
Also attending was noted JFK expert James H. Lesar, J.D., the president of the Assassination Archives and Research Center (AARC) headquarted in Washington, D.C. “What after more than 50 years can be so important to national security that the federal government would want to keep secret from the American public about the assassination of our president on Nov. 22, 1963,” Lesar asked.
He expressed his continuing concern that one provision of the JFK Records Act gives federal agencies the right to request continued postponement of JFK records after 2017, if release would result in “identifiable harm” that outweighs the public interest in disclosure.
JIP Editor's Note: Few speakers even mentioned or otherwise hinted at any threat to President Trump, and two focused entirely on Freedom of Information issues in general with not reference to Kennedy. Also, Schnapf identified himself as a Republican and sympathizer of the current administation.
Washington Post, Tillerson says ‘all options are on the table’ when it comes to North Korea, Anna Fifield, March 17, 2017. The Trump administration gave its clearest signal yet that it would consider taking military action against North Korea (whose flag is shown above), as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (shown in a file photo) said Friday that “all options are on the table” to deter the threat from Pyongyang. Tensions are running high in Northeast Asia, with North Korea making observable progress toward its goal of building a missile that could reach the U.S. mainland and China incensed over South Korea’s decision to deploy an American antimissile battery.
Tillerson’s remarks, ruling out diplomatic talks and leaving the door open to military action, will fuel fears in the region that the Trump administration is seriously considering what Washington euphemistically calls “kinetic” options.
“Let me be very clear: The policy of strategic patience has ended,” Tillerson said at a news conference in Seoul with Yun Byung-se, the South Korean foreign minister. He was referring to the Obama administration policy of trying to wait North Korea out, hoping that sanctions would prove so crippling that Pyongyang would have no choice but to return to denuclearization negotiations.
SouthFront, ISIS Defenses Collapsing Across Syria, Voiceover by Harold Hoover, March 17, 2017 (video 2:19 min.). In the province of Aleppo, the Syrian army’s Tiger Forces liberated the villages of Tal Ahmar, Asimiyah, Qarin, Hazazah, Tal Ayyub, Um Zulaylah and Rasm al-Harmel. Government troops also attacked ISIS units at Ahmadiyah and Zubaydah.
Government forces took control of the Al-Mazar Mountaion, the nearby military depots, the Palmyra gas field. Government troops destroyed an ISIS vehicle at the al-Talila crossroad and some 4 ISIS members at the town of Arak.
Washington Post, Mounting claims of civilian deaths after U.S. targets al-Qaeda in Syria, Louisa Loveluck and Thomas Gibbons-Neff, March 17, 2017. The United States said that it had carried out an airstrike killing several al-Qaeda militants in Syria, but later reports from activists said that the attack had hit a mosque, killing dozens of civilians.
Washington Post, Congressional Republicans sharply criticize Trump budget, Kelsey Snell and Karoun Demirjian, March 16, 2017. Defense hawks, rural conservatives and even some of Donald Trump’s most vocal supporters in Congress pushed back on the huge potential hike in defense spending as insufficient and decrying some other cuts to federal agencies and programs. Several of his closest allies have said the plan has virtually no chance in Congress.
New York Times Opinion, Mr. Trump’s Tear-Down Budget, Editorial Board, March 16, 2017. The White House budget director, Mick Mulvaney, defended the president’s budget proposal for 2018 by saying it puts numbers on Mr. Trump’s campaign promises. That it does, but in so doing, it shows that many of those promises simply cannot be kept. As he pledged, Mr. Trump would spend heavily on the military and border security — but only, as it turns out, by spending far less in areas like education and infrastructure that he had once deemed important.
This is, of course, very much a political document, full of bluster and preposterous cuts that Mr. Trump must know that Congress, including many Republicans, will not accept. But the spirit behind the “budget blueprint” is clear enough: With a few big exceptions, Mr. Trump is in full tear-down mode.
Trump Spying Claims Against Obama
New York Times, Trump Digs In on Wiretap, No Matter Who Says Differently, Peter Baker and Charlies Savage, March 16, 2017. Nearly two weeks after Mr. Trump accused President Barack Obama of tapping his phones, the controversy has eclipsed White House attempts to pass a health law and write a budget.
Trump Attacks On Civil Service
Washington Post, White House endorses plan to remove 30,000 FAA workers from federal payroll, Ashley Halsey III, March 16, 2017. President Trump’s support for a plan to lop more than 30,000 Federal Aviation Administration workers from the federal payroll gives fresh momentum to an effort that stalled in Congress last year. The proposal is included in Trump’s 2018 budget, which would cut funding for the Transportation Department by 13 percent. The move would address two themes at the core of White House strategy: contracting the size of the federal workforce and putting a costly federal program in private hands.
Nazi Claim Made Against Trump Advisor
Palmer Report, Donald Trump’s top adviser Sebastian Gorka is sworn member of Nazi group, could be deported, Bill Palmer, March 16, 2017. A notorious Nazi group in Hungary is acknowledging that one of Donald Trump’s top White House aides, counter-terrorism adviser Sebastian Gorka, is one of its sworn members. The revelation that Gorka is officially a Nazi, first exposed today by the news publication Forward, is sending shockwaves through the political world. And because the group in question is on a banned list for immigrants, Gorka now faces the possibility of not only losing his job, but of being deported.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Sebastian Gorka found his way to the White House through his associate Steve Bannon, as the two previously worked closely together at white nationalist propaganda site Breitbart. Although detractors have often accused Bannon and his Breitbart ilk of metaphorically being Nazis, this is the first instance of one being exposed as literally a Nazi. The Hungarian group, Vitézi Rend, has been around in various incarnations since World War II. The State Department classified the group as being “under the direction of the Nazi Government of Germany,” and to this day, any official member of the group is disallowed from immigrating into the United States.
Around the Nation: Blues Legend Dies
New York Times, James Cotton, Blues Harmonica Legend, Dies at 81, Bill Friskics-Warren, March 16, 2017. James Cotton, a pioneering harmonica player who worked with Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and helped establish his instrument as an integral part of modern blues, died on Thursday in Austin, Tex. He was 81.
Marc Lipkin, the director of publicity at Alligator Records, Mr. Cotton’s label, said the cause was pneumonia. Many of Mr. Cotton’s lasting early contributions came during his first tenure with Waters, in Chicago, where from 1954 to 1966 he played in a band that included the guitarist Jimmy Rogers and the pianist Otis Spann.
Often heard in close call and response with Waters’s deep, declamatory vocals, Mr. Cotton’s squalling harmonica animated dozens of recordings Waters made for the influential Chess label, including classics like “Got My Mojo Working” and “Rock Me.”
Mr. Cotton embarked on a solo career in 1966 when he formed the James Cotton Blues Band. He and his group spent much of the next decade making records of their own and sharing bills with popular rock acts like Janis Joplin and Cream. Mr. Cotton’s muscular, heavily amplified harmonica — he typically played with a microphone cupped tightly to his instrument — influenced the work of several major blues-rock groups of the era, among them the Allman Brothers, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and the Electric Flag.
Trump Pentagon Seeks Expanded War In Syria, With No Constitutionally Required Congressional Approval
Washington Post, U.S. to likely send as many as 1,000 more ground troops to Syria, officials say, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, March 14, 2017. The new contingent, which would expand the American presence ahead of the offensive in Raqqa, would not initially play a combat role, but instead would be advising Kurdish and Arab fighters on the ground. The plan would mark a continued departure from the Obama administration, which resisted committing more ground troops to Syria. The moves would also mark a departure from the Obama administration, which resisted committing more ground troops to Syria.
The implementation of the proposed plan, however, relies on a number of variables that have yet to be determined, including how much to arm Kurdish and Arab troops on the ground, or what part regional actors, such as Turkey, might have in the Raqqa campaign. The new troops, if sent, would be focused on supporting Kurdish and Arab fighters in northern Syria battling the Islamic State. Under the plan, the added American forces would act primarily as advisers, offering expertise on bomb disposal and coordinating air support for the coalition of Kurds and Arabs, also known as the Syrian Democratic Forces.
There are already in Syria about 500 U.S. Special Operations forces operating alongside the SDF, in addition to about 250 Rangers and 200 Marines. The new U.S. troops, if approved, would probably come from parts of both the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit — a flotilla of ships loaded with 2,200 Marines that is now steaming toward the region — and the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, of which 2,500 recently arrived in Kuwait. These conventional troops would supplement the Special Operations forces already on the ground and operate much like their counterparts fighting in the Iraqi city of Mosul.
“This would still be by, with and through our local partners on the ground,” said one defense official on the potential surge, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss plans that had not yet been made public.
The new Syria deployments are also set to occur in tandem with a likely White House decision that would officially abolish the troops caps that were put in place for U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria by the Obama administration. The number of troops in Iraq and Syria were officially capped by the previous administration to about 5,000 and 500, respectively. Military commanders have said in the past that the caps have split up units for the sake of keeping troop numbers low.
Washington Post, Federal judge in Hawaii freezes President Trump’s new executive order, Maria Sacchetti, Kalani Takase and Matt Zapotosky, March 15, 2017. A federal judge in Hawaii has frozen President Trump’s new executive order temporarily barring the issuance of new visas to citizens of six-Muslim majority countries and suspending the admission of new refugees.
U.S. District Judge Derrick K. Watson froze the order nationwide. Watson was the second of three judges to hear arguments Wednesday on whether to freeze the ban. A federal judge in Maryland said he also could rule before day’s end after a morning hearing, and the same federal judge in Washington state who suspended Trump’s first travel ban was set to hear arguments starting at 5 p.m. Eastern.
The hearing in Hawaii came in response to a lawsuit filed by the state itself. Lawyers for Hawaii alleged the new travel ban, much like the old, violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment because it is essentially a Muslim ban, hurts the ability of state businesses and universities to recruit top talent and damages the state’s robust tourism industry.
Washington Post, U.S. indicts Russian spies in breach of 500 million Yahoo accounts, Ellen Nakashima, March 15, 2017. The Justice Department announced the indictments of two Russian spies and two criminal hackers for the 2014 heist. The indictments mark the first criminal cyber charges ever brought against Russian government officials and are part of the largest hacking case brought by the United States.
John Roberts of Fox News asks a question at White House press briefing. Photo credit: The White House / YouTube
WhoWhatWhy, Trump’s War on Media: Real or “Fake”? Celia Wexler, March 15, 2017. Journalists shed light on new challenges they face, but offer few solutions. Does White House abuse of the press reflect a lack of discipline — or something more sinister? To listen to the reporters who cover the White House, February 24 remains a day of infamy. For them, it seemed to mark a tipping point in their struggles with President Donald Trump, who has declared the media “the enemy.”
That was the day that press secretary Sean Spicer decided to replace a scheduled press briefing with a more informal event in a smaller venue, and to exclude certain reporters, among them those representing The New York Times,the Los Angeles Times, CNN, the BBC, the Guardian, Politico, Buzzfeed, and others.The journalists did not take this decision well.“We were all stunned by it,” said New York Times Washington bureau chief Elisabeth Bumiller.
“I knew it was a big story.” She rushed to get a story up online. “It got huge readership,” she said.Bumiller’s reactions were echoed by other members of the White House press corps who spoke on March 7 at a conference co-sponsored by the National Press Club and the University of Missouri School of Journalism.
Trump Health Care Battles
Washington Post, White House tries to salvage GOP health-care proposal as criticism mounts, Kelsey Snell, Elise Viebeck, Amy Goldstein and Mike DeBonis, March 14, 2017. Vice President Mike Pence (shown in a photo) and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price came to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to try to salvage the Republican plan to revise the Affordable Care Act, whose chances of passing the House appear increasingly slim.
Washington Post, The CBO report demolishes the GOP’s edifice of deception, Greg Sargent, March 14, 2017. On Tuesday morning, the White House kept up its attacks on the Congressional Budget Office, which has found, devastatingly, that the GOP health-care plan supported by President Trump would result in 24 million fewer people with health coverage. As budget director Mick Mulvaney put it on Fox News: “Welcome to Washington, where the CBO says it’s sunny and 75 degrees.”
At the same time, however, the response from certain GOP senators has been far more cautious. Some are saying that they have not read the CBO report and want to reserve judgment. Others are expressing serious worry about the GOP bill’s impact on their states. Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy said that the report’s projection of massive coverage loss is “awful.” Arizona’s John McCain (shown in an official photo) added: “I’m very worried about what the House bill would do to Arizona.”
Vox, The GOP health plan is an act of class warfare by the rich against the poor, Matt Dylan, March 13, 2017. The plan, the CBO concludes, would take more than $1 trillion away from programs targeting poor and middle-class families, to fund an $883 billion tax cut targeted at the wealthy. It is upward income redistribution of a truly massive scale.
“No legislation enacted in recent decades cut low-income programs this much — or even comes close,” Robert Greenstein, the founder and president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Washington’s leading advocate for poor and low-income Americans, says.
Washington Post, White House budget director’s false claims about the Obamacare legislative process, Glenn Kessler, March 14, 2017.
“It’s there. Anybody can read it. Folks watching on television now can go online and read what the bill is. They can watch the committee hearings. Those are things that were dramatically missing in Obamacare.”
— White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” March 12, 2017
Legislative sausage-making, particularly on big bills, is often complex and confusing. In theory, the bills are drafted in committees, but the reality is that hard work is often done behind the scenes, where lawmakers haggle over details and cut deals. Sometimes secrecy is essential, because if some details become public too soon, opponents have more time to build opposition.
The House Republican replacement bill, for instance, for a period was kept under lock and key, available only to members, until it was ready for debate at two key committees.
Nevertheless, we were rather surprised to see White House budget director Mulvaney assert on national television that the Affordable Care Act, by contrast, was drafted with no committee hearings and that no ordinary American could read the bill before it was passed. Is that really the case?
Trump Listed As Witness In Friend Epstein's Pedophile Civil SuitTrial
Florida Bulldog, President Trump on witness list in Palm Beach lawsuit involving billionaire pedophile, Dan Christensen, March 14, 2017. President Donald Trump is on a list of witnesses for trial in a Palm Beach lawsuit that pits billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein against a Fort Lauderdale attorney who represents Epstein’s victims. The case appears bound for trial this summer following a Feb. 9 ruling by the Florida Supreme Court in another case that has allowed Fort Lauderdale lawyer Bradley Edwards’ claim of malicious prosecution against Epstein to proceed.
President Trump “has been identified as an individual who may have information relating to these allegations,” said Edwards’ West Palm Beach attorney Jack Scarola, who placed Trump’s name on a witness list on Aug. 31. “But it’s unlikely that he would ever be called” to appear at trial, especially now that he’s assumed the presidency. Scarola said Trump is one of a number of high-profile individuals whose testimony might be relevant because they “had a relationship with Epstein that would have at least exposed them potentially to what was going on inside Epstein’s Palm Beach home … during the relevant period of time” between 2001-2007.
What was going on in Epstein’s mansion, court papers say, was an ugly child molestation scheme involving sex with “substantially more” than 40 girls, some as young as 12. A “statement of undisputed facts” filed by Scarola says Epstein used his staff and his victims to recruit more victims, employing “a pyramid abuse scheme in which he paid underage victims $200-$300 cash for each other underage victim that she brought to him.”
“There is no evidence the President was involved in Epstein’s schemes,” Scarola said.
Still, the spectacle of a U.S. president being drawn into sordid litigation involving a notorious politically connected sexual criminal who got an apparent sweetheart deal from then-Miami U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta, now Trump’s nominee to become U.S. Secretary of Labor, represents a potential political nightmare for the White House. The White House press office did not respond to requests for comment. Epstein’s attorney, Tonja Haddad Coleman, declined to comment.
A little-noticed affidavit by Edwards recounting his knowledge of Trump’s involvement with Epstein is recounted further below in this story.
More Charges In Navy Contracting/Sex Scandal
Washington Post, Eight current and ex-Navy officials, including admiral, charged in escalating ‘Fat Leonard’ bribery scandal, Craig Whitlock, March 14, 2017. The defendants are accused of taking bribes in the form of lavish gifts, prostitutes and luxury hotel stays courtesy of Leonard Glenn Francis, a Singapore-based defense contractor who has already pleaded guilty to defrauding the Navy of tens of millions of dollars.
President Trump (Gage Skidmore file photo via Flickr)
Washington Post, Defense Secretary Mattis withdraws choice for undersecretary for policy, Karen DeYoung, March 14, 2017. The decision was made after the White House indicated it was unwilling to fight what it said would be a battle for Senate confirmation of Anne W. Patterson, who was President Barack Obama's ambassador to Egypt during the Muslim Brotherhood uprising.
U.S. officials said that two members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), were strongly opposed to Patterson’s nomination because she served as U.S. ambassador to Egypt from 2011 to 2013, a time when the Obama administration supported an elected government with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood that was ultimately overthrown by the Egyptian military.
Although Obama administration holdovers remain in a few jobs, after eight weeks in office, President Trump has not nominated a single high official under Cabinet rank in the Defense or State departments.
Washington Post, Trump paid $38 million in taxes in 2005, White House says, Philip Rucker and Drew Harwell, March 14, 2017. The future president also reported a $105 million write-down, according to a tax document released on MSNBC. The Post could not independently verify the return, but a White House statement indicated that it is authentic, and said Trump paid “no more tax than legally required.”
New York Times, Trump’s Court Pick Has Web of Ties to Secretive Billionaire, Charlie Savage and Julie Turkewitz, March 14, 2017. Neil M. Gorsuch represented the mogul Philip F. Anschutz as an outside counsel and has links to other executives at his companies. The publicity-shy billionaire Philip F. Anschutz inherited an oil and gas firm and built it into an empire that has sprawled into telecommunications, railroads, real estate, resorts, sports teams, stadiums, movies and conservative publications like The Weekly Standard and The Washington Examiner.
Mr. Anschutz’s influence is especially felt in his home state of Colorado, where years ago Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, a Denver native, the son of a well-known Colorado Republican and now President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, was drawn into his orbit.
As a lawyer at a Washington law firm in the early 2000s, Judge Gorsuch (shown in an official photo) represented Mr. Anschutz, his companies and lower-ranking business executives as an outside counsel. In 2006, Mr. Anschutz successfully lobbied Colorado’s lone Republican senator and the Bush administration to nominate Judge Gorsuch to the federal appeals court. And since joining the court, Judge Gorsuch has been a semiregular speaker at the mogul’s annual dove-hunting retreats for the wealthy and politically prominent at his 60-square-mile Eagles Nest Ranch.
“They say a country’s prosperity depends on three things: sound money, private property and the rule of law,” Judge Gorsuch said at the 2010 retreat, according to his speaker notes from that year. “This crowd hardly needs to hear from me about the first two of the problems we face on those scores.”
With the Senate Judiciary Committee set to take up Judge Gorsuch’s nomination next week, Democrats have based much of their criticism of him on the argument that his judicial and economic philosophy unduly favors corporations and the wealthy. But his relationship with Mr. Anschutz, 77, whose fortune is estimated by Forbes to be $12.6 billion, has received scant attention.
Forecast On GOP Health Care Plan's Impact
Trump Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price
New York Times, 24 Million Will Lose Insurance, Analysis of G.O.P. Bill Says, Thomas Kaplan, March 13, 2017. A review by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said 24 million people would lose coverage within a decade under the Republican health plan intended to replace the Affordable Care Act. The bill would save the government $337 billion over 10 years, which could ease pressure on the legislation from the right.
Republicans had been bracing for what was almost certain to be a bleak accounting of the legislation’s projected effects. The American Health Care Act, as Republicans call their bill, was already facing widespread criticism from providers of health care, some conservatives, and a united Democratic Party. The numbers released Monday will only make it more difficult for Republicans to explain why their legislation would bring positive change to the country’s health care system.
In recent days, Democrats had criticized Republicans for pushing the health care bill through two House committees last week before the Congressional Budget Office had weighed in, saying it was irresponsible to begin considering legislation without a firm grip on its potential costs and ramifications.
Washington Post, GOP strategy on health-care bill contrasts sharply with Democrats approach to Obamacare, Carolyn Y. Johnson, March 13, 2017. Democrats used a big tent approach, convening health-care groups that did not normally talk to each other while cutting deals and strong-arming key industry players to build broad support for Obamacare. In contrast, the Republican effort to repeal the law has unfolded so fast that lobbyists and industry groups barely had time to digest the bill before lawmakers began marking it up.
Fox News Sex Scandals A Factor In NYC U.S. Attorney Firing?
New York Times, As Fox News Faces Inquiry, Trump Gets to Name Prosecutor, Jim Dwyer and William K. Rashbaum, March 13, 2017. A federal grand jury is expected to soon hear testimony linked to harassment claims at Fox News. But the dismissal of Preet Bharara may complicate the inquiry. The political drama around the federal courthouse in Manhattan did not end with the sudden, unexplained turnabout of President Trump in firing Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York.
While that prominent post always gets attention, one candidate frequently mentioned as a possible successor to Mr. Bharara (shown in an official photo) could sharpen the scrutiny to new levels: Marc L. Mukasey, a former prosecutor who now works in white-collar criminal defense.
As it happens, Mr. Mukasey has represented Roger E. Ailes (shown at right in a file photo), the former chairman of Fox News, who has long had a mogul-to-mogul relationship with Mr. Trump. Whomever Mr. Trump nominates to replace Mr. Bharara will inherit an investigation of Fox News.
A federal grand jury sitting in Manhattan is expected to soon hear testimony from at least two witnesses about business practices at Fox News when it was led by Mr. Ailes, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. Mr. Ailes, who was forced out in July amid revelations of multiple accusations of sexual harassment, has denied those charges.
The current inquiry, which began in September and appears to be in an early stage, may be focused, at least in part, on settlement payments, a person with knowledge of the matter said. One of those subpoenaed, according to the two people, is Mark Kranz, the former chief financial officer for Fox News who oversaw the network’s finances when it paid millions of dollars in settlements. Mr. Kranz was appointed to his position by Mr. Ailes in 2004, and resigned last year, a week after Mr. Ailes had done so.
Mr. Ailes helped prepare Mr. Trump ahead of debates in last year’s campaign.
In 2014, Mr. Trump intervened in a dispute between Mr. Ailes and a former aide who said he had damaging information about Mr. Ailes and the network. Mr. Trump negotiated a settlement on behalf of Mr. Ailes, and later boasted of his work, telling the journalist Gabriel Sherman, “When Roger was having problems, he didn’t call 97 people, he called me.”
The existence of the grand jury investigation of Fox News was disclosed in a state court proceeding last month by Judd Burstein, a Manhattan lawyer representing a former daytime host for Fox, Andrea Tantaros (shown in a Fox promotional photo), who said her career suffered after spurning advances from Mr. Ailes. She charged that the network operated like a “sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult.”
In an email, Mr. Mukasey, a former federal prosecutor who is a partner in Greenberg Traurig, said he would have no comment. Mr. Mukasey’s firm has handled real estate development matters for the family of Jared Kushner, who is married to Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka. Among his partners is Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor and vigorous advocate for Mr. Trump during the campaign.
Mr. Mukasey is the son of Michael Mukasey, a former federal judge and former attorney general under President George W. Bush, and longtime friend of Mr. Giuliani’s. Asked last month about the possibility of stepping into the United States attorney’s office, Mr. Mukasey told the New York Law Journal that he loved his job, but, “If asked to serve my country, that is something I take very seriously.”
Around the Nation
CNN, Texas bill would fine men $100 each time they masturbate, Isabelle Chapman, March 13, 2017. A Texas lawmaker has proposed a bill that would fine a man $100 each time he masturbates. The bill also imposes a 24-hour waiting period if a guy wants a colonoscopy or a vasectomy, or if he's in the market for some Viagra.
Rep. Jessica Farrar, a Democrat, knows her bill isn't going to get very far. But she proposed it last week to make a point and give male lawmakers a taste of their own medicine. Farrar has long been an advocate of women's health in a state that has made it extremely difficult for women to get abortions. And the bill, by pointing out a sexist double standard, is meant to shine a light on the obstacles women deal with when it comes to their health care.
"Let's look at what Texas has done to women," Farrar told CNN. "What if men had to undergo the same intrusive procedures?" Even the name is a jabFarrar's bill would penalize men for masturbation because such behavior is a failure to preserve the sanctity of life and "an act against an unborn child."
Even the bill's name -- "A Man's Right to Know Act" -- is a jab at a pamphlet Texas doctors are required to give women seeking abortions.Lawsuit challenges Texas rule requiring burial for aborted fetusesLawsuit challenges Texas rule requiring burial for aborted fetuses.
That pamphlet, "A Woman's Right to Know," has long been criticized for being inaccurate, ideologically influenced by religion and designed to discourage women from getting abortions.One section of the pamphlet says breast cancer and abortions are linked. Scientific studies have found no cause-and-effect relationship between the two.
"We have real lives to deal with," said Farrar, who pointed out that Texas has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world.And she's right — the rate of women who died from pregnancy-related complications doubled from 2010 to 2014, according to a recent study.
Trump Justice Department
Justice Department Headquarters in Washington, DC (Justice Department photo)
Politico, Two more U.S. attorneys win reprieves from dismissal order, Josh Gerstein, March 13, 2017. The chief federal prosecutors in Connecticut and northern New York have won short-term reprieves from President Donald Trump's abrupt action Friday demanding immediate resignations from several dozen U.S. attorneys appointed by President Barack Obama.U.S. Attorney for Connecticut Deirdre Daly said in a statement Monday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions agreed to allow her to remain in her job until later this year.
Daly served as a federal prosecutor in Manhattan and in Connecticut, and in private practice for a time, before being nominated and confirmed as U.S. attorney in 2014.
Albany-based U.S. Attorney Richard Hartunian issued a similar statement, according to the Associated Press. Nominated By Obama in 2009 and confirmed in 2010, Hartunian said he was being allowed to stay through June in order to hit his 20-year mark at the Justice Department.
JFK Death & Deep State
Truth and Shadows, Beyond their wildest dreams: 9/11 and the American Left, Graeme MacQueen, March 13, 2017. Dr. Graeme MacQueen is the former Director of the Centre for Peace Studies at McMaster University in Canada. He was an organizer of the Toronto Hearings on 9/11, is a member of the Consensus 9/11 Panel, and is a former co-editor of the Journal of 9/11 Studies.
On November 23, 1963, the day after John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Fidel Castro gave a talk on Cuban radio and television. He pulled together, as well as he could in the amount of time available to him, the evidence he had gathered from news media and other sources, and he reflected on this evidence.
The questions he posed were well chosen: they could serve as a template for those confronting complex acts of political violence. Were there contradictions and absurdities in the story being promoted in the U.S. media? Who benefitted from the assassination? Were intelligence agencies claiming to know more than they could legitimately know? Was there evidence of foreknowledge of the murder? What was the main ideological clash in powerful U.S. circles and how did Kennedy fit in? Was there a faction that had the capacity and willingness to carry out such an act? And so on.
But beneath the questions lay a central, unspoken fact: Castro was able to imagine — as a real possibility and not as mere fantasy — that the story being promoted by the U.S. government and media was radically false. He was able to conceive of the possibility that the killing had not been carried out by a lone gunman on the left sympathetic to Cuba and the Soviet Union, but by powerful, ultra-right forces, including forces internal to the state, in the United States.
Because his conceptual framework did not exclude this hypothesis he was able to examine the evidence that favoured it. He was able to recognize the links between those wishing to overthrow the Cuban government and take more aggressive action toward the Soviet Union and those wishing to get Kennedy out of the way.
In the immediate wake of the assassination, and after the Warren Commission’s report appeared in 1964, few among the elite left leadership in the U.S. shared Castro’s imagination. Vincent Salandria, one of key researchers and dissidents, said: “I have experienced from the beginning that the left was most unreceptive to my conception of the assassination.”
Why would Castro have had less difficulty than the U.S. left leadership imagining that the assassination of Kennedy had been carried out by and for the American ultra-right and the intelligence community?
What we imagine to be true in the present will surely be influenced by what we have intimately experienced in the past. Castro’s imagination of what U.S. imperial powers might do was shaped by what he had witnessed them actually do, or attempt to do, to him and his country.
Castro referred in his November 23 talk not only to the economic warfare against Cuba, but to the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. But, of course, the CIA’s Operation Mongoose had been active in the interim between these two latter events, and he was familiar with its main lines. Perhaps he was not familiar with all its components.
As far as I am aware, he did not know on November 23, 1963 of the 1962 Operation Northwoods plan, endorsed by the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to create a pretext for an invasion of Cuba through a multi-faceted false flag operation that included terrorist attacks in Miami and Washington, to be falsely blamed on Cuba. Had he been familiar with this scheme he might have cited it on November 23 to bolster his case.
JFKcountercoup, John Newman's Countdown to Darkness - Volume II in a Series, William Kelly, March 13, 2017. Book review of: Countdown to Darkness: The Assassination of President Kennedy Volume II (January, 2017). John Newman's first two installments in a series of books on the deep political and historic background to the assassination of John Kennedy are blockbusters that destroy the official myth that the president was killed by a deranged lone nut.
(Dr. John Newman, a history professor and former Army intelligence officer, is shown in a file photo. He is a speaker at the CAPA news conference at the National Press Club on March 16, 2017.)
The first volume of Where Angels Tread Lightly sets the historical backdrop to what happened at Dealey Plaza leading up to the election of JFK, while Darkness continues the chronology up to the Bay of Pigs fiasco in April 1961.
Each chapter and every statement are meticulously footnoted to government documents and personal interviews that clearly show how the accused assassin and ex-Marine defector was wittingly used in a counter-intelligence trap to catch a Soviet mole who had burrowed deep in the US government intelligence apparatus. This mole exposed the U2 spy plane and a CIA spy Vladamir Popov to the Soviets and while there are suspects -- Kim Philby, Donald McLean and Robert Lipka, he was never officially identified.
Freedom of Information: Sunshine Week
Frontier of Freedom Foundation, Trump, the CIA, and Those Still Secret JFK Records, Jacob G. Hornberger, March 13, 2017. This Thursday, March 16, at 1 p.m., Citizens Against Political Assassinations (CAPA) is hosting a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., that will feature U.S. District Judge John Tunheim and other speakers. The purpose of the conference is to draw attention to the thousands of pages of official records relating to the JFK assassination that are still being kept secret from the American people more than 50 years after the assassination.
When Oliver Stone’s movie JFK, which posits that the U.S. national-security establishment orchestrated the assassination, came out in 1991, it included a blurb at the end of it informing people that the government was still maintaining tight secrecy over its JFK-assassination related records.
There was such an enormous public outcry over the continued official secrecy, especially because it appeared to be part of an official cover-up of the assassination, that Congress enacted the JFK Records Act the following year, 1992. To ensure compliance with the law, Congress established a commission called the Assassination Records Review Board. The person chosen to serve as the chairman of the commission was a lawyer from Minnesota, John Tunheim, who became a federal judge in 1995.
Washington Post, McCain to Trump: Retract wiretap claim or provide proof, Kelsey Snell, March 12, 2017. “I have no reason to believe that the charge is true,” said the Republican senator (shown in a photo). He and other lawmakers have pointed out that the president could directly ask intelligence officials to corroborate his claim against the Obama administration but instead has asked Congress to investigate.
Washington Post, Trump budget expected to seek historic contraction of federal workforce, Damian Paletta, March 12, 2017. The president is expected to propose a budget this week that includes cuts in the federal government of a magnitude not seen since the end of World War II, a plan expected to prioritize military and homeland security spending while slashing budgets for a broad spectrum of other federal agencies and programs, economists and budget analysts said.
Aides say that the president sees a new Washington emerging from the budget process, one that prioritizes the military and homeland security while slashing many other areas, including housing, foreign assistance, environmental programs, public broadcasting and research. Simply put, government would be smaller and less involved in regulating life in America, with private companies and states playing a much bigger role.
The cuts Trump plans to propose this week are also expected to lead to layoffs among federal workers, changes that would be felt sharply in the Washington area. According to an economic analysis by Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics, the reductions outlined so far by Trump’s advisers would reduce employment in the region by 1.8 percent and personal income by 3.5 percent, and lower home prices by 1.9 percent.
There are roughly 2.8 million federal employees, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, a number roughly flat over the past 20 years but lower than any point from 1974 to 1997. And roughly 34 percent of the federal employees who are not in the military will qualify for full retirement benefits in 2020.
Washington Post, We are all conspiracy theorists, Chris Cillizza, March 12, 2017. What was once on the fringe of political dialogue is mainstream, Today’s toxic environment means conspiracy theories aren’t dismissed. Instead, they’re taken as something close to fact — and this is happening across the ideological spectrum.
Talk to a supporter of President Trump and, at some point in the conversation, you are likely to hear some version of this: “The mainstream media is fake news. They ignore all the good things Trump is doing because they hate him and wanted Hillary to win. That’s why they spend so much time on this ridiculous Russia story and not enough time investigating whether Trump Tower was actually wiretapped!”
Talk to an opponent of President Trump and, at some point in the conversation, you are likely to hear some version of this: “Russia has something on Trump. Michael Flynn, Jeff Sessions, Paul Manafort, and the president’s own unwillingness to bad-mouth Vladimir Putin and Russia all make clear that he is being secretly controlled by a foreign power. He needs to be impeached!”
What those two views reflect is that we live in “X-Files” time now. Conspiracy theories aren’t dismissed; instead, they’re taken as something close to fact. “Prove that the conspiracy theory is wrong!” is now our default position as a society.
Conspiracy theories have always been with us — there was a second shooter in the JFK assassination, 9/11 was an inside job, and so on and so forth — but they have almost always existed on the fringes of political dialogue. Not anymore. We are all conspiracy theorists.
National Security Probe of Trump Russian Ties
Palmer Report, Did Donald Trump know Michael Flynn was paying an FBI official to smear Hillary Clinton? Bill Palmer, March 12, 2017. Amid Michael Flynn’s admission this week that he was a paid foreign agent of Turkey while he was also a Donald Trump campaign adviser, his belated filings have also exposed that he was paying the FBI official who had tried and failed to get the State Department to do something improper on Hillary Clinton’s behalf. It’s also clear Trump has known for months that Flynn was on the take. So now comes the essential question that must be determined: did Trump know at the time that Flynn was paying the FBI official to smear his opponent?
The timeline as we now know it looks like this: Back in May of 2015, Brian McCauley, who was an FBI deputy assistant director at the time, called up the State Department and offered to declassify the information allegedly contained in Hillary Clinton’s emails in exchange for favors in return; it didn’t go anywhere (source: Washington Post). McCauley then retired and became a political consultant.
Then more than a year later, just three weeks before election day, someone leaked McCauley’s earlier “quid pro quo” offer to the media in an attempt to create the false appearance that Hillary Clinton had done something wrong with her emails and that her former State Department was attempting to cover it up. But according to Michael Flynn’s own government filings this week, he began paying unspecified “consultancy” fees to McCauley shortly before the leak occurred. The four payments, which continued until shortly after Donald Trump was declared the winner of the election, totaled $28,000 – and they were subcontracted from the money which Flynn had received from Turkey.
Whether Brian McCauley had been attempting to entrap the State Department back in 2015 as part of a long range plan to harm Clinton, or whether he had merely been asking for an improper quid pro quo, here’s what is clear: Two weeks after Michael Flynn began paying off McCauley, the eighteen month old incident suddenly leaked. Did McCauley leak it to help out his new boss? Did McCauley mention it offhand to Flynn, who then leaked it? Either way, it’s fairly clear that Flynn paid McCauley so he could harm Clinton in the process.
Palmer Report, Michael Flynn is absolutely screwing Donald Trump and Mike Pence, and he doesn’t care, Bill Palmer, March 12, 2017. One month after Donald Trump and Mike Pence upended Michael Flynn’s life by making him the first scapegoat in the Russia scandal, Flynn (shown in a file photo) is now doing the same in kind. It’s not entirely clear whether Flynn is looking for revenge or merely looking to protect himself at all cost. But either way, Flynn is taking steps to try to save his own ass, and if that just happens to hurt the two co-conspirators who fired him, he clearly no longer cares.
Make no mistake: when Michael Flynn retroactively registered as a foreign agent this week, he set off a bomb within the Trump-Russia scandal. Flynn is now coming clean about the half a million dollars he took from a Turkish government intermediary, and when he took it. In the process he’s indirectly exposed the fact that Donald Trump and Mike Pence both knew Flynn was on the take from a hostile foreign government at the time they made him National Security Adviser.
Worse, Flynn has exposed that Trump and Pence both lied about it to the public. Even worse than that, it’s blown apart the claim that Flynn was forced out because he lied to Pence about his phone calls with the Russian Ambassador.
Pence can no longer believably paint himself as this put-upon innocent character who had no idea Flynn was a dirty rat until he read about it in the headlines. If Pence lied to the American public about knowing Flynn was dirty on Turkey, then it’s a reasonable assumption that Pence lied about knowing Flynn was dirty on Russia as well. Just how much did Mike Pence know about the Russia scandal at the time? And so as bad as this is for Trump, it may be worse for Pence
New York Times, Bharara Shunned Politics. His End Was Tinged by Them, Benjamin Weiser, Ben Protess, Matthew Goldstein and William K. Rashbaum, March 12, 2017. Throughout his tenure as a United States attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara harped on one theme: Politics and prosecution do not mix. Ten days into his tenure as United States attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara (shown in an official photo) saw his political and prosecutorial worlds collide.
He convened a meeting to discuss a sensitive investigation of a Democratic donor with ties to Senator Chuck Schumer of New York. Mr. Bharara had been Mr. Schumer’s chief counsel, and Mr. Schumer had recommended Mr. Bharara for the prosecutorial post.
At the meeting, Mr. Bharara asked his prosecutors if there was enough evidence to make a case against the donor, Hassan Nemazee. One of the prosecutors, Daniel W. Levy, who is now in private practice, would recall years later that he had told Mr. Bharara that there had been a wide-reaching bank fraud.
“Then take him,” Mr. Bharara said. That case — one of his very first as the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan — foreshadowed a theme that Mr. Bharara harped on throughout his tenure pursuing a host of public corruption, terrorism, civil rights and Wall Street cases: Politics and prosecution do not mix.
Yet now, more than seven years after taking office, Mr. Bharara, 48, finds himself on what appears to be the losing end of a quintessential political decision.
White Collar Crime Blog, More on the 46 U.S. Attorneys Asked to Resign, Ellen Podgor (law professor and blog editor), March 12, 2017. It is fairly typical that US Attorneys offer their resignations when a new President, especially one of a different party, is elected. But firings and requiring same-day resignations are less common.
This is particularly troublesome as many were finishing up work on current cases. Of the 46 who had not left and asked for their resignations this week were a few that it is sad to see leaving their post. I don't know all 46, but some that I do are mentioned below.
David Capp, U.S. Attorney Northern District of Indiana. Attorney Capp had planned to retire in June 2017. He issued a thoughtful statement here. He thanks the "men and women of the USAO for their dedication and professionalism, day-in and day-out."
"Some years ago I spoke one evening at a church in Gary. We had just made some arrests and closed down a drug operation in the neighborhood the church served. Afterwards a gentleman came up to me, shook my hand, thanked me for our efforts and told me “now my grandchildren can play in the yard again.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has much work ahead trying to match the work done by individuals of this caliber.
New York Times, Turkey’s Europe Relations Sink Amid Quarrel With Dutch, Patrick Kingsley and Alissa J. Rubin, March 12, 2017. Turkey’s president (shown above) accused the Netherlands of “Nazism,” after it barred two Turkish ministers and as a referendum on a new Turkish Constitution looms.
Turkey’s quarrel with Europe worsened over the weekend after the Turkish president accused the Dutch government of Nazism, and Turkish politicians were barred or disinvited from events in two European countries, amid tensions ahead of a tight referendum on a new Turkish Constitution.
Having criticized German officials for barring their Turkish counterparts from campaign events this month, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan turned his ire on the Netherlands after the Dutch stopped the Turkish foreign minister from landing there for a rally on Saturday, and then escorted the Turkish family minister out of the country early on Sunday, citing risks to public order and security.
Associated Press via Northwest Indiana Times, Trump's labor nominee likely to be asked about Florida case, Curt Anderson and Laurie Kellman, March 11, 2017. Labor secretary nominee Alexander Acosta is expected to face questions at his Senate confirmation hearing about an unusual plea deal he oversaw for a billionaire sex offender while U.S. attorney in Miami.
Acosta (shown in a file photo) has won confirmation for federal posts three times previously, but he has never faced scrutiny on Capitol Hill for his time as U.S. attorney.
Critics, including attorneys for some underage victims of financier Jeffrey Epstein, say the plea agreement was a "sweetheart deal" made possible only by Epstein's wealth, connections and high-powered lawyers. Acosta has defended his decisions as the best outcome given evidence available at the time.
"Some may feel that the prosecution should have been tougher. Evidence that has come to light since 2007 may encourage that view," Acosta wrote in a March 2011 letter to media outlets after leaving the U.S. attorney's office. "Had these additional statements and evidence been known, the outcome may have been different. But they were not known to us at the time."
Senate aides from both parties expect Democrats to raise the case during Acosta's confirmation hearing Wednesday as an example of him not speaking up for less-powerful people. The aides spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly.
Sen. Patty Murray (shown in an official photo), the leading Democrat on the committee, said in a statement she met with Acosta on Thursday and is concerned about whether he would "stand up to political pressure" and advocate for workers as labor secretary. Unlike Trump's original choice for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, Acosta is expected to win confirmation.
The Florida International University law school dean was nominated after Puzder, a fast-food executive, withdrew over his hiring of an undocumented immigrant housekeeper and other issues.
Acosta, 48, has previously won Senate confirmation as Miami U.S. attorney, head of the Justice Department's civil rights division and the National Labor Relations Board.
Washington Post, Bannon led a mysterious life as he built a conservative movement, Robert O'Harrow Jr. and Shawn Boburg, March 11, 2017. In the three years before he became Donald Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon lived as a virtual nomad in a quest to build a populist political insurgency. No presidential adviser in recent memory has followed such a mysterious, peripatetic path to the White House. It was as though he was a man with no fixed address.
He owned a house and condo in Southern California, where he had entertainment and consulting businesses, a driver’s license and a checking account. He claimed Florida as his residence, registering to vote in Miami and telling authorities he lived at the same address as his third ex-wife.
Trump Justice Department
Boston Globe via New York Times, In showdown with Trump, US prosecutor is fired, Maggie Haberman, March 11, 2017. Preet Bharara (above), the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, was fired Saturday after he refused to submit his resignation. Bharara’s dismissal capped an extraordinary showdown in which a political appointee declined an order to submit a resignation.
“I did not resign. Moments ago I was fired. Being the US Attorney in SDNY will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life,” Bharara wrote on his personal Twitter feed Saturday afternoon. The Southern District of New York, which Bharara has overseen since 2009, encompasses Manhattan, Trump’s home before he was elected president, as well as the Bronx, Westchester, and other counties north of New York City.
Trump last weekend accused Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower in Manhattan, an allegation he has yet to back up. But federal investigators have been examining whether there was a connection between Russian officials and the Trump campaign. Intelligence officials believe that the hacking of emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee and campaign officials for Hillary Clinton was orchestrated by the Kremlin.
White House Fence-Jumper
Washington Post, Man arrested on White House grounds got close to entrance, court records say, Peter Hermann, Ian Shapira and Carol D. Leonnig, March 11, 2017. The suspect — identified as Jonathan Tuan-Anh Tran, 26, of California — hid behind a pillar before he was spotted and apprehended near the South Portico entrance, documents state. The U.S. Secret Service declined to answer questions about how the man penetrated so deep onto the grounds.
Consortium News, A Flawed UN Investigation on Syria, Gareth Porter, March 11, 2017. Exclusive: U.N. investigators increasingly make their conclusions fall in line with Western propaganda, especially on the war in Syria, as occurred in a distorted report about last year’s attack on an aid convoy.
The March 1 report by the United Nations’ “Independent International Commission of Inquiry“ asserted that the bloody attack on a humanitarian aid convoy west of Aleppo City on Sept. 19, 2016, was an airstrike by Syrian government planes. But an analysis of the U.N. panel’s report shows that it was based on an account of the attack from the pro-rebel Syrian “White Helmets” civil defense organization that was full of internal contradictions.
Around the Nation
Philly.com, First of kind lawsuit accuses N.E. Philly hotel of accommodating sex trafficking, Joseph A. Slobodzian, March 10, 2017. A Northeast Philadelphia motel that prosecutors have called the city’s “epicenter of human trafficking” was sued Friday under a recent state law for permitting the pimping of a teenage girl in one of its rooms for two years.
The suit, filed in Common Pleas Court, was the first under a 2014 state law that allows victims of sex traffickers to sue hotels and motels where abuse occurs. “This is a message to the entire motel and hotel industry that if you allow and enable trafficking of youngsters, young women, or any person on your facilities, you will be held responsible and sued for damages under the law,” said Center City lawyer Thomas R. Kline.
Feds Flout New FOIA Law?
National Security Archive (at George Washington University), Three out of Five Federal Agencies Flout New FOIA Law, Staff report, March 10, 2017. Only 38 of 99 Agencies Have Updated Their FOIA Rules; Out-of-Date Rules Rob Requesters of Appeal Rights. Three out of five of all federal agencies are flouting the new law that improved the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and required them to update their FOIA regulations, according to the new National Security Archive FOIA Audit released today to celebrate Sunshine Week.
The National Security Archive Audit found that only 38 out of 99 federal agencies have updated their FOIA regulations in compliance with the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 that was passed with bipartisan, bicameral support. The new law required agencies to update their FOIA regulations within 180 days of passage – that was June 30 so December 27, 2016 was the deadline.
Defender of JFK Lone Assassin Theory
Washington Decoded, Jim Garrison: Trump Before Trump, Donald H. Carpenter, March 11, 2017. This March marks the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in US history: the persecution of Clay Shaw by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison. It is an unprecedented and Byzantine saga by any standard. Today it may seem slightly less bizarre because the occupant of the Oval Office — like Garrison — is a conspiracy theorist and pathological liar, one who finds the likes of Roger Stone, Michael Levin, and Alex Jones significant and credible.
But the story ought to be recounted on this anniversary, if only as a reminder that what Richard Hofstadter memorably called the “paranoid style of politics” is not exclusive to the right. It has more than its share of purveyors, practitioners, and cheerleaders on the left.
Reuters via New York Post, Assad: US forces in Syria are ‘invaders,’ Staff report, March 11, 2017. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (shown in a file photo of an interview) said he had yet to see “anything concrete” from U.S. President Donald Trump over his vow to defeat Islamic State and called U.S. forces in Syria “invaders” because they were there without government permission. Assad, in an interview with Chinese TV station Phoenix, said “in theory” he still saw scope for cooperation with Trump though practically nothing had happened in this regard. Assad said Trump’s campaign pledge to prioritize the defeat of Islamic State had been “a promising approach” but added: “We haven’t seen anything concrete yet regarding this rhetoric.”
SouthFront, No One Invited US to Manbij, All Foreign Troops in Syria without Permission Are ‘Invaders’ – Bashar Assad, Staff report, March 11, 2017. According to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, US military have not coordinated about their presence in the area of the Syrian city of Manbij with the country’s authorities. The presence of US military in the area of the Syrian city of Manbij was not agreed with the country’s authorities, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview with the Phoenix TV television channel. The full text of the interview was published on a website of the Sana news agency on March 11.
According to the head of the state, “any foreign troops, coming to Syria without our invitation or consultation or permission, they are invaders, whether they are American, Turkish, or any other one.” The state’s head also added liberation of the city of Raqqa, which now is the main stronghold of the IS, will become a priority for government troops in the near future. According to him, liberation of Raqqa and Deir-Ez-Zor can take several months.
Consortium News, A Flawed UN Investigation on Syria, Gareth Porter, March 11, 2017. Exclusive: U.N. investigators increasingly make their conclusions fall in line with Western propaganda, especially on the war in Syria, as occurred in a distorted report about last year’s attack on an aid convoy.
The March 1 report by the United Nations’ “Independent International Commission of Inquiry“ asserted that the bloody attack on a humanitarian aid convoy west of Aleppo City on Sept. 19, 2016, was an airstrike by Syrian government planes. But an analysis of the U.N. panel’s report shows that it was based on an account of the attack from the pro-rebel Syrian “White Helmets” civil defense organization that was full of internal contradictions.
New York Times, Trump Demands 46 U.S. Attorneys Quit, Including Bharara, Charlies Savage and Maggie Haberman, March 10, 2017. President Trump told the holdover United States attorneys to tender their resignations immediately, including — surprisingly — Preet Bharara (shown in an official photo), the federal prosecutor in Manhattan.
The Trump administration moved on Friday to sweep away most of the remaining vestiges of Obama administration prosecutors at the Justice Department, ordering 46 holdover United States attorneys to tender their resignations immediately — including Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan.
The firings were a surprise — especially for Mr. Bharara, who has a reputation for prosecuting public corruption cases and for investigating insider trading. In November, Mr. Bharara met with then President-elect Donald J. Trump at Trump Tower in Manhattan and told reporters afterward that both Mr. Trump and Jeff Sessions, who is now the attorney general, had asked him about staying on, which the prosecutor said he expected to do.
But on Friday, Mr. Bharara was among federal prosecutors who received a call from Dana Boente, the acting deputy attorney general, instructing him to resign, according to a person familiar with the matter. As of Friday evening, though some of the prosecutors had publicly announced their resignations, Mr. Bharara had not. A spokesman for Mr. Bharara declined to comment.
Sarah Isgur Flores, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said in an email that all remaining holdover United States attorneys had been asked to resign, leaving their deputy United States attorneys, who are career officials, in place in an acting capacity.
The abrupt order came after two weeks of increasing calls from Mr. Trump’s allies outside the government to oust appointees from President Barack Obama’s administration. Mr. Trump has been angered by a series of reports based on leaked information from a sprawling bureaucracy, as well as from his own West Wing.
Several officials said the firings had been planned before Friday.
But the calls from the acting deputy attorney general arose a day after Sean Hannity, the Fox News commentator who is a strong supporter of President Trump, said on his evening show that Mr. Trump needed to “purge” Obama holdovers from the federal government. Mr. Hannity portrayed them as “saboteurs” from the “deep state” who were leaking secrets to hurt Mr. Trump. It also came the same week that government watchdogs wrote to Mr. Bharara and urged him to investigate whether Mr. Trump had violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution, which bars federal officials from taking payments from foreign governments.
New York Times, Flynn Was Paid to Represent Turkey During Campaign, Peter Baker and Matthew Rosenberg, March 10, 2017. Michael Flynn, Mr. Trump's first national security adviser, who resigned after less than a month, accepted more than $500,000 to investigate a Turkish cleric in Pennsylvania, documents show. The candidate he was advising last fall was running on a platform of America First. The client he was working for last fall was paying him more than $500,000 to put Turkey first.
Michael T. Flynn, who went from the campaign trail to the White House as President Trump's first national security adviser, filed papers this week acknowledging that he worked as a foreign agent last year representing the interests of the Turkish government in a dispute with the United States.
His surprising admission, coming more than four months after the election, raised further questions about the rise and fall of a presidential confidant who was forced to resign after 24 days in office for withholding the full story of his communications with Russia's ambassador. Even now, out of government and out of favor, Mr. Flynn and his contact with foreign figures presented a fresh headache for a White House eager to move on.
Mr. Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, registered as a lobbyist last year but did not file papers with the Justice Department registering as a foreign agent, providing a fuller understanding of his role, until Tuesday. While he did not work directly for the Turkish government, the firm that hired him, Inovo, is owned by a Turkish-American businessman with ties to leaders in Ankara and asked him to work on an issue important to the government.
The White House said that Mr. Trump did not know that Mr. Flynn was acting as a foreign agent when Mr. Trump appointed him national security adviser, a position that gave him access to classified meetings and materials. But a person briefed on the matter, who insisted on anonymity to describe private conversations, said Mr. Flynn's lawyer contacted a lawyer for Mr. Trump's transition team before the inauguration to ask whether Mr. Flynn should register given his work for Inovo.
The transition lawyer offered no advice, saying it was up to Mr. Flynn. After the inauguration, the person said, Mr. Flynn and his lawyer each raised it again with a White House lawyer, only to be told once more it was up to him. Mr. Flynn had no comment on Friday. His lawyer wrote the Justice Department that Mr. Flynn decided to register retroactively "to eliminate any potential doubt."
Vice President Mike Pence, who was upset that Mr. Flynn had misled him about the conversation with the Russian ambassador that got him dismissed, seemed less forgiving. News reports on the matter were "the first I heard of it," the vice president said during an interview on Fox News Thursday night, "and I think it is an affirmation of the president's decision to ask General Flynn to resign."
Throughout the campaign, Mr. Flynn positioned himself as someone willing to call out a national security establishment that was too corrupt to keep America safe. When former colleagues criticized him for becoming overtly partisan, he shot back by castigating them for using their titles to enrich themselves by joining corporate boards.
In an interview in October, Mr. Flynn insisted that he had eschewed financial rewards to follow his political convictions and join the Trump campaign. "I would love to be making some money," he said. "I wish I could stop what I'm doing."
On behalf of his firm, the Flynn Intel Group, Mr. Flynn signed a contract on Aug. 9 with Inovo, a Dutch firm owned by Ekim Alptekin, chairman of the Turkish-American Business Council. Mr. Flynn's firm was to receive $600,000 for 90 days of work. His initial registration as a lobbyist last year indicated he would receive less than $5,000 for lobbying, although that presumably indicates that he did not define most of the services he would provide Mr. Alptekin as lobbying under the law.
Mr. Alptekin has ties to the government of Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which has engaged in a political crackdown after surviving a military coup attempt in July. In documents disclosed by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, Mr. Alptekin emailed frequently with Egemen Bagis, the former Turkish minister for European Union affairs. In one email in 2013, Mr. Alptekin sent an article from The Wall Street Journal to Mr. Bagis, who then forwarded it to Berat Albayrak, Mr. Erdogan's son-in-law and now the country's energy minister.
Mr. Flynn was assigned to investigate Fethullah Gulen (above at left), a Turkish cleric who lives in Pennsylvania and was blamed by Mr. Erdogan for helping instigate the failed coup.
Medicaid Cuts In Store?
Huffington Post, Paul Ryan Seems Excited To Kick People Off Medicaid, Arthur Delaney, The Republican health care bill goes a lot further than just repealing Obamacare. House Speaker Paul Ryan sees repealing Obamacare as a historic opportunity to reduce the welfare rolls.
In an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Friday, Ryan (R-Wis.) compared his legislation repealing the Affordable Care Act to the vaunted 1996 welfare reform law, which basically ended the federal government’s commitment to cash assistance for parents in poverty. “This is so much bigger, by orders of magnitude, than welfare reform,” Ryan (shown in an official photo) said.
Obama’s Affordable Care Act made more people eligible for Medicaid, which currently provides health insurance for nearly 70 million Americans. The Republican health care bill would roll back Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and also dramatically reform the way Medicaid works.
States currently administer Medicaid with a commitment from the federal government, amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars per year, to help pay for as many enrollees as might be eligible due to low income. The Republicans’ American Health Care Act would limit that open-ended commitment by capping federal funding for states based on the number of enrollees rather than the cost of their medical claims.
As Ryan put it on Friday, “We are de-federalizing an entitlement, block granting it back to the states, and capping its growth rate. That’s never been done before.”
White House Changes In Media Policies
Washington Post, What’s a legitimate news outlet? A new face in the White House press pool raises questions, Paul Farhi, March 10, 2017. In an age of partisan media, the lines between “partisan” and “media” can sometimes blur. Some journalists suggest the presence of a reporter from the conservative Heritage Foundation-owned Daily Signal crossed a symbolic line into greater legitimacy for the partisan press.
Case in point: The pool reporter covering Vice President Pence on Thursday — that is, the reporter who supplied details about Pence’s daily activities as proxy for the rest of the press corps — was an employee of the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank.
In other words, the news that reporters received about the vice president came from a journalist employed by an organization with a vested interest in the direction of White House and federal policy.
Washington Post, Just another three hours at the Trump White House, Philip Bump, March 10, 2017. 11:44 a.m.: The White House press corps is invited into a conversation President Trump was hosting with House Republicans in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. The subject was the health-care bill hustling its way to the House floor; the president used the occasion to outline several arguments for the bill’s passage with the media in attendance.
About 12:30 p.m.: The president thanks the pool, indicating that they should leave. Reporters, including ABC’s Jonathan Karl, try to use the occasion to ask Trump questions, instead of simply observing the interaction with the House members. Trump ignores them.
1:26 p.m.: Shortly before White House press secretary Sean Spicer is slated to begin his daily press briefing, there’s some commotion in the briefing room among the reporters. Lucian Wintrich, a staffer for the site Gateway Pundit, which gained press credentials under the Trump administration, enters the briefing room and is accosted by a reporter for Fox News Radio, according to BuzzFeed’s Adrian Carrasquillo. Update: In a statement, Decker denied accosting Wintrich. “Earlier today I had a conversation with a representative from the online publication Gateway Pundit,” it reads. “The conversation was straightforward and direct. … At no time did I accost or assault this individual.”
On Thursday evening, Gateway Pundit published a story touting a long-debunked claim about Barack Obama’s birth certificate. It’s well known for propagating other false stories, as well.
The Hill, Trump adviser admits to contact with DNC hacker, Brooke Seipel, March 10, 2017. Roger Stone, President Trump's former campaign adviser, on Friday admitted to having private conversations with a hacker who helped leak information from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) during last year's campaign. Stone insisted to The Washington Times that the conversations were "completely innocuous."
"It was so perfunctory, brief and banal I had forgotten it," Stone told The Times of a private Twitter conversation he had with a hacker known as Guccifer 2.0. Guccifer 2.0 is believed by the U.S. intelligence community to be a cover identity for Russian intelligence operatives. The intelligence community concluded that Moscow sought to interfere in last year's election to help Trump win.
Stone told the Times he exchanged a handful of messages with Guccifer 2.0 in the weeks following a hack of the DNC, which was revealed in late July. In one message from Aug. 14, Stone said he was "delighted" that Guccifer 2.0's Twitter account had been reinstated after being suspended. "wow. thank u for writing back, and thank u for an article about me!!! do u find anything interesting in the docs i posted?" Guccifer 2.0 wrote to Stone, referring to an article Stone wrote for Breitbart News on Aug. 5 which attributed the DNC breach to Guccifer 2.0.
"i'm pleased to say that u r great man. please tell me if i can help u anyhow. it would be a great pleasure to me," Guccifer 2.0 wrote in an Aug. 17 message to Stone. Stone tweeted on Aug. 21, "Trust me, it will soon [be] Podesta's time in the barrel." Weeks later, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's hacked emails were leaked to WikiLeaks, leading many to believe Stone was aware in advance of the hack. Stone denied any connection to the hacks at the time.
The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security last December released a joint report detailing how federal investigators linked the Russian government to hacks of Democratic Party organizations. Reports from the intelligence community said Guccifer 2.0 was used to publicly release the data from hacks, but that the hacks themselves were conducted by Russia.
Around the Nation
Robert Groden, a photo expert and citizen activist, arranged the release of the Zapruder film to ABC TV in 1975 showing the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy in Dealey Plaza, shown in a 2013 photo by the Justice Integrity Project.
Groden, shown with his latest book "JFK: Absolute Proof" in Dealey Plaza, has repeated painted an "X" on the street in the approximate spot of Kennedy's fatal shooting as a reminder of the national tragedy. Local authorities repeatedly remove the spot, which is shown in a JIP photo framed by the picket fence suspected by many researchers as the hiding place for a shooter.
Dallas Observer, Robert Groden, JFK Expert, Settles with Dallas After 82 Bad Arrests, Jim Schutze, The question has always been why. Why did the city of Dallas carry out a decades-long manifestly illegal campaign of persecution against a Dallas author. Now that author, a Kennedy assassination expert whose theories differ from what he says is an official city doctrine, has agreed to a modest out-of-court settlement. But a City Council member is still intent on finding out what was behind the campaign to make Robert Groden disappear.
In what may or may not be the long-awaited end of his legal horror story, Groden, 71 years old and weakened by two recent strokes, has accepted a $25,000 settlement from the city of Dallas in exchange for his agreement to drop a civil rights suit.
Over seven years, the city has arrested or ticketed Groden 82 times for selling books and videotapes from a table in Dealey Plaza where President John F. Kennedy (shown in a file photo) was murdered in 1963. Dallas kept ticketing and arresting Groden even though the city's own municipal judges ruled all of those tickets and arrests were bogus. What he was doing was never against the law, and somewhere between the 20th and 30th defeats in court the city had to figure that out.
This week when news of the settlement became known, City Council member Philip Kingston vowed to continue fighting to find out who was behind all of it in the first place. "The truth is that he was being targeted," Kingston said. "It's crystal clear. So I have asked [Dallas City Attorney Larry] Casto to go dig and find out who ordered all this crap. No cop did that on his own."
Casto, a former city lobbyist named city attorney last October, appears to be sweeping his decks clear of some legacy litigation, of which this case may be part. He said the settlement with Groden is not an admission of wrongdoing by the city and is not a guarantee that Groden can't be prosecuted for something else in the future. But he did suggest that the worst of it — the tickets and arrests for doing things not against the law — probably is over: "As long as he doesn't break any laws, he will not receive any additional citations.
Two years ago when Groden sued the city in federal court for civil rights violations, the city argued that he didn't have a case because he couldn't name an official city policy or a specific city official or person responsible for launching a campaign against him. A federal appeals court threw all of that out last year, ruling basically that the city did it and the city was responsible for what it did, whether Groden could name anybody or not.
I have always believed the Groden case was the perfect window on how Dallas City Hall really operates. Somebody outside of City Hall, somebody high up, has the ability to call the city manager and basically order that something be done. So it's done. The City Council and mayor don't even know it's happening.
Washington Post, S. Korean president removed from office over bribery scandal, Anna Fifield, March 10, 2017. In a decision that could change the political direction of a key U.S. ally, South Korea's Constitutional Court upheld a parliamentary motion to dismiss Park Geun-hye from office over her role in a corruption and influence-peddling scandal. Park could now face criminal charges, and elections for a new president must be held within 60 days.
SouthFront, Intense Fighting Ongoing In Jirah Airbase In Aleppo Province, Multiple Airstrikes Reported, Staff report, March 10, 2017. Intense fighting is ongoing in the area of the Jirah Airbase in the Syrian province of Aleppo. Earlier this week, the Syrian army’s Tiger Forces reached the ISIS-held airbase and successfully etenred it, engaging terrrorists in clashes in the area. See in related news, SouthFront, Turkey Attacks Syrian Troops West Of Manbij, Staff report, March 10, 2017.
Washington Post, The mystery of Donald Trump and the New Jersey cemetery, David A. Fahrenthold, March 10, 2017. Trump (shown in an image by the Tax Wall Street Party) has been talking about building cemeteries in Bedminster, N.J., for a decade. And when officials at one point expressed concerns about the plans, he suggested the tomb could be versatile — perhaps host a wedding. Local officials weren't fooled by that and were left wondering what angle Trump was playing.
WhoWhatWhy, The CIA vs. Donald Trump, Jeff Schechtman, March 10, 2017. John Kiriakou was a 15-year CIA veteran before he exposed its torture program. Today he analyzes an agency unchecked by oversight and whose power is underestimated by the Trump administration.
House Replacement of Health Care Law
Washington Post, Two key House panels approve GOP proposal to replace Obamacare, Elise Viebeck, Sean Sullivan and Mike DeBonis, March 9, 2017. The accelerated pace and lack of price tag have drawn criticism from Democrats, who contrasted it with the lengthy deliberations that took place before passage of the Affordable Care Act, as well as some Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters that lawmakers need to see the Congressional Budget Office's estimate of how the bill will affect the federal deficit.
Washington Post, Critics say proceeding without budget score is reckless; White House downplays its importance, Karen Tumulty and Max Ehrenfreund, March 9, 2017. While it is not uncommon for panels to consider legislation without the Congressional Budget Office first weighing in, veterans of the process say that doing so on bills as far-reaching as the health-care overhaul is rare — and ill-advised.
Washington Post, WikiLeaks will release software code of CIA hacking tools to tech firms, Ellen Nakashima, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Devlin Barrett, March 9, 2017. Julian Assange said the group had "decided to work with" companies so that flaws in smartphones and other products could be fixed.
Scrutiny of Trump Conflicts
WhoWhatWhy, Who Will Guard Election Integrity If GOP Takes Down the EAC? Mary McGowan, March 9, 2017. Republicans, who cry voter fraud to disenfranchise minorities, want to eliminate the Election Assistance Commission, which helps ensure that secure elections are held.
New York Times, Will a Leak Reveal Trump's Tax Returns? Don't Hold Your Breath, Alan Rappaport, March 9, 2017. The early days of the Trump administration have turned Washington into a land of leaks, with a national security adviser's telephone calls, raw intelligence dossiers and confidential C.I.A. surveillance schemes spilling into the public. But the holy grail of leaks remains elusive: President Trump's tax returns.
Mr. Trump broke with 40 years of tradition as a presidential candidate, declining to make his tax information public on the grounds that he was undergoing an I.R.S. audit. The government has made clear that is, in fact, no impediment to release, but since corporations like the Trump Organization are audited constantly, the excuse will not disappear, and he is not expected ever to release his returns willingly.
So how might Mr. Trump's returns come to light? If you're thinking about a rogue I.R.S. agent or Russian cybertheft, don't count on it. Although the I.R.S. has nearly 80,000 employees, the agency uses strict safeguards when it comes to privacy. The number of people with access to returns is limited, and improper browsing of taxpayer files is automatically flagged.
Democratic lawmakers lately have been playing the national security card, clinging to the notion that congressional investigations into Mr. Trump's ties with Russia will be the key. Twice this month they have forced votes to demand the returns' release, but Republicans have closed ranks around the president. The next best hope is the coming wave of "emoluments" lawsuits that allege Mr. Trump is in violation of the Constitution because his business operations accept payments from foreign governments.
If the court system seems too cumbersome, there are potential targets beyond the I.R.S. Mr. Trump's lawyers and accountants who keep copies of his returns could also be vulnerable to hacking. And the White House and Trump Tower, where copies of Mr. Trump's files could potentially be stored, have also proved susceptible to leaks.
Washington Post, How Trump and his team are trying to change politics through the use of language, Marc Fisher, March 9 2017. The language of the Trump administration rubs many politicians of both parties the wrong way. It's designed to break through partisan paralysis, spark an America-first nationalism and persuade Trump supporters that the new president meant it when he said at his inauguration that "the hour of action" has commenced.
Politico Magazine, White House: Don't call it 'Trumpcare,' Matthew Nussbaum and Jennifer Haberkorn, March 9, 2017. Critics are hijacking the branding process for the GOP health plan as the White House resists slapping the president's name on it. He built his career in large part by plastering his name on skyscrapers, hotels, casinos, books, wines and steaks, but there appears to be one place President Donald Trump does not want his favorite five-letter word — the Republican health care bill. Before Obamacare, there was Romneycare. Back in the 1990s, there was Hillarycare. For a brief moment in the 2012 GOP primary, there was even Obamneycare (Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty quickly abandoned the phrase and, in August 2011, his campaign for the nomination). But the White House, for all its messaging woes and infighting, has settled on the fact that — for the time being — it's steering clear of Trumpcare.
Around the Nation
NBC News, Lawyer's Pants Catch Fire During Florida Arson Trial, Kalhan Rosenblatt, March 9, 2017. It seemed like a set up to a tired joke: A lawyer's pants caught on fire in court. But on Wednesday, it was Stephen Gutierrez's reality when the Florida defense attorney's pants began smoking during an arson trial, Eleventh Circuit Court Public Relations Director Eunice Sigler confirmed to NBC News Thursday.
Gutierrez, 28, was in the in the Miami-Dade county courtroom defending 49-year-old Claudy Charles, who was accused of setting his car alight. But During his closing argument, Gutierrez began to feel heat coming from his pocket where he had several electric cigarette batteries, he told NBC News in an email.
Global News: Syria
SouthFront, Govt Forces Crash ISIS In Aleppo, Aim Raqqah, Voiceover by Harold Hoover, March 9, 2017. The Syrian Army's Tiger Forces, supported by the Syrian and Russian air forces, have continued making impressive gains against the ISIS terrorist group in the province of Aleppo. The Tiger Forces further advanced along the Euphrates River and entered the Jirah Airbase.
Now, when the ISIS-held town of Dier Hafer is de-facto cut-off from the rest of the ISIS-held area in central Syria, its liberation will become the main short-term goal of government forces. Experts believe that after Deir Hafer government forces will likely advance along the Deir Hafer-al-Tabaqah road, expanding the buffer zone east of Khanasser and putting additional pressure on ISIS units operating in the area of Raqqah.
The hidden Russian-US cooperation in Syria was already proven with the Manbij case when Moscow and Washington acted together in order to prevent the Turkish army and pro-Turkish militant groups from attacking Kurdish forces in the area. There is a chance that the US and Russia will act jointly in order to retake the ISIS self-proclaimed capital of Raqqah even if this is not promoted openly in the mainstream media. If government forces reach al-Tabqa, they will isolate Raqqah from the southern flank and US-backed forces will be able to avoid the need to cut across the Euphrates River in the area. In this case, the fall of Raqqah will take place much faster then it's expected by experts.
New Zealand Herald, Billionaire Peter Thiel's secret Kiwi spy links revealed, Matt Nippert, March 9, 2017. New Zealand spy agencies and our elite Special Air Service soldiers have long-standing commercial links with a controversial big-data company founded by surprise Kiwi Peter Thiel, the Herald can reveal.An investigation into Thiel's links to New Zealand has found his firm Palantir Technologies has counted the New Zealand Defence Force, the Security Intelligence Service and the Government Communications and Security Bureau as clients with contracts dating back to at least 2012.
The revelation caused Kennedy Graham, Green Party spokesman for intelligence and security matters, to call for a delay to the passage of the New Zealand Intelligence and Security Bill, which today passed its second and penultimate reading.Graham said the New Zealand-Palantir connection was "potentially huge" and raised more questions than it answered. "The Parliament should not be too hasty until these things properly come to light," he said.The connections between Palantir - controversial in the United States over its long links with National Security Agency surveillance operations and Thiel's backing of President Donald Trump - and the New Zealand government has long been shrouded in secrecy.Questions sent to spokespeople for Thiel and Palantir both went unanswered this week.
House Replacement of Health Care Law
Washington Post, Backlash grows against House GOP proposal to replace Obamacare, Mike DeBonis, Robert Costa and David Weigel, March 8, 2017. Lawmakers prepared for a marathon day sifting through a Republican proposal to revise the Affordable Care Act, which has met with widespread resistance from conservatives in and out of Congress, moderates in the Senate and key industry stakeholders since House GOP leaders released it on Monday.
Washington Post, Trump's First 100 Days: POTUS launches 'full-court press' on health plan, Elise Viebeck, March 8, 2017. Opponents of the GOP's American Health Care Act include Democrats, conservatives, and organizations that represent U.S. hospitals, physicians and retirees.
Washington Post, Conservatives meet with Trump, who hints that GOP ACA fix could drift further right, David Weigel and Sean Sullivan, March 8, 2017. Representatives of FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity and Heritage Action for America will attend the meeting Wednesday night.
WikiLeaks Expose on CIA Snooping
Washington Post, Spicer won't confirm documents posted by WikiLeaks — but he wants Democrats to be much more outraged about them, Jenna Johnson, March 8, 2017. Sean Spicer repeatedly said the government's policy is to not confirm the authenticity of sensitive information that might have been leaked or hacked. By Spicer won't confirm documents posted by WikiLeaks — but he wants Democrats to be much more outraged about them
Washington Post, Experts startled at apparent CIA targeting of staples of modern life, Craig Timberg, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Ellen Nakashima, March 8, 2017. The latest revelations about the U.S. government's powerful hacking tools potentially take surveillance right into the homes and pockets of billions of users worldwide, showing how everyday devices can be turned to spy on their owners.
CNN, Graham ready to subpoena for Trump wiretap information, Manu Raja, March 8, 2017. Sen. Lindsey Graham said Wednesday he is ready to subpoena the intelligence agencies for evidence that would prove President Donald Trump's claims that he was wiretapped last year by then-President Barack Obama. Asked by CNN if he would subpoena for any evidence, the South Carolina Republican said, "Yes."
"All I can say is that the country needs an answer to this. The current President has accused the former President of basically wiretapping his campaign," Graham said, one day after he joined Trump for a one-on-one lunch at the White House.
Graham and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, sent a letter to FBI Director James Comey and the acting deputy attorney general Wednesday, requesting any information regarding Trump's claims. "We request that the Department of Justice provide us copies of any warrant applications and court orders — redacted as necessary to protect intelligence sources and methods that may be compromised by disclosure, and to protect any ongoing investigations — related to wiretaps of President Trump, the Trump Campaign, or Trump Tower," Graham and Whitehouse wrote.
Washington Post, Drain the swamp? No, let's just move it, Rep. Chaffetz suggests, Jenna Portnoy, March 8, 2017. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) wants to do more than drain the swamp. He wants to dismantle it piece by piece and redistribute it to the rest of America. Chaffetz, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, proposed a resolution Wednesday that says Congress thinks it is unnecessary for federal agencies to be located in the District.
The committee held a hearing Wednesday and planned to vote Thursday. The nonbinding resolution raised the ire of local Democratic lawmakers already fighting efforts by the Republican majority to intervene in the District's local laws and policies pertaining to gun control, assisted suicide, subsidized abortion and legalized marijuana.
Chaffetz's measure — which he called Divest D.C. — dovetails with President Trump's federal hiring freeze and his calls to "drain the swamp." Both the House and Senate would have to pass the resolution and Trump would have to sign it for it to become the official position of the U.S. government.
Meanwhile, legislation that would require all federal agencies in the District to relocate their headquarters outside the metropolitan area was introduced last month by Reps. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) and Ted Budd (R-N.C.). It has yet to get a hearing. With Divest D.C., Chaffetz argued that the economic development benefits associated with government jobs should be spread beyond the District. Advances in travel and technology make it easier for agency workers to do their jobs elsewhere, he said.
In the hearing, Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's nonvoting delegate, noted that 85 percent of federal workers live outside the D.C. region. She derided the resolution as bordering on "frivolous and laughable" and befitting a freshman lawmaker — not a seasoned committee chairman such as Chaffetz.
Justice System News
Huffington Post, Jeff Sessions Likely Met Russian Ambassador A Third Time, Christina Wilkie, March 8, 2017. The attorney general initially denied any contact with the Russians, then later admitted to just two meetings with the ambassador (shown in a file photo).
Politico, Sessions: Changes coming to policies on drug charges, Josh Gerstein, March 8, 2017. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is signaling that the Trump administration plans to make changes to policies the Obama administration implemented to seek less serious charges in some drug cases. In a memo sent to federal prosecutors nationwide Wednesday, Sessions called on them to crack down on violent crime. Most surely already view that as a core part of their duties.
Legal experts said the language indicates that Sessions is planning to make significant revisions to policies Attorney General Eric Holder issued in 2010 backing away from prior directions that prosecutors seek the most serious viable charges in every case and in 2013 calling for prosecutors to avoid seeking mandatory minimum sentences in some cases by leaving the quantity of drugs seized out of charging documents.
If new Trump-appointed U.S. attorneys push for more aggressive handling of cases, defendants could be looking at more serious charges and longer prison terms in the coming years.
Politico, Lawyers dispute White House claims on Bush Guantanamo releases, Josh Gerstein, March 8, 2017. The Trump White House's effort to defend an inaccurate presidential tweet about Guantanamo prisoners appears to have compounded the error. On Monday, President Donald Trump tweeted: "122 vicious prisoners, released by the Obama Administration from Gitmo, have returned to the battlefield. Just another terrible decision!"
In fact, the vast majority of those men were released under President George W. Bush, with only eight or nine of those "confirmed" to be engaged in terrorist activities transferred out under President Barack Obama, according to recent intelligence reports. White House press secretary Sean Spicer, in clarifying the tweet, said Trump "meant that the total number of people released from Gitmo was 122. Just to be clear, there's a big difference: under the Bush administration, most of those were court ordered," Spicer told reporters at the daily briefing. But Spicer seemed to stray from the facts when he then tried to defend Bush by saying he had no choice but to release many of the detainees.
"The truth is that Sean Spicer doesn't know what he is talking about and doesn't care enough to take the time to find out," said former Obama White House Counsel Greg Craig, who was deeply involved in Obama's early Guantanamo policy.
Washington Post, Voters don't like what they see from Trump on Russia, Jennifer Rubin, March 8, 2017.
Global News: Syria & Afghanistan
SouthFront, ISIS Defenses Collapsing In Aleppo Province, Staff report, March 8, 2017. The Syrian army's Tiger Forces, backed by Russian warplanes, reached the Euphrates River in the province of Aleppo, liberating a large chunk of the area from ISIS. The town of Khafsah and the nearby Water Treatment Station were the most important gains. The liberation of the Khafsah Water Treatment Station will allow the Assad government to restore water supplies to the city of Aleppo which had been disrupted when ISIS terrorists damaged the station.
The ISIS-held Jihar Military Airbase will likely become the next target in the province. While the airbase has a strategic value itself, controlling this site government forces will de-facto encircle the ISIS stronghold of Deir Hafer. This will allow to successfully retake this town from the terrorist group soon. Russian and US military servicemen closely cooperate in the outskirts of the city of Manbij controlled by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Times reported.
New York Times, ISIS Leaders Are Fleeing Raqqa, U.S. Military Says, Michael R. Gordon, March 8, 2017. As Syrian fighters backed by the United States close in on Raqqa, some of the Islamic State's leaders have fled their self-declared capital and are planning to carry on the fight from other sanctuaries in Syria and Iraq, an American defense official said on Wednesday. The departure of some of the group's leadership does not mean that the battle to take Raqqa will be easy, the official said. An estimated 3,000 to 4,000 fighters remain in the city.
Washington Post, Gunmen disguised as doctors attack military hospital in Kabul, killing at least 30, Sayed Salahuddin and Pamela Constable, March 8, 2017. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack by at least four gunman and involved a bombing and six-hour gun battle at the military hospital. A security official said the attackers wore white doctors' uniforms.
New York Times, WikiLeaks Files Describe C.I.A. Tools to Break Into Phones, Scott Shane, Mark Mazzetti and Matthew Rosenberg, Documents that appear to be from the C.I.A. describe software designed to hack smartphones, computers and internet-connected TVs. They indicate that the agency, by compromising the phones entirely, was able to access the contents of encrypted messaging apps like Signal and WhatsApp.
WikiLeaks on Tuesday released thousands of documents that it said described sophisticated software tools used by the Central Intelligence Agency to break into smartphones, computers and even Internet-connected televisions. If the documents are authentic, as appeared likely at first review, the release would be the latest coup for the anti-secrecy organization and a serious blow to the C.I.A., which maintains its own hacking capabilities to be used for espionage.
The initial release, which WikiLeaks said was only the first part of the document collection, included 7,818 web pages with 943 attachments, the group said. The entire archive of C.I.A. material consists of several hundred million lines of computer code, it said. Among other disclosures that, if confirmed, would rock the technology world, the WikiLeaks release said that the C.I.A. and allied intelligence services had managed to bypass encryption on popular phone and messaging services such as Signal, WhatsApp and Telegram. According to the statement from WikiLeaks, government hackers can penetrate Android phones and collect "audio and message traffic before encryption is applied."
The source of the documents was not named. WikiLeaks said the documents, which it called Vault 7, had been "circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive."
WikiLeaks said the source, in a statement, set out policy questions that "urgently need to be debated in public, including whether the C.I.A.'s hacking capabilities exceed its mandated powers and the problem of public oversight of the agency." The source, the group said, "wishes to initiate a public debate about the security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons."
The documents, from the C.I.A's Center for Cyber Intelligence, are dated from 2013 to 2016, and WikiLeaks described them as "the largest ever publication of confidential documents on the agency." One former intelligence officer who briefly reviewed the documents on Tuesday morning said some of the code names for C.I.A. programs, an organization chart and the description of a C.I.A. hacking base appeared to be genuine.
A C.I.A. spokesman, Dean Boyd, said, "We do not comment on the authenticity or content of purported intelligence documents."
WikiLeaks, which has sometimes been accused of recklessly leaking information that could do harm, said it had redacted names and other identifying information from the collection. It said it was not releasing the computer code for actual, usable cyberweapons "until a consensus emerges on the technical and political nature of the C.I.A.'s program and how such 'weapons' should be analyzed, disarmed and published." (WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange is shown in a file photo.)
Some of the details of the C.I.A. programs might have come from the plot of a spy novel for the cyberage, revealing numerous highly classified — and in some cases, exotic — hacking programs. One, code-named Weeping Angel, uses Samsung "smart" televisions as covert listening devices. According to the WikiLeaks news release, even when it appears to be turned off, the television "operates as a bug, recording conversations in the room and sending them over the internet to a covert C.I.A. server."
The release said the program was developed in cooperation with British intelligence.
If C.I.A. agents did manage to hack the smart TVs, they would not be the only ones. Since their release, internet-connected televisions have been a focus for hackers and cybersecurity experts, many of whom see the sets' ability to record and transmit conversations as a potentially dangerous vulnerability.
Washington Post, Trump and Republicans see a 'deep state' foe: Barack Obama, David Weigel, March 7, 2017. In conservative media, where the unproven wiretapping claim originated, President Trump has gotten credit for cracking open a plot by a "deep state" of critics and conspirators to bring down his presidency. And they claim the perpetrator is former president Barack Obama.
GOP Internal Disputes On Health Care Plan
Washington Post, Conservatives lash out at House GOP's Obamacare replacement bill, Mike Debonis, Elise Viebeck, David Weigel and Kelsey Snell, March 7, 2017. Influential conservative lawmakers and activist groups panned health-care legislation drafted by House Republican leaders, throwing the GOP's plan to undo the Affordable Care Act in serious doubt less than 24 hours after it was released.
Washington Post, House leaders brace for the task ahead: Selling 'Obamacare Lite,' Mike DeBonis, Amy Goldstein and Kelsey Snell, March 7, 2017. A day after House leaders released a plan to supplant the Affordable Care Act, those same leaders braced for the task ahead: to forestall an outright revolt among conservative Republicans, who already showed signs of agitation. But Republicans got an early morning boost with a tweet from President Trump, who was scheduled to meet with House leaders today and was expected to discuss health care.
Inside the Trump White House
Politico, In the White House, former TV villain Omarosa is one of the 'blessed,' Tara Palmeri, March 7, 2017. The onetime 'Apprentice' star enjoys Trump's loyalty, but she's up to her old tricks. There's a word White House staffers use to describe Omarosa Manigault, "The Apprentice" contestant-turned-presidential aide: blessed.
When she landed her own conference room in the D.C. transition offices, that was blessed. When she was named to a newly created position with a senior title—Assistant to the President and Director of Communications for the Office of Public Liaison—that was blessed, too. And when the president himself held a chair for her, allowing her to take the seat next to him at a Black History Month event last month, that was definitely blessed. "Can you imagine the President of the United States pulling out a chair for an aide?" said one consultant close to the White House.
The president is known for being intensely devoted to people who were with him early in his unlikely campaign, but Manigault is a rarity among even that select group. Unlike other Trump staffers, she was a minor celebrity in her own right before joining his campaign—though she owes her fame to Trump, who cast her in the first season of "The Apprentice" in 2004. She became a walking one-name synonym for office backstabbing, dubbed one of the nastiest TV villains of all time by TV Guide.
The Omarosa phenomenon helped make the show a hit, giving Trump a springboard crucial ultimately winning the presidency. "Nobody is going to challenge Omarosa," said a former transition official. "She has a preexisting relationship with the President, and that has its own privileges."
Spies, Lies and Alleged Trump Ties
Washington Post, This former British lawmaker is at the heart of the Trump wiretap allegations, Karla Adam, March 6, 2017. A former British legislator is at the heart of the Trump administration's explosive allegation that President Barack Obama was spying on him during the 2016 campaign. But who exactly is Louise Mensch?
For starters, the politician-turned-journalist is the writer behind an article published on the eve of the election titled: "EXCLUSIVE: FBI 'Granted FISA Warrant' Covering Trump Camp's Ties To Russia." The article, published on the right-leaning, libertarian website Heat Street, did not create much of a stir at the time.
But it has come under the spotlight after Trump, in a tweetstorm over the weekend, accused Obama of wiretapping his offices during the election campaign. Trump compared the alleged bugging to the Watergate scandal, but he has not offered any evidence to back up his claims. In tweets on Monday, Mensch emphasized that her reporting does not back up Trump's wiretapping claim, even though the White House cited her article to justify the allegation. She stressed that her reporting refers to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court warrant and does not mention anything about wiretapping.
Trump Justice Department
Washington Post, Grilled on Russia probe, deputy attorney general pick sidesteps Democrats' call for special prosecutor, Matt Zapotosky, Sari Horwitz and Sean Sullivan, March 7, 2017. Under insistent questioning from Democrats, deputy attorney general nominee Rod J. Rosenstein refused to commit Tuesday to appoint a special counsel to oversee investigations of Russian meddling in the presidential election — though he stressed that he did not yet know the facts of the matter. At a tense Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing that lasted more than 3 1/2 hours, Rosenstein said that he was "not aware" of any reason he would not be able to supervise such probes.
"You view it as an issue of principle, that I need to commit to appoint a special counsel in a matter that I don't even know if it's being investigated," he told Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who had vowed to try to block his nomination should he not make such a commitment. "And I view it as an issue of principle that as a nominee for deputy attorney general, I should not be promising to take action on a particular case."
Rosenstein (shown in an official photo) is a respected prosecutor who has served in both Democratic and Republican administrations. But on Tuesday, Democrats and Republicans essentially turned him into a lightning rod, pressing him for answers on how he would handle any probes of Russian meddling in the U.S. election or Trump associates.
Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that he was recusing himself from any campaign-related investigations after The Washington Post reported that he had met with the Russian ambassador twice during that campaign and had not disclosed that fact at his own confirmation hearing. That would mean supervision would fall to Rosenstein if he is confirmed.
Rosenstein said he would handle it "the way I would handle any investigation."
Asked whether he had any contact with Russian officials, he said that throughout his career, he has spoken to lawyers and judges visiting from foreign countries at events, and that "it's certainly possible there may have been Russian officials there." But he said he did not "recall any such meetings" with Russian officials. He also said he has not talked with Sessions about Russian contacts, and he sought to assure legislators that he would act in the best interests of the United States.
Palmer Report, Donald Trump's jet setting Russian pal Dmitry Rybolovlev hires spokesman from Breitbart, Bill Palmer, March 7, 2017. For the past month Palmer Report has been reporting on the curious travel habits of Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev, who has a habit of flying halfway around the world on his private jet in order to arrive in whichever city Donald Trump happens to be visiting at the time. Now that MSNBC's Rachel Maddow has picked up the story, Rybolovlev is finally denying parts of it. But he's doing so through a spokesman who has inexplicable ties to Trump adviser Steve Bannon.
Rybolovlev's private plane flew into the small town of Concord, North Carolina while Donald Trump just happened to be holding a campaign rally there. His spokesman is now acknowledging that this occurred, and there would be no point in denying it, as the flight plans for the plan can be tracked publicly via its M-KATE call sign. The spokesman is also refusing to deny that Rybolovlev was on the plane when it flew to Concord. But what stands out most is that Rybolovlev's spokesman is Brian Cattell – a former writer for Steve Bannon's Breitbart.
Politico, Civil rights leaders ask Sessions to scuttle Trump voter fraud probe, Josh Gerstein, March 7, 2017. Civil rights leaders who met with Attorney General Jeff Sessions Tuesday asked him to urge President Donald Trump not to proceed with his plans for a blue-ribbon panel to investigate Trump's own claims that millions of people voted illegally for his opponent in last year's presidential race.
"I asked him to counsel the president against the creation of such a task force and a commission because that commission will be seen to intimidate our communities," said Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. "In the absence of any evidence of voter fraud, he should be counseling the president away from such a course....We don't need an investigation into something that doesn't exist. We should not be crediting the fantasies of this president at the cost of African Americans and Latinos feeling secure that they're not being intimidated from voting and participating in the process."
Trump told Congressional leaders at a January meeting that he believes he lost the popular vote to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton because of 3 million to 5 million votes case illegally in last November's election. He's provided no evidence to support the claim, which has been roundly rejected by experts in the field.
Two days later, Trump tweeted that he was "asking for a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD." Aides later said he planned to issue an executive order on the subject. No such order has been forthcoming, but White House press secretary Sean Spicer said late last month that Trump was setting up a task force on the issue under the oversight of Vice President Mike Pence.
SouthFront, Further Escalation In Northern Syria, Voiceover by Harold Hoover with staff reports, March 7, 2017. On Monday, the Jaish al-Islam militant group, known to be supported by Saudi Arabia, launched missiles against government forces positions in the Damascus countryside. Jaish al-Islam allegedly captured some missiles in the Qalamoun area in 2013. The usage of these missiles is a clear indication that Jaish al-Islam, which keeps positions in the Eastern Ghouta region near the Syrian capital, is not going to follow a ceasefire agreement promoted by Damascus, Tehran, Ankara, and Moscow in the so-called "Astana format."
The Syrian army and the National Defense Forces have reportedly retaken the Jazal Oil Field from the ISIS terrorist group in the province of Homs. If confirmed, government troops will be in control of two important oilfields along the Homs-Palmyra highway.
Health Care Plans
Washington Post, House GOP unveils plan to replace Obamacare, but issues no cost or coverage estimates, Amy Goldstein, Mike DeBonis and Kelsey Snell, March 6, 2017. The proposal sketches out a system of individual tax credits and state grants to replace the current health-care law. But there were signs that fellow Republicans could balk if the legislation leaves swaths of the country without insurance coverage.
New York Times, Trump Asks Planned Parenthood to Stop Abortion Services, Maggie Haberman, March 6, 2017. The Trump administration offered to preserve federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which does not use that money for the procedure, if it stopped aiding in them. The group declined.
Washington Post, Trump signs revised travel ban aimed at withstanding legal scrutiny, David Nakamura and Matt Zapotosky, March 6, 2017. President Trump signed a new executive order that will ban travelers from six majority-Muslim nations seeking new visas from entering the United States for 90 days. The original order, which came under heavy legal scrutiny, had included a seventh country — Iraq.
The new order, which takes effect March 16, provides other exceptions not contained explicitly in previous versions: for travelers from those countries who are legal permanent residents of the United States, dual nationals who use a passport from another country and those who have been granted asylum or refugee status.
Trump Crackdown On Dissent?
Palmer Report, Amid Donald Trump's new Muslim ban, Khizr Khan informed he's not allowed to travel, Bill Palmer, March 6, 2017. Donald Trump signed his revised Muslim travel ban executive order today, shortly thereafter, Gold Star father Khizr Khan was told he couldn't travel to Canada to deliver a planned speech at a conference because his "travel privileges are being reviewed." Khan has been a United States citizen for the past thirty years, and recently an outspoken critic of Trump's racist views. However he immigrated from Pakistan, which is not included in the ban.
The breaking news about Khizr Khan is coming out of Canada right now, with the Ramsay Talks conference having posted the following to its official Facebook page:
"Late Sunday evening Khizr Khan, an American citizen for over 30 years, was notified that his travel privileges are being reviewed. As a consequence, Mr. Khan will not be traveling to Toronto on March 7th to speak about tolerance, understanding, unity and the rule of law. Very regretfully, Ramsay Talks must cancel its luncheon with Mr. Khan. Guests will be given full refunds. Mr. Khan offered his sincere apologies to all those who made plans to attend on March 7th. He said: 'This turn of events is not just of deep concern to me but to all my fellow Americans who cherish our freedom to travel abroad. I have not been given any reason as to why. I am grateful for your support and look forward to visiting Toronto in the near future."
Canadian broadcast news channel CBC is backing up the story by tweeting a news alert reading "Gold Star dad who chided Trump's Muslim ban cancels Cda visit due to 'travel review.' Khizr Khan not told why." CBC reporter John Paul Tasker has tweeted that "Khizr Khan, the Gold Star dad, was scheduled to be on @TheCurrentCBC tomorrow while in T.O., now 'travel privileges are being reviewed.'"
WhoWhatWhy, Trump vs. ‘Deep State?’ That’s How Light Gets in, Peter Dale Scott, March 6, 2017. From Watergate to Iraq War propaganda, conflicts between the Deep State and the Executive branch have proven helpful to the public. They provided a glimpse into the White House and the nation’s intelligence apparatus, leading to important reforms. So perhaps an open conflict between the Trump administration and the Deep State isn’t such a bad thing.
New York Times, Jury Secrecy Doesn't Apply if Marred by Bias, Justices Rule, Adam Liptak, March 6, 2017. Jury discussions should not remain private if evidence emerges that they were affected by racial or ethnic bias, the Supreme Court ruled.
Washington Post, Police allege IT worker at Washington Post was impersonating ICE officer, Dan Morse, March 6, 2017. The FBI is investigating the Gaithersburg man, who was charged with transporting a loaded handgun and illegally possessing a Baltimore County police badge.
Global News On Bank Corruption
Bloomberg, UBS Said Seeking to Pay Below $317 Million in French Tax Case, Gaspard Sebag and Fabio Benedetti Valentini, March 6, 2017. Talks started in late 2016, deal could stumble on fine amount; UBS posted $1.17 billion bail to cover potential penalties. UBS Group AG is pushing to settle a French tax fraud investigation for less than the 300 million euros ($317 million) it paid to resolve a similar issue in Germany, people familiar with the matter said. That's significantly below the 1.1 billion-euro bond the bank posted to cover potential penalties.
UBS has been in talks since late 2016 with France's financial prosecutor to reach a settlement similar to a deferred prosecution agreement that would include a fine, but no admission of guilt, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks are confidential. The amount could be a stumbling block to any accord, according to the people.
The Swiss bank is looking to pay less than what it cost to resolve the German case as the French wealth-management market is much smaller, two of the people said. UBS declined to comment on any settlement talks, as did French prosecutors.
In 2009, UBS paid $780 million, including disgorgement of profit, fines, interest and restitution, to the U.S. to avoid prosecution, admitting it helped thousands of Americans evade taxes and agreeing to turn over information on their accounts. Five years later, the bank reached its settlement with German authorities.
Washington Post, Analysis: Levin has warned before of Obama's 'silent coup.' Now he has a follower in the Oval Office, Derek Hawkins, March 6, 2017. In 1991, a private investigator named Len Colodny published Silent Coup, a sprawling revisionist history of the Watergate affair. Subtitled "the removal of a president," the book set out to prove that President Richard Nixon was forced out of office not because of his misdeeds but because a "formidable national security party" opposed his foreign policy. The coup was engineered by some of Nixon's closest aides, who colluded with the intelligence community and the press to subvert him, Colodny wrote.
The term "silent coup" caught on and has been invoked on the right repeatedly in extreme accusations against Barack Obama. Among the term's fans is a fiery conservative radio host named Mark Levin, who used it in a July 2015 radio show, arguing Obama had imposed "martial law" on the country through his immigration, health care and law enforcement policies.
Justice Integrity Project Editor's Note: Colodny wrote the Washington Post's reporter seeking correction of several errors in the story.
Washington Post, Will Comey’s request push Trump over the edge? What happens when the president loses it? Jennifer Rubin, March 6, 2017. President Trump was “mad — steaming, raging mad,” The Post reports. No one was defending his harebrained assertion that President Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower.
How dare they not defend the indefensible! No Republican seemed to see his allegation as credible or vouch for it on the Sunday talk shows. Mark Warner (Va.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and a bevy of conservative commentators set out to debunk Trump’s latest lunacy. Then along came former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., who said straight out that nothing of the sort had occurred.
Palmer Report, Opinion: Donald and Ivanka Trump's phony Baku Azerbaijan hotel was front for Iranian money laundering, Bill Palmer, March 6, 2017. Shortly after taking office, Donald Trump abandoned a bizarre hotel project in Azerbaijan which never made any sense to begin with. It was built in an industrial part of town where a hotel wouldn't be needed. The roads being built to the hotel didn't even lead to it. And now it turns out the entire hotel project appears to have been little more than an excuse to illegally launder money coming from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
The Trump International Hotel & Tower Baku project was spearheaded by Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump, who repeatedly visited the property and posted photos of herself touring it, even though as best anyone can tell the hotel was never going to open or do any business. It appears in hindsight that Ivanka had merely been doing all of this in order to create the outward appearance that the hotel was a legitimate project.
But as it turns out, the hotel deal had been struck with Ziya Mammadov, the corrupt Transportation Minister of Azerbaijan, who has a history of arranging shady real estate projects as money laundering fronts. Mammadov and his family have deep financial connections to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, making it almost certain that the Trumps were knowingly and illegally doing business with Iran. It also seems likely that Trump shuttered the project upon taking office in the hope it wouldn't be investigated.
Around the Nation
Tampa Bay Times, Scientology plans control of downtown Clearwater for retail makeover, Tracey McManus, March 6, 2017. The Church of Scientology is maneuvering to control all downtown real estate to create a master retail district that will operate under its management and oversight. The plan, according to two city officials briefed by Scientology leader David Miscavige, requires all property from Osceola to Myrtle avenues between Drew and Pierce streets being bought by the church, its parishioners or others willing to participate.
The concept involves recruiting a few major national retailers to anchor the district and filling the grid with handpicked businesses all at one time, similar to how an outdoor mall is established, said Community Redevelopment Agency director Seth Taylor and City Manager Bill Horne, who in October were shown renderings of the retail strategy by Miscavige but not given copies.
The plan does not require approval from elected officials or voters but is a vision the church has already started implementing with the help of consultants and an aggressive acquisition of downtown property.
Along with the more than $260 million in property Scientology has acquired under its name since arriving in Clearwater in 1975, and later establishing its international spiritual headquarters downtown, the church has been buying parcels in the central core for the past several months through anonymous LLCs.
Scientology spokesman Ben Shaw did not respond to an email or phone call requesting comment. But since Jan. 31, businesses registered to Scientology attorney Robert Potter bought two blocks of vacant lots along Myrtle Avenue between Drew and Laura streets for $9 million; the Sage venue at 22 N Fort Harrison Ave. for $600,000; and the Trickels Jewelers building at 714 Cleveland St. for $1.9 million, according to property records.
Washington Post, Inside Trump's fury: The president rages at leaks, setbacks and accusations, Philip Rucker, Robert Costa and Ashley Parker, March 5, 2017. At a time when the White House sought to turn a corner, Trump enters week seven of his presidency the same as the six before it: enmeshed in controversy and struggling to make good on campaign promises.
Washington Post, Comey asked Justice officials to refute Trump's unproven wiretapping claims, Abby Phillip and Ellen Nakashima, March 5, 2017. The FBI director's request is the latest rebuff of President Trump's unfounded accusation that then-President Obama had ordered a wiretap of his campaign headquarters. Former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, outright denied allegations that wiretaps were authorized against Trump or his campaign during the Obama administration.
The development came as Trump's charge against Obama — leveled without any evidence — was being rebuffed both inside and outside of the executive branch. It drew a blunt, on-the-record denial by a top intelligence official who served in the Obama administration.
Speaking on NBC News on Sunday morning, former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. denied that a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) wiretap was authorized against Trump or the campaign during his tenure.
"There was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president-elect at the time as a candidate or against his campaign," Clapper said on "Meet the Press," adding that he would "absolutely" have been informed if the FBI had received a FISA warrant against either. "I can deny it," Clapper said emphatically.
In his claims early Saturday morning, the president tweeted that he "just found out" that Obama had "my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower" before the election. Trump compared the alleged action to "McCarthyism."
Washington Post, Wiretapping accusation pushes Trump presidency onto a road with no guardrails, Karen Tumulty, March 5, 2017. The president's tweets may have been an effort to distract from revelations that his associates had contact with Russian officials, but instead it invites more scrutiny and deepens doubts about his own judgment.
Donald Trump's presidency has veered onto a road with no center lines or guardrails. The president's accusation Saturday that his predecessor, Barack Obama, had tapped his phone "during the very sacred election process" escalated on Sunday into the White House's call for a congressional investigation of that evidence-free claim.
The audacious tactic was a familiar one for Trump, who has little regard for norms and conventions. When he wants to change a subject, he often does it by touching a match to the dry tinder of a sketchy conspiracy theory. But the stakes have gotten higher, and the consequences more real and serious, as questions mount over Moscow's reported attempts to interfere with last year's presidential election.
Trump's response also has deepened doubts about his own judgment, not just in the face of the first crisis to confront his young presidency but in dealing with the challenges that lie ahead for the chief executive of the world's most powerful nation.
Trump's tweetstorm early Saturday made his disciplined, well-received speech to Congress four days before seem less a turning point than an aberration. "Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!" Trump fired out, in the first of four tweets on the subject.
"When the president goes off and does what he did within the last few days, of just going ahead and tweeting without checking on things, there's something wrong. There's something wrong in terms of the discipline within the White House and how you operate," Leon Panetta (shown in an official photo), a White House chief of staff for Bill Clinton and CIA director during the Obama administration, said Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation."
Trump and his allies, however, say that the criticism is misdirected. In their view, the concern over Russian interference in the election has been overblown by Democrats looking for an excuse for Hillary Clinton's defeat last November.
They also say that more focus should be concentrated on the people within the government who are leaking sensitive information to the news media. Within a government bureaucracy that tilts Democratic, "there is an active 'deep state' opposition to a populist disruptive reformer. Many believe it is their duty to break the law and lie," said former House speaker Newt Gingrich. "For Trump to succeed, there will have to be profound overhaul of the bureaucracy. To be normal in this environment is to fail."
While President Trump and such media supporters as Mark Levin and Roger Stone accused Democrats of seeking to overthrow the presidency, the president's hometown New York Daily News provided a different take on its March 5 Sunday cover
Washington Post, White House offers no evidence, seeks probe of 'politically motivated investigation' during 2016 campaign, Abby Phillip, March 5, 2017. A day after President Trump alleged — without offering any evidence — that then-President Barack Obama had ordered the wiretapping of the Republican's campaign headquarters, the White House said it won't comment further until congressional oversight committees investigate the matter.
In a statement, White House press secretary Sean Spicer cited unknown "reports" of "potentially politically motivated investigations" during the 2016 campaign, calling them "troubling." "Reports concerning potentially politically motivated investigations immediately ahead of the 2016 election are very troubling," Spicer said. "President Donald J. Trump is requesting that as part of their investigation into Russian activity, the congressional intelligence committees exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016."
"Neither the White House nor the president will comment further until such oversight is conducted," he added.
Congressional investigators are probing suspected Russian efforts to undermine the 2016 election as well as any contacts between Russian officials and the Trump campaign. Early Saturday, Trump — apparently in response to reports by a conservative radio host and on the conservative website Breitbart — accused Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower and engaging in a "Nixon/Watergate" effort to undermine his presidency.
But a senior U.S. official said Saturday that there was no such wiretap. A spokesman for Obama also said that the former president never authorized a wiretap of Trump or any other American citizen.
Speaking on NBC News on Sunday morning, former director of national intelligence James Clapper, who served in that post in the Obama administration, flatly denied that a wiretap was authorized against Trump or his campaign during his tenure. "There was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president-elect at the time as a candidate or against his campaign," Clapper (shown in an official photo) said on "Meet the Press."
Trump Transition: Neighborhood Schools, Segregation
Washington Post, GOP bill threatens to dismantle one of the nation's most robust school desegregation efforts, Emma Brown, March 5, 2017. March 5, 2017. White and black and poor and rich children have long shared schools in Louisville, Ky., with arts- and science-themed programs helping to draw students into different parts of town. Opponents to the push by state Republicans for neighborhood schools fear it would concentrate minority and low-income students apart from their affluent peers.
Trump Transition: Revised Travel Ban Preview
New York Times, Revised Travel Ban Won't Include Iraq in Restricted Nations, Ron Nixon and Maggie Haberman, March 5, 2017. The new order, expected to be issued Monday by President Trump, would retain temporary restrictions on six other predominantly Muslim countries and on all refugees.
President Trump is expected to issue on Monday a new version of his executive order on immigration that excludes Iraq, a key ally in the fight against the Islamic State, from a list of predominantly Muslim countries whose citizens will face temporary restrictions on travel to the United States. The new order would temporarily stop all refugee admissions to the United States, said a senior administration official familiar with it. The previous version included a 120-day ban on all refugees other than Syrians, who were barred indefinitely.
The new order removes the extra restrictions on Syrian refugees. It is unclear how long the temporary ban would last. The earlier order has been blocked by the courts; the change on refugees is intended to help the new version withstand legal scrutiny. The new order would not affect people with green cards or those holding a valid visa at the time the order is signed.
Trump Advisor, Friend Roger Stone
Huffington Post, Trump Advisor Roger Stone Launches Into Vulgar Twitter Rant, Suggests Back Channel To Assange During Clinton Leaks, Alex Mohajer, March 5, 2017. Renowned Republican strategist and long-time Donald Trump adviser Roger Stone (shown in a file photo) launched into an inexplicable, vulgar tirade against multiple users of the social media website Twitter on Saturday night, using offensive off-color comments, misogynistic slurs, and at one point suggesting that he had a "perfectly legal back channel" to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who "indeed had the goods" on Hillary Clinton.
Twitter users are speculating that the tweet constituted an admission by Stone in collaborating with the controversial Assange and an enemy nation to sabotage the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton. Some of the tweets have been deleted, but by midnight on the west coast, "Roger Stone" was trending on Twitter. According to the New York Times, Mr. Stone is one of a growing number of Trump advisers and allies now being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for alleged contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential election.
Mr. Stone called for imprisonment of Barack Obama, claiming the former president is responsible for wiretapping Donald Trump's phones, a reference to an equally puzzling series of tweets sent by Mr. Trump himself early Saturday morning.
In perhaps the most shocking tweet of the evening, which appears to now be removed, Stone even suggested having collaborated with an enemy nation in the WikiLeaks scandal that rocked the presidential election last November. Stone tweeted that he "never denied perfectly legal back channel to Assange who indeed had the goods" on Hillary Clinton, using hashtag #CrookedHillary in a throwback to a familiar campaign motif.
Mr. Stone is sure to have some explaining to do once the president returns from a restful weekend at his Mar-a-Lago estate this weekend, where he was reported to be having dinner tonight with embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and likely not tending to his Twitter feed per usual.
The question of whether Donald Trump had knowledge of the Russian cyber attacks in the 2016 presidential election could have potentially unprecedented ramifications on the future of this presidential administration.
RT, ISIS traces in Palmyra: Munitions left, child fighters' bodies found, Lizzie Phelan, March 5, 2017 (3:01 min. video).
Washington Post, Thousands of immigrants claim they were forced into labor after being detained in U.S., Kristine Phillips, March 5, 2017. The lawsuit filed against one of the largest U.S. prison companies could involve as many as 60,000 immigrants. The original nine plaintiffs alleged that people detained at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in the Denver area are forced to work without pay — and that those who refuse are threatened with solitary confinement.
Media Gibes at Trump
NPR, Kate McKinnon Mocks Sessions As Forrest Gump On 'SNL,' James Doubek, March 5, 2017. Kate McKinnon provided the most memorable political impressions of the night — far from the first time she's done so — on Saturday as Saturday Night Live returned with its first live episode in three weeks.
"Hello. My name's Jeff. Jeff Sessions. Would you like a chocolate?" McKinnon asks, in character as the attorney general in a Forrest Gump-like bus stop cold open scene. A few strangers sit down in succession next to Sessions.
"Being in the government is so fun," he says. "You meet so many nice people. Like this, this is my best good friend Kellyanne. She ain't got no legs," Sessions/Gump says, showing the infamous photo of Kellyanne Conway kneeling on the couch and looking at her phone while presidents of historically black colleges and universities take a photo with President Trump. (It later became a running joke, with McKinnon as Conway kneeling and looking at her phone in various locations between sketches.)
Washington Post, At the Gridiron dinner, the jokes were on Trump's Russia connections, Emily Heil, March 5, 2017. President Trump wasn't in the white-tie-clad audience at the Saturday night annual dinner of the Gridiron Club — an elite group of 65 of Washington's top journalists — but he was there in spirit, or at least as a target.
POTUS, per the club's tradition, was invited to the swanky but lighthearted affair at the Renaissance Washington Hotel, but he declined. So instead, Vice President Pence was there for the jokey monologues by lawmakers and musical skits by the Fourth Estate, where many of the punchlines targeted Trump and his advisers' headline-making contacts with Russia.
Raw Story, 'We're going broke': West Palm Beach business owners want Trump to spend weekends somewhere else, David Edwards, March 5, 2017. Residents and business owners in West Palm Beach complained over the weekend that President Donald Trump's frequent trips to his Mar-a-Lago resort are making their lives miserable. NBC News reported that Trump's weekend visits were not only expensive for the taxpayers, but the safety measures implemented by the Secret Service are also costing local business owners big.March 4
Washington Post, Trump says he was subjected to 'McCarthyism.' But his mentor helped enforce those tactics, Cleve R. Wootson Jr., March 4, 2017. Roy Cohn, who met Donald Trump in the 1970s, was Joseph McCarthy's sidekick in the 1940s and '50s — when the GOP senator sought to weed out alleged communist spies and sympathizers.
Washington Post, Donald Trump was a conspiracy-theory candidate. Now he's on the edge of being a conspiracy-theory president, Chris Cillizza, March 4, 2017. Donald Trump's political career was born amid the fever swamps of the far right. He seized on a favorite conspiracy theory bubbling there — that then-President Barack Obama (shown in a file photo watching the funeral of Nelson Mandela) was not, in fact, born in the United States and therefore was an illegitimate president — to boost his profile in national politics.
Witness several Trump tweets Saturday morning that suggest he was the target of a wiretapping campaign authorized by Obama during the 2016 race.
here is, as you probably already guessed, no detail about the alleged wiretapping included in any of the Trump tweets.
Trump's tweets appear to trace back to an article Friday on Breitbart News headlined "Mark Levin to Congress: Investigate Obama's 'Silent Coup' vs. Trump." That article, based heavily on conservative talk radio host Levin's views, suggest the Obama administration conducted a "silent coup" to keep Trump from the presidency.
Here's the key paragraph:
In summary: the Obama administration sought, and eventually obtained, authorization to eavesdrop on the Trump campaign; continued monitoring the Trump team even when no evidence of wrongdoing was found; then relaxed the NSA rules to allow evidence to be shared widely within the government, virtually ensuring that the information, including the conversations of private citizens, would be leaked to the media.
The problem here, of course, is that what Levin — and Breitbart — use as evidence for these claims are a series of seemingly unconnected events — from FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court requests to Trump joking about the Russia email hack, to the release of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's emails in the fall. The proof that all — or any — of these events are tied together by actual facts as opposed to supposition is not offered.
The idea that Obama himself authorized — and was able to get approval for — the wiretapping of the opposition party's candidate for president is, frankly, far-fetched. And if someone is making that claim — as Trump is now doing — the burden of proof is on them. If you are going to say there is a grand conspiracy that only you and a handful of others see, you need to offer a step-by-step explanation to the broader public to show why you're right.
Trump Sons Capitalize On Clout
Washington Post, Trump's sons leverage ties established in campaign, Jonathan O'Connell, David A. Fahrenthold and Matea Gold, March 4, 2017. A new hotel chain would extend the company's reach into dozens of cities, including locations where the president's sons made connections during their father's White House bid.
Donald Trump's adult sons, who are overseeing a nationwide expansion of the family business during their father's presidency, are envisioning ways that their experiences from the campaign trail can help them establish a footing in dozens of new markets. The idea is to move beyond a focus on luxury hotels in big metropolises and build boutique properties in a broader mix of cities, including some the Trump brothers came to know well during more than a year of intensive travel, fundraising and grass-roots networking on the road to the White House.
"I got to see a lot of those markets on the campaign," Donald Trump Jr., the president's eldest son, told The Washington Post in a recent interview from his office on the 25th floor of Trump Tower. "I think I've probably been in all of them over the last 18 months." The initial plan is tied to the Trumps' previously announced new chain, Scion, which is being designed as a less-corporate feeling brand of high-end hotels with a more affordable per-room price point than the Trumps' five-star properties.xxx
Corruption Claims Against Attorney General Sessions
Washington Post, Federal prosecutors have brought charges in cases far less serious than Sessions's, Philip Lacovara, Lawrence Robbins, March 4, 2017. The attorney general shouldn't get a free pass.
Guardian, 'Gun for hire': how Jeff Sessions used his prosecuting power to target Democrats, Jon Swaine and Oliver Laughland, March 4, 2017. It was 1989 and Outlaw, the Republican mayor of Mobile, Alabama, was girding himself for his re-election campaign. Word was that Lambert Mims, a popular local Democrat, would run against him. Some Republicans were growing skittish. But a close friend of Outlaw's had something planned. The friend had been president of the state Young Republicans, chairman of the regional GOP, then a senior official in the Mobile County Republican party. And now he was the top federal prosecutor in southern Alabama.
"Jeff says that Mims won't be around by that time," an Outlaw aide said ominously, while discussing the election at a City Hall meeting that February, according to a sworn affidavit from an official who was in the room. A few months later, Mims confirmed that he would be challenging Outlaw. Then Jeff Sessions made his move.
Sessions, then the US attorney for Alabama's southern district, indicted Mims on criminal corruption charges relating to obscure four-year-old negotiations over a planned recycling plant. Mims was the ninth notable Democrat in the area to be indicted by Sessions since the young Republican was appointed by President Ronald Reagan. He would not be the last.
Opponents concluded that Sessions used his federal prosecutor's office, and the FBI agents who worked for him, as political weapons, according to more than half a dozen veterans of Mobile's 1980s legal and political circles. Some alleged in court filings that the ambitious young Republican actually worked from a "hitlist" of Democratic targets.
"Sessions was a gun for hire," said Tom Purvis, a former sheriff of Mobile County, "and he went after political enemies." Purvis was acquitted of charges against him that Sessions oversaw after Purvis unseated another Outlaw ally from the elected sheriff's position.
The decades-old concerns have been revived by Donald Trump's appointment of Sessions as US attorney general, and the mounting anxiety over his ability to remain even-handed as the nation's most senior law enforcement official given his record of vigorous partisanship. Earlier this week, Sessions was pressured into removing himself from oversight of any FBI investigations into the Trump campaign's contacts with Russia. Bolstering the claims are the remarkably thin prosecution cases brought by Sessions against some of those Democrats he indicted, which are detailed across thousands of pages of archived court filings that were reviewed by the Guardian.
Washington Post, It's the Democrats' turn to take a tip from Republicans, Kathleen Parker, March 4, 2017. GOP showed how a defeated party can surge back by focusing on the basics. If the Democratic Party is ailing after losing the presidency to Donald Trump, state parties are on life support. Here in the long-ago Democratic stronghold of Alabama, the party is all but dead, say some of its disheartened members. Consider: Not a single statewide office is held by a Democrat; the state legislature is dominated by Republicans with just 33 Democrats out of 105 House seats and eight of 35 Senate seats.
Palmer Report, Carter Page fires back, says Donald Trump was behind Russia conspiracy at GOP Convention, Bill Palmer, March 4, 2017. One day after the Donald Trump campaign tried to turn former adviser Carter Page into a fall guy over the Russia scandal, Page is now firing back and accusing Trump himself of having been behind it all. Page was one of at least three Trump advisers who met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the Republican Convention, which resulted in the Republican Party platform being changed in favor of Russia.
Earlier this week, former Donald Trump campaign adviser J.D. Gordon told CNN that it was Donald Trump himself who initiated the push for the change in the Republican Party platform to favor Russia over the Ukraine, and that Trump had been pushing for it for at least four months leading up to the convention. Gordon, Carter Page, and Jeff Sessions all attended the convention meeting with the Russian Ambassador. Page has changed his story several times and can no longer be seen as particularly credible in his own right, but now he's directly backing up the claims made by the far more credible Gordon.
Palmer Report, Andrey Artemenko claims his Trump-Russia co-conspirator Alex Oronov was killed because of it, Bill Palmer, March 4, 2017. The bodies keep dropping in and around Donald Trump's Russia scandal, with two Russian intel officers dying under suspicious circumstances in Moscow and two Russian diplomats dropping dead in New York, among others. But for the first time, one of the known conspirators in the Trump-Russia scandal is specifically claiming that his co-conspirator is dead as a result of his involvement becoming public knowledge.
White House Chronicle, Some Flaws in Trump's Assumptions, Llewellyn King, March 4, 2017. Here are six of the motivating assumptions that underlie the presidency of Donald Trump to this point. They are flawed in different ways.
Washington Post, 'False prophet': Duterte, the Catholic Church and the fight for the soul of the Philippines, Emily Rauhala, March 4, 2017. A world of sin. A weary savior. Filipinos know the story well. Since coming to power last summer, President Rodrigo Duterte has used biblical language to build a case for mass killings, vowing to sacrifice himself, even his son, to cleanse the nation of crime. Conjuring a world in which evil stalks the innocent, Duterte launched a wave of violence that has claimed at least 7,000 lives. With his critics cursed and shamed, and with public support for the president running high, the establishment, including the Roman Catholic Church, has for the most part stayed quiet.
But now, more than seven months into Duterte's tenure, with the death toll climbing night by night, the country's Catholic hierarchy is finding its voice. In a pastoral letter published in February, church leaders denounced Duterte's campaign as a "reign of terror" against the poor. Emboldened by their bishops' stance, priests, nuns and missionaries are also taking a stand, offering sanctuary to fearful witnesses, paying for funerals and organizing rallies. Religious leaders who once supported the president are turning their backs on him, potentially hurting his political appeal.
At stake are the lives of thousands and the credibility of an institution that has long been at the heart of Philippine life. Religious leaders helped to topple the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and have since led campaigns for environmental and civil rights. Yet many see the role of the Catholic Church receding. Critics, including Duterte, accuse church leaders of corruption. The bishops have abandoned their role as a national conscience, allying themselves instead with the oligarchic ruling class, their critics say.
Washington Post, In leaked document, the case for Trump's 'Muslim ban' takes another huge hit, Greg Sargent, March 3, 2017. We keep hearing that President Trump will roll out the new version of his travel ban any day now. The White House delayed it earlier this week, because Trump advisers reportedly thought it could step on the good press he'd earned from his speech, thus inadvertently undercutting their own claims that enacting the ban is an urgent national security matter.
Here's the real reason for the delay: The Trump administration can't solve the problem that has always bedeviled this policy, which is that there isn't any credible national security rationale for it. Unlike on the campaign trail, when you're governing, you actually have to have justification for what you're proposing, or you often run into trouble.
MSNBC's Rachel Maddow had an important scoop on Thursday night that further undercuts the substantive case for Trump's ban, which would restrict entry into the country by refugees and migrants from select Muslim-majority countries. Maddow obtained a new internal Department of Homeland Security document that reached this key judgment: "We assess that most foreign-born, US-based violent extremists likely radicalized several years after their entry to the United States, limiting the ability of screening and vetting officials to prevent their entry because of national security concerns."
This new document is separate from another DHS document that was leaked to the press last week. That one also undercut the case for the ban, concluding that "country of citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity."
Washington Post, Pence is an incredible hypocrite on official emails. But that's only part of the story. Paul Waldman, March 3, 2017. I have some disturbing news to share: Republicans might not be as deeply committed to proper email management as you've been led to believe. During the campaign, the entire Republican Party argued that despite Hillary Clinton's copious qualifications for the presidency, it would be unconscionably dangerous to let her anywhere near the Oval Office because she had used a private email account while she was secretary of state. Crowds at Republican events would chant "Lock her up!" whenever Clinton's name was mentioned. In one debate, Donald Trump said to Clinton that if he were president, "You'd be in jail." With FBI Director James Comey's help, Trump and Republicans made Clinton's use of private email the single most important issue of the 2016 presidential campaign.
Which is why this story from Tony Cook of the Indianapolis Star is so interesting: "Vice President Mike Pence routinely used a private email account to conduct public business as governor of Indiana, at times discussing sensitive matters and homeland security issues."
Emails released to IndyStar in response to a public records request show Pence communicated via his personal AOL account with top advisers on topics ranging from security gates at the governor's residence to the state's response to terror attacks across the globe. In one email, Pence's top state homeland security adviser relayed an update from the FBI regarding the arrests of several men on federal terror-related charges.
Cyber-security experts say the emails raise concerns about whether such sensitive information was adequately protected from hackers, given that personal accounts like Pence's are typically less secure than government email accounts. In fact, Pence's personal account was hacked last summer.
Well, fancy that. When Mike Pence was debating Tim Kaine and said, "it's important in this moment to remember that Hillary Clinton had a private server in her home that had classified information on it," adding that "her private server was subject to being hacked" and "we could put cybersecurity first if we just make sure the next secretary of state doesn't have a private server," did he consider adding that he knew what he was talking about since he used an AOL account to talk about sensitive security matters and had himself been hacked?
The parallels don't stop there. According to the article, "Pence's office said his campaign hired outside counsel as he was departing as governor to review his AOL emails and transfer any involving public business to the state." Which was exactly what Hillary Clinton did — and what Pence and Trump so vehemently criticized her for. When Trump invited the Russian government to hack Clinton's email to recover what had been deleted, it was those personal emails he was talking about.
And Pence is not the only one: Scott Pruitt, President Trump's Environmental Protection Agency administrator, not only used a private email account to conduct official business as attorney general of Oklahoma, he lied about it during his confirmation hearings.
Justice Department Headquarters in Washington, DC (Justice Department photo)
The Washington Post, With Sessions's recusal, official poised to oversee probe into Russian interference in 2016 race, Sari Horwitz, March 3, 2017. When former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. came under fire for leaks of classified information about the Obama administration's role in authorizing cyberattacks against Iran, he turned to a veteran federal prosecutor — a Republican — to help head his investigation into who was leaking.
That same federal prosecutor, Rod J. Rosenstein, is being tapped again, this time by President Trump's attorney general, to oversee another high-profile case, the FBI's investigation into Russian meddling and any links between Russian officials and Trump's associates. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself Thursday from the investigation and designated his acting deputy attorney general, the second-highest-ranking official in the Justice Department, to oversee the probe. But the responsibility is expected to soon fall to Rosenstein, 52, the longest-serving U.S. attorney, whose Senate confirmation hearing to become deputy attorney general is set for Tuesday.
Rosenstein (shown in an official photo), the sole holdover U.S. attorney from the George W. Bush administration, is widely respected by Democrats and Republicans for his experience working on sensitive cases in the face of political pressure, according to attorneys he has worked with during his nearly three decades in the department. What kinds of investigations could be launched into Russian election interference?
A Philadelphia native, Rosenstein began working as a trial attorney in the public integrity section of President George H.W. Bush's Justice Department after graduating from Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review, and clerking for Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Soon afterward, President Clinton's deputy attorney general hired Rosenstein to be his counsel. During the Clinton administration, Kenneth W. Starr tapped him to be his associate independent counsel on the investigation into the business dealings of the Clintons and their associates in the Whitewater Development Corp.
Rosenstein stayed on into the George W. Bush administration and in 2005, Bush appointed him U.S. attorney for the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, where he remained through the Obama administration.
"He came in under one administration, stayed under another and is now being elevated under yet another," said George J. Terwilliger III, the former deputy attorney general and acting attorney general under George H.W. Bush. "That tells you everything about the consummate professional that he is."
If he is confirmed, Rosenstein — who lives with his wife, an attorney, and two teenage daughters in Bethesda — will be responsible for the day-to-day running of the sprawling Justice Department, which has 113,000 employees across the country. The heads of the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will report directly to him. And as of Thursday, he will also take on the oversight of all federal investigations into Russia and the 2016 presidential election.
Legal Schnauzer, Opinion: Trump AG Jeff Sessions once was known mainly for bigotry while a senator from Alabama, but now his crookedness is on display for the whole world to see, Roger Shuler, March 3, 2017. No one should be surprised that Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions twice met with a Russian envoy during the 2016 campaign and then lied about it to Congress. Around the country, until now, Sessions probably has been best known as the most prominent bigot in a high government position. But to view Sessions only in terms of bigotry would be to underestimate him. Those of us who lived through his tenure as a U.S. senator from Alabama know he is ethically challenged, with exceptionally poor judgment — especially on matters of personnel and justice.
You might say Jeff Sessions (shown in an official photo) is a crooked bigot, or a bigoted crook. Either way, his widely reported tendency to use racist language is not his only "distinctive" feature. He also is fundamentally dishonest, as the nation has learned in the past 38 hours or so. Sessions yesterday recused himself from any investigation related to the Trump-Russia scandal, and prominent Democrats are calling for him to resign. Even some of the nation's sleaziest Republicans are having trouble defending him, which makes us think Sessions soon will hit the exits, probably within a week.
How much doo-doo might Sessions have stepped in? An article by Zack Beauchamp, of vox.com, provides the best analysis I've seen. The headline on his story: "Legal experts think Jeff Sessions is in a whole mess of trouble." From the article:
Sessions' ouster can't come soon enough for me. I lived in Alabama for more than 35 years -- and I hope to return there, sooner rather than later -- so I've seen his chicanery up close. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've felt it personally in recent days. Perhaps that's because I've reported many times on this blog about the underhandedness that seems to permeate the actions of Sessions and those affiliated with him. Here are just a few examples from the Legal Schnauzer archives.
Law Enforcement Around the Nation
Washington Post, Former journalist arrested, charged with threats against Jewish facilities, Mark Berman and Matt Zapotosky, March 3, 2017. A former journalist allegedly carried out at least some of the recent bomb threats against Jewish institutions across the country, according to the FBI, which described the menacing calls as part of the man's campaign to harass a woman.
Law enforcement officials said Friday that they do not believe the man they arrested — Juan Thompson, 31 — is responsible for all of the calls to scores of Jewish centers and schools in recent months, nor do they think he was behind the vandalism of headstones at Jewish cemeteries in Missouri, Pennsylvania and, most recently, upstate New York.
The arrest of a onetime reporter, fired last year for fabricating quotes, was a bizarre twist in the threats against Jewish facilities, which have forced people from dozens of Jewish Community Centers, schools, offices and daycares, contributing to heightened anxiety about anti-Semitism nationwide. Even after Thompson was taken into custody in St. Louis, Jewish groups and officials remained on edge about the threats that are still unsolved.
Federal agents arrested Thompson on Friday morning, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York. Thompson — whose Twitter page is full of rants about white people and President Trump — was charged with cyberstalking and is accused of communicating at least eight threats to Jewish Community Centers, which an FBI complaint said were "part of a sustained campaign to harass and intimidate" a woman with whom he had been romantically involved.
Thompson previously drew national attention when he was fired a little more than a year ago from the Intercept, an investigative journalism website, for fabricating quotes and misleading colleagues to cover his tracks. In an editor's note, the publication said Thompson had engaged in "a pattern of deception" and wrote that he created fake email accounts to impersonate people.
"We were horrified to learn this morning that Juan Thompson, a former employee of The Intercept, has been arrested in connection with bomb threats against the ADL and multiple Jewish Community Centers in addition to cyberstalking," Charlotte Greensit, the Intercept's managing editor, said in a statement Friday. "These actions are heinous and should be fully investigated and prosecuted."
Breitbart, Roger Stone: In Speech Trump Must Stick to Agenda, Make One Good Reference to 'Fake News,' Neil Mccabe, March 3, 2017. One of the political mentors of President Donald Trump told Breitbart News Monday the president needs to stay focused on his program in his first address to a joint session of Congress. "He needs to stick to the agenda," said Roger Stone, who was one of the first advisers to join Trump's campaign and remains one of his closest confidantes.
"Avoid back-and-forth with his critics — just stick to the agenda — and make at least one good reference to fake news," Stone said. Less than two months in, Stone said he is impressed by Trump's performance in the White House. "I think he is doing great."
Stone spoke to Breitbart News at a guest-listed book signing for his latest work: The Making of the President 2016: How Donald Trump Orchestrated a Revolution at Washington's Hay-Adams Hotel. The diverse crowd of well-heeled men of influence, conservative operatives, and Capitol Hill staffers was a pretty strong signal that it is very important in Washington that Stone knows you bought his book. The event was organized by David Urban, the man who led Trump's campaign in Pennsylvania.
SouthFront, US-backed Forces Surrender Wide Areas Near Manbij To Syrian Army, Staff report, March 3, 2017. The Syrian army, backed up by the Russian Aerospace Forces, liberated the ancient city of Palmyra, including the Palmyra Airport from ISIS on March 2. Syrian army servicemen have been examining the historic part of Palmyra with the aim of demining the city.
Meanwhile, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) primarily consisting of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) will hand over wide areas west of the northern Syrian town of Manbij to the Syrian army, according to a statement released by the so-called Manbij Miltiary Council. The SDF wants to use Syrian army troops as a buffer against Turkish-backed militant groups in northern Syria and refers that this decision is made after talks with "Russia", aiming to use the Russian and Syrian military and diplomatic capabilities to defend itself from Turkey.
Just in August 2016, Talal Silo, a spokesman for the SDF, argued that the US is the only SDF partner and the group was not going coordinate anti-ISIS efforts or even negotiate with any other side without a signal from the Americans. It seems the SDF/YPG dramatically changed its attitude in March 2017 after it had became clear that photos of few US Special Forces troops were not enough to prevent Turkey from aiming to seize Manbij and Tell Rifat.
Turkey sees the YPG as just a branch of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), with which Turkey has been at war almost continuously since 1984. In turn, the PKK seeks to establish an independent Kurdish state in southern Turkey. There are still no official reports which areas the Syrian army will control in the Manbij countryside. However, there are two options:.
Washington Post, Attorney general will step away from any probe related to 2016 campaign, including Russian interference, Karoun Demirjian, Ed O'Keefe, Sari Horwitz and Matt Zapotosky, March 2, 2017. The announcement comes a day after The Washington Post revealed that Jeff Sessions twice met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and did not disclose that fact to Congress during his confirmation hearing. Democrats had been calling for weeks for Sessions to step away from the investigation, though he had resisted pressures to do so.
Justice Department, Attorney General Sessions Statement on Recusal, Staff report, March 2, 2017. Attorney General Jeff Sessions today issued the following statement:
"During the course of the confirmation proceedings on my nomination to be Attorney General, I advised the Senate Judiciary Committee that '[i]f a specific matter arose where I believed my impartiality might reasonably be questioned, I would consult with Department ethics officials regarding the most appropriate way to proceed.'
"During the course of the last several weeks, I have met with the relevant senior career Department officials to discuss whether I should recuse myself from any matters arising from the campaigns for President of the United States.
"Having concluded those meetings today, I have decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.
"I have taken no actions regarding any such matters, to the extent they exist.
"This announcement should not be interpreted as confirmation of the existence of any investigation or suggestive of the scope of any such investigation.
"Consistent with the succession order for the Department of Justice, Acting Deputy Attorney General and U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Dana Boente shall act as and perform the functions of the Attorney General with respect to any matters from which I have recused myself to the extent they exist."
Palmer Report, Trump-Russia conspirator J.D. Gordon begins ratting out Donald Trump, Bill Palmer, March 2, 2017. Watergate had John Dean, the co-conpirator who ended up coming clean and taking down Richard Nixon in the process. Based on the events of this evening, it appears the "John Dean" of Donald Trump's Russia conspiracy may be a guy named J.D. Gordon. He may not be a name you've heard up to this point. But he was a Trump campaign national security adviser. He colluded with Russia. And he's begun ratting out Trump for his complicity in the Russia conspiracy.
J.D. Gordon was one of the three Donald Trump campaign advisers who has exposed today as having met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Republican National Convention. This is a key development because the Republican Party altered its party platform at the convention to reverse its policy on the Ukraine, in order to favor Russia. Gordon, who then quit the campaign a few weeks after the convention, now says that Trump himself insisted on the party platform change.
CNN reporter Jim Acosta appeared on-air on Thursday night and stated that he had just gotten off the phone with J.D. Gordon. Acosta reports that during the Republican National Convention, Gordon "did have a conversation with the Russian Ambassador." He says that Gordon met with the Ambassador twice, and that he admits he was part of the effort to change the language of the Republican Party platform during the convention to eliminate an existing pro-Ukraine policy, which worked in Russia's favor. But here's the key.
J.D. Gordon insists Donald Trump himself led the charge in pushing for the platform change, and that Trump had been doing so since March of that year – four months before the convention. You can watch Jim Acosta's CNN report here. In so doing, J.D. Gordon has begun ratting Trump out. He's making clear that he was acting on Trump's orders when he altered the party platform in Russia' favor. How much more blabbing will Gordon now do about Trump's complicity in order to protect himself?
Palmer Report, Three Donald Trump advisers met with Russia at Republican Convention; Ukraine platform changed, Bill Palmer, March 2, 2017. Three of Donald Trump's campaign advisers, including current Attorney General Jeff Sessions, met with the Russian Ambassador in Cleveland during the 2016 Republican National Convention. The Trump-led Republican Party then went on to fundamentally alter its party platform during the convention, reversing its stance on the conflict between Russia and the Ukraine.
The three Trump advisers who met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Republican National Convention are Jeff Sessions, Carter Page, and J.D. Gordon. Sessions is now admitting the meeting took place, while USA Today is reporting that the other two advisers participated. This is key, because questions have been simmering for months as to the specific circumstances which caused the Republican Party to officially change its stance on the Ukraine at the convention. Was it merely Trump's personal position? Had Russia pressured him to do it under threat of blackmail?
And now we know that three key members of the Trump campaign met with the Russian Ambassador in the same precise timeframe and location in which the Ukraine party platform change was made. Sessions is now also admitting that he subsequently met with the Russian Ambassador on September 8th, and that the Ukraine was discussed in that conversation. This is a reversal from his denial last night, when he claimed that his conversations with the Russian Ambassador did not have anything to do with campaign matters.
This also further cements the fact that Sessions perjured himself by lying to Congress under oath about the matter during his confirmation hearings last month. It comes as little surprise that Sessions is now offering to recuse himself from any role in the investigation – he still may end up having to resign as Attorney General. This it further shatters the months of denials from the Donald Trump campaign that anyone involved with the campaign had any contact with Russia during the election.
Furthermore it's notable that both Jeff Sessions and Carter Page met with the Russian Ambassador while at the Republican National Convention. As we've previously reported, there is strong reason to believe that Sessions and his office were responsible for Page having first been hired to the Trump campaign.
Trump advisors, from left, Stephen Miller, Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner, Reince Priebus (file photo)
New York Times, Kushner and Flynn Met With Russian Envoy in December, Michael S. Schmidt, Matthew Rosenberg and Matt Apuzzo, March 2, 2017. The president's son-in-law and incoming national security adviser met with the ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, at Trump Tower, the White House said.
Michael T. Flynn, then Donald J. Trump's incoming national security adviser, had a previously undisclosed meeting with the Russian ambassador in December to "establish a line of communication" between the new administration and the Russian government, the White House said on Thursday.
Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump's son-in-law and now a senior adviser, also participated in the meeting at Trump Tower with Mr. Flynn and Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador (shown in a file photo. But among Mr. Trump's inner circle, it is Mr. Flynn who appears to have been the main interlocutor with the Russian envoy — the two were in contact during the campaign and the transition, Mr. Kislyak and current and former American officials have said.
But the extent and frequency of their contacts remains unclear, and the disclosure of the meeting at Trump Tower adds to the emerging picture of how the relationship between Mr. Trump's incoming team and Moscow was evolving to include some of the president-elect's most trusted advisers.
Palmer Report, Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions met Russian Ambassador in Washington DC in April 2016, Bill Palmer, March 2, 2017. Now that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has turned out to be the dam that broke in Donald Trump's Russia scandal, new details are arising by the hour. Sessions now admits he met with with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the Republican National Convention and again on September 8th. But now turns out both Trump and Sessions met the Russian Ambassador at Trump's first ever foreign policy speech back in April of 2016 – because they invited him there.
Russian Ambassador Kislyak was an invited special guest at Donald Trump's initial foreign policy speech nearly eleven months ago. During that speech, Trump made a point of spelling out his foreign policy of going soft on Russia for no particular reason. Before the speech, Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions are known to have met with Kislyak backstage for a reception, though it's not known what might have been discussed between them. This establishes two key new aspects of the Trump-Russia scandal.
Politico, Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak is Washington's most dangerous diplomat, Michael Crowley, March 2, 2017. Putin's envoy is at the heart of a scandal that's taken down one Trump adviser and put another in the hot seat. People who know Sergey Kislyak describe him as intelligent but an unyielding advocate for the Kremlin line. When Donald Trump delivered his first foreign policy speech of the 2016 campaign at a Washington hotel last April, a special foreign guest was in attendance: Sergey Kislyak, Russia's ambassador to Washington.
Before the speech, the soft-spoken Russian envoy and other foreign ambassadors mingled at a backstage reception also attended by Trump and future Attorney General Jeff Sessions, according to an account written by one of the event's hosts. Afterward, Kislyak sat near the front and listened as Trump bashed the Washington foreign policy status quo and repeated his controversial call for a new dawn in U.S.-Russian relations. "I believe an easing of tensions and improved relations with Russia—from a position of strength only—is possible, absolutely possible," Trump said in a ballroom at the Mayflower Hotel. "Some say the Russians won't be reasonable. I intend to find out."
After the speech, Kislyak, who is tall and heavyset, headed for the door swiftly—pausing to cautiously answer a question from POLITICO on his way out. Trump "made some intriguing points, but we need to understand what is meant in the implementation," he said. That was typical for the 66-year-old Kislyak, a career diplomat and fluent English speaker who has been Moscow's man in Washington since 2008. Kislyak (shown in a file photo) keeps a low public profile: He mostly shuns television appearances, rarely speaks to American reporters and does not tweet.
But there's no avoiding the spotlight now. Kislyak has become Washington's most dangerous diplomat, with one top Trump official already sacked and another now in the hot seat over conversations with the Russian envoy.
Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, resigned last month after he gave inaccurate accounts to White House officials—including Vice President Mike Pence—and to the FBI about his contacts with Kislyak in December. Sessions recused himself Thursday from investigations involving Russian hacking and other interference in the 2016 presidential election on Trump's behalf after reports that he failed to disclose meetings he had with the Russian envoy last July and September, when he was a Trump campaign adviser.
It is not clear whether Sessions or Trump spoke at any length to Kislyak at Trump's foreign policy speech in April, hosted by the Center for the National Interest. The Wall Street Journal reported at the time that Trump had greeted the Russian "warmly." In his Thursday news conference announcing his recusal from Justice Department investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, Sessions said he could not remember any other meetings with Kislyak beyond the two he has acknowleged.
New York Times, Obama Aides Left Trail of Intelligence on Russia, Matthew Rosenberg, Adam Goldman and Michael S. Schmidt, March 2, 2017. The officials scrambled to ensure data on connections between the Trump campaign and Russian officials was preserved after they left office.
In the Obama administration's last days, some White House officials scrambled to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election — and about possible contacts between associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump and Russians — across the government. Former American officials say they had two aims: to ensure that such meddling isn't duplicated in future American or European elections, and to leave a clear trail of intelligence for government investigators.
American allies, including the British and the Dutch, had provided information describing meetings in European cities between Russian officials — and others close to Russia's president, Vladimir V. Putin — and associates of President-elect Trump, according to three former American officials who requested anonymity in discussing classified intelligence.
Separately, American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Trump associates.
The disclosures about the contacts came as new questions were raised about Attorney General Jeff Sessions's ties to the Russians. According to a former senior American official, he met with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, twice in the past year. The details of the meetings were not clear, but the contact appeared to contradict testimony Mr. Sessions provided Congress during his confirmation hearing in January when he said he "did not have communications with the Russians."
President Trump, center, Vice President Pence, lefty, House Speaker Ryan at State of Union address on Feb. 28, 2017 (Jim Lo Scalzo / Pool image via AP)
Truthdig, The Deep State's Hatred of Trump Is Not the Same as Yours, Paul Street, March 3, 2017. Last October, three weeks before the presidential election, I wrote an essay for left progressives titled "The Ruling Class's Hatred of Trump is Different Than Yours." People on the left, I noted, loathed the white-nationalist, quasi-fascist Donald Trump because of his sexism, racism, nativism, authoritarianism, militarism, "law and order" police-state-ism, anti-intellectualism, his regressive arch-plutocracy, fake populism, climate denialism and promise to "deregulate energy" and thereby escalate the petro-capitalist, greenhouse gassing-to-death of life on earth.
The establishment's contempt for the orange-haired beast, I noted, was different. The nation's unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire were perfectly willing to live with most, if not all, of what the left hated about Trump. After all, I reasoned, they'd been backing or tolerating most or all of those terrible things under presidents from both major United States parties for decades.
Trump, I wrote, faced ruling-class disdain because he was considered bad for transnational capital and the American empire. For the most part, the "deep state" masters who backed Hillary Clinton did not appreciate The Donald's blustering promises to roll back the neoliberal "free trade" agenda in the name of the forgotten working class. The foreign policy and "national security" establishment especially hated his criticism of Washington's long march toward war with Russia.
They did not relish the related threat Trump posed to Brand America. It is longstanding, bipartisan, U.S. ruling-class doctrine that this country is the world's great beacon and agent of democracy, human rights, justice and freedom. American reality has never matched the doctrine, but smart rulers knew that it would be especially difficult to align those claims with a president like Trump.
As a presidential candidate, Trump openly exhibited racist, nativist, sexist, arch-authoritarian, police-state-ist, Islamophobic, pro-torture, and even neofascist sentiments and values. "If our system of government is an oligarchy with a façade of democratic and constitutional process," the veteran congressional staffer Mike Lofgren wrote last summer in the preface to his book "The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government," "Trump would not only rip that façade away for the entire world to behold; he would take our system's ugliest features and intensify them." They also had policy differences with Trump's "isolationist" and "anti-trade" rhetoric. That is why the nation's economic and foreign-policy elites preferred Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio over Trump in the Republican primaries and Hillary Clinton in the general election.
Flash forward to the present. Horrified at the rise of an Insane Clown President who evokes chilling echoes of classic fascism, millions have taken to the streets. The issues that concern the swirling, record-setting crowds that have arisen from coast to coast are evident on their homemade signs.They include women's and civil rights, climate change, social justice, racism, nativism, the police state, mass incarceration, plutocracy, authoritarianism, immigrant rights, low wages, economic inequality (the top tenth of the upper U.S. 1 percent now owns more wealth than the nation's bottom 90 percent), hyper-militarism and the devaluation of science and education. The marches and protests are about the threats Trump poses to peace, social justice, the rule of law, livable ecology and democracy.
Meanwhile, the national corporate media and the U.S. intelligence community have been attacking Trump for a very different and strange reason. They have claimed, with no serious or credible evidence, that Trump is, for some bizarre reason, a tool of the Russian state. The charge is as wacky as anything Glenn Beck or, for that matter, Trump (former leader of the preposterous "birther movement"), used to say about President Obama. Citing vague and unsubstantiated CIA reports, The New York Times, The Washington Post and many other forces in the establishment media want Americans to believe that, in Glenn Greenwald's properly mocking words, "Donald Trump is some kind of an agent or a spy of Russia, or that he is being blackmailed by Russia and is going to pass secret information to the Kremlin and endanger American agents on purpose."
Beneath the wild and unsubstantiated charge that Trump is some kind of Moscow-controlled Manchurian president is a determination to cripple and perhaps remove Trump because he wants to normalize U.S. relations with Russia. Why, you might ask, would smoothing things over between Washington and Moscow be a terrible thing? It wouldn't be for everyday Americans who don't want to see themselves, their children and their grandchildren blown up in a nuclear war over, say, Ukraine (where the Obama administration provocatively helped create a fascist, NATO-affiliated regime on Russia's western border) or Crimea (where the vast majority of the population welcomed reversion to Russia).
Moon of Alabama, Obama Ordered Abuse Of Intelligence To Sabotage Trump Policies, Anonymous, March 2, 2017. In its last months the Obama administration ordered the intelligence agencies to collect and distribute information of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. This to prevent any change by the Trump administration of the hostile policy towards Russia that the Obama administration instituted. The intent was also gives the intelligence services blackmail material to prevent any changes in their undue, freewheeling independence.
The above is reported in a rather short New York Times piece published yesterday: "In the Obama administration's last days, some White House officials scrambled to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election — and about possible contacts between associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump and Russians — across the government. Former American officials say they had two aims: to ensure that such meddling isn't duplicated in future American or European elections, and to leave a clear trail of intelligence for government investigators."
Wall Street Journal, Donald Trump Jr. Was Likely Paid at Least $50,000 for Event Held by Hosts Allied With Russia on Syria, Jay Solomon and Benoit Faucon, March 2, 2017. October appearance by son of then-candidate is one of string of contacts between members of the president's inner circle and individuals connected to Moscow. President Donald Trump's eldest son was likely paid at least $50,000 for an appearance late last year before a French think tank whose founder and his wife are allies of the Russian government in efforts to end the war in Syria.
Donald Trump Jr. addressed a dinner on Oct. 11 at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, hosted by the Center of Political and Foreign Affairs. Its president, Fabien Baussart, and his Syrian-born wife, Randa Kassis, have cooperated with Russia in its drive to end the Syrian civil war, according to U.S., European and Arab officials.
In December, Mr. Baussart formally nominated Russian President Vladimir Putin (shown in a file photo) for the Nobel Peace Prize. Mrs. Kassis is a leader of a political faction endorsed by Russia in negotiations to end the war in Syria. The couple said they don't represent Russia and are solely focused on ending the Syrian conflict.
The meeting in October represents one in a string of contacts over the past year between members of the president's inner circle and individuals connected to Moscow and to Russian interests. The Wall Street Journal in November reported Donald Trump Jr.'s appearance at the event.
A U.S. counterintelligence investigation has examined contacts with Russia involving several associates of President Trump, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, according to people familiar with the matter. The outcome of the Sessions inquiry, and whether it is ongoing, is unclear. There has been no indication that the president's son is under similar scrutiny.
The existence of a financial connection between the younger Trump and an entity associated with the Kremlin would likely add to questions involving Mr. Trump's administration and Russia, following a campaign in which he was loath to criticize Russia's leader and repeatedly called for better ties to Moscow.
Daily Kos, Follow the money, comrades: The ultimate case for a special prosecutor and the eventual resignation of Donald Trump, Jen Hayden, March 2, 2017. Let's start with Donald Trump's own statements about his relationship with Vladimir Putin. Watch this short clip and see how many different positions Trump takes on whether he knows Putin.
That in and of itself should be investigated. Under oath. Donald Trump appears to have a number of people around him that have extremely close ties to Russian billionaires and Vladimir Putin. Let's start with the curious real estate deal between Donald Trump and shadowy Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev. In 2006, Donald Trump purchased a Florida mansion and estate for $40 million. Only two years later, along comes Dmitry Rybolovlev to buy the estate for 250% more than Trump paid for it. It was the most expensive home in America. This week it was completely torn down and it appears Rybolovlev never set foot in it. Why? Read this transcript from the Rachel Maddow Show on 2/27/17 and then jump below to see the full segment.
In the same Maddow segment, she makes the highly unusual connection between Rybolovlev and Wilbur Ross, Trump's recently confirmed Sectary of Commerce. These two, it seems, were thick as thieves. In fact, Ross (shown in a file photo) is the majority shareholder of the above-mentioned Bank of Cyrus. Seriously. This bank is also owned in part by the Russian "King of Fertilizer" who did this inexplicable deal that Donald Trump miraculously stumbled into, that netted him $60 million for doing basically nothing. There is one American who was in the middle of that bank, who was the single largest shareholder in that bank. There's one American in that bank. And tonight, that American was just confirmed as our nation's new secretary of commerce.
His name is Wilbur Ross. He's an American businessman, long-time friend of Donald Trump. Not much experience in international banking but inexplicably ended up the majority shareholder in a Cypriot bank with all sorts of ties to Vladimir Putin and to a Russian oligarch who somehow through some intermediary, we don`t know who, ended up stuffing $60 million into Donald Trump`s wallet, paying him $100 million for something that Trump had just bought for $40 million, and that the oligarch apparently had no personal interest in whatsoever, he never even bothered living in it and maybe never even visited.
Then there is Trump's original campaign manager, Paul Manafort. He was forced to resign from the campaign in August after revelations he illegally did work for pre-Russian officials in the Ukraine: Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign amid scrutiny of his Ukrainian work — but others involved in the once-secret influence campaign remain working for Trump in senior roles, including Manafort's deputy Rick Gates. Manafort was alleged to have taken $12.7 million in cash.
Paul Manafort has a close relationship with Donald Trump. In fact, he's lived in Trump Tower since 2006. Before he resigned as Trump's campaign chief, Paul Manafort was asked if Donald Trump had any relationships with Russian oligarchs.
Jeff Sessions was an early Trump supporter, eventually joining the campaign as the head of Trump's foreign policy advisory team. Also named to the small team of foreign policy advisors was Carter Page, a relatively unknown man who had been working to secure "energy" (oil) deals. Carter Page (shown in a screen shot from a TV interview) was introduced to Donald Trump by Jeff Sessions and/or his staff. He eventually left the campaign, but not before he took a trip to Moscow. Page, who founded an investment company in New York called Global Energy Capital, drew attention during the summer for a speech that criticized the United States and other Western nations for a "hypocritical focus on ideas such as democratization, inequality, corruption and regime change" in Russia and in other parts of the former Soviet Union.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions speech to National Association of Attorneys General Feb. 28, 2017 (Justice Department photo)
Palmer Report, Donald Trump changed DOJ order of succession weeks ago, knowing Jeff Sessions wouldn't last, Bill Palmer, March 2, 2017. Back on February 9th of this year, Jeff Sessions officially became the Attorney General of the United States. On that same day, Donald Trump signed an executive order changing the line of succession at the Department of Justice that would kick in if Sessions had to resign or recuse himself. In so doing, Trump elevated someone loyal to himself to the number two spot, ensuring that person would be prosecuting the Russia investigation if Sessions stepped aside.
Now that Jeff Sessions has been exposed as having repeatedly colluded with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and discussed Ukraine policy with him, while he was acting as a Donald Trump campaign adviser, the reason for Trump's executive order seems clear. Sessions was complicit in the Trump-Russia conspiracy, and he was sloppy about it, and then he lied under oath about it during his confirmation hearings. If Trump knew that Sessions had been meeting with Russia, then he knew that Sessions had perjured himself – and thus he knew that Sessions wouldn't last long on the job one way or the other.
Donald Trump's executive order elevated Dana Boente (shown in an official photo) into position to take over the Trump-Russia investigation if Jeff Sessions were out of the picture. Boente is the same person whom Trump appointed as acting Attorney General a month ago, after he fired Sally Yates from the role. Trump presumably put Boente in that position because he knew Boente would be loyal to him in the investigation.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this storyline is that, as reported by Raw Story today, President Barack Obama (shown in a file photo in the White House) had himself altered the DOJ line of succession shortly before leaving office, specifically to keep Dana Boente out of it. Obama seemingly suspected that Boente was some kind of Trump patsy, and was trying to prevent Boente from being in position to take over the Trump-Russia investigation.
Washington Post, Top Republicans call on Sessions to recuse himself from Russia investigation, Karoun Demirjian, March 2, 2017. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House oversight committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said that Attorney General Jeff Sessions (shown in an official photo) should recuse himself. Some Democrats have called on Sessions to resign and have demanded an independent investigation.
The White House Counsel's Office has concluded that senior adviser Kellyanne Conway acted "inadvertently" when she endorsed Ivanka Trump's clothing line, rebuffing a recommendation by the top federal ethics official that she be disciplined for an apparent violation of federal rules.
Stefan C. Passantino, who handles White House ethics issues as deputy counsel to President Trump, wrote in a letter Tuesday that his office concluded Conway was speaking in a "light, offhand manner" when she touted the Ivanka Trump line during a Feb. 9 appearance on "Fox & Friends." At the time, Conway was addressing efforts by activists to persuade retailers such as Nordstrom to drop Ivanka Trump-branded items.
"We concluded that Ms. Conway acted inadvertently and is highly unlikely to do so again," Passantino wrote to Walter M. Schaub, Jr., director of the Office of Government Ethics, adding that Conway made the comments "without nefarious motive or intent to benefit personally."
Wall Street Journal, Jeff Sessions Used Political Funds for Republican Convention Expenses, Paul Sonne, Rebecca Ballhaus and Carol E. Lee, March 2, 2017. Records show attorney general used campaign account for travel expenses to Cleveland, where he met Russian envoy. The Trump administration says Attorney General Jeff Sessions was acting as a then-U.S. senator when he talked to Russia's ambassador at an event during last year's Republican National Convention in Cleveland, but Mr. Sessions paid for convention travel expenses out of his own political funds and he spoke about Donald Trump's campaign at the event, according to a person at the event and campaign-finance records.
Democracy Now! David Cay Johnston: As Jeff Sessions Scandal Brews, We Need a Public Probe of Trump's Ties to Russia, Amy Goodman, March 2, 2017. The Trump administration is facing a new scandal as the Justice Department has acknowledged Attorney General Jeff Sessions met twice last year with Russia's ambassador to the United States. This contradicts sworn testimony Sessions gave to Congress.
During his confirmation hearing in January, then-Senator Sessions was asked by Minnesota Senator Al Franken whether he knew of contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russia's government. Sessions replied, "I did not have communications with the Russians." House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday accused Sessions of "apparent perjury" and said in a statement, "Sessions is not fit to serve as the top law enforcement officer of our country and must resign." Earlier today, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz called on Sessions to recuse himself from a Justice Department probe into alleged ties between Trump campaign officials and Russia's government. We speak to David Cay Johnston, the author of The Making of Donald Trump (shown in a Justice Integrity Project during a talk at the National Press Club last August.)
AMY GOODMAN: During his confirmation hearing in January, then-Senator Sessions was asked by Minnesota Senator Al Franken whether he knew of contacts between Trump campaign surrogates and Russia's government.
SEN. AL FRANKEN: If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: Senator Franken, I'm not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign, and I didn't have—not have communications with the Russians.
AMY GOODMAN: The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Sessions twice met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak: in July on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention and in September in Sessions' office on Capitol Hill. And The Wall Street Journal reports that federal investigators are probing Sessions' contacts with Russian officials.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi Wednesday accused Sessions of "apparent perjury" and said in a statement, quote, "Sessions is not fit to serve as the top law enforcement officer of our country and must resign," unquote. Joining the call was Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings, ranking member of the House Oversight Committee. Many top Democrats are calling for a special prosecutor to investigate ties between top Trump officials and Russia's government. At least one top Republican senator said Wednesday he is open to the idea. This is South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham speaking on CNN.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: It is clear to me that Jeff Sessions, who is my dear friend, cannot make this decision about Trump. So they may be not—there may be nothing there, but if there's something there that the FBI believes is criminal in nature, then, for sure, you need a special prosecutor.
AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this morning, Attorney General Jeff Sessions briefly spoke with an NBC reporter.
ATTORNEY GENERAL JEFF SESSIONS: Well, I have not met with any Russians at any time to discuss any political campaign. And those remarks are unbelievable to me and are false. And I don't have anything else to say about that. So, thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: We're joined now by two guests. David Cay Johnston is the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter formerly with The New York Times. He's author of the book The Making of Donald Trump. He is the founder and editor of the DCReport.org. Also with us is economist and lawyer James Henry, who has investigated Trump's ties to Russia. His most recent report is titled "Another Cabinet Pick with Secret Ties to Putin and Oligarchs." He's talking about Wilbur Ross.
But I want to turn first to David Cay Johnston. So much has been revealed in the last 24 hours, David, both by The Washington Post and The New York Times. Can you talk about the significance of these revelations?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, their significance is that it shows how we have to have an open, public investigation of Donald Trump. And to paraphrase Richard Nixon, people have got to know that their president is not a traitor. The Intelligence Committee chairman in the House, Representative Nunes, has already said, "Well, I haven't seen anything. I haven't seen anything." Of course, he hasn't started his investigation. But we don't need to have the intelligence committees, which meet in secret, investigate this, and we don't need a special prosecutor.
What we need is a public investigation, beginning with getting Donald Trump's tax returns, not only the ones that he—the IRS has in its possession and that they can subpoena from Trump, if he hasn't destroyed them, but also those that he's had to produce in litigation around the country; have the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation review those, so that we know how much money Trump got from the Russians, which Russians, who he's paid interest to, who he has business partnerships with.
And notice how desperate Donald Trump is to make sure we do not investigate this, how Jeff Sessions tries to blow off the fact that he spoke to the Russian ambassador, and yet, twice, in a hearing and then in a letter, said he had had no contact with the Russians, when he was, by his own account, a surrogate for the Trump campaign. This is very, very important, Amy, and we really need to make sure there is an open, public investigation and this is not swept under the Intelligence Committee rug.
Indianapolis Star, Pence used personal email for state business — and was hacked, Tony Cook, March 2, 2017. Vice President Mike Pence routinely used a private email account to conduct public business as governor of Indiana, at times discussing sensitive matters and homeland security issues. Emails released to IndyStar in response to a public records request show Pence communicated via his personal AOL account with top advisers on topics ranging from security gates at the governor's residence to the state's response to terror attacks across the globe. In one email, Pence's top state homeland security adviser relayed an update from the FBI regarding the arrests of several men on federal terror-related charges.
Cyber-security experts say the emails raise concerns about whether such sensitive information was adequately protected from hackers, given that personal accounts like Pence's are typically less secure than government email accounts. In fact, Pence's personal account was hacked last summer.
Furthermore, advocates for open government expressed concerns about transparency because personal emails aren't immediately captured on state servers that are searched in response to public records requests.
Pence's office in Washington said in a written statement Thursday: "Similar to previous governors, during his time as Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence (shown in an official photo) maintained a state email account and a personal email account. As Governor, Mr. Pence fully complied with Indiana law regarding email use and retention. Government emails involving his state and personal accounts are being archived by the state consistent with Indiana law, and are being managed according to Indiana's Access to Public Records Act."
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb's office released 29 pages of emails from Pence's AOL account, but declined to release an unspecified number of others because the state considers them confidential and too sensitive to release to the public.
Washington Post, Carson confirmed to lead HUD, bringing another Washington outsider into Trump's Cabinet, Jose A. DelReal, March 2, 2017. Urban policy experts and progressive activists have expressed intense concern about Ben Carson's qualifications and conservative ideology. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson was confirmed Thursday as secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, bringing into President Trump's Cabinet a Washington outsider with no prior government experience and a staunchly conservative view of public assistance.
Support for Carson's confirmation came down largely along party lines — 58-41 — highlighting the intense partisan and ideological conflicts in Washington and around Trump's agenda. Carson, an acclaimed neurosurgeon, ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 against Trump and endorsed the celebrity real estate developer shortly after ending his unsuccessful bid.
The secretary (shown in a file photo) has indicated that, now that he is confirmed, he will embark on a "listening tour" to learn from career HUD employees and public servants across the country. He and his allies have expressed dismay at his delayed confirmation, which was initially expected to pass through the Senate in early February.
WhoWhatWhy, FBI Takes a Step Backwards on Transparency, James Henry, March 2, 2017. The FBI is now only accepting FOIA requests via fax, “snail mail” or through a special online portal, limiting the options for submitting requests from the public. If transparency advocates had not intervened, the Bureau’s policy would have been far worse.
Washington Post, Indian immigrant sentenced to 9 years in federal prison for multimillion-dollar fraud scheme, Rachel Weiner, A Virginia resident was part of family scam that stretched overseas and netted more than $25 million through identity theft and sham travel services. Amit Chaudhry said it was family loyalty that brought him into an international identity-theft scheme so vast that it ensnared a television actress.
"I never really dreamt of being a felon," the 44-year-old from Ashburn, Va., said in federal court in Alexandria on Thursday before being sentenced to nine years in prison. "This is going to haunt me for the rest of my life." On Sept. 21, he pleaded guilty to identity theft, money laundering and visa fraud. He faced up to 20 years in prison.
A native of India, Chaudhry helped relatives overseas operate a multimillion-dollar scam that involved laundering money from stolen credit cards and identities through shell bank accounts. He was part of a related scheme advertising cheap travel packages. Customers' money would be stolen, and their hotel and airfare would be paid for with stolen credit cards. Many of the more than 1,000 victims found parts of their trips canceled after the fraudulent charges were discovered.
The group made more than $25 million off fake credit cards, helped by a co-conspirator working at American Express in India. When their charges were challenged, they would use images of fake passports to back them up.
Deep State Financial Influencers On 9/11
28Pages.org, Meet 70 Americans Working for Saudi Arabia Against 9/11 Justice: Exposing Saudi links to 9/11 and other buried truths about the war on terror, Staff report, March 2, 2017. How much would Saudi lobbyists have to pay you to help undermine a new law that enables 9/11 families and survivors to present evidence against the kingdom for its alleged assistance to the 9/11 hijackers?
According to filings with the Department of Justice mandated by the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), some of your fellow citizens have done so for as little as $5,000; others are cashing in on a much bigger scale. They'll say they're doing it for different, baseless reasons, but there's no doubting the aim of their faraway masters.
The September enactment of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) was a resounding defeat for Saudi Arabia and its lobbyists in Washington. Undaunted, the kingdom and its fellow travelers in and out of the United States government immediately launched a coordinated assault on the new law.
State of the Union Follow-Ups
President Trump (Gage Skidmore file photo via Flickr)
Washington Post, Trump seeks to turn post-speech boost into action, Philip Rucker, Robert Costa and John Wagner, March 1, 2017. In first joint address to Congress, Trump wins high marks for his steady, muscular tone. The president's speech touched on his plans to overhaul the nation's health-care system and tax code, but it was short on specifics and heavy on lofty prose. Struggling to steer a bitterly divided nation with his job-approval ratings at historic lows, Trump effectively pleaded with the American people to give him a chance and to imagine what could be achieved during his presidency.
Roll Call, Hints of a 'Shop-'Til-You-Drop' Presidency; Trump delivers first major deficits-don't-matter speech in modern Republican history, Walter Shapiro, March 1, 2017. The most striking omission in Donald Trump's address to a joint session of Congress was a full-throated sermon on the dangers of increased national debt. It was the most perplexing speech of Donald Trump's career.
Watching the 45th president deliver an address to Congress mercifully free of vitriolic attacks and short on egocentric nonsense prompted the obvious question: In what storeroom at Mar-a-Lago have they been hiding this version of Donald Trump?
Critics have stressed many of the missing elements in the Trump speech like Russia, Syria, and the ludicrous notion that Mexico could be bludgeoned into paying for a border wall. But, in policy terms, the most striking omission was a full-throated sermon on the dangers of increased national debt.
Trump, who reveled in leveraging debt during his business career, does not approach the federal budget like a gimlet-eyed accountant. There will be no lectures from this president about how the government should balance its books like a family should without borrowing on its credit cards. While the speech was short on budgetary details, there were broad hints that this will be a shop-'til-you-drop presidency.
Joint Chiefs of Staff attend President Donald Trump's speech to Congress (Fox News/Twitter/@WhileInTheWild)
Raw Story, Ex-NSA analyst rips Trump for exploiting 'trapped' widow: 'She didn't want to stand up — we know why,' David Edwards, March 1, 2017. Former NSA analyst and columnist John Schindler reacted in horror on Tuesday after seeing Trump "exploit" Carryn Owens, the wife of slain Chief Petty Officer William (Ryan) Owens. According to Schindler, the president crossed the line during his address to a joint session of Congress when he used Carryn Owens as a political prop. Schindler immediately expressed his disgust on Twitter: Anybody who saw the faces of the Joint Chiefs tonight when the cam hit them knows exactly what the US military thinks of Trump.
Washington Post, Trump's emotional moment with a Navy SEAL's widow could define the president — for better or worse, Aaron Blake, March 1, 2017. While the standing ovation was a touching moment, there are more questions than answers about what happened in the Yemen raid that claimed Ryan Owens's life. (Owens is shown in a photo.) And President Trump just cast a spotlight on it.
Huffington Post, New Cabinet Secretary Wears Custom Commerce Logo Slippers To Trump's Speech, Christina Wilkie, March 1, 2017. Wilbur Ross was spotted in a pair of lux velvet kicks by Stubbs & Wootton. Welcome to the Trump era, when billionaire Cabinet secretaries wear $500 velvet slippers to major presidential events. At least this was the case Tuesday, when President Donald Trump's newly confirmed commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, sported a pair of custom-made slippers to the president's first address to a joint session of Congress.
The slippers appear to come from the uber-preppy Palm Beach outfitter Stubbs & Wootton, where slippers start at $495 and a custom pair could easily top $600. Ross was wearing a pair that featured the logo of the Commerce Department on the toe. The logo is not one of the designs offered by the company online, strongly suggesting that these were made exclusively for Ross. Ross' footwear choice was first spotted by IJR's Hayley Byrd, who posted a photo of the shoes on Twitter.
Huffington Post, Dreamer Arrested After Speaking To Media Will Be Deported Without Hearing, Attorney Says, Elise Foley and Dana Liebelson, March 2, 2017. "ICE's assertion that her detention is 'routine' is absurd and seems anything but," one lawmaker said. A 22-year-old undocumented immigrant arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Jackson, Mississippi, on Wednesday after speaking to the media about her family's detention is set to be deported without a court hearing, her attorney said on Thursday.
Daniela Vargas, who came to the U.S. from Argentina when she was 7 years old, previously had a work permit and deportation reprieve under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Her DACA status expired last November, and because she was saving money for the renewal — which costs $495 — her new application wasn't received until Feb. 10.
Trump Transition: Health Care
Washington Post, Trump's words on Obamacare replacement stir up intraparty feud, Mike DeBonis and Kelsey Snell, March 1, 2017. House Republicans claimed the president endorsed their leadership's plan to offer refundable tax credits, a key point of contention among conservatives in what a new health care approach should look like.
Trump Transition: EPA & Foreign Aid Cuts
Washington Post, White House plan would cut EPA staff by one-fifth, shutter programs, Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis, March 1, 2017. In addition to slashing staff, the proposal dictates cutting the agency's grants to states, including air and water programs, and would eliminate 38 separate programs, according to a document reviewed by The Post. The changes are among several for which the administration has asked the agency for comment by today. (EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is shown in a file photo.)
Washington Post, Proposal to slash foreign aid comes amid surging famine threat in Africa, Middle East, Kevin Sieff, March 1, 2017. President Trump has suggested large cuts to foreign assistance, but famines or near-famines in four countries, with 20 million nearing starvation, underscore the reliance on continued U.S. aid to save some of the world's most desperate people.
Critics of White House
Washington Post, White House rebuffs ethics office, won't discipline Conway, March 1, 2017. A White House lawyer concluded senior adviser Kellyanne Conway was speaking in a "light, offhand manner" when she touted the Ivanka Trump line of merchandise during a TV appearance.
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