Originally Published: 5/13/2017
Hillary’s Emails: It all started when FBI Director James Comey testified before the House Committee investigating the Russian Connection a couple weeks ago. Naturally, they turned the questioning away from Trump and to Hillary Clinton. Comey testified that Clinton’s deputy, Huma Abedin, then-wife of Anthony Weiner who is/was being investigated for allegedly engaging in a sexual relationship with an underage girl, (CNN), had made “a regular practice” of forwarding “hundreds and thousands” of Clinton messages to her husband, “some of which contain classified information.” Later Comey sent a letter to Congress correcting his inaccurate testimony. In his letter Comey acknowledged that only a “small number” of more than 49,000 “potentially relevant” emails was found on Weiner’s laptop.” And just 2 of those contained classified information. It also appears that this was not a “regular practice” and it is likely that the emails got there “as a result of backups” from Abedin’s Blackberry. (ProPublica)
The Firing: Trump fired Comey on Tuesday supposedly for treating Hillary unfairly. (Washington Post) Nobody believed this. Trump “was widely seen to have benefitted politically” from Comey’s investigation and “had once praised Mr. Comey for his ‘guts’ in his pursuit of Mrs. Clinton during the campaign.” (NY Times) Listen to what Senator Elizabeth Warren (D, MA) had to say about it. (Boston Globe) Press secretary Sean Spicer said that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein started an investigation into Comey and the president knew nothing about it. (Washington Post) Rosenstein sent a memo to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recommending that Comey be fired. Sessions concurred and sent a letter to Trump. (Washington Post) You can view the 3 letters - Rosenstein’s memo, Session’s letter to Trump, and Trump’s letter to Comey - at the Guardian. Trump’s personal bodyguard, Keith Schiller, delivered the letter to Comey at the FBI headquarters (Washington Post) but Comey was in Los Angeles and learned about his firing from media reports. (For more on Schiller, see CNN.) Senator Richard Burr (R, NC), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, is not happy with Comey’s firing. Look at the statement he issued. One more thing I’d like to point out is that Trump had this in his letter firing Comey: “I greatly appreciate you informing me on 3 separate occasions that I am not under investigation.” Now who puts something like that in a termination letter? There has been a lot of discussion about the appropriateness of this. Comey’s associates insist he never gave the president any guidance, which they said would violate longstanding policies on criminal investigations. (Wall Street Journal) The new acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe, said “it is not” standard practice for the FBI to notify someone that he or she isn’t under investigation. (Salon) But what is interesting is that, since Trump revealed these “discussions,” he may have waived any confidentiality that he and Comey had, leaving Comey free to discuss their conversations.
Real Reason for the Firing: It didn’t take long for the real reason behind the firing to shift from his handling of Clinton’s emails to the Russian Connection. Watch Stephen Colbert’s take on it. (You Tube) On Thursday Trump admitted that he was thinking of “this Russia thing with Trump” when he decided to fire Comey. (Guardian) He said he would have dismissed him “regardless of whether the attorney general and his deputy recommended it.” (NY Times) Watch his interview with Lester Holt at NBC. (You Tube) Isn’t this a blatant attempt to obstruct justice? And that’s an impeachable offense. 2 advisers said that Trump, “frustrated by his inability to control the mushrooming narrative around Russia,” repeatedly asked why the investigation wouldn’t go away and demanded they speak out for him. “He would sometimes scream at television clips about the probe, one adviser said.” (Politico) And Reuters reported that, while Trump’s anger at Comey had been building for months, the “turning point came when Comey refused to preview” his planned testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee to Trump, Sessions, and Rosenstein. Trump considered this insubordination “and it was one of the catalysts” to Comey’s firing. A “former Trump adviser” said Trump was also angry “because Comey had never offered a public exoneration of Trump in the FBI probe.” Bill Moyers said that Trump is attempting a coup and we must have a special prosecutor. Right now Comey is quiet but I’m sure he’ll be talking at some point and may become Trump’s worst nightmare.
The Investigation: It’s clear that Comey was fired because of his investigation into the Russian Connection. Watch this video posted by Center for American Progress on its Facebook page on what he was investigating. Comey has convened a grand jury and subpoenas have been issued to associates of Michael Flynn “seeking business records.” (CNN) He also requested more resources. (Washington Post) Just hours before Comey was fired, the Senate sent a request to the Treasury Department’s criminal investigation division (FinCEN) “for any information related” to Trump, his top officials, and his campaign aides. FinCEN is the federal agency that has been investigating allegations of foreign money-laundering through purchases of U.S. real estate.” (CNN) So, the Russian Connection investigation is truly heating up and Trump is looking to throw cold water on it. Reminds me of Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre. The Nation says this is worse. One day after firing Comey Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak, the guy that Trumpsters had been talking to about the sanctions. (NY Times) Politico noted that this meeting “was breaking with recent precedent at the specific request of Russian President Vladimir Putin.” No one from the U.S. press was allowed in the meeting until its conclusion but a photographer from the Russian press agency Tass was in attendance and snapping photos. Many are claiming this is a security breach. (Guardian)
Andrew McCabe: This is the new acting FBI director. Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday he said that the White House’s reason for firing Comey were “not accurate.” He disputed what Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that “the rank-and-file of the FBI had lost confidence” in Comey, saying Comey “enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day.” (District Sentinel) Politico reported that the heads of 2 associations representing current and retired FBI agents, analysts, and other personnel said that “by all available measures, Comey enjoys enormous support among the 35,000 people who worked for him, and the many thousands of others who have retired or left the bureau.” McCabe also said that he would tell the committee if the White House tried to interfere with the probe, but he asserted that there had been “no effort to impede our investigation to date.” (Washington Post)
Post Script: Why did AG Sessions concur in firing the guy who’s investigating Trump when he recused himself from any involvement in the investigation? (TWW, Attorney General, 3/4/17) Right now he’s interviewing for the person who’ll take over the investigation he’s not supposed to know anything about. He should be fired.
Russian Connection: While Trump claims he has no connections to Russia, 3 years ago his son, Eric, said that they had gotten “all the funding we need out of Russia” for their golf course projects. Also, Trump had “tossed off” the top of his head they had access to $100 million. According to the Guardian: “Many observers believe Trump’s tax returns - which he refuses, against 40 years of precedence, to release - will contain evidence of financial relationships with Russian sources.” The Senate Intelligence Committee is investigating and has issued a subpoena for Michael Flynn’s documents related to the 2016 election. (Washington Post) Sally Yates and James Clapper testified before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee which is also investigating. I have some summaries below but here are the full transcripts. (Washington Post)
Sally Yates: Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified to the Senate Judiciary subcommittee investigating the Russian meddling in the 2016 election. She said that she gave strong warnings to the incoming Trump administration regarding Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russia. We already knew that. (TWW, Michael Flynn, 2/18/17) Yates was fired on Trump’s 10th day in office allegedly for refusing to defend the Muslim Ban. (TWW, New Rules, 2/4/17) But there is a great deal of suspicion that it was her warnings about Flynn’s Russian ties that spurred the firing. Remember how hard Trump fought to keep her from testifying before the House Intelligence Committee? (TWW, Russian Connection, 4/1/17) So, what was new in her testimony? Not much. She reiterated that she had warned White House General Counsel Don McGhan that Flynn had been compromised by the Russians and could be blackmailed. (Washington Post) There was one moment where Senator Ted Cruz (R, TX) attempted to take her down and she made him look foolish. (You Tube) And the Washington Post published “the 5 things we learned from” Yates’ testimony. Her testimony also provided a timeline of the “Mike Flynn Saga.” (Rolling Stone)
James Clapper: The former Director of National Intelligence also testified. Clapper had gone on Meet the Press on Sunday and Chuck Todd asked him if he was aware of evidence the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. He replied: “Not to my knowledge.” Trump tweeted this as proof there was nothing to investigate and Sean Spicer also cited this as proof. (Think Progress) Clapper was asked about this at the Senate hearing. “He noted that it was standard policy for the FBI not to share with him details about ongoing counterintelligence investigations. And he said he had not been aware of the FBI’s investigation of contacts between Trump associates and Russia that FBI director James Comey revealed weeks ago at a House intelligence committee hearing. Consequently, when Clapper told Todd that he was not familiar with any evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, he was speaking accurately. But he essentially told the Senate subcommittee that he was not in a position to know for certain.” (Mother Jones) In other words, Clapper was no longer in the loop.
Carter Page: The guy who advised Trump on foreign policy during the campaign (TWW, Carter Page, 4/15/17; Russian Connection, 4/8/17; Trump on Russia, 7/30/16) stated last March that he wanted to testify before the House Intelligence Committee. (Spectator) But when the Senate Intelligence Committee asked for his communications with Russians, he refused. (Independent)
Investor Visa: Reporters attempting to cover a pitch to wealthy Chinese investors at a seminar in Shanghai were abruptly ejected from the event. A woman identified as “Jared’s sister” and who is believed to be Nicole Kushner met with possible investors in a Beijing Ritz-Carlton ballroom to sell them on investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in a real estate deal in New Jersey with the promise of what is known as an investor visa. The EB-5 visa, known as the “golden visa,” lets foreign business people invest in projects in the U.S., paving the way for immigrating to America. The tag line on the brochure: “Invest $500,000 and immigrate to the United States.” (Washington Post)
Reporter Arrested: Dan Heyman, a reporter, was at the West Virginia state capital with Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price. While walking with Price and White House Adviser Kellyanne Conway, Heyman held a recorder and asked “repeatedly about claims that insurers could refuse to serve survivors of familial abuse. That claim is based on inference from the bill’s provision allowing states to abandon consumer protections from Obamacare with federal permission.” Heyman was arrested and charged with “willful disruption of a governmental process.” (Think Progress)
Afghanistan: Some of Trump’s administration and military officials are recommending sending “several thousand” more troops to Afghanistan “to try to break a military deadlock in the 15-year war.” (NY Times)
France: Emmanuel Macron, a centrist independent, beat Marine LePen 66% to 34%. Macron is pro-EU. “His victory was hailed by his supporters as holding back a tide of populism after the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. election.” (Guardian)
Alaska: Due to global warming, it’s taking longer for Alaska’s soil to freeze over as winter approaches, “resulting in a surge in carbon dioxide emissions that could portend a much faster rate of global warming than scientists had previously estimated.” (Guardian)
Oklahoma: Governor Mary Fallin (R) signed the Trespassing Law, a law that suppresses protests against oil and gas pipelines. It increases penalties against protesters who trespass on property containing a “critical infrastructure facility.” Protesters will be charged with a felony and a minimum $10,000 fine if the court determines they entered property intending to damage, vandalize, deface, or “impede or inhibit operations of the facility.” If protesters succeed in “tampering” with the infrastructure, they face a $100,000 fine or 10 years imprisonment. (The Intercept)
Texas: Governor Greg Abbot (R) signed into law a bill banning sanctuary cities. (NY Times)
West Virginia: The state supreme court ruled 3 to 2 that the state’s hate crime law does not include sexual orientation, clearing the way for a college athlete accused of assaulting 2 gay men to be tried on lesser charges. The decision was based on the fact that the law does not explicitly mention sexual orientation. (NY Times)
Wisconsin: A new study by Priorities USA found that Wisconsin’s voter ID law suppressed 200,000 votes in the 2016 election. Trump won the state by 22,748 votes. (The Nation)
Drug Prosecutions: Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent a memo to U.S. attorneys across the country ordering them to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offenses.” This is a complete change from the policy of former attorney general Eric Holder who instructed prosecutors to avoid charging certain defendants with drug offenses that would trigger long mandatory minimum sentences. The Guardian noted that this “is sure to send more people to prison and for much longer terms.”
Voting: Trump signed another Executive Order setting up the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to review his allegations of widespread voter fraud. The Commission will be led by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R). (Washington Post) Greg Palast, writing at AlterNet, called Kobach the “GOP mastermind” behind Interstate Crosscheck, the “secretive system that purged 1.1 million Americans from the voter rolls.”
Cybersecurity: Trump signed another Executive Order to improve cybersecurity. Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert “previewed the order and said it was focused on 3 U.S. cybersecurity priorities: protecting federal networks, critical infrastructure, and the public online.” (Cnet)
Travel Ban: Trump, naturally, is appealing the federal court decisions on both of his orders banning people from certain countries from entering the U.S. (TWW, Travel Bank, 3/18/17; 3/11/17; Muslim Ban, 2/11/17; 2/4/17) At an oral argument this week in the Circuit Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, “testy exchanges” occurred between judges and lawyers indicating the legality of the order “could be determined by his prior comments about Muslims.” The judges are looking at Trump’s remarks, and others in his administration, made during the campaign and after the federal courts ruled. Judge Robert King noted that Trump “has never repudiated what he said about the Muslim ban. It’s still on his website.” However, “just minutes before the hearing began” Trump’s pledge was removed from his campaign website. (Guardian)
Net Neutrality: This week John Oliver did a great piece on the threats to Net Neutrality. (TWW, Net Neutrality, 5/6/17; 4/29/17) He set out the problems that discarding Net Neutrality could bring. (You Tube) The next day the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) online comment system crashed and it was blamed on Oliver. (Guardian) Later the FCC said it was a cyberattack and not Oliver. I’m betting it was overloaded with people making comments encouraged by Oliver and they don’t want to admit it. They’ve now updated their system so this shouldn’t happen again. (Washington Post)
Ransomware: This is “malicious software that blocks access to computers.” It’s spreading across the world. (Washington Post) In Britain it hit the National Health Service. (Guardian) The software was developed for the NSA to “infect and control Windows computers” but was leaked “by an entity known only as the ‘Shadow Brokers.’” The Intercept has the skinny on this thing.
Census Bureau: John H. Thompson, who has headed up the U.S. Census Bureau since 2013 and has work there for 27 years, announced that he’s leaving in June. The statisticians in the bureau are very concerned. (Washington Post)
Life Expectancy: New research published in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal found that life expectancy is rising overall in the U.S., but in some areas death rates are increasing. Life expectancy is greatest in Colorado “but in many pockets of the United States, life expectancy is more than 20 years lower.” And the disparity is widening. “People are less likely to live longer if they are poor, get little exercise, and lack access to health care.” Check out the map. The lowest rates of life expectancy are on Indian Reservations and in the southeast. (Washington Post)
Dairy Products: According to new research from “an international team of experts,” consuming cheese, milk, yoghurt, and other dairy products, “even full-fat versions,” does not increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke. The researchers looked at 29 previous studies involving 938,465 participants from around the world over the last 35 years. They also found that fermented dairy products may potentially slightly lower the risk of heart attack or stroke. They pointed out that the dietary guidelines given by doctors over the past decades have led to many women, especially pregnant women, foregoing milk, posing risks for their babies. (Guardian)
Dakota Access: The pipeline is not yet complete but it has already had its first leak. It spilled 84 gallons of crude oil at a South Dakota pump station. State officials claim the leak was contained and “quickly cleaned.” (Guardian)
Methane Emissions: A bill came before the Senate to repeal an Obama-era rule that restricts methane emissions from drilling operations on public lands. The vote was 51 to 49 voting down the bill with Republicans John McCain (AZ), Susan Collins (ME), and Lindsey Graham (SC) voting with Democrats. (NY Times)
Hanford Nuclear Site: The Energy Department issued an emergency at the Hanford Nuclear Site in southeastern Washington “after a portion of a tunnel that contains rail cars full of nuclear waste collapsed.” (CBS) The site was created during World War II as part of the Manhattan project “and is now home to hundreds of billions of gallons of radioactive waste generated from building up the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal.” It’s also the site of “one of the largest environmental cleanup efforts in the world.” Since 1989 we’ve spent $40 billion disposing the stored waste. I wonder where it’s going. It’s estimated the project won’t be complete until at least 2047 and could cost an additional $110 billion. (District Sentinel)
Hottest Year Ever: According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), many states are experiencing their hottest year to date. For the lower 48 states, this year is the second warmest since records were kept starting in 1895.
EPA: Scott Pruitt, director of the Environmental Protection Agency, has fired 5 members of the 18-member Board of Science Counselors who have come out in favor of strengthening the EPA’s climate science. They also oppose the severe cuts to research and development. The members’ 3-year terms had expired but they had been told in January that they would remain on the Board. A spokesperson for Pruitt said “he would consider replacing the academic scientists with representatives from industries whose pollution the agency is supposed to regulate as part of the wide net it plans to cast.” (NY Times)
Sinclair & Tribune: Sinclair Broadcast Group is buying Tribune Media Company and its 42 local TV stations for $3.9 billion. More media consolidation. Bloomberg noted that this “marks the first in what’s expected to be a frenzy of media and telecom dealmaking under the looser regulatory climate of the Trump administration.” According to the NY Times, Sinclair Broadcast Group issues “must-runs” to its stations, “short video segments that are centrally produced by the company.” The segments “advance a mostly right-leaning agenda.”