Originally Published: 5/20/2017
Russian Connection: Republicans finally stepped up to the plate and agreed to the appointment of a special counsel to investigate. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller, a former prosecutor who was the FBI director from 2001 to 2013. (Washington Post) Mueller has a history of standing up to POTUS. In 2004 he and then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey “were preparing to resign from their positions if President Bush reauthorized the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretap program without changes. Bush backed down.” (Washington Post) Trump isn’t happy. He called the appointment of a special counsel part of the biggest “witch hunt” in history. (Roll Call) Watch Stephen Colbert’s take on it. (You Tube) The Washington Post reported that the investigation “has identified a current White House official as a significant person of interest, showing that the probe is reaching into the highest levels of government, according to people familiar with the matter.” So, it isn’t Michael Flynn or Paul Manafort or Carter Page. It’s someone else. Maybe Jared Kushner? How ‘bout Mike Pence? And take note that someone within the White House leaked this. Obviously White House staff aren’t showing the loyalty that Trump thinks he deserves.
They Knew: Just before Mueller’s appointment, the Washington Post reported that House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy believed, prior to the transition, that Trump was being paid by Russia. Reporter Adam Entous gives a summary of the claim. I highly suggest you watch it. It also came out that the Trump Transition Team, which was headed up by then VP-elect Mike Pence, knew Michael Flynn was under investigation and they still made him National Security Advisor. (NY Times) Pence is standing by his claim that he knew nothing. (Politico) Of course he knew. Reuters reported that the Trump campaign had at least 18 undisclosed contacts with Russians. If you’re getting confused - and who isn’t? - the Moscow Project has a great timeline.
Turkey Connection: After Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was re-elected in April, Trump called to congratulate him. Erdoğan’s win “will cement his autocratic rule over the country and, in the view of many experts, erode Turkey’s democratic institutions. (NY Times) Why would Trump be so happy to see a formerly democratic nation go autocratic? Well, we had a hint when it came out that Flynn was getting paid by Turkey. (TWW, Russian Connection, 4/29/17) Now, according to McClatchy, we know that Flynn was working for the Turkish government while he was working for Trump as National Security Adviser. Did Trump know? While I haven’t seen any proof, I’d put money on the fact that he did. Flynn stopped a military plan that Turkey opposed, while being paid by Turkey. “The decision came 10 days before Donald Trump had been sworn in as president, in a conversation with President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, who had explained the Pentagon’s plan to retake the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa with Syrian Kurdish forces whom the Pentagon considered the U.S.’s most effective military partners. Obama’s national security team had decided to ask for Trump’s sign-off, since the plan would all but certainly be executed after Trump had become president.” But Flynn nixed it because Turkey was against it because Erdoğan hates Kurds. (NY Times)
Intelligence Disclosure: Remember Trump’s meeting with Russians last week? (TWW, The Investigation, 5/13/17) Well, according to “current and former U.S. officials,” Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State. “The information relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government. . . The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia.” But Trump saw fit to tell the Russians? What the hell is wrong with this guy? Doing this “risks cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State.” How did the Washington Post find out? “After Trump’s meeting, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and National Security Agency.” Trump admitted that he shared information on terrorism with Russia, saying he has an “absolute right” to do so. (Guardian) I’ll bet he was bragging again. I can just hear him saying, “I’ve got the greatest intel.” National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said Trump was unaware of the source of the information. (Roll Call) Putin volunteered to turn over his transcript of the meeting, if Trump approves it. (Washington Post) Watch Stephen Colbert on this. (You Tube) And an American official claims that the classified intelligence was provided by Israel, one of our most important allies and the one that runs “the most active espionage networks in the Middle East.” Trump’s “boasting about some of Israel’s most sensitive information to the Russians could damage the relationship between the 2 countries and raises the possibility that the information could be passed to Iran, Russia’s close ally and Israel’s main threat in the region.” (NY Times) Apparently Israel has been worried about this happening since last January. (Haaretz) Why would anyone ever give us any information in the future?
Easing Pressure: At that infamous meeting with Russians, Trump told them that he had fired Comey to ease pressure from the Russian investigation. He said: “I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job. . . I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off. . . I’m not under investigation.” The NY Times obtained notes taken from inside the Oval Office and “has been circulated as the official account of the meeting.”
Comey Firing: Last Friday, in a “get even” stance, Trump tweeted that Comey “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press?” (The Hill) There probably are tapes as Trump has “a long history of secretly recording calls.” (Washington Post) According to sources close to Comey, he hopes there are tapes. (The Hill) If there are tapes, they belong to the people and can be subpoenaed. (The Atlantic) The Washington Post reported that Republican and Democratic lawmakers are calling for Trump to turn over any recorded conversations to Congress. Former National Intelligence Director James Clapper said in an interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell that “a cloud” is hanging over Trump and his administration. He also said the Comey had told him that Trump had invited him to dinner and that he was “uneasy with it.” (CNN) A source close to Comey told CNN that Comey was “taken aback” by Trump’s request for a personal assurance or pledge of loyalty at the dinner. According to a memo written by Comey following a February meeting with Trump, Trump asked Comey to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn after his resignation, asking him instead to look into leaks. The White House denies this. (Roll Call) The NY Times reported that Comey created similar memos, some of which are classified, about “every phone call and meeting he had with the president.” “Vulnerable” House Republicans are calling for Comey to testify. (Roll Call) And Deputy AG Rosenstein was on Capitol Hill and “indicated to the full Senate that the White House’s initial account of Comey’s firing was not accurate because he knew that Comey would be fired before he wrote a controversial memo that the White House initially used as its justification for the dismissal.” [Emphasis added.] (Washington Post)
Inconvenient Data: Trump has removed “or tucked away” a wide variety of information “that until recently was provided to the public, limiting access, for instance, to disclosures about workplace violations, energy efficiency, and animal welfare abuses.” (Washington Post)
Preet Bharara: This is the Manhattan federal attorney AG Sessions fired with all the others. (TWW, District Attorneys, 3/11/17) Bharara was very vocal in opposing this firing (CNN) because he was fired just before he was supposed to start a trial. Witness testimony was expected to shed light on how Russian dirty money gets laundered through real estate, especially in Manhattan. Now that information will not get out. Since the trial was delayed, the new federal attorney, Joon Kim, agreed to take $5.9 million to settle the suit. This is also a strange case. Nikolai Gorokhov, a Russian lawyer, discovered documents about the tax fraud. He “fell from a window of his Moscow apartment building.” The fall occurred the day before he was scheduled to appear in a Russian court in a case tied to this one. (Bloomberg)
Easily Duped: According to Politico, Trump’s aides regularly print out fake news and Internet hoaxes and place them on his desk in the hopes he will read them. It’s gotten so bad the Chief of Staff Reince Priebus recently sent out a memo asking them not to do it out of fear that Trump will tweet about the phony stories.
David Clarke: This is the Milwaukee County Sheriff who compared Black Lives Matter to the Ku Klux Klan. Trump has appointed him Assistant Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. He will be the “point person between federal government and local and state law enforcement.” Clarke aggressively went after immigrants in Milwaukee. “The move suggests that the Trump administration may continue to push local police jurisdictions to play a bigger role alongside federal immigration officials in rounding up undocumented immigrants.” (Guardian)
Canada: The transportation minister announced a new “passenger bill of rights” which makes it illegal to remove someone from a domestic or international flight who has bought a ticket. (Guardian)
Iran: Hassan Rouhani was re-elected as President in a landslide, “endorsing his efforts to re-engage with the west and offer greater freedoms at home.” (Guardian)
Turkey: President Erdoğan was in D.C. this week. Kurdish protesters were outside the Turkish embassy. His bodyguards felt it necessary to attack the protesters. 9 people were hurt and 2 were arrested. (Guardian) The Guardian noted that Erdoğan’s bodyguards turned a protest into a brawl. The Washington Post got some footage.
North Carolina: The U.S. Supreme Court refused to take the appeal of North Carolina to revive its voter ID law. (TWW, North Carolina, 8/13/16) This leaves the decision of the Circuit Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in place. (Reuters)
Debt Collectors: The Supremes ruled 5 to 3 that debt collectors can pursue payments of debts “even if they’re fully aware that the validity of their claims has expired.” The ruling stated that even after the statute of limitations has expired, creditors can still file suit. “The decision reversed a federal appellate court order, which forbade the behavior under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.” Dissenting were Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Elena Kagan. (District Sentinel)
Police Misconduct: The Supreme Court declined to take the appeal against a New Mexico police officer who arrested a 13-year-old boy “who burped repeatedly” and disrupted his class. A lower court ruled in favor of the police officer, saying he had qualified immunity, “a legal defense that protects certain public officials from suits as long as they did not violate a clearly established law or constitutional right.” (Guardian)
Corporate Taxes: Josh Bivens and Hunter Blair at the Economic Policy Institute analyzed the proposed tax cuts and found that “cutting corporate tax rates will not create jobs or boost incomes for the vast majority of American families.” They found what I’ve been saying for years (TWW, Corporate Tax Rate, 3/18/17; Corporate Taxes, 10/1/16; Corporate Taxes, 7/6/13; Corporate Taxes, 11/10/12; Corporate Tax Rate, 5/7/11): that while “U.S. statutory tax rates are among the highest, the effective tax rate paid by corporations is in fact roughly equivalent to the effective tax rates of our peer countries, due to loopholes in the U.S. tax code.” They also found that even if some of the tax loopholes were closed “the idea that cutting these rates would encourage further investment in the U.S. or benefit Americans in general” is not true. They found that “such cuts would primarily benefit a small number of high-income capital owners while increasing the regressivity of the tax system overall.”
EPA: Trump’s budget will cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Science and Technology almost 50% and cut 40% from employees who “oversee and put in place environmental regulations.” Superfund, which cleans up hazardous waste sites, would be cut by about 25% and funding for a program that restores former industrial sites that are contaminated would be cut by about 36%. (NY Times)
Education: According to Trump’s budget documents obtained by the Washington Post, the $10.6 billion cut to Education would come from the following: “funding for college work-study programs would be cut in half, public-service loan forgiveness would end, and hundreds of millions of dollars that public schools could use for mental health, advanced coursework, and other services would vanish.”
Net Neutrality: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 2 to 1 along party lines “to advance [Chair Ajit] Pai’s Restoring Internet Freedom proposal, which would repeal current net neutrality protections.” (TWW, Net Neutrality, 5/13/17) This vote opens a period of public input before the proposal moves forward. (The Hill)
Main Studio Rule: The FCC is also looking to eliminate the Main Studio Rule. It has released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The rule “requires each AM, FM, and television broadcast station to have a main studio located in or near its local community.” The proposal also wants to eliminate the requirement that the main studio have full-time management and staff present during normal business hours and the requirement that it be able to originate programming. (Radio NK)
Deportations: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that it is deporting immigrants at a record rate - 40% higher than the previous record set by Obama. It has deported more than 41,000 people through the end of April. “More than a third of those arrested by ICE had no criminal convictions.” (Democracy Now!)
Travel Ban: U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts for the Eastern District of Michigan ordered the Trump administration to turn over communications from Rudy Giuliani “and other advisers” like AG Jeff Sessions, White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, and senior adviser Steve Miller regarding the travel ban. (Washington Post) And, in the suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in Seattle, judges on the 3-judge panel questioned Trump’s lawyers about whether the Executive Order discriminates against Muslims and “pressed challengers to explain why the court should not defer to Trump’s presidential powers to set the policy.” (Reuters)
Laptop Ban: Trump’s ban on passengers from Europe taking laptops and tablets into the cabins on flights to the U.S. (TWW, Travel, 3/25/17) “appears to have been dropped after a meeting between EU and U.S. officials.” (Guardian)
Conflicts of Interest: Politico did an amazing exposé on congress critters’ investing based on insider knowledge. While detailing particular instances, the authors analyzed records and “found that 28 House members and 6 senators each traded more than 100 stocks in the past 2 years, placing them in the potential cross hairs of a conflict of interest on a regular basis. And a handful of lawmakers, some of them frequent traders and some not, disproportionately trade in companies that also have an interest in their work on Capitol Hill.”
Fusion Centers: H.R. 2169, Improving Fusion Centers’ Access to Information Act, was introduced by Reps. William Keating (D, MA) and Michigan McCaul (R, TX). It seeks to amend the Homeland Security Act of 2002 “to enhance information sharing in the Department of Homeland Security, State, Local, and Regional Fusion Center Initiative, and for other purposes.” You remember the fusion centers, don’t you? (TWW, Fusion Centers, 10/24/15) They keep expanding these things. When I first started reporting on these in 2008 there were 58 and already it was evident that they weren’t being used to deter terrorism but to fight ordinary crime. In 2012 there were 77. I have no idea of how many there are now. The Constitution Project produced a report in 2012 about them.
Medicare Advantage: A whistleblower at UnitedHealth has blown the lid off Medicare Advantage. If you don’t understand the difference between Medicare and Medicare Advantage, you can get the gist of it at Facts About Medicare Cuts. Benjamin Poehling asserts that the big insurance companies “have been systematically bilking Medicare Advantage for years, reaping billions of taxpayer dollars from the program by gaming the payment system.” He describes the scheme as follows: finance directors like him “monitored projects that UnitedHealth had designed to make patients look sicker than they were, by scouring patients’ health records electronically and finding ways to goose the diagnosis codes. The sicker the patient, the more UnitedHealth was paid by Medicare Advantage - and the bigger the bonuses people earned.” (NY Times)
Health Insurance Premiums: The Washington Post did an extensive analysis of both the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the American Health Care Act (AHCA) and found that, under either plan, health insurance premiums will continue to rise. However, they’ll rise higher with the proposed AHCA.
Henderson Island: This is a remote island in the South Pacific. It is uninhabited. Marine scientists have determined that Henderson has “the highest density of anthropogenic debris recorded anywhere in the world, with 99.8% of the pollution plastic.” Since there are no inhabitants, the 18 tons of plastic piling up are considered evidence of the “catastrophic, ‘grotesque’ extent of marine plastic pollution.” The Guardian has a short video. Watch it.
Stock Market: It took its biggest dive on Wednesday since Trump’s election “as investors began to grapple with the increasing possibility that Washington would be consumed with chaos and fail to enact policies to boost the economy.” (Washington Post) Why now? The chaos has been going on for months. I think it’s because the writing is on the wall that Trump is gonna go and with him goes all those Goldman Sachs people in his administration. (TWW, James Donovan, 3/18/17)
Global Economy: Mervyn King, the former governor of the Bank of England and a Cambridge-trained economist who taught at Harvard, MIT, and the London School of Economics, speaking to a gathering at the Peterson Institute in Washington, said that as long as countries like the U.S. and Britain “continue to run large and persistent trade deficits while countries such as China and Germany continue to run large and persistent trade surpluses, the global economy and the global financial system will remain fundamentally unstable and susceptible to another crisis.” [Emphasis added.] (Washington Post)