Originally Published: 6/10/2017
Comey Hearing: On Wednesday, the day before his testimony, Comey released his prepared remarks. (Reuters) The NY Times analyzed and annotated the remarks. His statement puts forth that Trump “put pressure on him to shut down” the investigation into Michael Flynn. (Guardian) Here are the main points. Trump demanded loyalty from Comey. (Washington Post) He urged Comey to let the public know he wasn’t being investigated. (NY Times) Comey didn’t want to be alone with Trump. (NY Times) He also pointed out the difference between his interactions with Trump and Obama. (Washington Post) Comey then testified on Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee. I listened to the whole thing. Yeah. Really. I did it so you wouldn’t have to. I didn’t hear too much that was in addition to what was in his prepared comments. I was, however, surprised at the extent to which Republicans went to defend Trump’s actions and that over and over they kept going back to Clinton’s emails. John McCain (R, AZ) was incoherent, going back to the emails again. He later explained that he’d stayed up too late watching the Diamondbacks game and that he was “trying to get at” whether Comey believes that “any of his interactions with the President rise to the level of obstruction of justice.” (Washington Post) It seemed to me he was trying to say that the FBI should be looking at Clinton’s ties to Russia. Listen to his questioning and see what you think. (Heavy) The Washington Post put up a lot of clips from the hearing. They’re well worth watching. He wouldn’t say “in an open setting” whether or not the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, but he did state unequivocally that there was no question that Russia interfered in our election and they will do it again. He also implicated Jeff Sessions, saying that he can't talk in an open setting but that there were facts that made Sessions' involvement in the investigation "problematic" and that Michael Flynn was in legal jeopardy. (Talk Media News) He flat-out called Trump a liar when he said that the FBI was in disarray and that agents had lost confidence in Comey. “Those were lies, plain and simple.” The NY Times has the highlights of the hearing. In short, Comey laid out clearly the case that Trump obstructed justice. (Washington Post) Paul Waldman at the Washington Post said Trump’s Russia scandal is a lot like Watergate. But former U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper said it’s worse than Watergate. (Guardian) Keith Olbermann summarized everything nicely. (You Tube)
Rebuttals: Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, who has “prominent clients with ties to the Kremlin,” (Washington Post) shot back that Trump had never tried to end the Flynn investigation. He denied that Trump ever sought a loyalty pledge from Comey. (Washington Post) But Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R, WI) set forth the Republican defense: Trump is used to being a CEO and is new to this and doesn’t understand how government works. (Washington Post) Oh, horsepucky. Of course he knows. If not, why did he ask other people to leave the room? Trump dismissed Comey’s testimony outright, saying he’d been “vindicated” (CBS) and calling Comey a “leaker” (Reuters) and a liar (NY Times).
Intelligence Testimonies: Top intelligence officials also testified on Wednesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee. The “stated topic” of the hearing was the law that authorizes the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program, the FISA Amendments Act, which will expire December 31st. But they were “pressed repeatedly” about whether Trump had asked any of them to try to curtail the FBI investigation into the Russian interference in the election. Dan Coats, National Intelligence Director, declined to answer most of their questions saying it would be “inappropriate.” Michael Rogers, NSA Director, also declined to comment on earlier reports that Trump asked him to deny possible evidence of collusion with the Russians. “He said he would not discuss specific interactions with the president” but insisted he didn’t recall being pressured to act inappropriately. (NY Times) But, according to “2 current and 2 former officials,” both Coats and Rogers were asked, in separate appeals by Trump, to “help him push back against” the FBI investigation. Both refused to comply. (Washington Post)
Russian Connection: The Intercept published a report saying that “Russian military intelligence executed a cyberattack on at least 1 U.S. voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials just before last November’s president election.” [The FBI has a good explanation of spear-phishing.] If they could get to the election officials, they could get their passwords to the data and change the numbers. A top-secret NSA document was leaked to them and independently authenticated. It “analyzes intelligence very recently acquired by the agency about a months-long Russian intelligence cyber effort against elements of the U.S. election and voting infrastructure.” The report indicates that Russian hacking may have “penetrated further into U.S. voting systems than was previously understood. It stated unequivocally in its summary statement that it was Russian military intelligence, specifically the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, that conducted the cyber attacks described in the document.” This is the strongest public indication so far that Russia interfered in the U.S. election, but the NSA document also indicates that “Russian hackers may have ‘penetrated further into U.S. voting systems that was previously understood.’” (Business Insider) According to the Guardian, “the hacking of senior Democrats’ email accounts during the campaign has been well chronicled, but vote-counting was thought to have been unaffected, despite concerted Russian efforts to penetrate it.” Rep. Mike Quigley (D, IL) said that Russian operatives had hacked into the Illinois State Board of Elections. (Chicago Tribune) Reality Leigh Winner has been charged by the Justice Department with sending the classified report to The Intercept. (NY Times) Winner, 25, is a federal intelligence contractor with Pluribus International Corporation assigned to a U.S. government agency facility in Georgia and held a top-secret clearance during that time. She was a linguist in the U.S. Air Force from December 2010 to 2016 and speaks Pashto, Farsi, and Dari. (CNN) Apparently from January 2013 she had top-security clearance in the Air Force (Washington Post) which led to her employment with Pluribus International. She was charged with “removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet.” (Guardian) Stephen Colbert had an good time with this one. (You Tube)
VEB: The Vnesheconombank, with offices in Manhattan and “ties to some of New York’s biggest banks,” is no “normal bank.” It is wholly owned by the Russian state. “It is intertwined with Russian intelligence. The Russian prime minister is, by law, the chairman of its supervisory board.” The bank’s CEO is “a prominent graduate of Russia’s spy school.” He met with Jared Kushner during the presidential transition. “That meeting is the focus of a federal counterintelligence investigation about possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.” VEB was part of Obama’s sanctions 3 years ago and, since then, “has quietly kept up appearances on Wall Street” in the event sanctions were lifted. (NY Times)
Jeff Sessions: Apparently Attorney General Jeff Sessions offered to resign in recent months after his relationship with Trump “grew increasingly tense.” It began when Session recused himself from involvement in the Russian investigation. (TWW, Attorney General, 3/4/17) “The president’s anger has lingered for months . . . Trump cites Sessions’ recusal as a factor that prompted the decision last month . . . to appoint a special council.” (Washington Post)
Trump’s Tweets: Press secretary Sean Spicer said that Trump considers his tweets “official” White House statements. (Time) But Trump has been blocking people from access to his account. (Washington Post) If his tweets are “official” statements, isn’t blocking people keeping them from information? Isn’t this unconstitutional?
Charities: Trump’s son, Eric, has is own foundation - The Eric Trump Foundation. From 2007 to 2015 the Foundation collected lots of money and paid Trump’s businesses “hundreds of thousands of dollars” for “expenses from charity golf tournaments intended to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Tennessee.” Eric claims that the Foundation “did not pay to use his family’s golf course” for the fundraisers, but IRS tax forms obtained by Forbes “show use of the course wasn’t free.” “The for-profit Trump Organization received payments from the not-for-profit Eric Trump Foundation for use of the golf course, part of the $1.2 million that has no documented receipts beyond the Trump Organization.” (CBS)
Saudi Arms Deal: Remember Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia where he delivered an agreement for a $110 billion arms deal? (TWW, Saudi Arabia, 5/27/17) Later Trump stated that the deal was actually $350 billion. Spokesperson Sean Spicer said in a news briefing that the deal was for an immediate $110 billion, growing to $350 billion over the next 10 years. The Washington Post Fact Checker was skeptical and asked the White House for detailed spreadsheets - and received them. They found that “the numbers add up” but there were problems. Only 6 items have been specified for a total of $28 billion “but these were all previously notified to Congress by the Obama administration.” And delivery dates are “far in the future,” some as late as 2028. About 11% of what Trump called “deals” are simply “letters of agreement” and the rest are just “memorandum of intent.” Fact Checker gave it 3 Pinocchios.
David Rank: Rank was the U.S. Ambassador to China. He has resigned “over the Trump administration’s decision to quit the 2015 Paris agreement to fight climate change.” (Reuters)
Christopher Wray: Trump has chosen him to be the new FBI Director. He’s now a partner at the Washington law firm of King & Spalding. Wray was with the Justice Department’s Criminal Division under Dubya. The nomination was released by Trump in a tweet. I’m not kidding. (Roll Call) Wray was New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s personal attorney during “Bridgegate.” (Quartz)
David Pekoske: Trump has nominated Pekoske, a former Coast Guard vice commandant, to be the next administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). (Washington Post)
Michael D’Andrea: Trump has put D’Andrea in charge of intelligence operations in Iran. D’Andrea is “the man who invented the so-called signature [drone] strike, and stuck with it despite (deadly) evidence that it did not work.” The Nation claims D’Andrea should be charged as a war criminal rather than getting a new job. “We are sending this murderer to do the job of a diplomat.”
Britain: The Conservative party suffered a setback in the election, losing seats and threatening its governing majority. The Conservatives will attempt to stay in power by forming a minority government with the Democratic Unions Party of Northern Ireland. (DUP) “The fractured voting - which saw strong gains by the largest opposition party, Labour, and modest gains by a smaller party, the centrist Liberal Democrats - was a further indication of stark political divisions in Britain, days before formal negotiations over withdrawal from the European Union are scheduled to begin in Brussels.” (NY Times) If you want to know more about this election, the BBC has a great cheat sheet.
Iran: Terrorists launched an attack on Iran’s Parliament in Tehran. ISIS claimed responsibility. (Al Jazeera) Remember, Iran is a predominantly Shiite nation, openly at odds with Sunni nations, led by Saudis. And ISIS is a Sunni militant organization. So, naturally, Iran is blaming the attack on Saudi Arabia. (Guardian) With Trump’s siding with Sunnis (TWW, Saudi Arabia, 5/27/17), that means the U.S. is in effect allying itself with ISIS. Yeah, folks. This is getting really convoluted.
Iraq: A couple of weeks ago I told you that the Pentagon admitted killing about 105 civilians in Mosul. (TWW, Iraq, 5/27/17) But the Independent reported that the U.S.-led coalition has admitted to killing at least 484 civilians in air strikes in Syria and Iraq “amid concern over potential war crimes in the battle to drive ISIS out of Mosul.” “Densely populated residential districts” have been “pummeled by air strikes and artillery.” U.S. Central Command insists it “takes extraordinary efforts to strike military targets in a manner that minimizes the risk of civilian casualties.” It claims, “In some incidents casualties are unavoidable.” And they wonder why they hate us.
Qatar: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Bahrain have cut ties with Qatar, “accusing it of destabilizing the region with its support for Islamist groups.” The Guardian calls this The Gulf’s “biggest diplomatic crisis in years.” Egypt and Bahrain blocked news websites, “including those run by Qatari-based state funded Al Jazeera. Cairo has blocked 21 websites, claiming they support ‘terrorism’ and published ‘lies.’” (RT) What happened? Just last week the Pentagon was praising Qatar. (Reuters) Bloomberg said the dispute between Qatar and Saudi Arabia has been going on since 1995 over natural gas. The Middle East Eye blames the “Trump effect.” Trump posted several tweets accusing Qatar of sponsoring terrorism and congratulating Saudis and himself. (Washington Post) Senator Bob Corker (R, TN), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was “stunned” by Trump’s tweets. “Trump took credit for Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries cutting off ties with Qatar, a longtime U.S. ally, over allegations of state support for terrorism.” (The Hill) Apparently he doesn’t know that Qatar is our stronghold in the region. It houses a U.S. military base and this conflict will put us in a bind. (NY Times) Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on Saudi Arabia to ease its blockade. But an hour later Trump said that the action against Qatar was “hard but necessary” and that he had been consulted in advance by the nations conducting the action, once again undercutting Tillerson. (Washington Post) Turkey has deployed troops to Qatar “in an apparent show of support for Qatar.” (Al Jazeera) Now Kuwait is getting into it by trying to mediate the issues. (Guardian)
Yemen: Saudi warplanes hit a Yemen hospital that is treating cholera patients. The assault occurred as the World Health Organization (WHO) said that Yemen’s cholera epidemic has resulted in 605 deaths so far, 40% of whom are children and with the number of people likely infected totaling about 73,700. (Telesur)
California: State senators have voted in favor of instituting a single-payer health plan for the state. Now we wait to see if the Assembly passes it. (The Nation)
Kansas: Governor Sam Brownback’s (R) foray into Reaganomics has failed. He reduced taxes on the wealthy and corporations leading to massive budget shortfalls and resulting in spending cuts. Now the Republican-controlled legislature has seen the light and has rolled back the tax cuts and put the taxes back to where they were. (Guardian) Naturally Brownback vetoed the bill but legislators overturned the veto. (NY Times) Let me point out that this failed plan is the same one that Trump has proposed for the country.
Ohio: Anthem is pulling out of Ohio’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace, “a move that leaves people in a fifth of the state’s counties facing the prospect of having zero insurers selling individual marketplace plans in their area next year.” In 2016 Ohio had the most competitive marketplace, with 17 insurers selling on the exchange. In 2017 there were still 11 insurers, but 20 counties had only 1 insurer. The reason? Anthem cited a “lack of certainty around billions of dollars in federal payments that help reduce out-of-pocket costs for lower-income Americans. It also pointed to ‘an increasing lack of overall predictability.’” (Washington Post) In other words, all the talk about “repeal and replace” is undermining the ACA.
Utah: Governor Gary Herbert (R) changed his mind and decided that “oil and gas companies should not be allowed to drill near Zion National Park.” Herbert has been a staunch advocate for rolling back public land protections and used to support drilling in national parks. He even signed a resolution urging Trump to rescind national monument status for the 1.3 million acres known as Bears Ears. (TWW, National Monuments, 12/31/16) So what changed? Apparently he found out how much money his state brings in from tourism and recreation. (Guardian)
SEC: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously to limit the federal government’s power to “recover the profits made from illegal behavior.” Prosecutors must “abide by a 5-year statute of limitations in seeking ‘disgorgement’ from those whose fraudulent actions resulted in illegal profits.” (Washington Post)
Nuclear Arsenal: Trump promised on the campaign trail to overhaul our nuclear arsenal. Can he do it? Not likely. “The first official government estimate of the project compiled by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and due to be published in the coming weeks, will put the cost at more than $1.2 trillion - 20% more than the figure envisioned by the Obama administration.” (NY Times)
Infrastructure: Trump pitched his new 10-year, $1 trillion infrastructure plan at a rally in Cincinnati. (NY Times) Of course, it’s also tied to profitization. “The federal government would make only a fractional down payment on rebuilding the nation’s aging infrastructure.” Trump will rely on “a combination of private industry, state and city tax money, and borrowed cash to finance the rest.” (NY Times) If you remember, Trump’s budget proposal only set aside $200 billion, so where’s the rest of the $1 trillion coming from? States, cities, and corporations, of course. The NY Times called it a “public-private” project “where the public pays and pays.”
Air Traffic Control: As part of his infrastructure plan, Trump is endorsing a plan to “spin off more than 30,000 federal workers into a private, nonprofit corporation, separating the nation’s air traffic controllers and those who work on a $36 billion modernization program from the Federal Aviation Administration.” This has been a Republican plan for a while but couldn’t get traction. “His proposal would transfer all air traffic control assets - control towers, routing centers, and several billion dollars in tracking systems - to a private, nonprofit corporation without charge.” (Washington Post) Nonprofit? Don’t believe it.
Marijuana: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver ruled that private citizens can sue neighboring marijuana growers under the federal Racketeer-Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act “on the theory that the growers are interfering with the neighbors’ use of their land.” (Washington Post) The problem is that marijuana is still illegal under federal law.
Chlorpyrifos: This past March the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decided not to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos despite its own earlier finding that it is a toxic chemical that poses a risk to consumers. EPA didn’t reject its findings but said there’s “a lot of scientific uncertainty” about the risks. (NPR) Sound familiar? Now 7 states “and a dozen health and labor groups” are challenging the decision, “arguing that the use of chlorpyrifos at any amount could have adverse effects on farmworkers and children.” (Think Progress)
Climate Change: According to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, 68% of Americans “want the United States to lead global efforts to slow climate change.” And 72% agree “that given the amount of greenhouse gases that it produces, the United States should take aggressive action to slow global warming.”
Grand Canyon: A coalition of “influential officials in Arizona and Utah” is urging Trump to roll back environmental protections for the Grand Canyon and allow uranium mining. (Guardian)
Fiduciary Rule: This week the fiduciary rule will be partially implemented, but the rule won’t be enforced until January 1, 2018. (TWW, Fiduciary Rule, 5/27/17) Heidi Shierholz and Ben Zipperer, writing at the Economic Policy Institute, examined how much money people saving for retirement lose annually as a result of receiving advice from financial advisers who have conflicts of interest. They found that in California alone investors lose nearly $1.9 billion per year. They also have a graphic so you can see what’s happening in your state.