Originally Published: 5/5/2018
Rule of Law: Trump plunged into a dispute with conservative House Republicans and Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who is overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, over access to information about the Russian inquiry. Rosenstein has given the lawmakers access to hundreds of thousands of pages of documents but has made it clear that he does not intend to go any further. Trump tweeted: “At some point I will have no choice but to use the powers granted to the Presidency and get involved.” (NY Times) I guess he doesn’t understand the powers of the presidency. Those conservative House representatives have begun drafting impeachment documents against Rosenstein. (The Hill) Rosenstein, apparently, is not going to be intimidated. He said: “There are people who have been making threats, privately and publicly, against me for quite some time. I think they should understand by now the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted. We’re going to do what’s required by the rule of law.” (Bloomberg)
Investigative Questions: On Monday night the NY Times published a list of questions that purportedly special counsel Robert Mueller wants to ask Trump. Trump immediately tweeted calling the leak “disgraceful.” However, it appears that the leak didn’t come from Mueller’s office, but from Trump’s. At first it was assumed that the questions had been sent from Mueller’s office to Trump’s as part of negotiations over the terms of a potential interview. (Washington Post) However, according to the Washington Post, “Mueller’s team agreed to provide the president’s lawyers with more specific information about the subjects that prosecutors wished to discuss with the president. With those details in hand, Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow compiled a list of 49 questions that the team believe the president would be asked according to 3 or the 4 people who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly.” [Emphasis added.] In other words, the so-called “disgraceful leak” was done by Trump’s office and it was of questions compiled by Trump’s attorneys.
Fact or Fiction: The Washington Post is still counting Trump’s lies (TWW, Fact or Fiction, 1/20/18). To date - 466 days - Trump has made 3,001 false or misleading claims. If you’re curious about what they are, the Post’s article has a database you can search.
Stormy Daniels: You’ve got to wonder what’s going on. Trump has repeatedly said he didn’t know anything about his former attorney, Michael Cohen, paying porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about her affair with Trump. Then last week, during his Fox & Friends meltdown (TWW, Trump Unhinged, 4/28/18), Trump said he knew about it. Now, his new attorney, Rudy Giuliani, went on Sean Hannity’s show and said that Trump reimbursed Cohen by making payments of $35,000 per month. (NY Times) [NOTE: If Trump has as much money as he says he does, why didn’t he just give Cohen the $130,000? Why make payments? Methinks the guy is really broke.] Steven Colbert had some very entertaining things to say about it. (You Tube) Trump admitted that this is true. (Washington Post) You can read the transcript of the interview at NY Times. Check out all the conflicting statements. (NY Times) However, the payment by Cohen may still be a campaign finance violation and may have exposed Trump to other legal issues. (NY Times) I wonder if he deducted the payments from his taxes? So, here we are with all kinds of questions about what Giuliani is up to with this kind of admission and he goes and does it again. The next morning he appeared on Fox & Friends and contradicted himself. Somebody obviously told him that there was still campaign finance problems when he said Trump was paying Cohen “fees.” So the next day he contradicted himself and said it was “personal, not political” but, moments later demonstrated that they were indeed campaign related. He said: “Imagine if that came out in October 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton. . . Cohen made it go away. He did his job.” Legal analysts say Giuliani’s media blitz “might have backfired, giving investigators new leads to chase and new evidence of potential crimes.” (Washington Post) Giuliani tried to fix all his missteps. I don’t think it worked. (Washington Post)
Trump Place: New York state Judge Eileen Bransten rejected the Trump organization’s argument that a high-rise condo called Trump Place couldn’t remove his name from its facade and was obligated to permanently keep it. (Washington Post)
Scott Pruitt: The Environmental Protection Agency administrator took a $100,000 trip to Morocco. It was partially arranged for by a longtime friend of his, former Comcast lobbyist Richard Smotkin, who accompanied him on his trip. Smotkin went as an “informal liaison at both official and social events.” Then Smotkin was offered a $40,000 per month contract - retroactive to January 1st - with the Moroccan government. He has now registered as a foreign agent. “Federal laws prohibit public officials from using government resources to financially benefit friends, relatives, or other people with whom they have personal connections.” (Washington Post) Apparently this wasn’t the only such trip. Shortly after taking office, “Pruitt drew up a list of at least a dozen countries he hoped to visit and urged aides to help him find official reasons to travel . . . Pruitt then enlisted well-connected friends and political allies to help make the trips happen.” Like Smotkin. Republican mega-donor and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson helped plan a trip to Israel. American Australian Council treasurer Matthew Freedman helped with a trip to Australia. (Washington Post)
Ty Cobb: The White House lawyer, “who served as the administration’s point person” in dealing with special counsel Robert Mueller, has resigned. He’s being replaced by Emmet Flood. (Washington Post)
EPA: Albert “Kell” Kelly, a top aide to Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt, has resigned “amid scrutiny of his previous actions as leader of a bank in Oklahoma and his lifetime ban from banking.” (TWW, Albert Kelly, 1/6/18) Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta, the head of Pruitt’s personal security detail,” announced his retirement. “Perrotta faces congressional scrutiny for his role in Pruitt’s security arrangements, which have been more extensive than those of previous EPA administrators. (Washington Post)
Gitmo: The Pentagon released Ahmed al-Darbi, a self-confessed al-Qaeda member, to Saudi Arabia. (Miami Herald)
Israel: It announced plans “to construct the first train line for Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank, connecting the Ariel settlement - one of Israel’s largest settlements with a population close to 19,000 - to cities and towns inside Israel.” They are expecting about 300 hectares of Palestinian land in the city of Salfit to be confiscated from residents for the construction. “Israelis have consumed about 600 hectares of land belonging to Salfit residents since 2004.” (Al Jazeera)
North Korea: Kim Jong-un reportedly told South Korean president Moon Jae-in “that he would abandon his nuclear weapons if the United States agreed to formally end the Korean War and promise not to invade his country.” (NY Times)
Yemen: Green Berets are stationed on the Saudi Arabian border with Yemen, “in a continuing escalation of America’s secret wars.” This was disclosed by U.S. officials and European diplomats but contradicts the Pentagon’s statements that “American military assistance to the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen is limited to aircraft refueling, logistics, and general intelligence sharing.” (NY Times)
Hawaii: The island of Kauai received 50 inches of rain in 24 hours. “Scientists warn that this deluge . . . was something new - the first major storm in Hawaii linked to climate change.” (LA Times)
Iowa: The state legislature passed a bill that bans abortion at the point at which doctors typically can detect “the flicker” of a fetal heartbeat on ultrasound, about 6 weeks. If signed by Governor Kim Reynolds (R), it will be the nation’s strictest abortion law. (NY Times)
New Hampshire: The state legislature has approved a bill that adds gender identity to the state’s nondiscrimination law. Governor Chris Sununu (R) said he intends to sign the bill. (Washington Blade)
Washington: Seattle is going to vacate every misdemeanor marijuana conviction in the past few decades. This will impact about 500 people. (Independent)
Tax Cuts: We’ve already heard how well the tax cuts are working for banks (TWW, New Tax Law, 4/21/18). Now we know how well it’s working for tech companies. Companies like Apple, Amazon, and Intel are “boosting their bottom lines by more than $11 billion so far.” (Reuters) Apple “lavished cash on its shareholders like no company in history in the first 3 months of the year and it intends to keep doing so, making the iPhone maker’s investors the clearest winners yet from last year’s sweeping U.S. corporate tax cuts.” The new tax law freed up “mountains” of overseas cash that Apple used to buy back $23.5 billion of its own stock. (Reuters) Apple is planning on buying back a total of $100 billion worth of shares. (CNBC) This is what was expected and predicted.
Immigration: An investigation by the LA Times found that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) wrongfully and repeatedly targeted and arrested Americans for years, with as many as 1,480 U.S. citizens being arrested since 2012. Also, hundreds of U.S. citizens were forced to prove their identities to immigration courts and sometimes would spend months or years in detention even though ICE policy requires a legal review within 48 hours when someone in their custody claims to be an American citizen.
Hondurans: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) gave more than 50,000 Hondurans who have been in the U.S. since 1999 until 2020 to find a way to stay in the U.S. or get out. These people were given temporary protected status (TPS) after Hurricane Mitch “slammed their country and left 10,000 dead across Central America. (Washington Post)
Border Patrol: The Guardian investigated the Border Patrol and found that, from 2005 to 2017, we taxpayers paid out more than $60 million to settle cases where border agents were involved in “deaths, driving injuries, alleged assaults, and wrongful detention.” The Border Patrol has refused to adopt the use of body cameras. And they haven’t retreated from their patrol stops up to 100 miles from the border, but it appears they’ve exercised their ability to petition for an “additional distance” (see The Constitution-Free Zone) because they are now operating up to 160 miles from the border, “from Maine to California.” And within these 160 miles Border Patrol agents have killed at least 97 people, “citizens and non-citizens,” since 2003. (Guardian)
Freedom of the Press: Reporters Without Borders (RSF) just released its 2018 World Press Freedom Index, an annual review of 180 countries and their relationship with the media. Once again, Sweden and Norway rank as the freest media environments in the world, while the Netherlands replaced Finland for 3rd place. The 3 worst place are the same as last year: Turkmenistan, Eritrea, and North Korea. And us? We ranked 45. I guess I missed it last year, but in 2016 we were ranked at 41. (TWW, Freedom of the Press, 4/23/16) So, we’re losing ground.
Tariffs: Trump delayed imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum on the European Union, Canada, and Mexico for another 30 days. I guess he’s trying to get some concessions from China. (NY Times)
Democratic Party: Lee Fang, writing at The Intercept, did an amazing piece on something that everyone knows about but nobody talks about - the promotion of pro-corporate Democrats and the suppression of Progressive Democrats. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has been inserting itself into Democratic primaries, supporting corporatist Dems and pushing more liberal Dems out. How the pressure is being applied has come to us via a secretly recorded conversation between the Number 2 Dem in the House, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D, MD), and Levi Tillemann, a liberal Dem running for the House from Colorado. Tillemann’s primary opponent is Jason Crow, a corporate lawyer. Tillemann’s message to Hoyer is that the party should stay out of the race. “Hoyer laid down the law for Tillemann. The decision, Tillemann was told, had been made long ago. It wasn’t personal, Hoyer insisted, and there was nothing uniquely unfair being done to Tillemann, he explained. This is how the party does it everywhere.” In other words, “senior Democratic officials have worked to crush competitive primaries and steer political resources, money, and other support to hand-picked candidates in key races across the country, long before the party publicly announces a preference. The invisible assistance boosts the preferred candidate in fundraising and endorsements, and then that fundraising success and those endorsements are used to justify national party support.” We also see this happening in New York. The DCCC recruited and is supporting Juanita Perez Williams, a Navy veteran and former prosecutor, in the primary for New York’s 24th district. However, local Democrats have already coalesced around professor and activist Dana Balter. (Roll Call) Apparently local Dems objection to Williams is primarily that she’s anti-choice and is rather conservative generally. (The Intercept)
Ousting the Chaplain: Rev. Patrick Conroy, the Jesuit priest who served as the chaplain for the House of Representatives and was forced to resign (TWW, Ousting the Chaplain, 4/28/18) has changed his mind. He’s rescinding his resignation and says he’ll remain in his position at least until the end of the year. In a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R, WI), Conroy said that he “gave into pressure from the speaker’s staff . . . believing that Ryan had the power to fire him,” but he now believes he was pressured into resigning for lack of cause. (Washington Post) Ryan accept Conroy’s letter and is allowing him to stay. (Roll Call)
Vector Borne Diseases: Summer isn’t as fun as it used to be. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claim that diseases transmitted by mosquito, tick, and flea bites “has more than tripled” in the U.S. in recent years. And, since 2004, at least 9 such diseases have been newly discovered or introduced into the U.S. According to a study done by Lyle Petersen, director of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, it’s all due to warmer weather. But with the new rules imposed by the Trump administration, the director has “repeatedly declined to connect the increase to the politically fraught issue of climate change, and the report does not mention either climate change or global warming.” (NY Times) We can figure out what “warmer weather” means.
Glyphosate: The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has been testing food samples for glyphosate (TWW, Monsanto, 3/18/17) for 2 years but has not yet released any official results. However, the Guardian obtained internal documents showing that the FDA has had trouble finding any food that doesn’t have traces of glyphosate.
ACA: Tom Price, Trump’s former Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), said that the Republican tax cut will “raise the cost of health insurance for some Americans” because it repealed the individual mandate. (Washington Post)
Carbon Dioxide: The Scripps Institution of Oceanography reported that the monthly average for carbon dioxide in April exceeded 410 parts per million for the first time in recorded history. “This also represents a 30% increase in carbon dioxide concentration in the global atmosphere since the Keeling Curve began in 1958.”
Constitution Pipeline: The U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition by Constitution Pipeline Co. “to challenge New York’s regulatory authority and let stand an appeals court ruling that upheld the state’s decision to deny the project a water quality certificate.” According to Natural Gas Intelligence, “It was yet another setback for the 124-mile natural gas pipeline project that has bounced through the legal and regulatory process for years now.”
Auto Emissions: 18 states are sueing Trump over his EPA’s push to “reconsider” greenhouse gas emission rules. (TWW, Auto Emissions, 4/7/18) The states contend that the EPA acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in changing the course on the regulations. (Washington Post)
Grizzly Bears: The Interior Department has decided not to restore federal protections for Yellowstone-area grizzly bears, “despite a court ruling that called into question the government's rationale for turning grizzly management over to states that are now planning public hunts for the animals.” (CBS)
Unemployment: Job growth in April was less than expected and the unemployment rate dropped to 3.9% “as some jobless Americans left the labor force.” (Reuters)
Wells Fargo: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) announced a combined $1 billion fine on Wells Fargo. The OCC cited “unsafe or unsound practices,” and the CFPB cited Wells Fargo’s “insurance program related to its auto loans” along with “how it charged certain borrowers for mortgage interest rate-lock extensions.” It won’t hurt Wells Fargo a bit. It reported a $3.35 billion benefit from the tax cut. (Public Citizen)