Originally Published: 8/25/2018
Criminal Trump Aides: On Tuesday, Michael Cohen’s plea deal was released and Paul Manafort was convicted. Even though the right-wing universe treated the day like any other (Washington Post), the number of Trump’s aides and advisers who have been convicted or admitted committing crimes is up to 5. Michael Flynn, Trump’s National Security Adviser, was the first to fall, resigning before Trump even took office and pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about a year later. (TWW, Michael Flynn, 12/2/17) George Papadopoulos, Trump’s foreign policy adviser during the campaign who was also the one to set off the Russian connection investigation (TWW, What’s in the Memo, 2/3/18), was the first to plead guilty in Mueller’s investigation, confessing to making false statements to the FBI about his contacts with Russians during the campaign. (TWW, George Papadopoulos, 11/4/17) Then Rick Gates, Manafort’s buddy, took a plea deal in exchange for testifying against Manafort. (TWW, Rick Gates, 3/3/18) The Guardian has the rundown on each of these people. If you’re interested, here’s a chart of these 5 - and others - and the charges against them. (Washington Post) We’re not done yet. Cohen’s lawyer said that Cohen has knowledge about the computer hacking and collusion and is willing to talk to special counsel Robert Mueller about it. (Bloomberg) And 2 more of Trump’s cronies, Weisselberg and Pecker, have turned. [See below.]
Michael Cohen: Trump’s longtime fixer pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and bank and tax fraud. He also made the claim that he had paid 2 women at the direction of Trump for the purpose of influencing the election. While his deal does not require cooperation with federal prosecutors, it does not preclude his providing information to special prosecutor Robert Mueller. (NY Times) Legal filings disclosed that Trump’s real estate company “authorized paying $420,000 to lawyer Michael Cohen in his effort to silence women during the presidential campaign and then relied on ‘sham’ invoices from Cohen that concealed the nature of the payments. The payments began flowing in February 2017, soon after Trump took office, when Cohen approached Trump Organization executives seeking to be reimbursed for ‘election-related’ expenses.” [Emphasis added.] The documents point to 2 unnamed Trump Organization employees who approved the payments, “with one executive instructing an employee to describe the fees to Cohen as legal expenses.” (Washington Post) [One may have been Weisselberg. See below.] Lanny Davis, Cohen’s lawyer, said Cohen would not accept a pardon from Trump if offered. (Independent) By the way, Cohen pleaded guilty to evading federal income taxes. New York State Attorney General Barbara Underwood is considering filing charges against him for evading state income taxes. (Washington Post)
Paul Manafort: Trump’s former campaign chair was convicted on 8 counts in his financial fraud trial. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on 10 of the 18 counts and the federal judge declared a mistrial on those charges. 5 of the counts related to tax fraud, 2 counts were bank fraud, and 1 count was “failure to disclose a foreign bank account.” The trial focused on Manafort’s personal finances, “in particular the tens of millions of dollars he made advising a political party in Ukraine and backed pro-Russia policies.” (NY Times) One juror - a Trump supporter - spoke out after the verdict was released. She said that all the jurors - except one - wanted to convict him on all counts. (Guardian) Trump praised Manafort, saying that “unlike Michael Cohen” Manafort “refused to break.” (NY Times) Weeks ago Trump considered pardoning Manafort but his personal lawyers cautioned him against “even considering clemency for former aides under investigation by the special counsel until the inquiry was over.” (NY Times) According to a report published by Project, Manafort, working as a political consultant in Russia and Ukraine, “worked more extensively in the former Soviet Union than was previously reported.” Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik “were sent in 2005 to the central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan, where the 2 promoted Russian interests, including the closure of the U.S. military base in Manas. . . [T]heir travel was funded by a Russian oligarch who was later sanctioned by the U.S. over meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.” (Guardian)
Allen Weisselberg: At the end of this crazy week it was announced that Trump’s longtime chief financial officer was granted immunity in the federal investigation into Michael Cohen. He is the person identified in court filings as “Executive-1” who prosecutors said helped authorize $420,000 in payments to Cohen. (Washington Post)
David Pecker: The National Enquirer’s publisher has been granted immunity by federal prosecutors “investigating payments during the 2016 campaign to 2 women who said they had affairs” with Trump. Apparently he, too, will be supporting Michael Cohen’s testimony. (NY Times)
Jeff Sessions: Trump openly criticized the attorney general over the Justice Department’s getting a guilty plea from Cohen and a guilty verdict against Manafort. “The spectacle of the commander in chief feuding with the nation’s top law enforcement officer marked the latest argument in the long-soured relationship between the two.” Trump said that Sessions “never took control of the Justice Department” and again faulted him for recusing himself from the investigations. He asked: “What kind of man is this?” Sessions pushed back, saying the Justice Department will not be “improperly influenced by political considerations.” Trump also complained about people caught committing crimes offering evidence against others for reduced prison sentences. “It’s called flipping, and it almost ought to be illegal,” he said. “They just make up lies, I’ve seen it many times.” (Washington Post)
New Poll: A new poll by Fox News found that 59% of registered voters approve of Robert Mueller’s investigation. Only 37% disapprove. In July only 48% approved, indicating that Trump and his lawyers’ attacks on Mueller “could be losing potency.” (Washington Post)
White Nationalism: Darren Beattie, a White House speechwriter for Trump, was fired after a media inquiry revealed “his appearance at the 2016 H.L. Mencken Club conference, where Beattie spoke on a panel alongside Peter Brimelow.” Brimelow is the founder of the anti-immigrant website Vdare.com, “a white nationalist site” that “regularly publishes works by white supremacists, anti-Semites, and others on the radical right.” (Washington Post) Last weekend Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser, threw himself a birthday party. One of the attendees was Peter Brimelow. (Washington Post)
Rudy Giuliani: First there was Kellyanne Conway suggesting that there are alternative facts. (TWW, First Press Conference, 1/28/17) Then there was Trump’s “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” (TWW, Trump and the Media, 7/28/18) Now we have Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, saying “Truth isn’t truth.” Yeah. I’m not kidding. (NY Times) And no one seems to think there’s anything wrong? John Oliver has a lot to say about it. You’ll love it. (You Tube)
Rep. Hunter: California representative Duncan Hunter (R) was indicted for misuse of campaign funds. He and his wife allegedly used funds for travel, dental work, and various other things. (Roll Call) The Washington Post has an interesting list of some of the expenditures. Hunter blamed it on his wife, saying she was the one handling his finances. (CNN) Another misogynistic grifter. He was the 2nd congress critter to endorse Trump. The first was Chris Collins who was indicted on charges of insider trading. (TWW, Rep. Collins, 8/11/18) And, of course, he’s using the campaign funds to pay for his legal defense. (Roll Call)
John Bolton: Our National Security Adviser apparently had contact with the Russian spy Maria Butina (TWW, Louisiana, 8/4/18; Another Indictment, 7/21/18) before he was appointed by Trump. “Bolton appeared with Butina in a video roundtable discussion about gun rights, reportedly sponsored by the Russian organization Right to Bear Arms, in his previous position as a top National Rifle Association official.” (Roll Call)
Christopher Steele: U.S. District Judge Anthony Epstein granted a motion by the former MI6 officer’s attorney to dismiss the suit against him brought by 3 Russian oligarchs. The Russians sued “over allegations made in his dossier about the Trump campaign and its links with Moscow.” (TWW, Trump Unhinged, 4/28/18) Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven, and German Khan claims that Steele and his intelligence firm, Orbis, defamed them in the dossier. (Guardian)
Reality Hunter: The 26-year-old former Air Force linguist and intelligence contractor - who pleaded guilty in June to leaking a top-secret government document about Russian interference in the 2016 election - was sentenced to 5 years and 3 months in federal prison. She’s the first person to be sentenced under the Espionage Act since Trump took office. This is the longest sentence ever imposed for an unauthorized disclosure to the media. (Guardian) James Risen, that intrepid reporter, said that this is one of the worst miscarriages of justice in recent history. (Democracy Now!) So, while the whistleblower who warned us about Russia’s involvement in our election process goes to prison, Trump is still in the White House.
Afghanistan: Blackwater founder (and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ brother) Erik Prince appeared on Fox & Friends (in order to get to Trump, who watches it faithfully) and proposed privatizing the Afghanistan war. (Mediaite) I think he’s missing something. Much of our 18-year war effort has been done by private contractors - many of which have been his! I guess he wants to expand it so he gets more of our tax money.
Australia: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a moderate, gave up on his plans for new carbon emission reduction targets due to conservatives threatening to put forth a “no confidence” vote. In other words, he wimped out. (NY Times) But he held on as long as he could. (Reuters) By Thursday Scott Morrison, the country’s treasurer, became the new Prime Minister. Morrison is described as “socially conservative” and the conservative architect of Australia’s hardline anti-asylum seeker policies. In other words, he’s another Donald Trump. (Guardian)
Austria: Last February members of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party (sound familiar?) ordered police to raid its main domestic intelligence agency and “carted off some of the nation’s most sensitive secrets in open crates and plastic bags. Top spy service officials working from home that day were greeted by officers threatening to break down their doors.” One of the threats this group investigates is right-wing extremism. “Critics saw . . . the pretext [for the raid as] a politically motivated stab at an independent institution that could threaten the party’s agenda.” Most frightening is that this raid reflects “a messy emerging reality across Europe as parties once relegated to the fringes move to the center of power.” (Washington Post) Foreign Minister Karin Kneissel’s wedding was the “event of the Austrian summer.” And guess who was there and danced with the bride. Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Washington Post)
Brazil: It is forcibly taking indigenous children and putting them up for adoption. A group of women whose children have been taken wrote a letter saying: “They claim that our children are dirty. But of course! We live off the land and cook over open fires.” (The Intercept)
Canada: Canada’s Supreme Court rejected the city of Burnaby, British Columbia’s attempt to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. The National Energy Board (NEB) ruled last December that pipeline owner Kinder Morgan could continue building without municipal permits. “The board found that Burnaby’s bylaw review process caused unreasonable delay.” Burnaby says it will continue to oppose the project. (Reuters)
China & Iran: China is defying the U.S. sanctions against Iran and purchasing lots of oil from them, “throwing Tehran a lifeline while European companies such as France’s Total are walking away due to fear of reprisals from Washington.” The U.S. is trying “to halt Iranian oil exports in an effort to force Tehran to negotiate a new nuclear agreement and to curb its influence in the Middle East.” (Reuters)
Egypt: President Abel Fattah el-Sisi signed a new law “tightening the government’s control of the Internet.” It’s supposedly going to fight extremism and “allows authorities to block websites deemed by judges to be threats to national security.” It also “bans the dissemination of information on the movement of security forces and imposes strict punishments for hacking government information systems.” (CNN)
Israel: The UN released a report “outlining options for strengthening the protection of Palestinians in Israeli-occupied territories.” The 4 options range from increasing aid to the Palestinians, “sending UN rights monitors and unarmed observers, to deploying a military or police force under UN mandate.” The report was requested by the general assembly “in response to a surge of violence in Gaza.” (TWW, Gaza, 7/28/18; 6/23/18; Israel, 5/19/18; 5/12/18; 4/28/18; 4/14/18; 4/7/18) Israel has rejected the report. (Middle East Eye)
North Korea: In a tweet (where all U.S. policy decisions are made) Trump called off Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to North Korea which was slated to be “the next round of high-stakes nuclear talks.” Trump said there was a lack of “progress” on denuclearization. (Washington Post) I guess that’ll fix them!
California: It has come to light that California firefighters’ ability to battle the recent wildfires “was impeded by Verizon Wireless throttling their Internet connection.” The Santa Clara County Fire Department had paid for what Verizon described as an “unlimited” data plan for various Internet-connected devices. However, Verizon throttled the speed to a point that was “unusably slow for any meaningful data transfer.” The restriction created problems for firefighter communications. (Guardian) Welcome to the world without Net Neutrality.
Georgia: The Randolph County Board of Elections, “a county located near the Georgia-Alabama border,” announced that 7 of the 9 voting locations will probably be eliminated “since the county did not have time to make them wheelchair accessible before the midterms.” The district “consists of mostly black voters.” (Newsweek) Apparently the recommendation came from Michael Malone, a consultant who had been hired to run elections after the elections supervisor quit. On Thursday county officials fired him. (Washington Post)
West Virginia: State residents who are serving overseas will be able to cast their ballots using a smartphone app, “a move designed to make voting in November’s election easier for troops living abroad.” Election integrity and computer security experts “expressed alarm,” and one called it “a horrific idea.” (CNN) Ya think?
Stock Market: This week the Bull Market hit a milestone: 3,453 days. “It ranks among the great booms in American market history. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index has soared more than 320% since emerging from the rubble of the financial crisis in March 2009, creating more than $18 trillion in wealth.” The problem is that most of that $18 trillion went to people who were already very wealthy. Former “euphoric” periods ended in spectacular stock market crashes in 1929, 1987, and 2001. Are we headed for another stupendous crash? Few have the courage to predict. (NY Times)
Tax Cuts Fund Elections: The $1.5 trillion windfall created by the Republican tax cuts are being used to fund Republicans’ election campaigns. (NY Times) Anyone surprised?
Affordable Clean Energy: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed turning environmental regulations for coal-fired power plants over to the states. The proposal states that the federal government would set the guidelines “but states will have the leeway to set less-stringent standards, taking into account a facility’s age and the cost of upgrades.” The rule could also allow power plant owners “to sidestep costly permits for those improvements.” (Reuters) It’s expected that the plan will release at least 12 times the amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere “compared with the Obama rule” over the next decade. (Washington Post) The EPA’s own analysis revealed that the plan will result in up to 1,400 premature deaths and 48,000 more asthma attacks. (NY Times)
Natural Disasters & Wealth: A study by Rice University and the University of Pittsburgh found that in counties badly hit by natural disasters, areas with at least $10 billion in damages, white communities gained an average $126,000 in wealth following the damage and recovery efforts. This is because white people live in areas where there is a higher level of reinvestment after a disaster. Yet, for minorities living in those counties, their wealth decreased by an amount between $10,000 and $29,000. These communities received less reinvestment, including much less from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). (EurekAlert)
French Alps: Mountaineers say that the Alps are melting due to climate change. Permafrost is evaporating “making rocks unstable and prone to collapse with many trail now deemed too dangerous to use.” The most dramatic glacial retreat is that of Mer de Glace, the biggest glacier in France and “one of Chamonix’s biggest tourist hotspots.” It is now melting at the rate of around 40 meters a year and has lost 80m in depth over the last 20 years alone. (Guardian)
No-Poach Agreements: 8 restaurant chains have agreed to stop using agreements that prevent their workers from finding higher-paid jobs at other locations in the same chain. They were being threatened with lawsuits. The restaurants are Applebee’s, Church’s Chicken, Five Guys, IHOP, Jamba Juice, Little Caesars, Panera, and Sonic. They joined Arby’s, Auntie Anne’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Carl’s Jr., Cinnabon, Jimmy John’s, and McDonald’s that have already agreed to end the practice. (NPR)
Interest Rates: Trump told donors last weekend that he had expected Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve chief he picked, to advocate easy-money policies. (Bloomberg) He told Reuters: “I should be given some help by the Fed.” Last month he tweeted that tightening monetary policy “hurts all that we’ve done.” Powell, not mentioning Trump by name, fired back by saying the increases are “appropriate.” (Washington Post)