Monday, May 29, 2017


Excellent profile of Hillary Clinton and how she is dealing with the most painful presidential election loss in history

Trump's national security team lines up to say there's nothing wrong with Kushner's back channel to Russia idea
McMaster 'not concerned' following Kushner reports
Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly on Sunday said he does not “see any big issue” with reports that senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, who is President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, sought to set up backchannel communications with the Kremlin before Trump’s inauguration. . . .
“It’s normal, in my opinion, and acceptable,” Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said amid the growing scandal.

[NB: Oh really? Using the RUSSIAN EMBASSY as the communications center? Is that "normal"? And what about the lying part? Okay with that too, guys?]

Kushner's other meeting
The Russian banker Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner met with in December is viewed by U.S. intelligence as a ‘Putin crony’ and a graduate of a ‘finishing school’ for spies who was often tasked with sensitive financial operations by Putin,” according to multiple U.S. officials and documents . . .  

Is Kushner's security clearance in jeopardy?
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Sunday that senior White House adviser Jared Kushner’s security clearance should be reviewed in light of reports that Kushner did not disclose additional contacts he had with Russia’s ambassador to the United States. . . . 

Or is it even bigger than that?
But outside of Kushner’s small circle of trust — a group that includes Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump, and advisers Hope Hicks, Josh Raffel, Dina Powell, Gary Cohn, Chris Liddell and Reed Cordish — many West Wing advisers are simultaneously rattled by the back-channel revelations and feeling a sense of schadenfreude. . . . Kushner has risen so quickly in the White House that his colleagues grumble about “principal confusion” — when a staffer thinks that the reflected spotlight of the boss is actually shining on him. Colleagues have rolled their eyes that Kushner has hired a communications adviser to work on his own portfolio. That aide, Raffel, traveled abroad with him to Riyadh, Jerusalem and Rome. Kushner, who some say has sealed himself off from the competing White House power centers, may now be in a position of needing allies. And the pool of people in New York City eager to come to his defense has shrunk. Internally at the White House, according to multiple sources, there is a feeling of resentment among people about Kushner’s special status as a family member, and a feeling that it’s about time for him to have a turn under the gun. . . .

And as Kushner returns to work this week, he will continue helping to develop a new White House “war room” and crisis-management shop, which is set to be exclusively dedicated to fighting the Trump-Russia fallout and the ongoing scandals consuming the administration. This project has recently been spearheaded by Bannon, Kushner, and chief of staff Reince Priebus. It’s just that right now Kushner is every bit as much a part of the crisis as he is the management.  

Trump and Russia: a timeline

Trump is "obsessed" with the idea that there's a conspiracy against him
President Trump “has been aggressively working the phones since returning this weekend from his foreign trip, talking to friends and outside lawyers as he obsesses over the deepening investigations into his aides and Russia,” Politico reports. “Two White House officials said Trump and some aides including Steve Bannon are becoming increasingly convinced that they are victims of a conspiracy against Trump’s presidency, as evidenced by the number of leaks flowing out of government — that the crusade by the so-called ‘deep state’ is a legitimate threat, not just fodder for right wing defenders.” Said one outside adviser: “The more people talk to him about it, the more he obsesses about it.”

Russia is smiling
Merkel Says Europe Can No Longer ‘Fully Count On Others’ In Wake Of Trump Trip

Trump's Trip Was a Catastrophe for U.S.-Europe Relations

A summary
Keith Boykin: So, to recap, the French think Trump's a dictator, the Germans think he's unreliable and the British think he can't be trusted with intel.  

Culture of Truth: The Israelis think he gave away their secrets, Saudis think he's a sap, and Putin thinks he's an asset who can be blackmailed.

Trump tries hard to pivot back to policy issues, by totally misrepresenting his two signature initiatives
[Trump] "I suggest that we add more dollars to Healthcare and make it the best anywhere. ObamaCare is dead - the Republicans will do much better!"

[Reality] Trump's budget plan, assembled by White House Office of Management and budget director Mick Mulvaney, called for cuts of between $800 billion and $1.4 trillion in future spending on Medicaid, the health-care program for low-income Americans. It also called for cuts in future spending on a health-care program for low-income children.

[Trump] "The massive TAX CUTS/REFORM that I have submitted is moving along in the process very well, actually ahead of schedule. Big benefits to all!"

[Reality] White House officials were not prepared to make any tax outline public until he prodded them to do so as he neared his first 100 days in office. What's more, the plan wasn't formally “submitted” to Congress. It was released on a single sheet of paper and included only a handful of numbers, leaving lawmakers and congressional aides to question what direction the White House wanted the tax plan to go in. . . . Still, the White House has not proposed a comprehensive tax plan, and Trump did not include any new details of a tax overhaul in last week's budget proposal. The House and Senate have also not completed a tax plan, or even proposed one that has passed through committee.
Trump's tweets are back, attacking "fake news"
"Whenever you see the words 'sources say' in the fake news media, and they don't mention names it is very possible that those sources don't exsist but are made up by fake news writers"

"An 'extremely credible source' has called my office and told me that @BarackObama's birth certificate is a fraud." [Trump (6 August 2012)]
Bonus item: All in the Family

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Sunday, May 28, 2017


Sometimes things are just the way they look. Russia interfered in the election to help Trump. Overt "collusion" aside, the Trump team certainly knew this was happening and took advantage of it. They spoke openly about changing US policy to be more friendly to Russia. They invited further interference by the Russians. That's close enough to a quid pro quo for me. Numerous secret meetings took place between Trump officials and the Russians AND THEY LIED ABOUT IT. Several Trump officials, including Trump and his family, have financial entanglements with Russian or former Soviet entities. Putin is a former KGB officer and ambassador Kislyak is a spy -- experts in exploiting all varieties of human weakness, including naivete and ego, to elicit cooperation. Now we hear that the Trump gang wanted to create a secret channel to communicate and exchange information with Russia, outside of normal government institutions and unaccountable to anyone. This is espionage, there isn't any other word for it
Former acting CIA director John McLaughlan responded to reports that Jared Kushner “discussed setting up a secret communications line between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, saying if such reports are true, it would be considered espionage,” The Hill reports.  Said McLaughlan: “I don’t want to overstate this because obviously there is a lot we don’t know… But I can’t keep out of my mind the thought that, if an American intelligence officer had done anything like this, we’d consider it espionage.”

Former intelligence officials described Jared Kushner's reported attempt to set up a backchannel line of communication with Russia last December that would bypass the US' national security and intelligence apparatus as "off the map," "explosive," and "extremely dangerous." . . .
I assume the Post has good sources for its report that Kushner wanted to use Russian embassy facilities, which suggests he was looking for one of the only channels that was safe from monitoring—and leaking—by American intel agencies. But if the Times is right about Syria, that doesn't make sense. There have been a lot of leaks recently, but not last December. And certainly there was no reason to suspect that any intel agency would leak conversations about Syria. So maybe they really wanted to talk about something else. But what? It would need to be something that was (a) highly sensitive, and (b) dodgy enough that some do-gooder in the intel community might feel like it needed to be leaked. There's been plenty of speculation about what that could be, but nothing grounded in reporting. Also unknown: did Trump know about this? Or were Kushner and Flynn freelancing?
Why did Jared Kushner seemingly trust Russian officials more than he trusted the U.S. government? . . . [read on] 

Should Kushner be worried? Sounds like, yes
Kushner has not yet been contacted by the F.B.I., a fact confirmed to me by the White House. Defenders of Kushner seized upon this detail as somehow exculpatory, noting that Flynn had been interviewed by the F.B.I. in January. But this might not mean much. In fact, it could actually be a bad sign. “The fact that Kushner hasn’t been contacted now, let’s assume it’s true,” the source close to Comey said. “It’s either meaningless with respect to culpability or, pointing to the riskier side, the more likely that he’s implicated, because the people you’re really suspicious of you don’t really interview until later.” . . .

The Times reported that Kushner, along with Vice-President Mike Pence and the White House counsel, Don McGahn, “generally backed dismissing Mr. Comey.” In another report, the paper noted that Kushner specifically “had urged Mr. Trump to fire Mr. Comey.” After Comey’s dismissal, when Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, appointed a special counsel to take over the case, the Times reported that Trump met with more than half a dozen senior aides to discuss how to respond.  “Most of those gathered recommended that the president adopt a conciliatory stance and release a statement accepting Mr. Rosenstein’s decision and embracing a swift investigation that would clear the cloud of suspicion hovering over the West Wing,” the paper said. But there was one dissenter: Kushner, who was “urging the president to counterattack.” . . .

The main takeaway from the Kushner news is similar to the takeaway from Trump and Flynn’s handling of the Russia probes. In each case, we have a series of actions by people who seem to be concealing specific contacts with Russians connected to the Kremlin’s intelligence services and then acting to thwart an investigation. Flynn lied about his contacts with Kislyak. Trump tried to kill the F.B.I. investigation of Flynn and eventually fired his F.B.I. director. Kushner hid his contacts with Russian officials and then pressed his father-in-law to sack Comey, who was looking into the matter. “Anytime someone on the Trump campaign conceals or misleads about a contact they had with Russia at the time of Russia’s interference campaign, that’s a big red flag,” Eric Swalwell, the Democratic congressman, who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said. 

Welcome home, Mr. Trump 
Trump Returns to a White House In Crisis  

The Senate Intelligence Committee has requested all Russia-related documents, emails and phone records from President Donald Trump’s campaign committee . . .
“Now that Trump’s current and former aides and allies officially know a probe exists, they’re responsible for preserving all available information that might be relevant. That’s a task complicated by the rise of auto-delete apps like Confide, Signal and WhatsApp, as well as the move his campaign staffers have made into the White House.”

I think this is a brilliant idea
Jared Kushner, whose own ties to Russia are under federal scrutiny, will help coordinate messaging from a new White House “war room” intended to diffuse mounting pressure from the scandal surrounding possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Kremlin to influence the 2016 election.  Kushner and White House chief adviser Steve Bannon will be involved in the messaging operation, Reuters reported Friday, as well as former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who could join the administration as early as next week. . . 

“Some White House aides have discreetly discussed among one another whether Kushner should play a lesser role — or even take a leave — at least until the Russia-related issues calm, but they have been reluctant to discuss that view with Kushner himself, and Kushner’s network of allies within the West Wing has rallied behind him.” 

All in the family
Amid mounting questions at the White House about Russia, three prominent members of President Trump’s family — his sons Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., and Eric’s wife, Lara — have ramped up their engagement with the Republican Party’s national political operation, having met privately with GOP leaders to share their concerns and outlook. . .

Where is the plan to defeat ISIS?
[Sept 6, 2016] “We are going to convene my top generals and give them a simple instruction. They will have 30 days to submit to the Oval Office a plan for soundly and quickly defeating ISIS.”

And now?
Donald Trump has no “secret plan” to wipe out the “evil losers” of ISIS 

All the G-7 leaders took a stroll together through Taormina, Sicily. Except one, who traveled alone by golf cart. What's wrong, Donny? Not enough STA-min-a?
Making friends:
President Trump reportedly complained to world leaders about roadblocks he has faced setting up golf courses in the European Union. Belgian daily newspaper Le Soir reported Trump told Belgian Prime Minister he has mixed feelings about the European Union (EU) due to issues he has faced in the past setting up golf courses within its borders. . . .

“The whole discussion on the topic of climate was very difficult, not to say very unsatisfactory. Here we have a situation of six against one, meaning there is still no sign of whether the US will remain in the Paris accord or not.”
          — German chancellor Angela Merkel,

What Trump told the G-7 about climate change
Climate change? Let me think about it, Trump tells G7

What he told others:
Trump has told multiple people, including EPA head Scott Pruitt, that he intends to pull the U.S. out of the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change . . .

Trump's budget devastates research funding

Filtering Trump's tweets
The White House is considering a plan to send President Trump’s personal tweet drafts through a legal-review process . . . It seems highly unlikely, however, that Trump will ever agree to any guidance or restrictions on any part of his Twitter life, so plans otherwise may be for naught. 

Bonus item: Trump's Daily Briefing

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Saturday, May 27, 2017


Time to assess Trump's first overseas trip
Trump’s behavior at NATO summit makes a bad trip even worse
Trump Turns First Foreign Trip Into a Disaster
To our allies’ dismay, Donald Trump appears lost in Europe
The odd man out on the world stage

Undoing damage:
WH Official: Trump Said Germany Is ‘Very Bad On Trade,’ Not In General

The pix
Trump's ally-angering trip abroad, explained in 7 images

The pictures from Donald Trump’s romp through Europe, which show a long parade of political and spiritual leaders looking visibly uncomfortable in his presence or even snickering to themselves as he spoke, make the point more forcefully than a thousand think pieces: Most Europeans are horrified by the president. They cannot stand his ignorance or his bellicosity, his plebeian manners or the constant bragging about his wealth. And yet, for all of their loudly proclaimed indignation, the barely concealed secret is that Trump makes them, well, happy. In representing everything Europeans hate about America, Trump simultaneously confirms everything they want to believe about themselves . . . [read on]

Can you imagine Trump grabbing one of the Saudis and shoving him aside so he could get in front for a photo op?

Things he says
Trump Says His Trip to Europe Has Already Saved ‘Millions of Jobs’

Hmmm. Barack Obama made 52 overseas trips during his presidency, and employment climbed 12 million during the same period. That's about 200,000 jobs per trip. Trump says he's responsible for millions just in one trip. That's pretty remarkable, no? But Trump is a remarkable man.

I'm sure there's a PERFECTLY innocent explanation for this
"The Washington Post" citing US Officials briefed on intelligence reports reporting that Jared Kushner and Russia's ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak, discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump's transition team and the Kremlin using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration monitoring. According to the post, Ambassador Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications, and reportedly Kislyak was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate. . . .So it appears that Jared Kushner met with the Russian ambassador in secret, reportedly to set up a back channel possibly in Russian diplomatic facilities. Kushner then omitted this meeting on his SF-86 security clearance form. And when he was called on it months later in April of this year, his lawyers called it an error. But if Kislyak's account is accurate, how likely is it that Jared Kushner just forgot about a cloak and dagger meeting with a foreign agent to set up a secret back channel? How likely is it that his omission of that meeting to US Officials was simply an oversight? Jared Kushner could have read on the clearance form he filled out, that knowingly falsifying or concealing information is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
I’m still forming my opinions about what this means. But it makes all the most ominous reads about what is at the heart of Trump/Russia story considerably more plausible. What exactly did the Trump team need so urgently to discuss with the Russian government? Why the need for such absolute security?
"For employee-security rules, the U.S intelligence community treats visiting a foreign embassy like visiting a foreign country. Many of the most significant examples of U.S. espionage all occurred through foreign embassies," said Susan Hennessy, a Brookings fellow and a former attorney in the National Security Agency’s office of general counsel. "Like Flynn, there's the possibility that Kushner put himself in a position to be compromised, because the Russians knew he tried to set up a secret channel.". . .  National-security officials expressed surprise at Kushner’s reported move, which would circumvent the federal government’s established methods for communicating with foreign powers, including Russia.  "Why would Kushner want a secret channel? What information would the Trump team want to make sure is hidden from U.S. intelligence?" asked Clint Watts, a former FBI agent and a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
Things are looking very bad for Jared Kushner, and by extension the entire Trump presidency. Just days after it was discovered that Kushner is a top target of the FBI due to possible financial crimes and ties to Russia, came yesterday’s explosive revelation that the President’s son-in-law requested a secret, secure channel to the Kremlin during the transition period. This request was so extraordinary alarmed even the Russians, as it would have entailed giving an American access to communications equipment specifically designed to evade American eavesdropping. The news is bizarre and the move by Kushner so brazen that the worst possible motives seem too stupid for the Keystone Cops, but no innocent or even semi-innocent explanations present themselves. . . .
The idea of discussions between Russia and the incoming administration seems innocent enough on its own terms, but the apparent effort to set up a line of communications that would be concealed from the American government suggests something more sinister. . . .
Jared Kushner had STILL MORE undisclosed contacts with the Russian ambassador

Intelligence expert: Kushner's security clearance must be pulled 'right now'

I hope he tries. Really
Trump staffer hints he may be open to softening Russia sanctions

Trump's "Russia mania" started in the 80's -- when he offered to become a special ambassador and end the Cold War "within one hour"

Michael Flynn is getting every bit of what he deserves

The time line:

Trump wants to set up a "war room" to fight back against the investigations -- and they do mean "war"

FBI won't share Comey memos with Congress

Comey KNEW the Lynch/Clinton emails were fake 

Trump's statement on Ramadan -- meant to make friends, but can't resist references to terrorism

What Trump's Ramadan Message Was Really About  

Does Trump lack legitimacy? What then?

The only honest Republican in the country
Boehner Calls Trump Presidency ‘A Complete Disaster’

More rumored WH staff shake-ups -- and a "filter" on Trump's tweets

Sean Spicer and the rest of Trump’s press team iced out during first foreign tour 

The end of the blue slip?

The kind of people they are
Texas Republicans look to pass bill that could make driving a woman to an abortion a crime

Clinton at Wellesley
“Just log on to social media for ten seconds; it will hit you right in the face. People denying science, concocting elaborate, hurtful conspiracies theories about child abuse rings operating out of pizza parlors,” she said. “Drumming up rampant fear about undocumented immigrants, Muslims, minorities, the poor. Some are even denying things we see with our own eyes. Like the size of crowds. And then defending themselves by talking about, quote, unquote, alternative facts.” . . .  “Let’s call it what it is. It’s a con. They don’t even try to hide it,” she said. “Why does all this matter? It matters because if our leaders lie about the problems we face, we’ll never solve them.” . . . “As the history majors among you here today know all too well, when people in power invent their own facts and attack those who question them, it can mark the beginning of the end of a free society,” she said. “That is not hyperbole. It is what authoritarian regimes throughout history have done. They attempt to control reality. Not just our laws and our rights and our budgets, but our thoughts and beliefs.”


It's becoming a thing
Texas Governor Abbott Jokes About Shooting Reporters
Trump's weird handshake habits

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Friday, May 26, 2017


Reince Priebus is scared to death that James Comey has notes on a conversation they had (which he almost certainly does)
Three White House officials told The Daily Beast that Chief of Staff Reince Priebus has privately expressed worry about a possible Comey memo specifically involving one of their reported chats, and how it might play in the press and to investigators. . . .

Jared Kushner has "significant information"


The Trump gang is ready to wage "a years-long war" against intelligence agencies and investigators looking into their misdeeds
Said one Trump ally: “The White House is embracing the fight, which is going to last as long as Donald Trump is president. We’re getting street fighters ready to go.”


Trump vows to "get to the bottom" of leaks -- except the ones he is guilty of

Trump blurts out classified info again, worrying Pentagon officials

Do you buy Jeff Sessions' excuse for not disclosing his conversations with the Russian ambassador?

The first clear case of collusion
A Republican political operative in Florida asked the alleged Russian hacker who broke into Democratic Party organizations’ servers at the height of the 2016 campaign to pass him stolen documents . . . In return, that operative received valuable Democratic voter-turnout analyses, which the newspaper found at least one GOP campaign used to its advantage. The hacker went on to flag that same data to Roger Stone, a longtime confidant of Donald Trump’s who briefly advised his presidential campaign, and who is currently under federal investigation for potential collusion with Russia.


Why Republicans can't fix health insurance 

The Republican Party Alone Owns This Health-Care Disaster 

Trump insults NATO
This was a touch awkward, given Trump’s tense relationship with the Western alliance. And you can see it when you watch the uncomfortable, pained looks on the faces of the leaders of America’s allies. Just watch . . .
Expectations were low for the European leg of President Trump’s first trip abroad, but it turns out they weren’t low enough. . . .

Alpha males
President Trump met newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron for the first time. From the pool report: "The two presidents, each wearing dark suits and blue ties (Trump’s was thick and royal blue; Macron’s was skinny and navy) sat in antique cream-upholstered arm chairs, with two American and French flags behind them. They shook hands for an extended period of time. Each president gripped the other’s hand with considerable intensity, their knuckles turning white and their jaws clenching and faces tightening."

Watch the orange-haired monster shove another NATO leader out of his way to get in front, then preen smugly

Trump thinks he can shut down German car sales in the US

While Trump is protested in Brussels, Obama is cheered by huge crowds in Berlin

Appeals court refuses to reinstate Trump's travel ban. Big loss!

There is no $1 trillion Trump infrastructure plan—and there never was
Will Trump do another photo op?
Carrier Sends Jobs to Mexico, Workers Say Trump ‘Misled’ Them

Trump BRAGS about a Rasmussen poll that shows him at 48% approval. First of all, that poll is out of line with most other polls that show him at about 40%, sometimes down even into the 30's. Second, 48% is still pretty bad!

Betsy DeVos wants to give public money to schools that won't admit kids from gay households

The Gianforte assault on a reporter (a) is part of a pattern of disrespect and abuse by him and (b) grows out of an anti-press climate that Trump has encouraged
Last month, the Missoulian newspaper took Gianforte to task for his attitude toward the press. At an event hosted by the Advancing Conservatism Society, an audience member reportedly said: “Our biggest enemy is the news media. How can we rein in the news media?” Gianforte responded by pointing at a reporter and saying: “We have someone right here. It seems like there is more of us than there is of him.” . . .

The GOP’s war on the press 

Gianforte wins anyway

Seth Meyers:

Sean Hannity loses advertisers, takes an early vay-cay 

As critical coverage of Trump among the mainstream media and political insiders has reached a crescendo, CNN and especially MSNBC have become appointment viewing for the politically engaged. Each day now seems to bring new plot twists that rival those of any scripted TV drama. Leakers said Trump shared information he shouldn’t have with Russians. A memo surfaced suggesting that he fired Comey because of his frustration with the FBI’s Russia investigation. He reportedly pushed top intelligence officials to refute charges of Russian collusion. And it has made for nothing if not great TV. Yet Fox News’ prime-time hosts—led by its most prominent remaining personalities, Carlson and Hannity—have presented viewers with an alternate reality in which stories embarrassing to the administration can be waved away as either a figment of the “fake news media” or the product of machinations by leakers and liars embedded in the shadowy anti-Trump “deep state.” By steadfastly pooh-poohing the lies, scandals, outrage, and intrigue that have dominated the first months of Donald Trump’s remarkable presidency, the network is all but sitting out the most fascinating domestic political saga of our time. And increasingly, viewers are changing the channel. . . .

Bonus item: Paul Simon and Stephen Colbert, feelin' groovy

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