Is the Leader of the Free World Unraveling?
John Hanno May 16, 2017
The Donald, in his previous corporate life, was unaccustomed to having his thoughts, ideas and proclamations questioned. Yet he sought the job of President of the United States, the titular head of the free world, the most complex employment endeavor in the world (who knew) and a job that requires an extremely thick hide and the ability to graciously and deftly deflect the incessant arrows and criticism directed at him, his family and his political agenda. On his best day, a U.S. President can maybe move this plodding aircraft carrier of a nation 1/4 degree off course.
Its not like Trump hadn’t witnessed recent examples of President Bush’s and especially President Obama’s steadfast defensive maneuvers. Trump himself heaped endless condemnation on both Bush and especially on Obama. Obviously Mr. Trump is much better at tossing invective and spreading alternative facts, than catching criticism and accepting the truth.
The latest examples of Trumps alternative reality involves the firing of FBI Director James Comey. Trump said the “showboat and grandstander” was not doing a good job and wasn’t capable of rebuilding the reputation of the FBI. Then after he canned him, he fired a shot over the directors bow when he revealed that Trump may have recorded their conversation during the dinner/meeting and other meetings and conversations in the White House.
Then the following day, Trump entertained the Russian Foreign minister and ambassador and the Russian press in the White House, and during that meeting, is reported to have divulged highly classified, Code level intelligence to those Russians.
Now we learn from Director Comey that he made detailed memos of their White House meeting and other conversations, and claims Trump not only asked Comey to pledge allegiance to Trump, but asked him to end the investigation of Flynn and possible Trump collusion with the Russians.
The New York Times also reported that in a February meeting with Comey, “Trump condemned leaks of classified information to the media”, and said that Comey: “should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information.”
This daily malfeasance and chaos boggles the rational mind. Why is Trump always bending over backwards praising Putin and Flynn? The common denominator here is the convoluted business dealings between Trump and his associates and Putin and the Russians. It’s obvious Trump believes Flynn can implicate Trump and the White House in Flynn’s collusion with the Russians.
Together with Trump firing former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, after she testified and suggested that former national security advisor Michael Flynn may have run afoul of criminal law before he got fired, and the reports that Director Comey told the Justice Department that he was stepping up the investigation into the Trump Russia Thing and needed more funds, its clear that Trump felt the criminal and impeachment vice closing in.
Trump claimed Mr. Comey asked to come to the White House; but that was proved a lie by James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence, who met with Comey the day before the dinner and said the president invited Comey and that he felt uncomfortable but believed he couldn’t turn down the invite.
Trump paraded out his spokespeople to claim the reason for the Comey firing was his botched investigation into Hillary’s emails. Assistant press spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders also stated that countless members of the FBI (although she admitted in the same sentence she doesn’t know that many) were happy that Comey was fired.
But Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who testified before the Senate intelligence committee, refuted claims by the White House that FBI employees had lost faith in James Comey. McCabe stated: “I hold Director Comey in the absolute highest regard. I have the highest respect for his considerable abilities and his integrity,” He said Director Comey enjoyed “broad support within the FBI and still does to this day.” He added, “The majority, the vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep, positive connection to Director Comey.”
McCabe also refuted another statement by Sanders in a White House briefing, after she said the Russia investigation was “probably one of the smallest things” on the FBI’s plate, when he said “We consider it to be a highly significant investigation.”
Then during an interview the following day, Trump admits he fired Director Comey because he believes the “Russian/Trump entanglement investigation, led by Director Comey, is just fake news and a campaign by the Democrats to undermine his election.”
But all Trump accomplished was to set himself up for a charge of obstruction of justice. It may be that he lies even to his spokespersons and staff because if he told them the whole truth, the entire ruse would come tumbling down.
Trump continued the subterfuge by claiming he hired a prestigious Washington D.C. law firm (The Best) to concoct a letter sent to Sen. Lindsey Graham stating that Trump has no investments in Russia, when he could have silenced all his critics by just producing his tax returns. His own sons claimed the Trump organization had enormous investments from investors and oligarchs in Russia.
Our parents and teachers repeatedly told us that lying is often tough to walk back from and that trying to cover-up a lie with more lies never ends well. But Trump always said he’s his own best advisor. I’m not sure he listens to or accepts council from anyone and that makes Trump his own worst enemy.
Trump tweeted: “James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Considering the Donald’s “Nixonian” paranoia and vindictiveness, that threat was not only for Comey’s benefit, but for anyone who colluded with Trump or turned a blind eye to the Republi-con/Russian conspiracy, and who may be contemplating turning states evidence. These conspirators will stoop to any vile or ruthless conduct, even subverting American Democracy, in order to grab power. But Trump will not go down quietly. He may have his own Russianesk dossier to use as leverage against anyone abandoning this ship of fools.
Trump and the Republi-cons have played fast and loose with their own set of rules for the last decade. But is their fealty to tax cuts for the rich and powerful, destruction of our budding Obamacare system repair, and the elimination of regulations for their polluting benefactors, worth destroying our two-party political system?
Trump has no loyalty for anyone but himself and will throw anyone under the bus attempting to save himself. Every bizarre shoe that drops is another nail in the Republi-con’s coffin. Republican leaders in congress have to decide when to pull themselves off this Toxic Tarbaby. Historians relate this train wreck to Watergate. These Republican enablers should take note that 48 members of the Nixon administration went to jail for aiding and abetting. There’s a potential 10 year prison sentence for obstruction of justice.
And Trump’s unrelenting obsession with bashing the press and media reminds us of the worst despots in history. Thankfully, the media has taken off the kid gloves and undertaken the critical oversight our Republican controlled congress is shirking. And in spite of Trump’s protestations, our Supreme Court ruled in 1971 that the press has a right to publish classified information received from sources, as long as they don’t help those sources break the law.
Most experts believe that what’s taken place in Russia over the last 17 years, (since Putin’s been solidifying his rein of kleptocratic terror) can’t happen in America, because our democratic institutions, and especially the other two branches of government, the courts and Congress, are too formidable. But is the Republican controlled congress up to the task? What more has to happen before the Republi-cons in congress do their duty and save our democracy and our Constitution? Fortunately we still have career employees in the State Department and in the intelligence and justice departments who refuse to turn a blind eye to this treason, malfeasance and corruption. John Hanno
The only realistic way to stop Trump
By Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer May 15, 2017
The appalling truth about the Trump administration can be found in something Maya Angelou once said to Oprah Winfrey: “My dear, when people show you who they are, why don’t you believe them? Why must you be shown 29 times before you can see who they really are?”
The chaos and dysfunction we have seen since Jan. 20 constitute, I fear, the new normal. Anyone holding out hope for some magical transition from lunacy into sanity will surely be disappointed. President Trump has shown the nation who he is.
There are leading Republicans, people whose integrity I respect, who have been telling me since the inauguration that the administration is on the cusp of settling down and that Trump is starting to appreciate the solemnity of his new role. One such person who is in regular contact with the president told me the administration had “finally hit the reset button” — just days before Trump rashly fired FBI Director James B. Comey in an act compared to Richard Nixon’s “Saturday Massacre.” Trump’s honorable well-wishers are in denial.
Other supporters, including most Republican members of Congress, are being dangerously cynical. With majorities in both chambers, they hope to use Trump to enact a far-right agenda of huge tax cuts for the wealthy, massive reductions in government aid for the poor and across-the-board deregulation. To get what they want, they are willing to pretend the emperor is wearing clothes.
Imagine the reaction had President Barack Obama fired Comey while the FBI was investigating Hillary Clinton. Articles of impeachment would have been drawn up within hours.
For Democrats and others who opposed Trump’s candidacy, there is no solace to be taken in the Trump campaign promises that sounded vaguely progressive. In early rallies, he flirted with the idea of universal medical care, which eventually morphed into a pledge of health insurance “for everybody.” But he threw his full support behind the House attempt to snatch insurance away from at least 24 million people and cut Medicaid by some $800 billion. His budget director recently mused that diabetics are to blame for their own preexisting condition.
The most significant single accomplishment of the administration — putting Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court — is not anything progressives are likely to celebrate. And Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is trying to reverse the progress the Obama administration made on ending mass incarceration for nonviolent drug offenses.
Meanwhile, Trump promised an “America First” foreign policy of nonintervention. But he ordered a military strike in Syria, drawing us deeper into that bloody conflict, and has decided to send more troops to Afghanistan. Rather than emphasize human rights, he has had warm words of support for autocrats and strongmen such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is scheduled to visit the White House on Tuesday. Trump’s bromance with Russian President Vladimir Putin smolders on.
There is no silver lining that I can discern. There is no realistic hope of sudden salvation.
Thinking some transgression or another will eventually prove to be a tipping point for Republicans is logical but not realistic. The see-no-evil GOP response to the Comey firing is instructive. Trump said during the campaign that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and not lose popular support. For House Republicans to impeach him, presumably there would have to be multiple victims.
There are those who entertain the fantasy that Trump will get bored or frustrated and eventually resign. But he’s already bored and frustrated with the drudgery of governing, and he has developed coping mechanisms — he stages campaign-style rallies, chews out his hapless staff, vents on Twitter. When he invited House members to the White House to celebrate that awful health-care bill, he interrupted his speech to say, “Hey, I’m president! Can you believe it, right?” He’s not going to voluntarily give that up.
If news reports are correct, he is mulling a substantial shake-up of his White House staff. But no communications team is going to look good while having to defend the crazy, indefensible things Trump regularly says. No chief of staff can institute orderly processes if Trump is going to ignore them and fly by the seat of his pants. Trump is used to running things a certain way. He’s not going to change.
We are where we are. Democrats need to flip one or both houses of Congress next year to slow this runaway train. It won’t stop itself.
Trump doesn’t embody what’s wrong with Washington. Pence does.
By Richard Cohen Opinion writer May 15, 2017
When history holds its trial to account for the Donald Trump presidency, Trump himself will be acquitted on grounds of madness. History will look at his behavior, his erratic and childish lying and his flamboyant ignorance of history itself and pronounce the man, like George III, a cuckoo for whom restraint, but not punishment, was necessary. Such will not be the case for Mike Pence, the toady vice president and the personification of much that has gone wrong in Washington.
On any given day, Pence will do his customary spot-on imitation of a bobblehead. Standing near Trump in the Oval Office, he will nod his head robotically as the president says one asinine thing after another and then, maybe along with others, he will be honored with a lie or a version of the truth so mangled by contradictions and fabrications that a day in the White House is like a week on LSD.
I pick on Pence because he is the most prominent and highest-ranked of President Trump’s lackeys. Like with all of them, Pence’s touching naivete and trust are routinely abused. He vouches for things that are not true — no talk of sanctions between Mike Flynn and the Russians, for instance, or more recently the reason James B. Comey was fired as FBI director. In both instances, the president either lied to him or failed to tell him the truth. The result was the same: The vice president appeared clueless.
I don’t feel an iota of sympathy for Pence. He was among a perfidious group of political opportunists who pushed Trump’s candidacy while having to know that he was intellectually, temperamentally and morally unfit for the presidency. They stuck with him as he mocked the disabled, belittled women, insulted Hispanics, libeled Mexicans and promiscuously promised the impossible and ridiculous — all that “Day One” nonsense like how the wall would be built and Mexico would pay for it.
I also have little sympathy for Sean Spicer, who plays the role of a bullied child. Trump routinely sends him out to lie to the American people, which he has done ever since his insistence that the inaugural crowd was bigger than the photos showed. He persists at his job even though Trump broadly hints that he will soon fire him. When Spicer is gone, he will be easily replaced. Washington is full of people who have no honor and no pride, either.
I think of Steven Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, and Wilbur Ross, at Commerce. What possessed them to back Trump for the GOP nomination? Didn’t they know the sort of man he is? Did they think a lower tax rate and fewer regulations are worth risking American democracy and our standing in the world? When they watched the bizarre way Trump sacked Comey, were they proud of their candidate?
The swamp that Trump kept mentioning in the campaign is not really one of tangled bureaucratic mangroves, but of moral indifference. Washington always had a touch of that — after all, its business is politics — but Trump and his people have collapsed the space between lies and truth. The president uses one and then the other — whatever works at the time.
The president cannot be trusted. He cannot be believed. He has denigrated the news media, not for its manifest imperfections but for its routine and obligatory search for the truth. He has turned on the judiciary for its fidelity to the law and, once, for the ethnic heritage of a judge. Trump corrupts just about everything he touches.
From most of the Republican Party comes not a whisper of rebuke. The congressional leadership is inert, cowed, scurrying to the White House for this or that ceremonial picture, like members of the erstwhile Politburo flanking Stalin atop Lenin’s mausoleum. They are appalled, but mute. They want to make the best of a bad situation, I know, and they fear the voters back home, but their complicity ought to be obvious even to them.
America is already worse off for Trump’s presidency. He was elected to make America great again, but his future is more like other nations’ sordid past. His own party has been sullenly complicit, showing how little esteem many politicians place in our most cherished values, not the least of them honesty and dignity. For all of them, an accounting is coming. When they are asked by history what they did during the Trump years, the worst of them will confess that they bobbled their heads like dumb dolls, while the best will merely say they kept their heads down.
New York Times Politics
Trump Revealed Highly Classified Intelligence to Russia, in Break With Ally, Officials Say
By Matthew Rosenberg and Eric Schmitt May 15, 2017
WASHINGTON — President Trump boasted about highly classified intelligence in a meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador last week, providing details that could expose the source of the information and the manner in which it was collected, a current and a former American government official said Monday.
The intelligence disclosed by Mr. Trump in a meeting with Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, was about an Islamic State plot, according to the officials. A Middle Eastern ally that closely guards its own secrets provided the information, which was considered so sensitive that American officials did not share it widely within the United States government or pass it on to other allies.
Mr. Trump’s disclosure does not appear to have been illegal — the president has the power to declassify almost anything. But sharing the information without the express permission of the ally who provided it was a major breach of espionage etiquette, and could jeopardize a crucial intelligence-sharing relationship.
In fact, the ally has repeatedly warned American officials that it would cut off access to such sensitive information if it were shared too widely, the former official said. In this case, the fear is that Russia will be able to determine exactly how the information was collected and could disrupt the ally’s espionage efforts.
The Washington Post first reported Mr. Trump’s disclosure. White House officials denied that Mr. Trump shared sources and methods of intelligence gathering but did not address whether he talked about the Islamic State plot itself.
Beyond angering a partner and calling into question the ability of the United States to keep secrets, the episode threatened to overshadow Mr. Trump’s first trip abroad as president. He departs on Friday for Saudi Arabia, Israel, Italy and Belgium.
The revelation also opens Mr. Trump to criticism of a double standard. The president made Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified information through her private email server central to his campaign, leading chants of “lock her up” at rallies. But there was never any indication that Mrs. Clinton exposed sensitive information from an ally or gave it to an adversary.
It was also likely to intensify scrutiny about Mr. Trump’s dealings with Russian officials. He showed throughout his campaign, and at times during his presidency, an unusual willingness to praise President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and has dismissed as “fake news” the conclusion of the American intelligence community that Russia interfered with the presidential election. He has also expressed frustration with the continuing Justice Department investigation into Russia’s meddling and whether any of the president’s associates aided Moscow’s effort.
It was not clear whether Mr. Trump wittingly disclosed such highly classified information. He — and possibly other Americans in the room — may have not been aware of the sensitivity of what he was sharing. It was only after the meeting, when notes on the discussion were circulated among National Security Council officials, that it was flagged as too sensitive to be shared, even among many American officials, the former official said.
The Trump administration pushed back on the revelation, with high-ranking officials issuing carefully worded denials, insisting that the president did not discuss intelligence sources and methods or continuing military operations that were not public.
H.R. McMaster on Reports of Trump Sharing Classified Data With Russia
The national security adviser discussed reports that President Trump boasted about highly classified intelligence in a meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador.
“I was in the room — it didn’t happen,” Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, said in an appearance outside the West Wing, which was sent into chaos on Monday afternoon by reports that the president had disclosed extremely sensitive information about an Islamic State plot.
“At no time — at no time — were intelligence sources or methods discussed, and the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known,” General McMaster said.
He said his account and those of others who were present for the meeting should outweigh those of unnamed officials who have said the president jeopardized national security.
Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson echoed General McMaster’s denial that sources or methods were discussed, though he did say that Mr. Trump talked about the “the nature of specific threats” in the meeting.
But according to the officials, Mr. Trump discussed the contents of the intelligence, not the sources and methods used to collect it. The concern is that knowledge of the information about the Islamic State plot could allow the Russians to figure out those details.
In fact, the current official said that Mr. Trump shared granular details of the intelligence with the Russians. Among the details the president shared was the city in Syria where the ally picked up information about the plot, though Mr. Trump is not believed to have disclosed that the intelligence came from a Middle Eastern ally or precisely how it was gathered.
General McMaster did not address that in naming the city, in Islamic State-controlled territory, Mr. Trump gave Russia an important clue about the source of the information.
Like the United States, Russia is also fighting in Syria, where it has stationed troops and aircraft. The two countries share some information, but the cooperation is extremely limited, and each has widely divergent goals in the civil war there.
Russia’s primary focus has been propping up the government of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, not directly battling the Islamic State. The United States, in contrast, views the Islamic State as the primary threat, and is aiding rebels who are fighting both the Islamic State and the Syrian government.
Before The Post’s article was published, its impending publication set off a mild panic among White House staff members, with the press secretary, Sean Spicer; the deputy press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders; and the communications director, Mike Dubke, summoned to the Oval Office in the middle of the afternoon.
Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and one of his advisers, signaled to people outside the White House that he was not closely involved. But internally, Mr. Kushner lashed out at Mr. Spicer, who has been the target of his ire over bad publicity for the president since Mr. Trump fired the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, last week.
Once public, the revelation immediately reverberated around Washington, and General McMaster found himself briefly cornered by reporters at the White House.
“This is the last place in the world I wanted to be,” he said before walking off without answering any questions.
The news coming on the heels of Mr. Comey’s firing prompted concern about the White House, even from within the Republican Party.
“The White House has got to do something soon to bring itself under control and in order,” Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters at the Capitol, adding, “It’s got to happen.”
The Central Intelligence Agency declined to comment. But members of Congress, including some Republicans, were quick to criticize the president for the intelligence breach.
“To compromise a source is something that you just don’t do, and that’s why we keep the information that we get from intelligence sources so close as to prevent that from happening,” Mr. Corker said, adding that he did not know independently if Mr. Trump had revealed sensitive information to the Russians.
Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia and the vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said on Twitter: “If true, this is a slap in the face to the intel community. Risking sources & methods is inexcusable, particularly with the Russians.”
Democrats demanded more information. “The president owes the intelligence community, the American people and Congress a full explanation,” said the Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York.
Doug Andres, a spokesman for the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan, said that Mr. Ryan “hopes for a full explanation of the facts from the administration.”
“We have no way to know what was said, but protecting our nation’s secrets is paramount,” Mr. Andres said.
Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, was sharply critical of Mr. Trump.
“President Trump’s recklessness with sensitive information is deeply disturbing and clearly problematic,” Mr. Reed said in a statement. “The president of the United States has the power to share classified information with whomever they wish, but the American people expect the president to use that power wisely. I don’t believe the president intentionally meant to reveal highly secretive information to the Russians.”
New York Times The Opinion Pages
When the World Is Led by a Child
David Brooks Op-Ed Columnist May 15, 2017
At certain times Donald Trump has seemed like a budding authoritarian, a corrupt Nixon, a rabble-rousing populist or a big business corporatist.
But as Trump has settled into his White House role, he has given a series of long interviews, and when you study the transcripts it becomes clear that fundamentally he is none of these things.
At base, Trump is an infantalist. There are three tasks that most mature adults have sort of figured out by the time they hit 25. Trump has mastered none of them. Immaturity is becoming the dominant note of his presidency, lack of self-control his leitmotif.
First, most adults have learned to sit still. But mentally, Trump is still a 7-year-old boy who is bouncing around the classroom. Trump’s answers in these interviews are not very long — 200 words at the high end — but he will typically flit through four or five topics before ending up with how unfair the press is to him.
His inability to focus his attention makes it hard for him to learn and master facts. He is ill informed about his own policies and tramples his own talking points. It makes it hard to control his mouth. On an impulse, he will promise a tax reform when his staff has done little of the actual work.
Second, most people of drinking age have achieved some accurate sense of themselves, some internal criteria to measure their own merits and demerits. But Trump seems to need perpetual outside approval to stabilize his sense of self, so he is perpetually desperate for approval, telling heroic fabulist tales about himself.
“In a short period of time I understood everything there was to know about health care,” he told Time. “A lot of the people have said that, some people said it was the single best speech ever made in that chamber,” he told The Associated Press, referring to his joint session speech.
By Trump’s own account, he knows more about aircraft carrier technology than the Navy. According to his interview with The Economist, he invented the phrase “priming the pump” (even though it was famous by 1933). Trump is not only trying to deceive others. His falsehoods are attempts to build a world in which he can feel good for an instant and comfortably deceive himself.
He is thus the all-time record-holder of the Dunning-Kruger effect, the phenomenon in which the incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence. Trump thought he’d be celebrated for firing James Comey. He thought his press coverage would grow wildly positive once he won the nomination. He is perpetually surprised because reality does not comport with his fantasies.
Third, by adulthood most people can perceive how others are thinking. For example, they learn subtle arts such as false modesty so they won’t be perceived as obnoxious.
But Trump seems to have not yet developed a theory of mind. Other people are black boxes that supply either affirmation or disapproval. As a result, he is weirdly transparent. He wants people to love him, so he is constantly telling interviewers that he is widely loved. In Trump’s telling, every meeting was scheduled for 15 minutes but his guests stayed two hours because they liked him so much.
Which brings us to the reports that Trump betrayed an intelligence source and leaked secrets to his Russian visitors. From all we know so far, Trump didn’t do it because he is a Russian agent, or for any malevolent intent. He did it because he is sloppy, because he lacks all impulse control, and above all because he is a 7-year-old boy desperate for the approval of those he admires.
The Russian leak story reveals one other thing, the dangerousness of a hollow man.
Our institutions depend on people who have enough engraved character traits to fulfill their assigned duties. But there is perpetually less to Trump than it appears. When we analyze a president’s utterances we tend to assume that there is some substantive process behind the words, that it’s part of some strategic intent.
But Trump’s statements don’t necessarily come from anywhere, lead anywhere or have a permanent reality beyond his wish to be liked at any given instant.
We’ve got this perverse situation in which the vast analytic powers of the entire world are being spent trying to understand a guy whose thoughts are often just six fireflies beeping randomly in a jar.
“We badly want to understand Trump, to grasp him,” David Roberts writes in Vox. “It might give us some sense of control, or at least an ability to predict what he will do next. But what if there’s nothing to understand? What if there is no there there?”
And out of that void comes a carelessness that quite possibly betrayed an intelligence source, and endangered a country.
We May Be Witnessing the Unraveling of Donald Trump’s Presidency
In his paranoia about his legitimacy as president, Trump is pushing us to the brink of a constitutional crisis.
By Joan Walsh May 14, 2017
Donald Trump began his presidency in a troubling crisis of legitimacy, given charges that Russia meddled in the election to help him defeat Hillary Clinton, and that Clinton won the popular vote nonetheless. This crisis is now devouring him.
From the moment he and his staff began haranguing the media for accurately reporting the size of his inaugural turnout, compared with Obama’s much larger crowds, we have been watching Trump spiral into paranoia. With the firing of FBI Director James Comey, we may be witnessing Trump’s presidency unraveling.
Trump’s cover story for Comey’s dismissal—that brand-new deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein wanted him gone, ironically due to his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices last year—has completely come undone in 24 hours. On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that Comey told congressional leaders that days before his firing he’d submitted to Rosenstein a request for resources to expand the Russia probe. By Thursday morning, a half-dozen major news outlets produced deeply reported pieces, some based on as many as 30 sources, revealing that Trump has been seething over Comey’s handling of the investigation into alleged collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russian government officials—and that his anger hardened into a plan to fire him last week. The Washington Post reported that Rosenstein threatened to resign, angry at being falsely depicted as the person behind Comey’s firing. (The Justice Department is denying that report.)
It seems that on May 3, Comey committed his unforgivable sin while testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Trump signaled his anxiety with a tweetstorm the day before. “The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?” one tweet read. Comey sealed his fate when he acknowledged his actions might have played a role in Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton. It made him “mildly nauseous,” he said, to think he tipped the race to the Republican. Comey himself was confirming Trump’s darkest fear, the font of his angsty, crazy late-night and early-morning tweets: that he hadn’t won the presidency legitimately.
Trump’s biggest mistake in this whole fiasco may have been including this farcical claim in his very short letter of dismissal to Comey: “I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation.” If the firing had nothing to do with the very real investigation into Trump’s campaign ties with Russian officials, why would Trump mention it? And if it does have something to do with the Russia-Trump investigation—which far from denying, Comey had publicly confirmed—then Trump is obstructing justice.
If there’s any remaining doubt that his personal legitimacy crisis is driving his crazy behavior, Trump is dispelling it by choosing today to sign an executive order establishing a commission to investigate (false) charges of voter fraud, headed by ace voter-suppressor Kris Kobach. Trump seems so comfortable with the rule-breaking and corruption he mastered in the private sector, he doesn’t completely understand that he might want to shield his personal motivations more artfully. He’s claimed Clinton built her popular-vote margin with illegal voters; now that he’s dispatched with Comey, he’ll use Kobach to slay his other legitimacy phantom.
The big issue is what happens now. So far, influential GOP Senate leaders continue to oppose the appointment of a special prosecutor. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell came out Wednesday morning and humiliated himself spouting Trump talking points, while Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr insisted his committee can continue with its bipartisan investigation. Meanwhile, Senate Democrats seem divided on their next moves. Minority leader Chuck Schumer seemed to threaten to stop all Senate work until a special prosecutor was appointed, but his caucus didn’t go along. “There’s a lot of business we’ve got to be doing right now that is unrelated to this, and I don’t think we should have an overall rule about not doing business,” Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia told The Atlantic, adding: “We can chew gum and walk at the same time.”
By the end of Wednesday Schumer seemed to retreat, stating on the Senate floor: “There are many questions to be answered and many actions that should be taken. We will be pursuing several things in the coming days, and we’ll have more to say about those next steps in the days ahead,” he said in remarks delivered on the Senate floor. Right now, it might take more resistance to strengthen Democrats’ spines. Trump has a legitimacy crisis that may be morphing into a constitutional crisis. We need leaders from both parties to confront it squarely.
Analysis: Donald Trump has biggest credibility gap of any president since Nixon
Susan Page, USA TODAY May 14, 2017
President Trump drew the biggest Inaugural crowd in history — except he didn’t. President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the campaign — except there’s no evidence that he did. Trump fired FBI director James Comey because the deputy attorney general concluded he had mishandled the Hillary Clinton email investigation — except now the president says it was his decision alone and cites the Russia investigation as one of the reasons.
On issues big and small, substantive and cosmetic, the Trump White House has failed to give accurate accounts of what happened until photographs, records, reporting and, in some cases, the president’s own words provide a new version of the facts. Even when confronted with evidence, the president and his spokespeople don’t always acknowledge the need to correct a falsehood.
This doesn’t seem to bother Trump.
“It is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!” he tweeted Friday with apparent good cheer, then mused about canceling the daily press briefing. Later, press secretary Sean Spicer didn’t make it clear whether the president was serious or joking about upending a fixture of White House operations since the Harding administration, and he wouldn’t expand on a separate tweet from Trump suggesting that he might have recorded his conversation with Comey.
Concerned or not, Trump now faces the biggest credibility gap of any president since at least Richard Nixon during Watergate (a scandal that forced his resignation) or Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War (a spiraling controversy that prompted him not to seek a second full term). For LBJ, it was the disparity between the official version of the war’s course and the reporting from the front lines that added the phrase “credibility gap” to the political lexicon.
“I wrote a book about what goes into making great presidential leadership, and one of the elements I said was credibility, was trust,” said presidential historian Robert Dallek, author of Hail to the Chief: The Making and Unmaking of American Presidents as well as biographies of Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Nixon and Johnson. “When presidents lose the trust of the public, I think it’s very difficult if not impossible for them to govern this country.”
On Trump, Dallek warned, “His credibility is very shaky.”
New York Times Sunday Review Editorial
The Republican’s Guide to Presidential Behavior
By The Editorial Board May 13, 2017
It wasn’t so long ago that Republicans in Congress cared about how a president comported himself in office. They cared a lot! The president is, after all, commander in chief of the armed forces, steward of the most powerful nation on earth, role model for America’s children — and he should act at all times with the dignity his station demands. It’s not O.K. to behave in a manner that demeans the office and embarrasses the country. Shirt sleeves in the Oval Office? Disrespectful. Shoes on the Resolute desk? Even worse. Lying? Despicable, if not impeachable.
Now seems like a good moment to update the standards. What do Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and other Republican leaders think a president may say or do and still deserve their enthusiastic support? We offer this handy reference list in hopes of protecting them from charges of hypocrisy in the future. They can consult it should they ever feel tempted to insist on different standards for another president. So, herewith, the Congressional Republican’s Guide to Presidential Behavior.
If you are the president, you may freely:
- attack private citizens on Twitter
- delegitimize federal judges who rule against you
- refuse to take responsibility for military actions gone awry
- fire the F.B.I. chief in the middle of his expanding investigation into your campaign and your associates
- accuse a former president, without evidence, of an impeachable offense
- employ top aides with financial and other connections to a hostile foreign power
- blame the judiciary, in advance, for any terror attacks
- call the media “the enemy of the American people”
- demand personal loyalty from the F.B.I. director
- threaten the former F.B.I. director
- accept foreign payments to your businesses, in possible violation of the Constitution
- occupy the White House with the help of a hostile foreign power
- intimidate congressional witnesses
- allow White House staff members to use their personal email for government business
- neglect to fill thousands of crucial federal government positions for months
- claim, without evidence, that millions of people voted illegally
- fail to fire high-ranking members of your national security team for weeks, even after knowing they lied to your vice president and exposed themselves to blackmail
- refuse to release tax returns
- hide the White House visitors’ list from the public
- vacation at one of your private residences nearly every weekend
- use an unsecured personal cellphone
- criticize specific businesses for dropping your family members’ products
- review and discuss highly sensitive intelligence in a restaurant, and allow the Army officer carrying the “nuclear football” to be photographed and identified by name
- obstruct justice
- hire relatives for key White House posts, and let them meet with foreign officials and engage in business at the same time
- promote family businesses on federal government websites
- tweet, tweet, tweet
- collude with members of Congress to try to shut down investigations of you and your associates
- threaten military conflict with other nations in the middle of news interviews
- compare the U.S. intelligence community to Nazis
- display complete ignorance about international relations, your own administration’s policies, American history and the basic structure of our system of government
- skip daily intelligence briefings
- repeat untruths
If you’re a Republican legislator, stick this list on the fridge and give it a quick read the next time you get upset at a president.
If you think we have left something out, please leave a comment with this article, or on our (N.Y.T) Facebook page. We’ll update the Congressional Republican’s Guide with some of your suggestions in a follow-up article.
What Would You Say If Anyone Else Behaved This Way?
The president might just be losing it.
By Charles P. Pierce May 11, 2017
The highlight of the now daily arse-showing at the White House Thursday morning probably was the president*’s disquisition on economics in which he invited The Economist to join him in an impromptu séance after which the bloody-toothed shade of John Maynard Keynes arose from the grave and stalked Pennsylvania Avenue, howling for gin and a good lawyer. To wit:
“Have you heard that expression used before? Because I haven’t heard it. I mean, I just… I came up with it a couple of days ago and I thought it was good. It’s what you have to do.”
He just came up with it the other day. Jesus. Now I know why Kissinger was sliming around the Oval on Tuesday. He was probably teaching the president* the secret to talking to the portraits in the hall. Because, by all accounts in the nation’s leading newspapers, the president* may be going, in the immortal phrase of the late George V. Higgins, as soft as church music.
Here’s The New York Times: In the weeks that followed, he grew angrier and began talking about firing Mr. Comey. After stewing last weekend while watching Sunday talk shows at his New Jersey golf resort, Mr. Trump decided it was time. There was “something wrong with” Mr. Comey, he told aides.
And, from a massive tick-tock in The Washington Post: Trump was angry that Comey would not support his baseless claim that President Barack Obama had his campaign offices wiretapped. Trump was frustrated when Comey revealed in Senate testimony the breadth of the counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s effort to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election. And he fumed that Comey was giving too much attention to the Russia probe and not enough to investigating leaks to journalists.
And, finally, from Tiger Beat On The Potomac: He had grown enraged by the Russia investigation, two advisers said, frustrated by his inability to control the mushrooming narrative around Russia. He repeatedly asked aides why the Russia investigation wouldn’t disappear and demanded they speak out for him. He would sometimes scream at television clips about the probe, one adviser said.
Oh, that terrible moment when you look around and the nation’s elite political press is fitting you for a straitjacket, and all the scapegoats have been stolen. It took the Vietnam War to destroy Lyndon Johnson. It took Watergate to make Nixon this batty. The current president* has been driven off the rails by a couple of tough episodes of Morning Joe. And there still hasn’t been an actual crisis confronting him that he didn’t create for himself. I am not reassured by this.
But just because he’s barking mad doesn’t mean he still can’t do considerable damage, especially since the Republican Party, and especially its congressional majorities, remain invertebrate. The president* has made a point of assaulting every democratic institution that (theoretically, at least) could check his power.
On Thursday, it seems, he’s planning to delegitimize democracy itself. From CNN: An action that Trump has discussed since the beginning of his administration, it will be spearheaded by Vice President Mike Pence and controversial Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach…Kobach, who helped on the Trump transition team, is a lightning rod for critics who have accused him of extreme racism and having ties to white nationalists. Kobach is almost single-handedly responsible for some of the nation’s strictest immigration laws in at least a half-dozen states — he not only writes the laws, but advocates for them and battles on their behalf in court. He is often cited as the chief architect of what Arizona’s SB 1070, which was passed in 2010 and led to protests and state boycotts for encouraging the profiling of Latinos and other minorities. The Arizona law requires police to determine a person’s immigration status when there is “reasonable suspicion” that they are not legally in the US; it was partially upheld by the Supreme Court, but had other sections struck down by the court in 2011.
It kills him, it absolutely rips out his liver, that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Rodham Clinton. Whenever CNN goes to a commercial every night, he climbs down off the ceiling and stews endlessly about how that could happen. Of course, it couldn’t have, not legimately, anyway.
And now we have a national commission dedicated to validating the president*’s megalomania, and it’s being handed over to one of the franchise’s primary arsonists, a guy who only this week got his thumbs screwed by a federal court.
From The Kansas City Star:
U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson on Wednesday upheld an earlier order from a federal magistrate judge requiring Kobach to hand over the documents to the American Civil Liberties Union as part of an ongoing voting rights lawsuit against his office. Robinson, who is based in Kansas City, Kan., was appointed by President George W. Bush. Kobach met with Trump in November and was photographed carrying a document labeled as a strategic plan for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The photograph revealed a reference to voting rolls. The ACLU has sought access to the documents, contending that if Kobach lobbied Trump on changes to federal voting law, it would be relevant to the case.
So the executive order is the culmination of an ongoing bag job that began at the same time that Camp Runamuck opened its gates in January. However, it has its basis in the fragile psyche of a very dangerous man who raves at his television set when there is no other audience available and who would howl at the wind if it disturbed his hair.
This is King Lear with a nuclear strike force.
Update (12:26 p.m.): Yeah, this is normal. From Time:
“CNN in the morning, Chris Cuomo, he’s sitting there like a chained lunatic. He’s like a boiler ready to explode, the level of hatred. And the entire, you know the entire CNN platform is that way. This Don Lemon who’s perhaps the dumbest person in broadcasting, Don Lemon at night it’s like – sometimes they’ll have a guest who by mistake will say something good. And they’ll start screaming, we’re going to commercial. They cut him off. Remember?”
Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States. And over 80 percent of Republican voters in an otherwise catastrophic poll still love the guy.
Now It’s About Much More Than Trump and Russia
It’s about which will prevail: truth—or power.
By Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery
For a while there, it almost seemed as if President Donald Trump’s determined efforts to redirect attention from the Russia scandal were starting to work. The White House had pushed back against every attempt to investigate, and congressional Republicans, from the soap-opera-worthy antics of the House’s Devin Nunes to the slow-walking of the Senate’s Richard Burr, were going along. Democrats had their hair on fire about health care, and a big tax-cut slowdown was looming.
And then Trump fired the FBI director—and made it plain for everyone that the Russia story really does represent a serious threat to American democracy. Because now it’s no longer just about how exactly the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 election, or whether Trump or his associates merely winked and nodded or actively colluded. It’s about whether the public’s right to know the truth is stronger than a powerful man’s burning desire to keep it hidden.
For many decades, from Teapot Dome to Watergate to Lewinskygate, the answer to that question has been, ultimately: yes. Yes, the people deserve to know; yes, political advantage must yield to the search for truth. It is essential that the answer, this time, be the same. As Dan Rather—a man who has watched many administrations try to lie to the public—put it, the alternative is “Armageddon for our form of government.”
To be clear: We can’t, and shouldn’t, assume that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. But at this point, that doesn’t matter. What Trump or any of his associates did in 2016 may or may not have been a scandal, but blocking the public from finding out most definitely is. Trump may turn out to have overreached with the Comey firing, prompting the kind of independent inquiry he was so desperate to avoid. But it’s evident that Republicans on Capitol Hill—terrified of what such a probe would do to their agenda and their electoral prospects—will do everything they can to avoid going there.
That means it’s up to the public—all of us—to make sure truth prevails over power. There are many ways of doing that, from showing up at town halls to calmly reasoning with friends or relatives. For us, as journalists, the call to action is an especially urgent one: We need to deploy every skill we’ve learned, from shoe-leather reporting to data dives. We need to go deep, stick with the story no matter where it leads, and resist getting tangled in conventional wisdom or distracted by sideshows.
Mother Jones was born out of a similar moment, in the post-Watergate years when it became clear that the public needed independent watchdogs. Going after what powerful people want hidden is what we exist to do. We did it in 2012, when David Corn revealed the story of Mitt Romney’s 47 percent remarks; we did it last year, when Shane Bauer reported on his time as a guard inside a private prison. We are scrupulous in our fact-checking, and in protecting our sources, too. (Whistleblowers take note: You can send us secure messages on Signal at (202) 809-1049, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
And so, right now, we’re going to double down. We are launching a new project to investigate the Trump-Russia question, and we hope you’ll be part of it. We’re looking to sign up 1,000 new sustaining donors with a tax-deductable donation of $15 a month to help make it happen. (We’d be grateful for one-time gifts, too.) There’s even a matching gift (and details below) to boost your impact.
Why, you might ask, the extra push on an issue that many others are now covering? Because the past year has shown that even when lots of journalists are on the same beat—back then, it was the presidential campaign—the news ecosystem is not necessarily built to expose the most challenging stories. Here’s an example: In October, Corn was the first and only reporter to break the explosive news that a former British counterintelligence officer had assembled memos containing allegations that Moscow had tried to co-opt and compromise Trump, and that the FBI was interested in this material.
We now know those Russia memos are at the heart of the biggest scandal yet for an administration that, scandal-wise, has set a high bar. Yet it wasn’t until January that others were willing to touch the story. The New York Times‘ public editor, Liz Spayd, wrote a column about how the Times had known about the memos before the election and had even drafted a piece about them—but then killed it. In retrospect, she said, MoJo‘s approach presented a “model” for other newsrooms.
Trump was able to fend off the Russia story for much of the campaign because he exploited Washington’s—and political journalism’s—tendency to coalesce around a he-said-she-said storyline. In this sense, his attacks on media worked: He was able to characterize a genuine scandal as partisan mudslinging, and suggest that to pursue it was to carry water for Hillary Clinton. The Obama administration, as we now know, feared being painted with that brush. So did James Comey. So did many in the press.
This story will move forward only if journalists expose what politicians are hiding.
Journalists’ tendency to recoil in the face of such attacks has waned a bit with Trump ratcheting up his “enemy of the people” venom. But it’s also becoming clearer than ever that the story of foreign influence and corruption has barely begun to be told. Take the not-so-subtle signals from the few people on Capitol Hill who have access to top-secret intelligence briefings. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who happens to be the son of an investigative reporter, recently told MoJo, “There is a big gap between what the public had a right to know and what came out. And that continues to be true to this day.” Wyden’s California colleague, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, says that if the public had known what she knew about Trump and Russia, the election would have turned out differently: “I deeply do believe that.”
Feinstein and Wyden can’t disclose the intelligence they’ve seen. And the White House and its allies are evidently determined to make sure no one else does either. That means this story will move forward only if journalists expose what politicians are hiding—and journalists can only do that when they have the time, and space, to go deep. (We went into why the current media business model is weighted against this sort of reporting here.)
This story is about identifying the most vulnerable spots in our democracy and how they can be exploited by forces both foreign and domestic. (Here’s a non-Russia example on the corruption beat: Our colleagues Russ Choma and Andy Kroll were the first to report on a Chinese American businesswoman who paid $15.8 million for a penthouse in Trump’s Park Avenue building. She makes her living connecting people with the “princelings” of the Chinese political elite and has ties to a Chinese military intelligence front group. Why is someone connected to a foreign spy service putting nearly $16 million into the president’s pocket?)
In addition to digging into conflicts like these, we’re aiming to help you sift through the chaos of the daily headlines. We’ve put together a constantly updated Russia-Trump timeline, and we’re launching a newsletter, The Russia Connection, that will deliver the most important stories on this beat—not froth, fluff, or speculation—once a week. We’re thrilled to announce that it’s being put together by Bill Buzenberg, the former news director of National Public Radio and former head of the Center for Public Integrity. You can sign up for it here.
It will take more than $500,000 to fund this project, which will include reporters, fact-checkers, editors, researchers, multimedia work, and legal review. The Glaser Progress Foundation has donated $200,000 to kick-start things, and when we raise the rest of the funds, it’ll pitch in another $50,000. That’s where readers like you come in—for every new donor at the $15-a-month level, the foundation will donate $50 until we hit 1,000 donors or $50,000 in matching funds. (And that’s a genuine commitment, on paper—not a gimmick like some of the “QUADRUPLE MATCH!!!” offers that clog your mailbox.)
This kind of reporting is going to take time and persistence. It’s going to require going down a lot of rabbit holes and spending quality time with stacks of documents—day after day, month after month. So please help send us down those rabbit holes. Join us as a sustaining donor with a tax-deductable monthly gift. (If you’re not ready to pitch in monthly, we’d be grateful for a one-time donation too!)
This story may not be in the headlines every day like it was this week, but it won’t get any less important. “When we look back at Watergate, we remember the end of the Nixon presidency,” as Dan Rather puts it. “It came with an avalanche, but for most of the time my fellow reporters and I were chasing down the story as it rumbled along with a low-grade intensity. We never were quite sure how much we would find out about what really happened. In the end, the truth emerged into the light.”
Republican Congressman Clarifies That the Constitution Is Different Under Trump
Glad we cleared that up.
By Charles P. Pierce May 11, 2017
In case you’re wondering why no Republican has stood up to be counted, you should know that installing a vulgar talking yam in the White House has changed the job description of Being A Congressman. Isn’t that right, Barry Loudermilk?
GOP congressman says Trump should ignore court on ban like Jackson, says its “not true” there’s 3 equal branches. https://t.co/ctUg1XL2Vv
— andrew kaczynski 🤔 (@KFILE) March 20, 2017
Luckily, the House veterans are there to set rookies like Loudermilk straight.
MacArthur: “We don’t oversee the executive…. Congress is not the board of directors of the White House.”
— Igor Bobic (@igorbobic) May 11, 2017
That’s Tom MacArthur, the New Jersey representative and the primary architect of the most recent iteration of the Republican healthcare farce, and someone who had a rather bad night back home on Wednesday evening.
This is so confusing. If only there were some pieces of 18th century parchment available to clear up the muddle. And if only someone who was around when it was written had thought to explain it further:
But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.
We are currently being governed by the members of a terrified cult.
Trump lawyers push back against Russia ties in letter
Ken Thomas and Darlene Superville, Associated Press May 14, 2017
WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawyers for President Donald Trump said Friday that a review of his last 10 years of tax returns did not reflect “any income of any type from Russian sources,” but the letter included exceptions related to previously cited income generated from a beauty pageant and sale of a Florida estate.
The letter represented the latest attempt by the president to tamp down concerns about any Russian ties amid an ongoing investigation of his campaign’s associates and Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
The attorneys did not release copies of Trump’s tax returns, so The Associated Press cannot independently verify their conclusions. Their review also notably takes into account only Trump’s returns from the past 10 years, leaving open questions about whether there were financial dealings with Russia in earlier years.
Trump has refused to release his income tax records, despite pressure from Democrats, breaking with a practice set by his predecessors. The president has said he would release his returns when the Internal Revenue Service completes an audit. The tax returns, the attorneys say, largely reflect income and interest paid by the web of corporate entities that made up The Trump Organization prior to Trump taking office.
In a letter released to the AP and dated March 8, the attorneys said there is no equity investment by Russians in entities controlled by Trump or debt owed by Trump to Russian lenders. But it did reflect some exceptions, including income from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant that was held in Moscow and a property sold to a Russian billionaire in 2008 for $95 million.
The White House said Trump asked his lawyers for the letter to outline information on any ties Trump might have to Russia. The letter was then provided to Sen. Lindsey Graham. Graham leads one of the congressional committees investigating Russia’s interference in last year’s election.
The letter came amid an active FBI probe into the Trump 2016 campaign’s possible ties to Russia’s election meddling and days after Trump’s stunning firing of FBI Director James Comey.
“I have no investments in Russia, none whatsoever,” Trump said Thursday in an interview with NBC News. “I don’t have property in Russia. A lot of people thought I owned office buildings in Moscow. I don’t have property in Russia.”
The president said he “had dealings over the years,” including the Miss Universe pageant and the sale of a home to “a very wealthy Russian.” ”I had it in Moscow long time ago, but other than that I have nothing to do with Russia,” he said, referring to the pageant.
The unnamed Russian billionaire cited by the Trump company’s lawyers is Dmitry Rybolovlev, whose financial empire springs from his companies’ production of potash, often used for fertilizer.
Trump had purchased the 62,000 square-foot estate for $41.35 million in 2004 and he sold the mansion to Rybolovlev in July 2008 for $95 million. The deal was widely reported at the time, including by The Associated Press.
When Trump was pressed during a campaign conference last year about his ties to Russia, he said: “You know the closest I came to Russia, I bought a house a number of years ago in Palm Beach,” adding that “I sold it to a Russian for $100 million.”
The letter, written by attorneys Sheri Dillon and William Nelson from the law firm of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, simultaneously leaves open the possibility of other Russian ties while attempting to dismiss them.
The letter doesn’t vouch for any of Trump’s personal federal tax returns that predate the past decade. The attorneys also write that over the last 10 years, it is likely that the Trump Organization sold or rented condos, or other products, that “could have produced income attributable to Russian sources.”
“With respect to this last exception, the amounts are immaterial,” the attorney wrote.
Associated Press writers Chad Day and Stephen Braun contributed to this report.
Donald Trump’s tax law firm has ‘deep’ ties to Russia
By Pete Madden and Matthew Mosk May 12, 2017
The lawyers who wrote a letter saying President Trump had no significant business ties to Russia work for a law firm that has extensive ties to Russia and received a “Russia Law Firm of the Year” award in 2016.
Sheri Dillon and William Nelson, tax partners at the law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, which has served as tax counsel to Trump and the Trump Organization since 2005, wrote a letter in March released by the White House on Friday stating that a review of the last 10 years of Trump’s tax returns “do not reflect” ties to Russia “with a few exceptions.”
In 2016, however, Chambers & Partners, a London-based legal research publication, named the firm “Russia Law Firm of the Year” at its annual awards dinner. The firm celebrated the “prestigious honor” in a press release on its website, noting that the award is “the latest honor for the high-profile work performed by the lawyers in Morgan Lewis’ Moscow office.”
According to the firm’s website, its Moscow office includes more than 40 lawyers and staff who are “well known in the Russian market, and have a deep familiarity with the local legislation, practices, and key players.” The firm boasts of being “particularly adept” at advising clients on “sanction matters.”
Following the release of the letter, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn) noted the firm’s connection to Russia, calling it “unreal.”
Asked if there could be other business ties between Trump and Russian partners, Sheri Dillon told ABC News that “the letter speaks for itself.”
As for the firm’s presence in Russia, a firm spokesperson said that no lawyers from Morgan Lewis have handling any business dealings for Mr. Trump in Russia.
Dillon has never been to Russia and does no work there, the spokesperson said.
Jack Blum, a Washington tax lawyer who is an expert on white-collar financial crime and international tax evasion, called the Dillon letter “meaningless.”
Blum told ABC News that real estate projects, in particular, can be structured with partners and subsidiaries so that it would be easy to shield the identity of all involved. Trump’s tax returns would not show where all the money came from to finance these projects, he said.
“There’s no substance to it. The letter is just another puff of smoke,” Blum said. “It has no meaning at all. It’s just another way to not answer the question.”
Trump asked ex-FBI Director James Comey for loyalty at a recent dinner, sources say
By Pierre Thomas, Jack Date and Geneva Sands May 12, 2017
President Trump asked former FBI Director James Comey more than once about whether he could be loyal over the course of a dinner meeting, according to sources familiar with the meeting.
Comey, who was fired from his high-ranking position Tuesday evening, only promised that he could be honest, the sources told ABC News.
The now-former director’s dramatic firing earlier this week has led to days of controversy and criticism about the future of the bureau and the ongoing investigation into possible collusion between the White House and Russia during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.
The New York Times first reported on the dinner, saying that seven days after Trump was sworn in as president Jan. 20, Comey was summoned to the “White House for a one-on-one dinner with the new commander in chief.”
In his letter announcing Comey’s termination, Trump wrote that that he “greatly appreciated” Comey’s informing him on “three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation.”
White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders reiterated Thursday the president’s claim in his letter to Comey, despite denials from associates of the former FBI director, that he was reassured by Comey that he was not under investigation.
“I have heard that directly from him that information was relayed directly to him from director Comey,” Sanders said during the press briefing, noting that she got her information directly from the president.
In contradiction with the president, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said today on MSNBC that he couldn’t say whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
“I don’t know if there was collusion,” Clapper said. “I don’t know if there was evidence of collusion, nor should I have.”
ABC News’ Jonathan Karl, Jordyn Phelps and Alex Mallin contributed to this story.
Trump lawyers detail his ‘immaterial’ earnings from Russian source
By Jordyn Phelps and Ryan Struyk May 12, 2017,
President Trump’s tax returns for the past decade show little income from Russian sources and no debt owed to Russian lenders, his lawyers said.
“With a few exceptions — as detailed below — your tax returns do not reflect (1) any income of any type from Russian sources, (2) any debt owed by you or TTO [The Trump Organization] to Russian lenders or any interest paid by you or TTO to Russian lenders, (3) any equity investments by Russian persons or entities in entities controlled by you or TTO, or (4) any equity or debt investments by you or TTO in Russian entities,” the lawyers said in a letter they sent to Trump in March but released today.
The letter, dated March 8, says that Trump earned $12.2 million through the Miss Universe pageant, which was hosted in Moscow in 2013. A “substantial portion” of that was attributable to the Moscow event, it said.
Trump Properties LLC sold property in Florida to a Russian billionaire for $95 million, the lawyers added.
“Over the years, it is likely that TTO or third-party entities engaged in ordinary course sales of goods or services to Russians or Russian entities, such as sales / rentals / fees for condominiums, hotel rooms, rounds of golf, books or Trump-licensed products (e.g., ties, mattresses, wines, etc.) that could have produced income attributable to Russian sources,” according to the letter.
“The amounts are immaterial,” it added.
Bucking the tradition of presidents for decades, Trump has not released his full tax returns to the public.
In comments similar to what’s reflected in his lawyers’ letter, Trump told NBC Thursday, “I have no investments in Russia, none whatsoever. I have had dealings over the years where I sold a house to a very wealthy Russian many years ago. I had the Miss Universe pageant, which I owned for quite a while. I had it in Moscow a long time ago. But other than that, I have nothing to do with Russia.”
Don’t Take Anything Trump’s Lawyers Say About His Tax Returns Seriously
Paul Blumenthal May 12, 2017
President Donald Trump’s tax lawyers issued a statement on Friday that the White House wants you to take seriously: The president has not received income or taken on any debt or equity from Russian sources over the past 10 years, “with a few exceptions.”
This is not how you construct a credible statement about someone’s finances, let alone a sitting president of the United States.
“With few exceptions” is such an obvious out that it can barely even be called a loophole ― it simply and openly invalidates the denial that precedes it.
Trump has a history of emphatically denying that he has any monetary connection to Russia. In January, he tweeted: “NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!” His lawyers’ new admission of the “few exceptions” indicates this blanket denial was false. The letter written by Sherri Dillon and Willie Nelson, Trump’s tax lawyers at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, is dated March 8.
According to Dillon and Nelson, those exceptions include Russian fertilizer kingpin Dmitry Rybolovlev purchasing a South Florida mansion for $95 million in 2008; the 2013 Miss Universe contest held in Moscow, which earned $12.2 million in income; and “ordinary course sales of goods or services to Russians.” No documentary evidence was provided to prove that these are Trump’s only sources of income from Russians.
“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Donald Trump Jr. said at a Russian real estate conference in 2008. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” And a sports writer recently reported that Eric Trump, another son of the president, said in 2014 that the family had access to $100 million from Russian banks. “Well, we don’t rely on American banks,” Eric Trump said at the time, according to the writer. “We have all the funding we need out of Russia.” (Eric Trump denied the quote.)
The incidental “sales of goods or services to Russians” was no small sum. Russians spent nearly $100 million to purchase condos in seven buildings licensing the Trump name in South Florida, according to Reuters. Trump received a commission on all sales in the buildings, likely somewhere between 1 percent and 4 percent. This would mean Trump received between $1 million and $4 million in income from Russian purchasers.
This is a bizarre attempt to substitute a prepared communication for public disclosure, which is insufficient for both urgent investigation and repairing the public trust. John Wonderlich, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation
Trump also had a long-standing financing and business relationship with a company called Bayrock. Bayrock provided the financing to build Trump Soho, which the company owned and Trump lent his name to through a licensing deal. Bayrock was founded by Tevfik Arif, a former Soviet official who was born in Kazakhstan, and Tamir Sapir, a Georgian fertilizer and oil magnate. Felix Sater ― a mob-linked double felon who stabed a man in the face with a broken margarita glass and was convicted for his role in a $40 million pump-and-dump stock fraud ― was a Bayrock executive.
Bayrock attempted to build Trump-branded buildings in Arizona and Florida and had offices for a time in Trump Tower. Sater was given a Trump Organization business card, which called him a “senior advisor to Donald Trump.” Sater traveled to Russia with Trump’s children looking for investment properties. Despite these numerous connections, Trump said in 2013 that if Sater “were sitting in the room right now, I wouldn’t know what he looked like.”
It’s unclear where Bayrock got the money to finance Trump Soho, because the funding trail ends with an Icelandic company called FL Group. Iceland was a common destination for laundered Russian money prior to the financial crisis, when the FL Group financed Bayrock. Allen Garten, a Trump Organization lawyer, told the Financial Times last year that he “had no reason to question” where Bayrock got its money.
Additionally, HuffPost reported a previously unknown connection between Donald Trump Jr. and Sater through a company called Global Habitat Solutions. GHS, founded by Sater, acted as a marketing tool for a twice-defunct Trump Jr. venture called Titan Atlas, which sold building materials.
Of course, the president could provide evidence for his claims by releasing his personal tax returns and the returns for his family business, but he has refused to do so. Without producing his full tax returns, the only thing we have to reply on to substantiate Trump’s denials is Trump’s word.
And Trump has an almost unimaginable track record of telling falsehoods. The same goes for those speaking on his behalf. Without documentation for his and his lawyers’ claims, statements about where Trump’s income comes from and who his family does business with cannot be taken seriously.
Trump’s lawyers are simply doing their job: to do what their client demands, whether it is to protect him from negative publicity or from any potential legal liability. Dillon and Nelson have no duty to the American people and no obligation to the public trust to tell the truth about the president’s finances.
“This is a bizarre attempt to substitute a prepared communication for public disclosure, which is insufficient for both urgent investigation and repairing the public trust,” John Wonderlich, executive director of the pro-transparency Sunlight Foundation, told HuffPost.
“Trump also paid lawyers to vouch for his divestment and ethics plans, which were clearly insufficient,” he said.
Washington Post Opinion
Trump’s ‘tapes’ tweet is too much. Hasn’t the GOP had enough?
By Jennifer Rubin May 12, 2017
Since President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on May 9, the explanations for the dismissal have been getting murkier. Now Trump has tweeted a threat to cancel press briefings and a suggestion about “tapes” of his private conversations with Comey.
President Trump tweeted this morning, “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” One doesn’t know if this is a threat or another bit of bluster. Congress should immediately issue a subpoena for all tapes of presidential conversations, just to be on the safe side. The sheer bizarreness of his tweet will, for those not immune to Trump’s lunacy, reintroduce questions about his mental stability. One wonders when, if ever, Republicans will declare they’ve had enough.
The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol remarks to me, “I think there is movement among Hill Republicans, for now mostly in private and behind the scenes. And then, I think (and history suggests), the dam will break suddenly.” One hopes that is right, but outwardly, the Republicans by and large continue to support Trump and defend his nonsense.
The 2016 election demonstrated that the party once united by political thought (e.g., smaller government, objective truth, respect for tradition, the rule of law) and respect for civic virtue would accept a thoughtless, entirely unscrupulous leader for the sake of holding power. (“Sure, he’s totally ignorant about the world, but we’ll get the Supreme Court.” “Well, he’s obviously lying about a bunch of issues, but he’ll sign whatever the House gives him.“) En masse, most Republicans — including those at some premier publications (which are now unreadable to all but the Trump cultists) — declared willingness to defend ignorance, bigotry, dishonesty and ineptitude on the chance that they’d get a top marginal tax rate of 28 percent. The calculation, to those not driven by partisan zeal, seems shockingly small-minded and tribalistic. (At least Hillary Clinton’s not there to raise taxes!) One marvels at other trades they’d make. (Lose an independent judiciary for sake of a meaningless and offensive travel ban?)
Republican Party identification has begun requiring intellectual vacuity. One has to be free from shame to agree that it’s no big deal when Trump confesses he fired former FBI director James B. Comey because he decided Russian interference in the election was “just a made-up story.” A slew of FBI agents is now investigating the “made-up story,” the entire intelligence community verifies it and members of both parties acknowledge that it occurred. To go along with such utterances means condoning Trump’s inability to accept reality (Russia did, in fact, meddle) and refusing to concede that pressuring and then firing the FBI director must be impeachable, if not criminal, conduct. This mind-set forces Trump defenders to say daft things such as: Trump has the right to fire Comey, so what’s the problem? Democrats didn’t like Comey, anyway. It doesn’t matter that he gave a pretextual answer for the firing.
Our incredulity does not concern Trump’s buffoonish performances. We’re not surprised in the least that the president thinks he’s entitled to shut down an investigation if he doesn’t like the way his political opponents are utilizing evidence to attack him. We expected nothing less and warned fellow Republicans that this was what they were buying into.
No, we remain incredulous that so many seemingly mature conservatives are going along with this, even now when his political utility to the party is so slight. (It’s not as though he’s capable of delivering on campaign promises or leading the party to victories in 2018.) We’re not talking about Sean Hannity or Tucker Carlson, but, in this context, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the majority of 2016 presidential candidates, right-wing think tankers, too many right-leaning pundits, etc. Have they truly lost their intellectual bearings, or are they so cynical as to conclude that sticking with the “tribe” is better than simple truth-telling?
We’re hoping that the dam breaks quickly, before more harm comes to the republic. The GOP, however, may be irreparably broken.
White House Staff React in Real-Time as Trump Tweets: ‘Jesus’
Flacking for a man who can change his mind at any moment is proving to be a tactical minefield for the White House press office.
By Lachlan Markay and Asawin Suebsaeng May 12, 2017
It was 7:51 a.m. eastern time on a Friday, and the president was angrily tweetstorming again.
This time, it was about “Fake News,” “the Russians,” China and Beef, , James Comey and “tapes,” and his sometimes hapless White House staff.
“As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!” @realDonaldTrump posted. “Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future ‘press briefings’ and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???”
Senior administration officials have grown accustomed to learning about their boss’s whims in unorthodox ways but it doesn’t mean they like it or are prepared for the sudden swings of emotion. For instance, one official was having a conversation with a Daily Beast reporter on Friday morning when the reporter interrupted the official to inform them that Trump was on Twitter again.
After a brief pause to check Twitter, the senior Trump aide informed of the unfolding rant, responded, “Jesus.”
The morning’s tirade was the latest in a series of migraine-inducing actions endured by the president’s press team this week, who have faced the wrath of the president’s anger over their handling of Trump’s botched and bungled firing of FBI director James Comey.
Multiple White House sources confirmed to The Daily Beast earlier reports that the president was “furious” in the aftermath—causing aides to spend the rest of the week drawing as little attention to themselves as possible.
“People are keeping their heads down,” another official said, describing the White House comms shop as dispirited and fearful of Trump’s ire.
White House sources told The Daily Beast this week that Trump was not accepting excuses from staffers that they were kept in the dark and therefore didn’t have sufficient time on Tuesday to come up with a coherent strategy and messaging.
Officials spoke to The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity so as to speak freely. The White House press shop did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
At Friday’s White House press briefing, Sean Spicer explained that he and his staff do their best to gather relevant information from the president before briefing the press, but that Trump is occasionally unavailable and some information isn’t readily attainable.
An exasperated White House staffer on Friday described a different dynamic, saying the West Wing often struggles to keep up with Trump’s kinetic and unilateral public messaging operation and tweets and interviews that often diverge from the official White House line on the day’s events.
The resulting tension between Trump’s statements and those of the press office charged with maintaining his public image have some frustrated at their apparent inability to nail down a coherent narrative on issues as weighty as the FBI’s investigation into alleged 2016 election-meddling.
“It’s not that we don’t know what the president wants to say, it’s that the president doesn’t know what the president wants to say,” the staffer said.
When deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Wednesday that the president canned Comey, on the advice of Justice Department leadership, she was dutifully advancing the administration’s initial narrative on the move.
“They had come to him to express their concerns,” she said of the president’s Monday meeting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
“So it’s the White House’s assertion that Rod Rosenstein decided on his own, after being confirmed, to review Comey’s performance?” a reporter asked. Sanders was resolute: “Absolutely.”
Vice President Mike Pence relayed the same timeline seven times on Wednesday as well.
Then on Thursday, Trump publicly contradicted all of them.
“Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey,” he told NBC’s Lester Holt in an interview excerpted before Thursday’s White House press briefing.
Sanders was forced to walk back her claims the day before. “I went off of the information that I had when I answered your question,” she admitted. “I’ve since had the conversation with him, right before I walked on today, and he laid it out very clearly. He had already made that decision.”
“It’s tough,” the White House staffer said of Sanders’s Trump-induced walk-back. “You say what you’re supposed to say, and then you have to go out and basically apologize for it.”
By Friday, Sanders was no longer at the briefing room lectern, and Spicer was back at the job. Another White House staffer said Spicer essentially had to return to deliver the briefing as a matter of survival, due to being on thinner ice with the president as a result of Tuesday’s mess.
Trump undercutting—or needlessly complicating life for—his top political surrogates and spokespeople dates back to the 2016 campaign trail, when senior campaign staff were in a constant state of cleaning up after the Republican presidential nominee.
“When POTUS tweetstorms, it is often all-hands [on deck]” for White House staffers, a senior Trump aide said.
One former top Trump campaign surrogate described to The Daily Beast that “the scariest five minutes” of their life was the period of time right before they went on live TV when they weren’t checking their smartphone, since there was always the possibility that they would be asked on-air about something Trump had just tweeted or said that campaign staff hadn’t had time to invent a defense for yet.
“There were times on the trail when the initial comms strategy was just to be, just, flabbergasted at Twitter, then play clean up,” the surrogate recounted.
In the White House, Trump’s press secretary and his communications team have plenty of cleaning up to do—and have to deal with a president who is never shy about reminding senior staff about their job insecurity.
“He made it clear and known that Sean [Spicer] had failed him,” one person who spoke with Trump about this told The Daily Beast. “It was clear.”
Still, Spicer can’t do much more than put on a happy face and continue to try to appease his boss.
“It’s good to be back with you. Apparently I was missed,” Spicer said, smiling, at the top of the White House press briefing on Friday early afternoon.
U.S. Attorney Fired By Trump Just Broke His Silence On Comey’s Firing
By Benjamin Locke May 10, 2017
Since Preet Bharara was fired by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in March, after eight years doing an outstanding job as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, despite having been praised by Trump previously, he hasn’t been heard from very often.
His name came up yesterday when U.S. Senate Minority leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) mentioned that Bharara was one of those fired as they were looking into Trump and his campaign’s links to Russia.
In the wake of the sudden firing of the FBI Director, Bharara has broken his silence in several pointed tweets:
Trump had good reason to fear a prosecutor known as a “crusader” who had shown his interest was in the public good and the truth, not in playing dirty politics.
Now on the faculty of the New York University School of Law, he was fired by Sessions after he refused to resign along with other U.S. Attorneys.
It was not long after Bharara had opened an investigation into links between Russia interference and the Trump campaign in the 2016 election.
Making him more dangerous to Trump, Bharara has a history of being fearless in going after both Democrats and Republicans who are guilty of public corruption. Under his leadership, his office also shown international reach, including taking down Russian mobsters involved in a $230 million money laundering scheme in 2013.
Bharara had also gone after Russians involved in terrorism and narcotics trafficking. He was even banned by the Russian government from entering their country over trumped up claims of human rights violations.
His banning was actually retribution in 2012 after Congress passed, and President Obama signed, legislation after the suspicious death of a Russian lawyer in prison who had been investigating corruption.
If there is one thing Bharara understands, it is how corrupt officials try to hide their nefarious actions by creating a pretext that going after an enemy is actually about something else – such as Trump claiming he fired Comey over his handling of Hillary Clinton’s emails, months after it happened, and after he praised Comey for his actions at the time.
So here is one final tweet from Bharara, to make it clear he is still a lawyer ready to prove his case, that despite pretext, the truth is still out there:
Noam Chomsky: The GOP Is Still the Most Dangerous Organization in Human History
Lorraine Chow May 13, 2017
In a new interview with BBC Newsnight, Professor Noam Chomsky repeated his previous claim that the Republican Party is the most dangerous organization “in human history,” especially in their refusal to fight climate change or even denying that the global phenomenon is real.
Although Chomsky noted it was an “outrageous statement” to make, when host Evan Davis asked him if the U.S. political party is worse than North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and the Islamic State, the political thinker replied: “Is ISIS dedicated to trying to destroy the prospects for organized human existence?”
“It doesn’t matter whether they genuinely [believe in climate change] or not … if the consequence of that is, ‘Let’s use more fossil fuels, let’s refuse to subsidize developing countries, let’s eliminate regulations that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.’ If that’s the consequence, that’s extremely dangerous,” he continued.
“Unless you’re living under a rock, you have to recognize the seriousness of this threat.”
Earlier in the interview, Chomsky shared his thoughts about President Donald Trump’s anti-climate agenda but pointed out he was more concerned about the GOP as a whole:
I think the main damage [Trump will] do is to the world, and it’s already happening. The most significant aspect of the Trump election—and it’s not just Trump, it’s the whole Republican Party—is their departing from the rest of the world on climate change.
We have this astonishing spectacle of the United States alone in the world not only refusing to participate in efforts to deal with climate change but dedicated to undermining them. It’s not just Trump, every single Republican leader is the same.
It goes down to the local levels. Take a look at the primaries. In the Republican primaries, every single candidate either denied that climate change is happening. Or, when you get to the so-called moderates like Jeb Bush and [John] Kasich, they said, ‘Well, maybe it’s happening but we shouldn’t do anything about it.’ That’s 100 percent refusal.
Watch the full interview here: https://youtu.be/edicDsSwYpk