Mike Pence called for Mueller to wrap up his investigation and it sounds an awful lot like Nixon’s plea for an end to Watergate…

Occupy Democrats: Video

May 11, 2018

Mike Pence just called for Mueller to wrap up his investigation into Trump’s collusion and it sounds an awful lot like Nixon’s plea for an end to Watergate…

Trump's team sounds EXACTLY like Nixon's in calls to end special investigations

Mike Pence just called for Mueller to wrap up his investigation into Trump's collusion and it sounds an awful lot like Nixon's plea for an end to Watergate…Video by Occupy Democrats. Like our page for more!

Posted by Occupy Democrats on Friday, May 11, 2018

The emerging scandal over Michael Cohen’s consulting could take presidential corruption to another level.

Slate – Politics

A New Low

The emerging scandal over Michael Cohen’s consulting could take presidential corruption to another level.

By Jamelle Bouie       May 9, 2018

President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen exits a hotel in New York City on April 13. Photo edited by Slate. Photo by REUTERS/Jeenah Moon.

While there’s still much to piece together from the revelations involving Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, and his shell company, Essential Consultants LLC, the possibility that Trump was personally involved in Cohen’s self-dealing could make the ordeal one of the most serious corruption scandals in presidential history.

First, the facts. Cohen’s company took more than $4 million in payments from various companies, including one linked to a Russian oligarch. There’s no direct evidence that Cohen was involved in a pay-to-play scheme, but it certainly looks suspicious. Cohen accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from major corporations with business before the Trump administration, including AT&T, which made four payments totaling $200,000 to Cohen’s shell company and only ceased those payments after Trump’s Federal Communications Commission repealed regulations around net neutrality.

Cohen also took $500,000 in payments from Columbus Nova, an investment firm tied to Russian oligarch (and Vladimir Putin ally) Viktor Vekselberg. While we don’t know if those payments are related directly to President Trump, we do know that last year, Cohen hand-delivered to then–national security adviser Michael Flynn a plan to lift sanctions against Russia.

It’s possible this is all innocuous, that Cohen—a “fixer” for Trump who, with his knowledge, used cash from this shell company to pay hush money to a pornographic actress for an extramarital affair—also maintained an aboveboard consulting firm, for which these payments are legal and legitimate. But if that isn’t true, if what we’re looking at is the outline of a broad network of improper payments and illegal contributions, then we have something truly unprecedented. No, it’s not Watergate or Iran-Contra—where the president and his executive branch took extraconstitutional actions that threatened the integrity of the entire system. But it is the kind of blatant self-enrichment—corruption in the traditional sense—that we rarely see at this level of American politics, or at this scale.

It is the kind of blatant self-enrichment—corruption in the traditional sense—that we rarely see at this level of American politics, or at this scale.

Indeed, past examples of presidential corruption didn’t actually involve the presidents tarnished by them. Ulysses S. Grant was savaged throughout his presidency for the self-dealing and personal enrichment that plagued his administration. Most notorious was the Whiskey Ring scandal of 1875, wherein whiskey distillers successfully bribed Treasury Department agents, helping them evade millions of dollars in taxes. But, once he became aware of this wrongdoing, Grant gave Treasury Secretary Benjamin Bristow full freedom to pursue an investigation that eventually ended with criminal indictments against multiple officials, including Grant’s secretary, Orville Babcock.

The gold standard for presidential corruption, the Teapot Dome scandal under President Warren Harding, involved Interior Secretary Albert Fall. Fall had taken more than $400,000 in cash and no-interest personal loans in exchange for arranging low-rate, noncompetitive contracts for friendly oil companies. In today’s dollars, that’s nearly $6 million in bribes. Harding’s offense was managerial—indifferent to allegations of wrongdoing against Fall, he took no action to investigate claims of quid pro quo. It wasn’t until after the president’s death in 1923 that an investigation would uncover the breadth of Fall’s deceit, earning him a $100,000 fine, nine months in prison, and the dubious honor of being the first former Cabinet member convicted of a felony committed while in office.

By contrast, President Trump is directly involved in this unfolding scandal. He now admits that he reimbursed Cohen to buy Stormy Daniels’ silence. And given his close relationship with Cohen, it’s possible he knew Fortune 500 companies and Russian oligarchs were funneling millions of dollars to the same account used to pay for his liaisons. Even if Trump is nominally disconnected from some of Cohen’s activities, what we already know about Daniels and the web of payments to keep her silent is damning. Add the ongoing scandal of Trump’s self-enrichment from the office of the presidency, and you have a previously unseen level of corruption from the White House.

This is all the more egregious because, in addition to his own corruption, Trump is presiding over a host of corruption scandals in his Cabinet, from nepotism and abuse of taxpayer funds at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to the torrent of petty graft at the Environmental Protection Agency, where Administrator Scott Pruitt is under fire for his ties to lobbyists and other unethical behavior.

The permissive attitude toward this type of graft has filtered down to others in the Republican Party. On Tuesday, ABC News interviewed West Virginia voters as they cast their ballots in the state’s Republican Senate primary. One of those voters lost three cousins in the mine explosion overseen by Don Blankenship, one of the three candidates for the nomination. Still, that voter backed the former coal baron, who went to prison for his culpability in the accident. “I want an honest crook, and that’s Blankenship,” said the voter.

Blankenship lost, but that same sentiment helped Trump become president. And it continues to buoy Trump as he is beset by scandal. It reflects the broad idea that Washington and its denizens are corrupt; that politicians are corrupt; and that open corruption is better than the alternative. But while Washington is marred by self-dealing and countless conflicts of interest, it’s also true that the casual corruption and graft of a Trump or Pruitt or Blankenship are rare. And what seems present from Michael Cohen, and potentially the president, is extraordinary.

A certain amount of cynicism about the process is warranted. But most politicians aren’t crooks, and to believe otherwise is to give license to those who only care to line their pockets, and will betray the public to do it.

Giuliani: Trump said he was unaware of Cohen payments.

New details raise questions about whether Cohen’s consulting work crossed a line beyond typically venal Washington influence peddling.

Trump denies knowledge of Cohen payments

New details raise questions about whether Cohen's consulting work crossed a line beyond typically venal Washington influence peddling.

Posted by All In with Chris Hayes on Thursday, May 10, 2018

Trump’s judges, U.S. attorneys overwhelmingly white men


Trump’s judges, U.S. attorneys overwhelmingly white men

The analysis of the president’s nominees was released by Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

By Matthew Nussbaum         May 10, 2018

According to the report, the diversity of President Donald Trump’s judicial picks lags behind his predecessor, Barack Obama. | Evan Vucci/AP Photo

President Donald Trump’s picks for top prosecutors and judges are overwhelmingly white men, according to an analysis released by the Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

The report slams Trump for what the Democrats describe as “degradation of the judicial nominations process, the lack of diversity among President Trump’s nominees, and this administration’s commitment to nominate ideological, often-unqualified candidates.”

The report found that just 8 percent of Trump’s nominees for U.S. attorney positions are women, and just 8 percent are people of color. The report found a similar, if slightly less stark, trend when it comes to judgeships: 25 percent of Trump’s district court nominees and 19 percent of his circuit court nominees are women; 8 percent of Trump’s district court nominees and 11 percent of his circuit court nominees are people of color.

The report contrasts the numbers with former President Barack Obama, who made diversity in the judiciary a priority. In Obama’s first year, 42 percent of his judicial nominees were women and 52 percent were people of color.

But in the process of highlighting the demographics of Trump’s nominees, the Democratic report also underscores Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s success in confirming judicial nominees with rapid speed — a top priority for the Kentucky Republican and his party.

“President Trump’s first 15 circuit court nominees took an average of 131 days to be confirmed. In contrast, President Obama’s first 15 circuit court nominees took an average of 254 days to be confirmed — more than twice as long,” the report states.

“On average, President Trump’s first 15 circuit court nominees waited just 20 days from approval by the Judiciary Committee to confirmation on the floor. On average, President Obama’s first 15 circuit court nominees waited 167 days from approval by the Judiciary Committee to confirmation on the floor — eight times longer than President Trump’s nominees.”

Conservative activists made a reshaping of the judiciary — and especially filling Antonin Scalia’s vacancy on the Supreme Court — a crucial element in the argument in favor of electing Trump. Trump has kept up his end of the bargain with alacrity, making judicial nominations a central part of his agenda on Capitol Hill, and McConnell has used the reshaping of the courts to help maintain unity within his occasionally fractured conference.

“Along with significant legislation benefiting the middle class and a growing economy, Sen. McConnell has made the confirmation of judicial nominations a top priority,” McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said in an email. “The fact that the Republican Senate has been able to confirm so many nominees despite historic and relentless obstruction from Senate Democrats, is a testament to the priority the Leader, our Conference and the White House have put on nominating, vetting and confirming well-qualified nominees.”

The judiciary is not the only area in which Trump has been criticized for not emphasizing diversity. Democrats have been critical of Trump for naming just one African-American to his Cabinet, and having no African Americans serving as senior aides in the White House.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Elana Schor contributed reporting.

Trump’s (Press)‘credentials’ threat is an empty one — and it won’t solve his problems


Trump’s (Press)‘credentials’ threat is an empty one — and it won’t solve his problems

Simply put, Donald Trump doesn’t understand how the political press works.

Jason Linkins      May 10, 2018

Washington, D.C.  May 8th: Donald Trump announces his decision to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in the diplomatic room at the White House. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

President Donald Trump brought some fresh complaints about the press to Twitter Wednesday morning, seemingly in response to news that broke overnight about the shell company his lawyer and self-styled fixer, Michael Cohen, may have used to facilitate hush-money payoffs to adult film actress Stormy Daniels — as well as some decidedly off-book lobbying fees collected from a handful of companies.

As is his wont, Trump offered another blistering attack on the media, loosed from all capitalization conventions, for continuing to report on him. “91% of the Network News about me is negative (Fake),” he wrote, adding, “Why do we work so hard in working with the media when it is corrupt? Take away credentials?”

trump tweet: The Fake News is working overtime. Just reported that, despite the tremendous success we are having with the economy & all things else, 91% of the Network News about me is negative (Fake). Why do we work so hard in working with the media when it is corrupt? Take away credentials?

Trump, who’s never given any indication that he distinguishes between negative commentary about him and objectively true facts that cast him in a bad light, essentially told on himself in this instance.

As ThinkProgress’ Aaron Rupar noted, Trump’s outburst was “a major tell,” in that he made it “explicitly” clear “that he considers all negative coverage of him to be fake.”

But attention soon turned to the unsettling aspect of Trump’s interjection, the part where he threatened to take away some unspecified group of reporters’ credentials.

As you might expect, the focus fell on the White House Correspondents Association (WHCA), whose members do depend on credentials to work within the White House’s confines. Bloomberg’s senior White House correspondent Margaret Talev, who currently serves as the WHCA’s president, addressed the matter in a statement:

“Some may excuse the president’s inflammatory rhetoric about the media, but just because the president does not like news coverage does not make it fake. A free press must be able to report on the good, the bad, and the momentous and the mundane, without fear or favor. And a president preventing a free and independent press from covering the workings of our republic would be an unconscionable assault on the First Amendment.”

Of course, while an appeal to higher principles provides the obligatory covering of the bases, it doesn’t really resolve the matter, because Trump is immune to such appeals. Nevertheless, all this talk of revoking credentials is something of an empty threat; even if the president does revoke everyone’s credentials, it won’t stem the tide of the coverage he dislikes, and it could even exacerbate the problems he perceives himself to have.

Trump is not like previous presidents, and his relationship with the White House press corps bears the imprint of this abnormality. Trump doesn’t understand that a typical presidential administration has a sort of partnership with the press corps. This doesn’t mean the relationship isn’t somewhat adversarial, and it doesn’t mean that any other press secretary might not try to spin the reporters in the room. But the press corps functionally exists to take down copy: What are the big ideas the administration wants to drive today? What policy initiatives is the president focused on? What responses can the White House offer to the news of the day?

More than anything else, the White House is supposed to give the press corps ideas with which to contend, report out, and follow up on. Every day, there is an opportunity for the president to make an argument, and for a room full of reporters to communicate that argument to their audiences.

But Trump’s frame of reference, as far as the media goes, is rooted in the New York City tabloid wars in which he sparred as a big shot real-estate developer. To Trump, it’s all about primate dominance, and getting in your licks — not about presenting a set of core beliefs, or building a case for a policy idea.

As NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen told ThinkProgress’ Sam Fulwood in an interview this week, “He’s not attempting to persuade a majority of the country to his side.”

“He’s not engaging in normal persuasion tactics for which approval ratings and polling are the measure of that,” Rosen continued. “He’s trying to cement a psychological bond with his core supporters that can’t be broken.”

The only role the White House press corps can possibly play in the Trump White House, as he has conceived it, is that of a defeated antagonist, plucked as spoils for his base. That’s the entire basis for the threat to their credentials.

But an exiled press corps isn’t going to simply go home and sulk. They are reporters, and they’ll just keep on reporting — now with renewed resolve and a lot more time on their hands. And loosed into the wide world, they’ll just join up with a coterie of other reporters who are already busy applying themselves to the task of keeping the Trump administration honest.

What Trump doesn’t seem to understand is it’s these journalists, outside the briefing room, who have been primarily responsible for serving up the stories that so anger him. Over these reporters, Trump has no leverage. He can’t stop ProPublica from investigating where the funds provided for his inauguration festivities have gone. He has no credential to revoke from the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold, who’s currently commanding a deep dive into Trump’s debt.

Of all the stories that have been broken in the wake of Michael Avenatti’s extraordinary reveal of Michael Cohen’s shell corporation, none were written by a reporter who needed to cross the threshold of the briefing room to get it. Pull the press corps’ laminates or don’t, but if there are hits to be had, the hits will keep on coming. The only thing a banished press corps gets you is a diminished capacity to further your own message.

The simple fact of the matter is that if Trump wanted to take a decisive step to end the terrible press he’s gotten of late, he shouldn’t be pulling any reporters’ credentials; he should just keep his own advisers and allies from going on television on a daily basis to talk about his ongoing legal entanglements.

But here, too, we find a concept to which Trump has a deep aversion. He can’t not hit back. And he seems to have a deep and abiding need to see his guys out there, on television, sparring. Never mind that it only compounds his problems. And so you have Rudy Giuliani, late of a string of disaster-laced media hits, confidently telling the Washington Post’s Robert Costa, “Everybody’s reacting to us now, and I feel good about that because that’s what I came in to do.”

You can, perhaps, understand Trump’s exasperation. This is his plan, it’s playing out exactly the way he drew it up — but his life nevertheless refuses to get better. So it must be yet another system rigged against him. Whatever is happening, it has to be “fake” in some way.

Olivia Nuzzi tweet: Donald Trump suggests taking away press credentials as punishment for “negative (fake)” coverage. His campaign did this to many reporters, including me. It made it more logistically challenging to cover him, but the banned press still covered him.

At any rate, at some point in the future, Trump may actually revoke the White House press corps credentials. Yes, this is a threat to the freedom of the press, and you can expect the WHCA to fight back. But it’s really not that new: Trump has denied reporters their access in the past, and they’ve all managed to surmount the obstacle. As it turns out, life on Donald Trump’s blacklist is really not that bad, unless you’re Donald Trump.

Trump and His Administration Are a Parasite on American Government


Trump and His Administration Are a Parasite on American Government

The blight of corruption is festering beneath the surface.

By Charles P. Pierce     May 9, 2018

Getty Images

A few years back, in a national forest in Oregon, researchers found the largest single living organism ever discovered on earth. It was a fungus of the genus Armillaria. It covered 1000 hectares of land and it was nearly 9,000 years old. Through a vast system of thick tendrils called rhizomorphs, Armillaria can spread over a huge area and survive by latching onto the root systems of trees, from which it slowly and parasitically dines on the nutrients of the trees until the trees finally fall over, dead. Most of the damage is done underground, and one Armillariacan kill an entire conifer forest.

I’m beginning to think that the corruption of this administration* is the political equivalent of one of these super-fungi. It is so vast, and so much of it is hidden from view, that we may never see it entirely until it’s too late, and a whole lot of important things about this country go dead and topple down.

RELATED STORY: The Word You Are Looking for Is ‘Lie’

The revelations on Tuesday that Michael Cohen, the president*’s personal lawyer, was one of the most ambitious bagmen in American political history all emerged from an improbable source: a lawsuit lodged against the president* by an adult-film actress with whom he allegedly had an affair. We discovered that Cohen reportedly got a half-million dollars from a Russian oligarch with “links” to Vladimir Putin, as though you could even be a Russian oligarch and stay alive without some kind of “links” to the newly re-elected goon-in-chief.

We also learned that a shell company set up by Cohen took in $200,000 in “consulting payments” from AT&T for, as the leaked documents put it, “insights into understanding the new administration.” They could’ve paid me half that and I would have told them all they needed to know: that these people are all a bunch of crooks and that the companies should adjust their payment schedules accordingly.

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I mean, really. Trump. Nixon. AT&T. ITT. Where have you gone, Dita Beard? A president* turns his greedy eyes to you.

Robert Mueller’s team already has interviewed Victor Vekselberg, Cohen’s buddy from Moscow, so we can probably assume there’s more there than we already know. (More women who were paid off? Checks with “kompromat” written in Cyrillic on the memo line? Who knows at this point?) The criminal rhizomorphs of this parasitic blight on government extend god knows where. That members of the administration—hi there, Scott Pruitt—see public service as an All-U-Can-Eat buffet on our dime is no secret any more. We’ve had Pruitt’s $43,000 phone booth, Ben Carson’s dinette set, and a great love for taxpayer-funded air travel by almost everyone.

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Nor is the fact that the president* has brought the principles he employed in private business into his public duties—to wit, keeping all the really rotten stuff underground by any means necessary, and reneging on debts you don’t have the money to pay anyway. And still, dammit, they can surprise you. As one of the scientists studying the massive Armillaria lamented to The Atlantic:

“I wish all of the substrate would be transparent for five minutes, so I could see where it is and what it’s doing. We would learn so much from a five-minute glimpse.”

Whether we’d all have the guts to look at what this spreading parasitic growth is doing to our country, however, is a whole different matter. If we saw it whole, we might have to do something about it, and then where would we be?

Respond to this post on the Esquire Politics Facebook page here.


None of Us Really Know These Guys


None of Us Really Know These Guys

Eric Schneiderman completes the unholy trinity of New York’s prominent liberal politicians.

By Charles P. Pierce        May 8, 2018

Getty Images

The downfall of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman completes the unholy trinity of prominent liberal New York politicians whose careers went into the acid bath because, at one level or another, they failed to see women as actual human beings. Eliot Spitzer got involved with a prostitution ring. Anthony Weiner used women as sounding boards for his own pleasure. And Schneiderman, allegedly, physically assaulted his romantic partners. And, in this, again, political pundits learn the lesson that gets drummed into every sportswriter over and over: none of us really know these guys.

Hero worship among sportswriters is annoying, but largely harmless and, besides, there’s always someone who doesn’t buy into it. Hero worship in our politics, however, is a dangerous business. The search for the person on a white horse is an open invitation to counterfeit engagement and artificial activism. The impact of celebrity on our politics has been devastating enough; see the current tenant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for details. It’s a by-product of the constant calls for “leadership” among our political class, many of which are simple appeals for someone—anyone!—to remove the burdens of citizenship and self-government from our shoulders. And that has worked far too well.

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Let us dispense easily with any attacks on the journalism in the New Yorker piece. Ronan Farrow just won a Pulitzer for this kind of thing and Jane Mayer is a damn national treasure. Seeing your name as the subject of a story carrying both their bylines is like seeing your career’s death warrant. And Schneiderman’s original statement—that he was engaged in consensual rough sex—was, shall we say, inadequate. (He also allegedly used the considerable power of his office to threaten his victims into silence. Jesus, what a goon.) His swift resignation was more than justified and his disappearance from the ongoing drama of this presidency, while unfortunate, is wholly appropriate. He should’ve been in jail years ago.

Instead, for the purposes of this story, we should focus on one small slice of the account:

After the former girlfriend ended the relationship, she told several friends about the abuse. A number of them advised her to keep the story to herself, arguing that Schneiderman was too valuable a politician for the Democrats to lose. She described this response as heartbreaking. And when Schneiderman heard that she had turned against him, she said, he warned her that politics was a tough and personal business, and that she’d better be careful. She told Selvaratnam that she had taken this as a threat.

Who in the hell counsels a friend to hush up a violent assault on these grounds? My politics are as important to me as anyone’s are but if, say, Sherrod Brown came and burglarized your house, I wouldn’t tell you to let him keep your jewelry because we need him to save Social Security. (Note to Senator Brown: I do not believe you are a cat burglar.) This is turning your politics into a graven image, a golden calf of the soul. Believe it or not, there are some things that politics ought not to touch. Physical abuse of any kind is high on that list.

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(Not for nothing, and it’s a trivial matter compared to the horrors these women say they went through, but the great Dave Dayen has been making the case on the electric Twitter machine that, as a political actor and prosecutor, Schneiderman was pretty much a show-pony anyway.)

These instincts, alas, kicked in almost immediately after Schneiderman’s swift exit from the scene. There were instant calls for Preet Bhahara to replace Schneiderman. (Dayen’s not high on this idea, either.) These were based largely on the fact that Bhahara was 86’d by the president* after having been a thorn in his side as a U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. And, just for fun, and for the possibility that the mere rumor would cause the president* to paint his body blue and dance a naked tarantella on the Truman Balcony, I suggested that we get the hashtag, #HRCforNYAG trending.

Preet Bharara. Getty Images

In truth, however, the search for a replacement should not be the search for A Name. For example, there are a lot of people saying good things about Ben Lawsky, a former U.S. Attorney and New York’s first Superintendent of Financial Services, an office created in response to the economic meltdown of 2008-2009. Just a cursory search of the Intertoobz reveals Lawsky to have exactly the kind of attitude that this job needs going forward. In 2014, he said this to The Financial Times:

“Corporations are a legal fiction. You have to deter bad individual conduct within corporations. People who did the conduct are going to be held accountable.”

Hire this man immediately.

Because, even though there is great crowing within the pixels this morning about liberal hypocrisy and how no investigation of the current president* can be trusted, the work goes on. Lawyers and investigators you never heard of are beavering away—in Robert Mueller’s offices, and in the chambers of the New York Attorney General, whoever he may turn out to be. You’re still on the hook, Knocko. There’s just going to be someone new on the other end of the line. And, once the evidence is in, one way or the other, we shouldn’t look to some famous politician to tell us what to do with it. Once we know the truth, it’s on us to provide the consequences.

Respond to this post on the Esquire Politics Facebook page here.

RELATED STORY: Oliver North Named President of the NRA

Russian Leverage Over Trump Is Not Just a Theory. It’s Now Fact.

New York Magazine

Daily Intellegencer / The National Interest

Russian Leverage Over Trump Is Not Just a Theory. It’s Now Fact.

By Jonathan Chait       May 8, 2018

No pee tape needed. Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP/Getty Images

In the waning weeks of 2016, when the intelligence community and many politicians were passing around terrifying reports about Donald Trump’s links to Russia like samizdat, the frightening possibility arose that the sanctity of the United States government might be compromised in a way no living American had experienced. This was just one of the unnerving things about the rise of Trump, and it was one that many well-informed observers doubted. Russia, after all, was poor and weak. To imagine that a country with an economy smaller than Canada’s or Italy’s could leverage a superpower ten times wealthier beggared the imagination. And yet that paranoid, absurd belief seems to be creeping closer to reality than seemed possible even in those dark postelection days.

The New York Times has confirmed the explosive claims made by Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, that Columbus Nova — a New York investment firm whose biggest client is a company controlled by Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg — deposited half a million dollars into a secret account set up by attorney Michael Cohen to pay off Trump’s sexual partners. The possible reasons for this arrangement run from brazenly corrupt to far worse. Columbus Nova said the hefty sum was a “consulting fee” paid to Cohen, hardly a benign explanation.

5 of the Most Blatantly Unethical Moves by the Trump Administration

Columbus Nova reportedly retained Cohen’s services after Andrew Intrater, the company’s American chief executive, met him while attending Trump’s inauguration with Vekselberg, who is his cousin. Like all Russian oligarchs, Vekselberg operates in cooperation with the Putin government. The payments gave Russia several sources of possible leverage over Cohen and Trump. First, the money itself could amount to some kind of bribe, in return for which a favor would be expected. Second, Russia had knowledge of the secret payoff, which it could always expose. Third, the possibility (at minimum) exists that Russia knew the account was being used to silence Trump’s mistresses, yet another source of kompromat.

For all the speculation about the existence of the pee tape, the latest revelations prove what is tantamount to the same thing. Russia could leverage the president and his fixer — who, recall, hand-delivered a pro-Russian “peace plan” with Ukraine to Trump’s national-security adviser in January 2017 — by threatening to expose secrets they were desperate to keep hidden. Whether those secrets were limited to legally questionable payments, or included knowledge of sexual affairs, is a question of degree but not of kind.

Perhaps even more alarming has been the response of the political system to this crisis. The House of Representatives has assigned Devin Nunes, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, as its point man to defend Trump against the Mueller investigation. The Department of Justice has a long-standing policy of keeping Congress out of active investigations, for the obvious reason that elected officials have a powerful incentive to interfere. Nunes has demanded the virtually unlimited right to get inside the Mueller probe. Officials in the Department of Justice have come to suspect his goal is to compromise the investigation by handing information from the prosecutors over to Trump.

The Washington Post tonight reports another, and even more fanatical, step in Nunes’s crusade. Last week, Nunes demanded a piece of information that the FBI and other intelligence officials believed would “endanger a top-secret intelligence source.” They prevailed on Trump to support their request to withhold the information which, they argued, would “risk severe consequences including potential loss of human lives.”

Nunes is not only demanding the secret be revealed to him, but threatening to vote to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt. And officials who secured Trump’s support may have left out the fact that the source provided information to the Mueller investigation. As a result, “several administration officials said they fear Trump may reverse course and support Nunes’s argument.”

Think for a moment what this report tells us. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who enjoys the full backing of his party’s leadership, is willing to risk what his own government describes as the betrayal and potential loss of life of an intelligence source. And officials within this government believe the president would do the same, all in order to obstruct an investigation into the president’s secretive ties to a foreign power. They are acting as though Trump is compromised by Russia, or at the very least, that he cannot be trusted to defend his own country’s security against it. The sordid Russia scandal has already brought some version of a very dark nightmare scenario to life.

This post has been updated with additional information about Columbus Nova’s relationship with Michael Cohen.

Mueller interviews one of Trump’s ‘closest friends and confidants’


The Rachel Maddow Show – TheMaddowBlog

Mueller interviews one of Trump’s ‘closest friends and confidants’

By Steve Benen      May 7, 2018

Then FBI Director Robert Mueller arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 16, 2012, to testify during a hearing. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team have spoken to a long list of people, but the Associated Press added an important name to the list over the weekend.

Investigators working for special counsel Robert Mueller have interviewed one of President Donald Trump’s closest friends and confidants, California real estate investor Tom Barrack, The Associated Press has learned.

Barrack was interviewed as part of the federal investigation of possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election, according to three people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

We don’t yet know what topics Mueller’s team covered with Barrack. One of the AP’s sources, for example, said the discussion “focused entirely” on former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and his longtime deputy, Rick Gates. Another AP source said, however, that the interview with Barrack “was broader and did include financial matters about the campaign, the transition and Trump’s inauguration.

And while I have no idea which of the sources is correct, the fact that Mueller’s investigators sat down with Barrack at all is an important development – because when it comes to the cast of characters surrounding the president, Barrack is a highly interesting figure.

He and Trump have been associates for decades, for example, and when the Republican launched his presidential campaign, Barrack became a prominent fundraiser.

But that’s not all he did. As the New York Times  reported last spring, it was Barrack who brought Paul Manafort onto Trump’s campaign team (where Manafort worked for free, despite his financial difficulties). The Washington Post added in the fall that when Manafort was forced to resign from the Republican candidate’s team, he “left the country and headed for Barrack’s yacht off of the coast of Greece.”

The same article went on to note, “Barrack then hired Manafort’s right-hand man, Rick Gates, as deputy chair of Trump’s inaugural committee.” (Gates pleaded guilty in February to charges of conspiracy and lying to the FBI, and he’s now a cooperating witness.)

That inaugural committee, of course, was led by Barrack, and it also became controversial over its questionable finances.

Or put another way, there’s no shortage of things federal investigators might want to talk to him about.

No, White Friend — You Weren’t “Embarrassed” by Barack Obama


No, White Friend — You Weren’t “Embarrassed” by Barack Obama

John Pavlovitz          May 7, 2018, First published June 19, 2018

The following story, “No, White Friend — You Weren’t ‘Embarrassed’ by Barack Obama,” was originally published on JohnPavlovitz.com

Image Source: Getty/Alex Wong

I remember the day after the Election, a friend of mine who happens to be white, remarked on social media that he “finally wasn’t embarrassed of America and our President.”

I sprained my eyes rolling them and they have never fully recovered.

Since then I’ve heard this sentiment echoed by more white folks than I can count, especially in recent months; supposed relief at once again having a leader who instills pride.

Since I don’t have the time to ask each of the individually, I’ll ask here:

So, you were embarrassed for the past 8 years, huh?


What exactly were you embarrassed by?

Were you embarrassed by his lone and enduring twenty-five year marriage to a strong woman he’s never ceased to publicly praise, respect, or cherish?

Were you embarrassed by the way he lovingly and sweetly parented and protected his daughters?

Were you embarrassed by his Columbia University degree in Political Science or his graduating magna cum laude from Harvard Law School?

Maybe you were embarrassed by his white American and Black Kenyan parents, or the diversity he was raised in as normal?

Were you embarrassed by his eloquence, his quick wit, his easy humor, his seeming comfort meeting with both world leaders and street cleaners; by his bright smile or his sense of empathy or his steadiness — perhaps by his lack of personal scandals or verbal gaffes or impulsive tirades?

No. Of course you weren’t.

Honestly, I don’t believe you were ever embarrassed. That word implies an association that brings ridicule, one that makes you ashamed by association, and if that’s something you claim to have experienced over the past eight years by having Barack Obama representing you in the world — I’m going to suggest you rethink your word choice.

You weren’t “embarrassed” by Barack Obama.

You were threatened by him.
You were offended by him.
You were challenged by him.
You were enraged by him.

But I don’t believe it had anything to do with his resume or his experience or his character or his conduct in office — because you seem fully proud right now to be associated with a three-time married, serial adulterer and confessed predator; a man whose election and business dealings and relationships are riddled with controversy and malfeasance. You’re perfectly fine being represented by a bullying, obnoxious, genitalia-grabbing, Tweet-ranting, Prime Minister-shoving charlatan who’s managed to offend all our allies in a few short months. And you’re okay with him putting on religious faith like a rented, dusty, ill-fitting tuxedo and immediately tossing it in the garbage when he’s finished with it.

None of that you’re embarrassed of? I wonder how that works.

Actually, I’m afraid I have an idea. I hope I’m wrong.

Listen, you’re perfectly within your rights to have disagreed with Barack Obama’s policies or to have taken issue with his tactics. No one’s claiming he was a flawless politician or a perfect human being. But somehow I don’t think that’s what we’re talking about here. I think the thing President Obama did that really upset you, white friend — was having a complexion that was far darker than you were ever comfortable with. I think the President we have now feels much better.

Because objectively speaking, if what’s happening in our country right now doesn’t cause you great shame and doesn’t induce the continual meeting of your palm to your face — I don’t believe embarrassment is ever something you struggle with.

No, if you claimed to be “embarrassed” by Barack Obama but you’re not embarrassed by Donald Trump — I’m going to strongly suggest it was largely a pigmentation issue.

And as an American and a Christian committed to diversity and equality and to the liberty at the heart of this nation — that, embarrasses me.