June 8, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 PM


Comey just revealed the severity of Trump's threat to America (Ryan Cooper, June 8, 2017, The Week)

Boiled down to its essential framework, Comey's story goes like this. After the election, Trump made repeated, personal contact with the FBI director in an attempt to suborn his professionalism. In a private dinner with the president, Comey got the strong sense that Trump was trying to "create some sort of patronage relationship," and he repeatedly tried to buffalo Comey into promising "loyalty." Comey was extremely uncomfortable with this, trying to say he would only promise honesty, but eventually agreed to "honest loyalty" to end the conversation. Disturbed, Comey immediately began creating a paper trail of memos documenting every aspect of his meetings with Trump.

In a subsequent one-on-one meeting, Trump attempted to get Comey to drop the investigation into Mike Flynn, saying: "He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go." Comey agreed that Flynn was a good guy, but did not promise to drop the investigation. In the later questioning, Senator Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked why Comey had not told Trump off for even asking that, and Comey replied that he was so stunned he didn't even think to confront him. "Maybe if I were stronger, I would have," he said.

Trump then made two calls to Comey, saying that the investigations into potential Russia connections were creating "a cloud" over his presidency, asking what Comey could do to "lift the cloud" and if he could make it known that Trump was not personally under investigation. In the second one on April 11, Trump pretty clearly referenced the stooge relationship he thought he had created, saying "I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know."

Some days after that, of course, Trump fired Comey, citing his mishandling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails, and how his poor leadership of the FBI was creating a morale crisis. Only days later Trump admitted in an interview with Lester Holt that the Russia investigation was the real reason.

Posted by orrinj at 2:21 PM


Comey 'Queasy' About Former AG Loretta Lynch's Request on Clinton Email Scandal (Emily Zanotti, June 8, 2017, Heat Street)

Comey, who was in charge of the inquiry into the Clinton scandal that dominated election headlines, testified that Lynch asked him to call the FBI's probe a "matter" and not an "investigation."

Comey also told senators that the change "confused and concerned" him --giving him a "queasy feeling"--and led him to believe that Lynch was trying to align the administration's official line on the investigation with the Clinton campaign's.

Posted by orrinj at 2:16 PM


This One Tweet May Lead to Donald Trump's Impeachment (Matthew Continetti, June 8, 2017, Washington Free Beacon)

It now looks like the most consequential Tweet of his presidency to date came a few days after he fired James Comey as FBI director. At 8:26 a.m. on Friday, May 12, Trump wrote: "James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!"

That tweet, Comey told the Senate, prompted the now-private citizen to instruct a friend, Columbia Law professor Daniel Richman, to share with the New York Times the contents of contemporaneous memos he had written describing his interactions with the president. The article, published a week to the day Comey was fired, revealed that the president had asked the FBI director to end the criminal investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Why did Comey have Richman call the Times? Because, he told the Senate, he hoped that the disclosure of the memo would prompt the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russia's involvement in the 2016 election and possible collusion with associates of the president's campaign. That is exactly what happened May 17, the day after the Times piece, when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein named as counsel former FBI director Robert Mueller.

And though Comey would not say if he believed President Trump obstructed justice by urging him to "let go" the investigation into Flynn, he did say he was sure that Mueller would investigate whether obstruction of justice had occurred.

Obstruction of justice, of course, being something past congresses have considered a "high crime and misdemeanor" worthy of presidential impeachment.

In other words: By firing Comey and then tweeting recklessly about it, Trump elevated a long-running but manageable problem--the so-called "Russia thing"--into an independent investigation that seriously endangers his presidency.

Posted by orrinj at 12:13 PM


James Comey trolls Trump: 'I take the president at his word -- I was fired because of Russia' (Travis Gettys, 08 JUN 2017, Raw Story)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) asked the former FBI director why he believed the president had fired him -- and Comey pointed to Trump's own public statements.

"I take the president at his word -- I was fired because of the Russia investigation," Comey said.

Which is dispositive as regards obstruction.

Posted by orrinj at 12:11 PM


Comey explains that the FBI is aware of ties between Jeff Sessions, Russia that he can't disclose (The Week, 6/08/17)

"In your statement you said that you and the FBI leadership team decided not to discuss the president's actions with Attorney General Sessions," Wyden began. "Even though he had not recused himself. What was it about the attorney general's own interactions with the Russians, or his behavior with regard to the investigation, that would have led the entire leadership team of the FBI to make this decision?"

Comey replied that the FBI knew Sessions was going to recuse himself but added cryptically, "We were also aware of facts that I can't discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic." 

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


What Good Is a Treasury Department if You Don't Have the Staff to Run It? : By relying on career people rather than political hires, Steven Mnuchin risks losing his ability to influence policy debates. (Saleha Mohsin and Robert Schmidt, 6/08/17, Bloomberg)

Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin has one of the biggest to-do lists in Washington: Rewrite the tax code, spearhead a repeal of financial regulation, and persuade Congress to raise the debt ceiling. The agenda would be staggering in the best of circumstances, but he has a more urgent problem--a skeletal staff.

Mnuchin, a former Wall Street banker turned Hollywood financier, is the only Senate-confirmed official at Treasury. His pick for the No. 2 job, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. wealth manager Jim Donovan, recently dropped out, leaving Mnuchin with no deputy secretary, no undersecretaries, and one assistant secretary. Nominees for two undersecretary positions, the third-highest-­ranking jobs at Treasury, are stuck in the Senate, while another, for domestic finance, has yet to be named.

Instead, Mnuchin is relying on a small group of "counselors" that he's assembled who don't require confirmation. Each of these four senior aides, which include Craig Phillips, an ex-BlackRock Inc. executive and top Hillary Clinton donor, have large areas of oversight, including debt management, tax policy, and budget issues. Mnuchin also has hundreds of career staffers at his disposal. Of the 27 key remaining positions that require Senate confirmation, eight have nominees, according to the Partnership for Public Service, a Washington-based nonprofit. "Treasury has made significant progress building our team," says a Treasury spokesman. Stephen Myrow, a Treasury aide during the George W. Bush administration, says that without political hires, Mnuchin will have a harder time pushing policies forward. "The civil servants are reluctant to make tough calls without having the policy direction from a new administration," he says.

Financial industry executives and lobbyists who have had meetings at Treasury say the hallways are unusually quiet and many offices have closed doors and blank nameplates. Some still display the names of Obama political appointees. A disorganized White House ­personnel process has slowed things down, as has a rigorous vetting of potential nominees' social media accounts designed to look for any anti-Trump remarks.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


I asked 6 legal experts if Trump obstructed justice. Here's what they told me. (Sean Illing,  Jun 8, 2017, Vox)

For Jimmy Gurulé, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, Comey's statements are more damning: "It is difficult to construe President Trump's statements on February 14 to former FBI Director Comey as anything other than a request to terminate the FBI investigation of Gen. Flynn for reasons other than the merits of the case. This is an attempt to endeavor and influence the due administration of justice under the federal obstruction of justice statute." [....]

[T]he plainest legal definition of obstruction of justice is something like this: acting with the specific intent to interfere with a judicial proceeding.

How strong is the case that Trump obstructed justice based on what we already know? [...]

Gurulé also sees at least three instances in which the president arguably violated obstruction of justice laws. The first is the actual firing of Comey. "If it's clear that this was done with the aim of interfering with the investigation, that's obstruction of justice."

The second instance has to do with Trump's conversations with Comey. "We know that the president asked Sessions and others to leave the room so that he could talk privately with Comey," Gurulé says. "If the president urged Comey to back off Flynn, or even if he expressed his desire to see Flynn left alone, that strikes me as endeavoring to influence or obstruct the due administration of justice."

Still, the question of intent remains. But if it's true that this conversation occurred as reported and as Comey details, it would appear that the president wanted Comey to make a decision regarding the investigation based on something other than the merits of the case -- and that's obstructing justice by any reasonable standard.

The third potential instance of obstruction is Trump's alleged conversation with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. According to the Washington Post, Trump asked Coats in March "if he could intervene with then-FBI Director James B. Comey to get the bureau to back off its focus on former national security adviser Michael Flynn in its Russia probe." As with the Comey interactions, the whiff of obstructionism is strong here.

These are all discrete cases, Gurulé says, and they shouldn't be conflated. Even if there's a sound justification for Comey's firing, "that doesn't pertain at all to the conversation between Trump and Comey or between Trump and Coats."

Particularly if the prospect of impeachment is in question, whether Trump committed obstruction of justice is relevant, but that doesn't necessarily make it more or less likely to happen. Ultimately, as Christopher Slobogin, a professor of criminal law at Vanderbilt University, told me, "Congress gets to decide what constitutes a high crime and misdemeanor for impeachment purposes."

Which is to say, even if Trump did obstruct justice, he will not be impeached unless a Republican-controlled Congress decides he ought to be.

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


With Leaders Like This, Britain Should Panic : The U.K. election has been a contest of inadequates. (Clive Crook, 6/08/17, Bloomberg View)

[I]nstead of championing a solidly pro-market centrism, May adopted a semi-skimmed leftism heavy on industrial-policy meddling and other piecemeal dirigisme. That went down badly not because voters are opposed to piecemeal dirigisme -- many quite like it -- but because it forced her to be vague and non-committal while standing in front of posters saying "Strong and Stable Leadership." Her refusal to debate head-to-head with Corbyn didn't look all that strong either.

Her single biggest mistake was to announce and then immediately take back a plan to make old people with assets pay more toward their care at the end of their lives. Again, please note, the idea wasn't wrong in principle. Households of modest means shouldn't have to pay higher taxes so that large inheritances can pass to the heirs of the well-situated. But May had no right to be surprised by the hostile reaction -- such policies are always unpopular. Worst of all was her decision to retreat, deny and dither in response. Strong and stable, my foot.

Despite everything, polls in the closing days of the campaign have shown the Tories ahead. For this, give Corbyn the credit. Thanks to him, May is still likely to be prime minister next week, perhaps with an enlarged majority. 

...if you can't get rid of these two?

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


The Godfather in the White House (Simon Maloy, June 8, 2017, The Week)

The prepared testimony former FBI Director James Comey provided to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence ahead of his hearing today is an altogether remarkable document. It confirms much of the scandalous and anonymously sourced reporting that emerged from Donald Trump's abrupt dismissal of Comey, and it reveals a president who is thoroughly consumed by the scandals plaguing his still-young administration. But more importantly, it portrays a sitting president of the United States who conducts business like a sort of low-rent mafioso. [...]

What this tells us is that Trump's view of government is rooted firmly in patronage and profound contempt for the idea that the president is bound by laws. Public servants are expected to show fealty to the Constitution, and they take an oath to that effect. Serving under Trump, however, means serving Trump and doing whatever he asks out of fealty and respect. [...]

By making "loyalty" an overriding requirement for service in the executive branch, Trump is ensuring that the only people who will seek out and succeed in public service are strivers and toadies. Trump's erratic behavior and constellation of scandals have already made it damn near impossible to find competent recruits for key administration jobs that remain vacant. Trump even had difficulty finding outside counsel to represent him in the Russia investigations, as top law firms worried that he would disregard their advice and stiff them on the bill. The sort of person who would happily sign up with a turmoil-ridden executive branch that requires slavish loyalty to the president very likely doesn't have the public's interest foremost in their mind.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


Will robots replace therapists? (Kayla Matthews, June 8, 2017, The Week)

You've heard the news: Robots are coming for our jobs. Bookkeepers, umpires, factory workers, and even legal assistants could all see their employability disappear in the next 20 years.

But what about jobs that require a more personal, human touch? Surely those are safe, right?

Actually, new innovations suggest that artificial intelligence is invading even the world of physical and mental health care. For the millions of people seeking mental health treatment from a living, breathing human, this raises a question: What role will robots and AI play in the world of therapy? Will therapists and counselors be replaced by our unfeeling robot overlords?

We're already seeing AI make some advancements here. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


Comey testimony to detail 'awkward silence,' protecting Trump from embarrassment and demands for 'loyalty' (David S. Cloud, Joseph Tanfani and David Lauter, 6/07/17, LA Times)

President Trump demanded "loyalty" from former FBI Director James B. Comey and asked him to drop at least part of the bureau's investigation of former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, Comey plans to testify to Congress Thursday.

In a prepared statement posted on the Senate Intelligence Committee website, Comey says that in a private dinner with Trump on Jan. 27, the president asked him if he wanted to remain as head of the FBI and told him "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty."

"I didn't move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence," Comey says. He told Trump that he could promise "honesty," he says.

When Trump responded "honest loyalty," Comey said "you will get that from me." The two men may have "understood the phrase 'honest loyalty' differently," he said.

Is he really asking us to believe that Donald maintained a silence?

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


Intel Directors Won't Discuss Trump Talks (Deb Riechmann and Eric Tucker, 6/07/17, Associated Press)

Lawmakers verbally sparred with top intelligence chiefs on Wednesday after they staunchly refused to answer questions about conversations they had with President Donald Trump regarding probes into Russian activities during the election. [...]

Even mild-spoken Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, got testy. He demanded to know what legal basis justified Coats' refusal to answer questions.

"I'm not sure I have a legal basis..."

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 AM


James Comey Is Not Alone : The press, anonymous sources, and public testimony have all converged to corroborate the former FBI director's story about Donald Trump. (William Saletan, 6/08/17, Slate)

[A]s we learn more about Trump and Russia, a curious thing is happening. The three tarnished institutions--media, government, and law enforcement--are converging. Comey, the press, and people in the Trump administration are telling compatible and often highly similar stories about what's going on behind the scenes. A common, underlying force--reality--is pulling them together and isolating Trump.

Three events in less than 24 hours illustrate this convergence. The first was Tuesday night's Washington Post report on conversations between Trump and senior officials about the Russia investigation. The second was a Wednesday hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, at which some of those officials testified. The third was the committee's release of Comey's written testimony, scheduled for delivery Thursday, about his meetings with Trump.

The Post reported that in late March, Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, told "associates" about Trump's efforts to enlist him in protecting Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. At a March 22 meeting, Trump asked Coats whether he could get Comey to "back off" from investigating Flynn. The Post, citing anonymous officials, reported that Trump asked both Coats and Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, to issue statements "denying the existence of any evidence of coordination between his campaign and the Russian government." Both men reportedly refused.

Most of the corruption--the High Crime--has always been public : Donald promised Vlad that he'd lift sanctions and assist Russia; Donald asked the Russians to hack Hillary; Vlad hacked Hillary; Donald staffed the administration with guys tied to Russia; administration officials told Donald he was already too tainted to lift sanctions.

What Comey and others have added is just the fact that Donald tried getting them to stop looking into the business ties to Russia, the potentially criminal stuff.  Of course, whether or not there was any, trying to stop the investigation and firing the investigator who refused to quash it is obstruction of justice on its face.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 AM


What the Judges Know About Trump (Linda Greenhouse, JUNE 8, 2017, NY Times)

[Watts v. State of Indiana] lives on for a single line in Justice Felix Frankfurter's opinion for the court. "There comes a point," Frankfurter wrote, "where this court should not be ignorant as judges of what we know as men."

For weeks this spring, that line rattled around in my mind. I had never read the Watts opinion until the other day, when I finally traced the line to its source. But I'd read several recent judicial opinions for which the line is highly pertinent, even revelatory. The most recent was Chief Judge Roger Gregory's majority opinion for the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit two weeks ago, upholding a nationwide injunction against President Trump's Muslim travel ban.

The president's executive order "in text speaks with vague words of national security," Judge Gregory wrote, "but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination." Drawing on candidate Donald Trump's professed goal of keeping Muslims out of the country, the judge observed that the order "cannot be divorced from the cohesive narrative linking it to the animus that inspired it."

What we know as men.

Nevermind his determination to antagonize judges; his reputation among lawyers generally is unimaginably low, as witness the quote the other day in the story about how no one wants to take his case: "The guy won't pay and he won't listen." Lawyers don't mind representing scum, but they do mind not getting paid.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM



Virtually every single poll tracking President Donald Trump's approval rating showed the figure plummeting Monday morning, well below the margin of error compared to the rising level of support for impeachment. The results follow Trump's controversial decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord; the ongoing investigation into his campaign's possible ties to the Kremlin is also a factor.

The president's approval rating dipped from nearly 42 percent to just 36 percent over the weekend, according to a Gallup daily tracking poll published Monday. Trump's declining popularity is inching closer toward his all-time low of 35 percent as president in March, when Gallup had the president's approval at just 35 percent. What's more, nearly 43 percent of American voters support the idea of beginning the official impeachment process for Trump, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll published Wednesday.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


The Democratic Party Is in Worse Shape Than You Thought (Thomas B. Edsall JUNE 8, 2017, NY Times)

Priorities USA, in surveys and focus groups, studied "drop off voters," those who lean Democratic but failed to vote in either 2014 or 2016. By and large, these voters were members of the coalition that elected and re-elected Barack Obama:

people of color (41% African-American, Hispanic, or Asian), young (22% under the age of 29), female (60%), and unmarried (46% single, separated, widowed, or divorced).

Priorities found that drop off voters were distinctly lukewarm toward Hillary Clinton:

Just 30% describe themselves as very favorable to Clinton, far lower than the 72% who describe themselves as very favorable to Barack Obama.

Priorities also studied Obama-to-Trump voters. Estimates of the number of such voters range from 6.7 to 9.2 million, far more than enough to provide Trump his Electoral College victory. The counties that switched from Obama to Trump were heavily concentrated in the Midwest and other Rust Belt states.

To say that this constituency does not look favorably on the Democratic Party fails to capture the scope of their disenchantment.

The accompanying chart illustrates this discontent. A solid majority, 77 percent, of Obama-to-Trump voters think Trump's economic policies will either favor "all groups equally" (44) or the middle class (33). 21 percent said Trump would favor the wealthy.

In contrast, a plurality of these voters, 42 percent, said that Congressional Democrats would favor the wealthy, slightly ahead of Congressional Republicans at 40 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


Crossing the Red Line: How Russian Interference in Western democracy is Backfiring (Ulrick Speck,  29 May 2017, ISN Blog)

Besides the Ukraine conflict, tensions between the West and Russia have also arisen because the latter began to interfere in the domestic political spheres of leading Western democracies. There are three major cases so far: in Germany, the Lisa case in Berlin in January 2016, a Russian disinformation campaign (and before that the hacking of computer systems of the German parliament, in 2015); in the US, the hacking and publishing of documents from the Democratic National Committee during the presidential campaign in July 2016; and in France, financial and other support for Marine Le Pen as well as hacking during the presidential campaign in May 2017.

In Western capitals a consensus has emerged that the Kremlin is using 'active measures' in order to undermine politicians it considers hostile to Russian interests and backing those it considers sympathetic to the Kremlin. More generally, the aim seems to be to undermine the credibility of democratic institutions and to weaken the ability of Western democracies to cooperate by sowing distrust.

The Kremlin is using a number of instruments to achieve these goals, including: State-owned foreign media such as the TV-channel 'Russia Today' and its news agency Sputnik; cyberattacks with the subsequent publication of private e-mails and classified information; social media (trolls and Twitter bots); open support for parties and politicians; and NGOs such as the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute in Berlin.

In many cases, especially as regards the cyber dimension of this type of political warfare, it is impossible to identify a 'smoking barrel' to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the Kremlin has been involved. This allows the Russians to continue denying any involvement in such activities.

And yet there is an increasing awareness about these Russian tactics among experts, officials and the general public. A number of politicians and intelligence agencies have talked publicly about the rise in disinformation and influence operations, and many point their fingers at Russia.

If the Kremlin's overall goal is to improve relations with the West, then such activities are counterproductive. Russian interference in the domestic politics, especially in elections, of major Western countries is leading to a further deterioration of the relationship. Those in the West who argue in favour of detente, of an easing of sanctions and a rapprochement with the Kremlin, find it much more difficult to defend this course of action because of the rising anger over Russian political warfare tactics.

The corruption has backed Donald so far into a corner that he can do nothing to help Vlad. Though, in fairness, Vlad did manage to avoid the worst possible outcome for him--Hillary would have been an active opponent, not just a nullity.