June 13, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 PM


Trump's move to deport Iraqi Christians stirs outcry : Many of the people detained in weekend raids were from Michigan, a swing state Trump barely won in 2016. (NAHAL TOOSI 06/13/2017, pOLITICO)

During the 2016 campaign, Trump captured the hearts of many Americans of Middle Eastern Christian descent through his tough anti-Islamist talk. Activists familiar with the community said many in it voted for Trump because they were convinced he would stop the decimation of their people in the Middle East.

Trump's administration has kept up the pro-Christian, anti-Islamist rhetoric. Just last week, Vice President Mike Pence denounced the "genocide" being committed by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, in regions where Christians have long lived.

"Christianity faces unprecedented threats in the land where it was given birth and an exodus unrivaled since the days of Moses," Pence said during the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast.

The U.S. formally declared that the Islamic State was committing genocide against Christians and other groups last year under the Obama administration.

Trump's efforts to impose a travel ban contributed to unease among Christians in the U.S. who trace their lineage to the Middle East. Even though the first attempt at the ban included references to giving admissions preference to religious minorities from the Middle East, the ban also halted the entry of refugees to the United States. Many refugees from the region are Christians.

But although the Trump administration has aggressively stepped up deportations of people illegally in the United States, few Christians from Iraq and other parts of the Middle East expected raids aimed at them.

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 PM


Most Trump real estate now sold to secretive buyers (Nick Penzenstadler , Steve Reilly and John Kelly ,  June 13, 2017, USA Today)

Since President Trump won the Republican nomination, the majority of his companies' real estate sales are to secretive shell companies that obscure the buyers' identities, a USA TODAY investigation has found.

Over the last 12 months, about 70% of buyers of Trump properties were limited liability companies - corporate entities that allow people to purchase property without revealing all of the owners' names. That compares with about 4% of buyers in the two years before,

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 PM


Kamala Harris Pummels Jeff Sessions So Badly That John McCain Has to Stop Her (Jonathan Chait, 6/13/17, New York)

In his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Attorney General Jeff Sessions did a very evasive thing. Sessions would refuse to answer questions about President Trump, but would not cite any legal basis for this refusal. Instead, he described his refusal as a long-standing "policy" of the Department of Justice. Several Democrats on the committee noted the absurdity of his position, but the most effective interlocutor was California senator Kamala Harris, who, in a brutal exchange, exposed the fact that the "policy" was just made up.

Is the policy is written down, she asked? "I think so," replied Sessions -- an answer lacking the level of legal precision one might hope to get from the federal government's top attorney. Harris tried to drill down into just how Sessions learned about this policy. Sessions said he had followed a "principle," which apparently is more of an oral tradition or something. That's when John McCain, off-camera, jumped in to complain about Harris's questioning.

California apparently has a bar exam.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


Trump calls House health care bill 'mean' (Dan Merica, Jim Acosta, Lauren Fox and Phil Mattingly, June 13, 2017, CNN)

President Donald Trump told Republican senators lunching at the White House Tuesday the House-passed health care reform bill he celebrated earlier this year was "mean."

Trump made clear multiple times that he was pleased that the Senate negotiations appeared to be moving away from where the House version of the repeal and replace effort ended up, according to three sources familiar with the meeting.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


REPORT: Medical Cost Trends Show Improvement (Robert Donachie, 06/13/2017, Daily Caller)
The U.S. is slated to enter a period of medical cost equilibrium, where the forces that drive up health costs are offset by a demand for value-based health care system, according to a report released to The Daily Caller News Foundation Tuesday morning by PriceWaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute (PwC).

PwC projects the medical cost trend to be 6.5 percent in 2017, a growth rate nearly half that of 2007.

A medical cost trend is the projected percentage point increase in the cost of treating a given patient from one year to the next. The data is incredibly valuable for players in the medical field, as it allows them to anticipate the costs of doing business from year to year. Insurance companies, for example, use medical cost trends to forecast premium increases for the future.

"Single-digit growth is the now the new normal," PwC Health Research Institute leader Ben Isgur told TheDCNF. "No longer will we see huge fluctuations."

Keep pushing people into high-deductible plans.
Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM


Trump's disapproval rating hits an all-time high of 60 percent (Becca Stanek, 12/13/17, The Week)

President Trump's disapproval rating hit 60 percent in Gallup's daily tracking poll out Tuesday. That marks an all-time high for Trump's presidency, beating out his previous high of 59 percent.

Oh yeah?  Well...Hillary!

Posted by orrinj at 12:08 PM


Russian Cyber Hacks on U.S. Electoral System Far Wider Than Previously Known (Michael Riley and Jordan Robertson, 6/13/17, Reuters)

Russia's cyberattack on the U.S. electoral system before Donald Trump's election was far more widespread than has been publicly revealed, including incursions into voter databases and software systems in almost twice as many states as previously reported.

In Illinois, investigators found evidence that cyber intruders tried to delete or alter voter data. The hackers accessed software designed to be used by poll workers on Election Day, and in at least one state accessed a campaign finance database. Details of the wave of attacks, in the summer and fall of 2016, were provided by three people with direct knowledge of the U.S. investigation into the matter. In all, the Russian hackers hit systems in a total of 39 states, one of them said.

The scope and sophistication so concerned Obama administration officials that they took an unprecedented step -- complaining directly to Moscow over a modern-day "red phone." In October, two of the people said, the White House contacted the Kremlin on the back channel to offer detailed documents of what it said was Russia's role in election meddling and to warn that the attacks risked setting off a broader conflict.

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


Trump's Personal Lawyer Boasted That He Got Preet Bharara Fired (Jesse Eisinger and Justin Elliott, 6/13/17, ProPublica)
Marc Kasowitz, President Donald Trump's personal lawyer in the Russia investigation, has boasted to friends and colleagues that he played a central role in the firing of Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, according to four people familiar with the conversations.

Kasowitz told Trump, "This guy is going to get you," according to a person familiar with Kasowitz's account. [...]

As ProPublica previously reported, at the time of Bharara's firing the Southern District was conducting an investigation into Trump's secretary of the health and human services, Tom Price. [...]

The Southern District of New York conducts some of the highest profile corporate investigations in the country. According to news reports, it is currently probing Fox News over payments made to settle sexual harassment charges against the network's former chairman, the late Roger Ailes. The office is also looking into Russian money-laundering allegations at Deutsche Bank, Trump's principal private lender. [...]

One of the names floated to replace Bharara is Edward McNally, a partner at Kasowitz's law firm. More than three months after Bharara was fired, Trump has not nominated anyone to fill the Southern District job or most of the other U.S. attorney positions.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


Donald Trump's Cabinet members, ranked by their over-the-top praise of Trump  (Chris Cillizza, 6/12/17 CNN)

The folks who refused to acknowledge Donald at all--Pruitt, Kelly, Nikki, McMahon, DeVos--deserve credit.  The women seem particularly good at dealing with an insecure male boss.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


'Travel Ban' Buffoonery (MAX BOOT, JUNE 5, 2017, Commentary)

[T]here was no evidence when he wrote those words that the terror attack on London Bridge was carried out by citizens of Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen, the six countries affected by the ban. Indeed, there have been no terror attacks carried out anywhere in the West this year by citizens of those states. Salman Abedi, the Manchester bomber, was of Libyan extraction. He was born in Britain and was a British citizen, and, therefore, would have been free to travel to the United States even if the travel ban were in effect.

The original justification for the executive order on January 27 was that the United States was at such heightened risk of attacks from foreign jihadists that it was necessary to place a 90-day suspension on all entry from seven Muslim countries (Iraq was later dropped from the list). The speciousness of this justification is evident from the fact that, 129 days later, there still have not been any Islamist terrorist attacks in the United States. There hasn't even been any evidence of foiled plots carried out by nationals of the six target countries.

Surely, Trump isn't claiming that we need a 90-day pause starting now because his administration hasn't been able to study the problem and issue an effective response during the previous 129 days? That would be quite an admission of failure on the administration's part. In reality, of course, all of the evidence points to the fact that our border vetting programs were already effective when Trump took office and didn't need much reform.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 AM


Trump is likely to get much, much worse. Here are a few big things to watch for. (Greg Sargent June 12, 2017, Washington Post)

Politico's Playbook this morning tries to sum up the thinking among Republicans. The gist: Republicans are increasingly worried they will lose the House amid a "toxic political environment that appears to be worsening." They cite the possibility that they won't secure any serious legislative wins, as well as "serious concerns" about "more revelations" coming on Trump. In the background, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation "remains the wild card." [...]

[H]ow much worse could this get? The chatter on the Sunday shows hinted at where we may be headed. Here are a few things to watch for:

The tapes Trump hinted at turn out not to exist. On ABC's "This Week," Jay Sekulow, a member of Trump's legal team, said Trump will make a decision very soon on whether to release the tapes he may have made of his conversations with then-FBI Director James B. Comey.  After the news broke that Trump may have demanded a "loyalty" pledge from Comey, the president tweeted that Comey had better hope he doesn't have tapes of their conversations. Trump has since hinted he still might release them, and congressional investigators have demanded them.

This state of play is utter lunacy in its current form -- the White House has still not said whether these tapes exist, even as Trump hints they might still be coming, and we are so numb to Trump's daily crazy at this point that we now oddly treat this as somewhat unremarkable. Maybe they do exist. But what happens if the White House, in response to those congressional demands, ultimately confirms that they don't? Experts think the White House will have to come clean in some way. At that point, it would be confirmed that Trump invented the existence of these tapes to chill Comey from offering a full public accounting of the events leading up to his firing -- which itself was a massive abuse of power, given that Trump allowed it was because of the FBI's Russia probe -- in the full knowledge that Comey was going to serve as a witness before long. What will Republicans say about that?

Trump tries to get the special prosecutor fired. Also on ABC's "This Week," Sekulow refused to rule out the possibility that Trump might end up trying to order Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to fire Mueller. It is possible that Trump is cognizant enough of the history here (Richard Nixon tried pretty much the same thing) to avoid the drastic step of trying to get Mueller axed mainly because he's closing in on wrongdoing.

But Trump is not inclined to let institutional constraints limit his options, and he and his team have already shown themselves to be less than shrewd at gaming out the consequences of trampling on them. The circumstances of Trump's firing of Comey are a case in point. The White House thought it could get away with floating the idea that Rosenstein had provided the rationale (his memo fingered Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe). But that story fell apart, raising the possibility that Rosenstein had provided Trump cover for the real rationale, which Trump subsequently admitted on national television was Comey's handling of the Russia probe. This basically required Rosenstein to appoint the special counsel.

Donald Trump latest approval rating and impeachment odds (Patrick Scott  Ashley Kirk, 13 JUNE 2017 , The Telegraph)

[T]he bookmakers are banking on things getting worse for Trump with the latest odds from Ladbrokes showing that he is more likely than not to fail to make it to the end of his first term in office.

Their latest odds are as follows:

Impeachment or resignation before 2020: 4/7 (64 per cent chance)

To serve full first term: 5/4 (44.4 per cent chance)

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


Are public pensions a thing of the past for young workers? (Katie Lobosco, June 13, 2017, CNN MOney)

New teachers and state workers will no longer get a traditional pension in Pennsylvania.

The new plan combines elements of a traditional pension and a 401(k)-style account.
Overall, new workers will contribute more of their salary, work longer, and likely receive a smaller payout in retirement than under the current system, according to a report from the state's Independent Fiscal Office.

We are all Third Way now.
Posted by orrinj at 5:22 AM


If Trump Fires Mueller (Or Orders His Firing) (Jack Goldsmith, June 13, 2017, Lawfare)

By design, the regulations curb the special counsel's independence but in narrow respects offer the special counsel some protective insulation. The critical provision on both points is ยง 600.7. On the one hand, this provision makes clear that the special counsel is subject to all of "the rules, regulations, procedures, practices and policies of the Department of Justice" and that the Attorney General may not only compel the special counsel to justify "any investigative or prosecutorial step" but also may countermand the special counsel on a proposed course of action so long as he notifies Congress of the conflict. On the other hand, the regulations also provide a measure of protection by setting three specific terms for special counsel's removal: the special counsel can be removed only (1) by the Attorney General, (2) for "misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of Departmental policies," and (3) in writing, which must include "the specific reason" for special counsel's termination.

This raises several questions of interpretation, which are interlinked.    

The first issue is what supposed misconduct might constitute the basis for Mueller's removal. The standard for firing special counsel, remember, is "misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of Departmental policies."  It is hard to see what Mueller has done that would warrant termination under this standard.  Trump might claim that Mueller has a conflict of interest because the firm he left represents the Trump family is some matters. But the Justice Department's own ethics experts ruled that there is no conflict and "that Mr. Mueller's participation in the matters assigned to him is appropriate."  Perhaps Trump would claim that Mueller has a conflict because Comey and he are friends and "brothers in arms," but it is hard to see how this constitutes a conflict in the investigation of the Russia matter.  Maybe Trump will come up with some other reason under the regulation.

Second, under the regulation, the decision to terminate lies not with Attorney General Jeff Sessions but with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is the acting attorney general for purposes of the Russia investigation. So in the first instance, presumably, Trump could order Rosenstein to fire Mueller.  Rosenstein would then have to decide whether he believed the reasons Trump gave were adequate under the regulation. If so, he could carry out the order. If not, and if he refused to do it, Trump could fire him--or he might simply resign in the face of Trump's order (more on which below).

Third, if Rosenstein resigns, that raises a question of who becomes the acting attorney general.  Succession in the Department is, to a point, outlined by statute: where the attorney general and deputy attorney general are unable, the associate attorney general "shall act" as attorney general. Otherwise the attorney general "may designate" the solicitor general and the assistant attorneys general, "in further order of succession," to act as attorney general. That means it could go down the line until an assistant attorney general did not resign and instead carried out the President's order. (Succession is complicated by the fact that, after Rosenstein, there are only two other confirmed officials in DOJ: Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, and Acting Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division Dana Boente, who was previously confirmed to be the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.  A tad more on this below.)  If the officers after Brand also resign, then an executive order on DOJ succession recently promulgated by Trump would control. (This barely noticed executive order would potentially assume great significance if Trump fires Mueller.)  

Fourth, there are a number of hard questions about whether Trump could circumvent the regulations--either ignore them or abrogate them--and fire Mueller himself.  The argument at bottom is that all executive power is vested in the President; law enforcement is at the core of Executive power; there is no contrary statutory directive, as in Morrison v. Olson; and the Special Counsel rule is just a regulation promulgated by the Executive Branch, not a law, and is thus ultimately subject to change or disregard by Executive order.  On the other hand, there is this important point made in Nixon v. United States concerning Special Prosecutor Jaworski and the regulation then in force, 38 Fed.Reg. 30739, which required "extraordinary improprieties" for his removal:

So long as this regulation is extant it has the force of law.  In United States ex rel. Accardi v. Shaughnessy, 347 U.S. 260 (1954), regulations of the Attorney General delegated certain of his discretionary powers to the Board of Immigration Appeals and required that Board to exercise its own discretion on appeals in deportation cases. The Court held that so long as the Attorney General's regulations remained operative, he denied himself the authority to exercise the discretion delegated to the Board even though the original authority was his and he could reassert it by amending the regulations. Service v. Dulles, 354 U.S. 363, 388 (1957), and Vitarelli v. Seaton, 359 U.S. 535 (1959), reaffirmed the basic holding of Accardi.

Here, as in Accardi, it is theoretically possible for the Attorney General to amend or revoke the regulation defining the Special Prosecutor's authority. But he has not done so. So long as this regulation remains in force the Executive Branch is bound by it, and indeed the United States as the sovereign composed of the three branches is bound to respect and to enforce it. Moreover, the delegation of authority to the Special Prosecutor in this case is not an ordinary delegation by the Attorney General to a subordinate officer: with the authorization of the President, the Acting Attorney General provided in the regulation that the Special Prosecutor was not to be removed without the "consensus" of eight designated leaders of Congress (emphasis added).

In the Watergate context President Nixon never sought to alter or circumvent the relevant regulations, and thus they remained in force and binding.  But what if Trump issued a directive that fires Mueller and abrogates or ignores the Special Counsel regulations, including the authority to appoint and terminate, and the limiting criteria for termination? There are good constitutional arguments in support of this possibility.  There are also countervailing arguments grounded in the principle that only the agency head that appoints the officer, and not the President, can remove the officer.  This principle is reflected in the regulation itself, and is consistent with Nixon's approach to the Special Prosecutor in Watergate.  

Last week, the Trumpies were saying he wouldn't have truly obstructed justice unless he fired Mueller, not just Comey.  This week they say he should fire Mueller.