April 13, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 PM


Sources: Mueller has evidence Cohen was in Prague in 2016, confirming part of dossier (PETER STONE AND GREG GORDON, 4/13/18, mcclatchydc.com)
The Justice Department special counsel has evidence that Donald Trump's personal lawyer and confidant, Michael Cohen, secretly made a late-summer trip to Prague during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Confirmation of the trip would lend credence to a retired British spy's report that Cohen strategized there with a powerful Kremlin figure about Russian meddling in the U.S. election.

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 PM


James Comey Is No Hero (ADAM SERWER, 4/13/18, The Atlantic)

The most damning revelations in the published accounts of the memoir, however, are not Comey's condemnations of Trump, but his disclosures of his own thinking when he made the decisions that helped put the current president in office.

In July of 2016, Comey held a press conference excoriating Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for her handling of classified information, but announcing his decision to decline to prosecute her, said her actions were careless but inadvertent. Then, on October 28, 2016, days before the presidential election, Comey wrote a letter to Congress announcing publicly that the case was being reopened, a decision that experts have argued likely cost Clinton the election. At the same time that Comey was publicly discussing a federal investigation of Clinton, the FBI was investigating whether Trump's campaign was aiding a Russian influence operation aimed at putting the real-estate mogul in office. Comey kept the latter secret. The investigation into Clinton found nothing new--the inquiry into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia is ongoing and has already led to  guilty pleas from several former Trump campaign officials.

Why did Comey make that decision? His book, A Higher Loyalty, will be released on Tuesday. But accounts of its contents and excerpts published by outlets that have obtained copies of the book make clear that he concedes that he believed Clinton was going to win. "It is entirely possible that, because I was making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president," Comey wrote, "my concern about making her an illegitimate president by concealing the restarted investigation bore greater weight than it would have if the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump were ahead in all polls. But I don't know."

This is an astonishing admission. Justice Department guidelines bar officials from making important disclosures related to investigations close to elections to avoid influencing them. Comey took it upon himself to decide that, based on his concern that keeping the news confidential could call the legitimacy of a Clinton presidency into question, he had to announce that the investigation was being restarted. But that was not his decision to make; the role of the FBI is to investigate crimes, it is not to use its authority to protect or harm the legitimacy of a given politician. A hypothetical Clinton administration's legitimacy should not have been a factor in Comey's decision whatsoever; Comey should only have been concerned with following the Justice Department's guidelines, which exist to protect the integrity of the democratic process, and which Comey followed in the case of the Republican candidate. [...]

Trump fired Comey for self-interested reasons, an act that may amount to obstruction of justice. But by that point, Comey had proven himself unfit to hold his office.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


Trump Sees Inquiry Into Cohen as Greater Threat Than Mueller (MATT APUZZO, MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT, MAGGIE HABERMAN and EILEEN SULLIVAN, APRIL 13, 2018, NY Times)

President Trump's advisers have concluded that a wide-ranging corruption investigation into his personal lawyer poses a greater and more imminent threat to the president than even the special counsel's investigation, according to several people close to Mr. Trump.

As his lawyers went to court in New York on Friday to try to block prosecutors from reading files that were seized from the personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, this week, Mr. Trump found himself increasingly isolated in mounting a response. He continued to struggle to hire a new criminal lawyer, and some of his own aides were reluctant to advise him about a response for fear of being dragged into a criminal investigation themselves. [...]

Agents also demanded information related to Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels, a pornographic film actress. Ms. Clifford has said she had sex with Mr. Trump while he was married. Mr. Cohen has acknowledged paying Ms. Clifford $130,000 as part of a nondisclosure agreement to secure her silence days before Election Day.

Mr. Trump recently told reporters he knew nothing about the agreement.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


A Former Russian Spy Worked On A Trump Moscow Deal While Trump Was Running For President (Jason Leopold & Anthony Cormier, 4/13/18, Buzz Feed)

A former Russian spy helped Donald Trump's business team seek financing for a Trump-branded tower in the heart of Moscow during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

This connection between Trump and Russian intelligence -- made public here for the first time -- is known to special counsel Robert Mueller's team and raises fresh questions about the president's connections to the Kremlin. The former agent, who had served in Russia's military intelligence arm known as the GRU and later worked as an arms dealer, negotiated for financing from a Russian state-owned bank that was under US sanctions at the time. [...]

Plans to build a Trump tower in Moscow were underway in late 2015 and early 2016, while Trump was running for president. A key player in the effort was Felix Sater, who had worked with Trump on real estate deals around the world.

In November 2015, Sater emailed Trump's longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, famously saying in one message that he would "get all of Putin's team to buy in" on the Trump tower deal, and boasting that he could get Putin to publicly praise the Republican candidate during the campaign. There is no evidence that Sater delivered on those promises. Sater previously told BuzzFeed News that his emails amounted to salesmanship, and the whole Trump Moscow project ultimately fizzled.

But a later message from Sater to Cohen, sent in early 2016, mentions a contact in Russia who could help facilitate the deal. That individual is a former colonel with Russia's military intelligence, the two sources told BuzzFeed News. He did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Cohen also did not immediately respond to requests for comment sent through his attorney. Sater told BuzzFeed News, "I will not comment on anything related to ongoing investigations."

Sater contacted the former GRU officer in 2015 to help arrange financing. In Russia, where the president himself is a former KGB officer, it isn't unusual for companies to work with former intelligence officers, who often retain key connections. To Sater, the former agent mentioned two banks: GenBank and VTB Bank. State-owned VTB was one of the top financial institutions in Russia for real estate projects at the time, but it was also on the US Treasury Department's sanctions list.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


U.S. lowers NAFTA key auto content demand (Anthony Esposito, David Lawder, 4/13/18, Reuters) 

U.S. trade negotiators have significantly softened their demands to increase regional automotive content under a reworked NAFTA trade pact in an effort to move more quickly towards a deal in the next few weeks, auto industry executives said on Friday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


Andrew McCabe Got Fired for Allegedly Misleading James Comey, Which Screws Up Pretty Much Everyone's Narrative (BEN MATHIS-LILLEY, APRIL 13, 2018, Slate)

[H]ere's the gist of what is recounted and alleged:

• In October 2016, a Wall Street Journal reporter contacted the FBI and said he'd heard that McCabe was telling agents involved in the FBI's investigation of the Clinton Foundation to "stand down." (The agency investigated the Clintons' nonprofit for potential corruption; no charges were ever filed. McCabe was at that point the subject of public scrutiny regarding Clinton because his wife received significant fundraising assistance from Clinton ally Terry McAuliffe during an unsuccessful run for office.)

• McCabe authorized two FBI employees to convey to the WSJ reporter that McCabe had in fact vociferously defended the FBI's right to continue investigating the Clinton Foundation during an August 2016 conversation with a Department of Justice official.

• While McCabe did have the authority to make decisions about disclosures to the press, this particular disclosure didn't conform to the FBI's policies on when and how to comment on ongoing investigations, took place during a period when leaks had created high tension between the FBI and DOJ, and likely would not have been approved by then-FBI Director James Comey had he been apprised of it in advance.

• McCabe misled Comey after the Journal published its story, giving Comey the impression that he (McCabe) did not know how an account of the August 2016 conversation had ended up in the paper.

• McCabe then misled both internal FBI investigators (in May 2017) and inspector general investigators (in July 2017) who were looking into the source of the disclosure to the Journal. While McCabe did ultimately contact investigators in August 2017 to say that he'd authorized the disclosure, and gave further testimony about that disclosure in November 2017, he continued to be dishonest about having misled Comey.

Hillary was his white whale.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:49 PM


R.N.C. Official Who Agreed to Pay Playboy Model $1.6 Million Resigns (REBECCA R. RUIZ and JIM RUTENBERG, APRIL 13, 2018, NY Times)

A major donor with close ties to the White House resigned on Friday as deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee after the revelation that he had agreed to pay $1.6 million to a former Playboy model who became pregnant during an affair.

The deal was arranged by President Trump's personal lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 AM


Immigrants Become Naturalized Citizens in Hanover High Ceremony (Matt Hongoltz-Hetling , 4/13/18, Valley News)

Hanover -- Standing in a cinder-block-lined hallway, Daria Trusova held a printed copy of The Star-Spangled Banner in her hand while a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services official addressed the crowd.

"The back of that form is an immigration form," said Joshua Egli, the official. "It's the last immigration form you'll ever have to fill out."

Trusova, 28, moved to Hanover from Russia in 2015 to be with her husband, who became a citizen in 2013. She's one of 39 immigrants who came to Hanover High School to participate in a naturalization ceremony on Thursday morning. They stood in a line, waiting for a man wearing glasses to check over their green card and paperwork one last time. As each person came to the front of the line, the man made a mark next to their name on a clipboard and directed them up a flight of stairs.

Trusova's husband, Vladimir Chernov, is a math professor at Dartmouth College. All week, he'd been reminding her of the upcoming ceremony -- for the last three nights, he had sung The Star-Spangled Banner to her from the page she now held in her hand.

She worked as a dishwasher before having Ilya, her 6-month-old son. To her, America is living up to its reputation as a land of plenty.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 AM


Boy plays hooky for Cubs' home opener, runs into principal at Wrigley Field (Mitch Dudek, 4/13/18,  Chicago Sun-Times)
Normally, if you ditch school to attend opening day at Wrigley Field, you keep a low profile.

Tucker Steckman, a fourth-grader at Wells Elementary School in East Moline, brought a cardboard sign that proclaimed: "Skipping school . . . Shhh. Don't tell Principal Versluis."

A photograph of the young outlaw fell into the hands of Major League Baseball, which tweeted the picture to 8.3 million followers.

And, oh, by the way, shortly after the picture was taken, Tucker ran into his principal, Pat Versluis, inside Wrigley Field.

"I saw him and I was kind of ducking down," Versluis said with a laugh during a cell phone call from inside Wrigley Field.

"I didn't want him to see me either," he said. "I'm here with my son, Aiden, who's in fifth grade and I called out sick for the day!"

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 AM


A Celebration of John Fahey and American-Primitive Guitar (Amanda Petrusich, April 12, 2018, The New Yorker)

This weekend, the city of Takoma Park, Maryland, will host the Thousand Incarnations of the Rose, the first and only festival dedicated exclusively to American-primitive guitar music. Takoma Park, a suburb of Washington, D.C., is also the home town of the guitarist John Fahey, who, in the nineteen-fifties and sixties, helped to develop a particular and idiosyncratic style of fingerpicking that borrowed heavily from the country blues--then a dying music, but one which Fahey venerated, obsessed over--while incorporating prickly, dissonant elements more common to avant-garde composers. American primitive is generally instrumental, and performed by a solo, steel-string guitarist working in an open tuning. The feel is introspective, if not plainly melancholic--like gazing out over flat water.

Fahey took cues from his forebears (Elizabeth Cotten, Lena Hughes, Mississippi John Hurt), but his sadness was prodigious, and his own. It led him to write dozens of albums of odd yet breathtaking songs. The critic Byron Coley, writing in Spin, once compared Fahey's musical inventions to "those of John Coltrane and Harry Partch, for sheer transcendental American power." The essayist John Jeremiah Sullivan has described his songs as "harmonic chambers in which different dead styles spoke to one another." Fahey, who was famously cantankerous--it's been said that, in his later years, he grew increasingly bitter and choleric, like all men who know too much about things nobody else cares about--explained it only as an expression of his truth: "The pathos of the suburbs or whatever."

Fahey died in 2001, at the age of sixty-one, after undergoing a sextuple coronary bypass. He had a bum heart, and several decades of rapacious boozing behind him. He'd been renting a room in a Salvation Army in Salem, Oregon, eating gas-station sausages for dinner and occasionally pawning his guitars for cash. I wonder what it would have been like to spend time with him then. I'm nearly certain that he would have found me suspicious--an amateur and an interloper--but I like to think that I might've won him over for a minute or three, negotiating temporary access to whatever wild and tangled knowledge that he carried around. Fahey was repulsed by pretension, but he was an intellectual nonetheless, with an M.A. in folklore from U.C.L.A. (His field work included the tracking down and cultural resuscitation of Bukka White and Skip James, two titans of prewar blues.) For a while, he knew more than almost anyone about the music of Charley Patton. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 AM


This is what Obama told Comey after Trump's election (Catherine Garcia, April 12, 2018, The Week)

It was just the two of them, Comey writes, and Obama told him, "I picked you to be FBI director because of your integrity and your ability. I want you to know that nothing -- nothing -- has happened in the last year to change my view." Comey said he was close to tears, and responded, "I'm just trying to do the right thing." "I know," Obama replied. "I know." 

The difficulty for Left and Right is accepting that Mr. Comey was right to be distraught about what he'd done and Mr. Obama was right that he had tried to do the right thing.  We often do wrong meaning to do right.  The former defines us, not the latter.

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 AM


Brain-damaging lead found in tap water in hundreds of homes tested across Chicago, results show (Michael Hawthorne and Cecilia Reyes, 4/13/18, Chicago Tribune)

Amid renewed national attention to the dangers of lead poisoning, hundreds of Chicagoans have taken the city up on its offer of free testing kits to determine if they are drinking tap water contaminated with the brain-damaging metal.

A Tribune analysis of the results shows lead was found in water drawn from nearly 70 percent of the 2,797 homes tested during the past two years. Tap water in 3 of every 10 homes sampled had lead concentrations above 5 parts per billion, the maximum allowed in bottled water by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Alarming amounts of the toxic metal turned up in water samples collected throughout the city, the newspaper's analysis found, largely because Chicago required the use of lead service lines between street mains and homes until Congress banned the practice in 1986.

New evidence that lead exposure increases crime (Jennifer L. Doleac, June 1, 2017, Brookings)

A recent investigation by Reuters found that lead exposure affects kids in communities across the country -- not just in high-profile cities like Flint, Michigan. This is worrisome, because elevated blood lead levels in kids have been linked to an array of developmental delays and behavioral problems. More ominously, this could also increase crime. Kevin Drum and others have argued that lead exposure caused the high crime rates during the 1980s and early 1990s. There has been suggestive evidence of such a link for decades, though it hasn't gained much traction in research or policy circles. But the case that lead exposure causes crime recently became much stronger.

The "lead-crime hypothesis" is that (1) lead exposure at young ages leaves children with problems like learning disabilities, ADHD, and impulse control problems; and (2) those problems cause them to commit crime as adults -- particularly violent crime. For many years, the major source of lead in the environment was leaded gasoline: car exhaust left lead behind to settle into dust on the roads and nearby land. When lead was removed from gasoline, lead levels in the environment fell, and kids avoided the lead exposure that caused these developmental problems. About 20 years later, when those kids became young adults, crime rates fell. This, proponents say, is what explains the mysterious and persistent decline in crime beginning in the early 1990s.

It's an intriguing idea -- particularly since we don't have a better explanation for the big changes in crime rates during this period. Several studies have found correlations between lead exposure and crime, at varying levels of geography (from neighborhoods to nations). But correlation, as we all know by now, does not imply causation.

The main challenge in measuring the effect of lead on crime is that lead exposure is highly correlated with a variety of indicators related to poverty: poor schools, poor nutrition, poor health care, exposure to other environmental toxins, and so on. Those other factors could independently affect crime. The challenge for economists has been to separate the effect of lead exposure from the effects of all those other things that are correlated with lead exposure. A true experiment -- where some kids are randomized to grow up with high lead exposure and others not -- is out of the question. So economists have gone hunting for natural experiments -- events or policies that divide otherwise-similar kids into comparable treatment and control groups.

And they've found them. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 AM


Michael Cohen Routinely Taped Political and Business Conversations. (ELLIOT HANNON, APRIL 12, 2018, Slate)

Because the entire Trump organization operated as if they were characters in the Sopranos, it shouldn't be all that surprising to hear that Trump lawyer, confidante, and henchman Michael Cohen recorded conversations, reportedly as standard practice, in order to squeeze and blackmail people operating in the Trump universe, first in business but later within the campaign. According to the Washington Post, Cohen "wanted his business calls on tape so he could use them later as leverage" and "was known to store the conversations using digital files and then replay them for colleagues." One of the people Cohen would play his tapes for just so happened to be Donald Trump.

We're gonna need more popcorn...

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 AM


Evangelicals to Meet in the Hope of Escaping Trump's Shadow (Sarah Pulliam Bailey, 4/12/18, The Washington Post)

The diverse group, which includes such nationally known pastors as Tim Keller and A.R. Bernard, is expected to include leaders of major ministries, denominations, colleges and seminaries. The gathering will take place at Wheaton College, an evangelical college outside of Chicago, according to organizer Doug Birdsall, honorary chairman of Lausanne, an international movement of evangelicals. [...]

The purpose of the Wheaton meeting is to try to shift the conversation back to core questions of the faith and Trump as an individual will not be the focus of discussion, Birdsall said. Nonetheless, the president will be the "elephant in the room," he said, because under his leadership the term "evangelical" has become associated in the minds of many American with topics such as racism and nationalism.

While the organizers said they are not trying to build a new coalition or launch a political agenda, the gathering shows how many key leaders of major institutions are concerned about the state of evangelicalism.

"When you Google evangelicals, you get Trump," Birdsall said. "When people say what does it mean to be an evangelical, people don't say evangelism or the gospel. There's a grotesque caricature of what it means to be an evangelical."

Those gathered will not necessarily oppose Trump and some may even be friendly to some of his policies, said Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary, who is also helping to organize the event. But organizers said evangelicals need to return their focus to the term's true definition: a person who believes in the authority of the Bible, salvation through Jesus' work on the cross, personal conversion and the need for evangelism.

Posted by orrinj at 3:44 AM


5 eye-popping revelations from James Comey's book excerpts: Trump was obsessed with the "pee tape," and more. (Jen Kirby,  Apr 12, 2018, Vox)

Comey writes that Trump was focused on one particularly sordid detail from the dossier: an allegation that a blackmail tape exists of Trump asking prostitutes to pee on a bed in a room the Obamas stayed in at the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow. Per the Washington Post:

The president-elect quickly interrupted the FBI director. According to Comey's account in a new memoir, Trump "strongly denied the allegations, asking -- rhetorically, I assumed -- whether he seemed like a guy who needed the service of prostitutes. He then began discussing cases where women had accused him of sexual assault, a subject I had not raised. He mentioned a number of women, and seemed to have memorized their allegations."

The January 2017 conversation at Trump Tower in Manhattan "teetered toward disaster" -- until "I pulled the tool from my bag: 'We are not investigating you, sir.' That seemed to quiet him," Comey writes.

Comey said Trump followed up with him after the meeting in a phone call on January 11, saying the "pee tape" couldn't be real because he's a germaphobe. "There's no way I would let people pee on each other around me," Comey recounts Trump saying. "No way."

Trump complained the allegations were painful to his wife, Melania Trump, and that the logistics didn't make sense, according to the Post:

The president-elect argued that it could not be true because he had not stayed overnight in Moscow but had only used the hotel room to change his clothes. And after Trump explained that he would never allow people to urinate near him, Comey recalls laughing.

"I decided not to tell him that the activity alleged did not seem to require either an overnight stay or even being in proximity to the participants," Comey writes. "In fact, though I didn't know for sure, I imagined the presidential suite of the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow was large enough for a germaphobe to be at a safe distance from the activity."

Posted by orrinj at 3:40 AM


Trade war backfire: Steel tariff shrapnel hits U.S. farmers (Tom Polansek, P.J. Huffstutter, 4/13/18, Reuters) 

Throughout U.S. farm country, where Trump has enjoyed strong support, tariffs on steel and aluminum imports are boosting costs for equipment and infrastructure and causing some farmers and agricultural firms to scrap purchases and expansion plans, according to Reuters' interviews with farmers, manufacturers, construction firms and food shippers.

The impact of rising steel prices on agriculture illustrates the unintended and unpredictable consequences of aggressive protectionism in a global economy. And the blow comes as farmers fear a more direct hit from retaliatory tariffs threatened by China on crops such as sorghum and soybeans, the most valuable U.S. agricultural export.

It's a small price to pay for Donald's war on the Yellow Menace.