February 2019 News Reports

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Editor's Choice: Scroll below for our monthly blend of mainstream and alternative February 2019 news and views

Note: Excerpts are from the authors' words except for subheads and occasional "Editor's notes" such as this. 

Feb. 18

Trump's 'Emergency' Claim

washington post logoWashington Post, White House defends Trump’s emergency declaration amid mounting challenges, Amy B Wang, Feb. 18, 2019 (print edition). Critics have seized on recent comments by President Trump as proof that he did not need to declare an emergency at the southern border. “I could do the wall over a longer period of time,” he said last week. The White House on Sunday defended President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the southern border and sought to clarify his contradictory statements about its necessity, marking the start of what’s expected to be a drawn-out fight over funding the construction of a wall amid mounting legal challenges and objections from Congress.

Trump’s announcement last week — an attempt to circumvent Congress by redirecting taxpayer money to pay for 230 miles of barriers along the border — has led to lawsuits. On Sunday, California’s attorney general said he was working with officials from at least six other states and would be filing suit against the White House “imminently.” The national emergency declaration also triggered protests, with various groups promising to hold more throughout the country Monday.

• Washington Post, ‘Answer my question’: Fox News’ Chris Wallace grills defiant Stephen Miller on national emergency, Alex Horton.

More On U.S. Politicsbo head shot wh

ny times logoNew York Times, Obama Quietly Gives Advice to 2020 Democrats, but No Endorsement, Alexander Burns, Feb. 18, 2019. Former President Barack Obama (shown above in a White House file photo) has counseled more than a dozen candidates on how to win the White House in 2020 — but he has no plans to pick a favorite. The discreet role he has taken on reflects his longstanding ambivalence about acting as a partisan political leader.

GOP Election Fraud?

washington post logorepublican elephant logoWashington Post, N.C. officials to hear details of alleged ballot-tampering scheme in congressional race, Amy Gardner, Feb. 18, 2019 (print edition). The long-anticipated hearing launches a potentially bitter and partisan battle over how to fill the 9th Congressional District seat, which has been vacant since January.

U.S.-European Tensions

european union logo rectangle

ny times logoNew York Times, Rift Between Trump and Europe Is Now Open and Angry, Steven Erlanger and Katrin Bennhold, Feb. 18, 2019 (print edition). Europe’s leaders pushed back against the Trump administration’s unilateralism at the Munich Security Conference. The apparent rift signals a shift that risks being exploited by Russia and China, officials warned.

ISIS Propagandist Speaks

ny times logoNew York Times, The English Voice of ISIS Comes Out of the Shadows, Rukmini Callimachi, Feb. 18, 2019 (print edition). More than four years ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigation appealed to the public to help identify the narrator in one of the Islamic State’s best-known videos, showing captured Syrian soldiers digging their own graves and then being shot in the head.

Speaking fluent English with a North American accent, the man would go on to narrate countless other videos and radio broadcasts by the Islamic State, serving as the terrorist group’s faceless evangelist to Americans and other English speakers seeking to learn about its toxic ideology.

Now a 35-year-old Canadian citizen, who studied at a college in Toronto and once worked in information technology at a company contracted by IBM, says he is the anonymous narrator.

That man, Mohammed Khalifa captured in Syria last month by an American-backed militia, spoke in his first interview about being the voice of the 2014 video, known as “Flames of War.” He described himself as a rank-and-file employee of the Islamic State’s Ministry of Media, the unit responsible for publicizing such brutal footage as the beheading of the American journalist James Foley and the burning of a Jordanian pilot.

Feb. 17

Justice Probes Of Trump

andrew mccabe the threat details

washington post logoWashington Post, Book Review: Andrew McCabe’s disturbing account of working for Sessions and Trump, Greg Miller (bio below), Feb. 17, 2019 (print edition). In "The Threat," the former FBI deputy director (shown above) recounts the dysfunction at the top of the Justice Department. The memoir is the latest in a rapidly expanding collection of score-settling insider accounts of Trump-era Washington.

He didn’t read intelligence reports and mixed up classified material with what he had seen in newspaper clips. He seemed confused about the structure and purpose of jeff sessions ag oorganizations and became overwhelmed when meetings covered multiple subjects. He blamed immigrants for nearly every societal problem and uttered racist sentiments with shocking callousness.

This isn’t how President Trump is depicted in a new book by former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe. Instead, it’s McCabe’s account of what it was like to work for then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions (shown at right).

The FBI was better off when “you all only hired Irishmen,” Sessions said in one diatribe about the bureau’s workforce. “They were drunks but they could be trusted. Not like all those new people with nose rings and tattoos — who knows what they’re doing?”

Justice Department log circularIt’s a startling portrait that suggests that the Trump administration’s reputation for baseness and dysfunction has, if anything, been understated and too narrowly attributed to the president.

The description of Sessions is one of the most striking revelations in The Threat, a memoir that adds to a rapidly expanding collection of score-settling insider accounts of Trump-era Washington.

McCabe’s is an important voice because of his position at the top of the bureau during a critical series of events, including the firing of FBI chief James Comey, the appointment of special counsel Robert S. Mueller, and the ensuing scorched-earth effort by Trump and his Republican allies to discredit the Russia probe and destroy public confidence in the nation’s top law enforcement agency. The work is insightful and occasionally provocative.

The subtitle, How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump, all but equates the danger posed by al-Qaeda and the Islamic State to that of the current president.

Greg Miller is national security correspondent for The Washington Post, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the author of “The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy.”

The CBS show "60 Minutes" broadcasts Miller's first interview on Feb. 17. McCabe told his CBS interviewer that he was concerned the Russia investigation would "vanish in the night without a trace."

Border PoliticsICE logo

ny times logorepublican elephant logoNew York Times, Trump’s Attempt to Circumvent Congress Leaves Uneasy G.O.P. With Hard Choice, Carl Hulse and Glenn Thrush, Feb. 17, 2019 (print edition). It remains to be seen whether Senate Republicans will act collectively to try to stop the president or how far they are willing to follow him.

ny times logoNew York Times, With Trump’s Tough Deterrents, Many Asylum Seekers on the Border are Giving Up, Jose A. Del Real, Caitlin Dickerson and Miriam Jordan, Feb. 17, 2019 (print edition). Pushed beyond their limits by prolonged waits in dangerous and squalid conditions in parts of Northern Mexico, thousands of caravan members who had been waiting to seek asylum in the United States appear to have given up, Mexican officials said, dealing President Trump an apparent win after a humbling week for his immigration agenda.

About 6,000 asylum seekers who had traveled en masse, many of them in defiance of Mr. Trump’s demands that they turn around, arrived in Northern Mexico in late November as part of a caravan that originated in Honduras. Since then, more than 1,000 have accepted an offer to be returned home by the Mexican government, the officials said. Another 1,000 have decided to stay in Mexico, accepting work permits that were offered to them last fall, at the height of international consternation over how to deal with the growing presence of migrant caravans.

Mr. Trump resorted on Friday to declaring a national emergency after he failed to secure funding from Congress for a border wall that he said would block migrants from entering the United States. But the data from Mexican officials suggested that harsh policies he has introduced to crack down on asylum seekers may already be achieving some of its intended effects.

Added this week to new policies that are bearing down on asylum seekers — which include tight limits on the number of people who can apply for the status each day and a heightened standard of proof to qualify — was the extension of a rule that certain asylum seekers must wait in Mexico for the full duration of their legal cases, which can take years.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: How to screw up an emergency declaration in 10 easy steps, Jennifer Rubin, Feb. 17, 2019. None other than Ann Coulter declared on Friday, “The only national emergency is that our president is an idiot.” She has a point. The president’s declaration, in the words of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), amounts to “a power grab by a disappointed President, who has gone outside the bounds of the law to try to get what he failed to achieve in the constitutional legislative process.”

Even the best-executed power grab would have been difficult to defend in court. There is no emergency (border crossings are down), the illegal drug problem (despite Trump’s contradicting his own administration) isn’t primarily a border problem, and the humanitarian problem that does exist (families fleeing Central America to request asylum) won’t be solved by a wall.

Nevertheless, in 10 steps, Trump irretrievably ruined whatever legal case he would have had.

Other U.S. Politics

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: This Trump performance is why people talk about the 25th Amendment, Dana Milbank (below right), Feb. 17, 2019 (print edition). There was no sign of alarm as administration officials and journalists assembled Friday in the Rose Garden under a perfect blue sky amid unseasonable warmth. Nor was there dana milbank Customany sense of crisis conveyed by President Trump, scheduled to fly to his Mar-a-Lago resort later Friday.

His topic demanded utmost solemnity: The situation on the border is so dire, such a crisis, that he must invoke emergency powers to circumvent Congress, testing the boundary between constitutional democracy and autocracy. But with the nation watching, Trump instead delivered a bizarre, 47-minute variant of his campaign speech.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump seeks to turn his failure to build wall into campaign rallying cry, Toluse Olorunnipa, Robert Costa and Josh Dawsey, Feb. 17, 2019 (print edition). djt maga hatPresident Trump and his political team plan to make his years-long quest for a border wall one of the primary thrusts of his reelection effort. Faced with the fact that he has yet to build an inch of the concrete or steel wall he promised, he and and his campaign have begun relying on a rhetorical sleight of hand: speaking the wall into existence.

Catholic Church

ny times logoNew York Times, ‘It Is Not a Closet. It Is a Cage.’ Gay Catholic Priests Speak Out, Elizabeth Dias and photographs by Gabriella Demczuk, Feb. 17, 2019. The crisis over sexuality in the Roman Catholic Church goes beyond abuse. It goes to the heart of the priesthood, and creates an impossible contradiction for thousands of men.

For years, church leaders have driven gay congregants away in shame and insisted that “homosexual tendencies” are “disordered.” And yet, thousands of the church’s priests are gay. The stories of gay priests are unspoken, veiled from the outside world, known only to one another, if they are known at all.

Fewer than about 10 priests in the United States have dared to come out publicly. But gay men likely make up at least 30 to 40 percent of the American Catholic clergy, according to dozens of estimates from gay priests themselves and researchers. Some priests say the number is closer to 75 percent.

Two dozen gay priests and seminarians from 13 states shared intimate details of their lives in the Catholic closet with The New York Times over the past two months. They were interviewed in their churches before Mass, from art museums on the weekend, in their apartments decorated with rainbow neon lights, and between classes at seminary. Some agreed to be photographed if their identities were concealed.

U.S. Politics / Scandal

anthony weiner nynews sentencing CustomNew York Daily News, Anthony Weiner released from prison, back in New York, Clayton Guse, Feb 17, 2019. Anthony Weiner is out of the slammer. The disgraced ex-Congressman and former mayoral candidate was released from federal prison in Massachusetts and is now in a reentry center, records show.

Weiner served 15 months at Federal Medical Center in Devins, Mass. after pleading guilty to sexting with a 15-year-old girl. He’ll finish his sentence under the watch of a federal residential reentry management office in Brooklyn. It’s unclear if he is living in a reentry center or if he is under home confinement. The newspaper's front page is shown in its report on the Democrat's sentencing.

Media Matters, Sean Hannity wants new Attorney General William Barr to prioritize investigating Trump's enemies, Matt Gertz, Feb. 15, 2019. Hannity's enemies list features a slew of Obama-era officials, including Hillary Clinton. Sean Hannity, the Fox News host with the ear of President Donald Trump, has a message for newly confirmed Attorney General William Barr: Investigate the president’s political enemies -- from former leaders of the Justice Department and FBI to Obama administration appointees to former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton -- or suffer the consequences.

Fox’s leading propagandists spent much of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ tenure denouncing him over his refusal to turn their conspiracy theories into federal investigations. Hannity apparently has reason to believe that Barr, who has spoken favorably about the notion of appointing a special counsel to look into the Uranium One pseudoscandal about Clinton, will be more pliable.

sean hannity white houseOn Thursday night, just hours after the Senate confirmed Barr, Hannity crowed, “My sources telling me tonight things are happening as we speak.” The Fox host (shown in a file photo) went on to detail numerous purported crimes he said had been committed by 10 “deep state actors,” including former FBI Director James Comey, former CIA Director John Brennan, and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

“Over the next year with a brand new attorney general, William Barr, this country -- we’ve got to decide,” Hannity concluded. “You want to save the United States? You want to be a constitutional republic? You want equal justice under the law? Do you want a dual justice system, or do you want America to be handed off to your kids and grandkids as a banana republic?”

Later in the program, Gregg Jarrett, the Fox legal analyst whose role at the network is to explain why the president and his team did not break the law but all of his critics did, claimed that “more than a dozen” Obama-era officials had committed crimes and that Barr “should haul them all in front of a federal grand jury.”

U.S. Politics / Pop Culture

alec baldwin snl feb 16 2019Palmer Report, Opinion: Donald Trump has berserk Alec Baldwin meltdown, Bill Palmer, Feb. 17, 2019.  Alec Baldwin returned to Saturday Night Live last night to lampoon Donald Trump’s increasingly absurd behavior. No one would expect Trump to like Baldwin’s savage send-up. But Trump seems to think he can find a way to prevent Baldwin from doing it at all – namely, by accusing him of collusion. No, really.

Trump posted this bizarre tweet this morning: “Nothing funny about tired Saturday Night Live on Fake News NBC! Question is, how do the Networks get away with these total Republican hit jobs without retribution? Likewise for many other shows? Very unfair and should be looked into. This is the real Collusion!” Then he added “THE RIGGED AND CORRUPT MEDIA IS THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!”

washington post logoWashington Post, Alec Baldwin’s Trump declares a national emergency in SNL’s cold open: ‘We need wall,’ Bethonie Butler, Feb. 17, 2019. “Saturday Night Live,” not surprisingly, took on President Trump’s meandering news conference declaring a national emergency at the southern border of the United States. “Wall works, wall makes safe,” Alec Baldwin’s Trump said. “You don’t have to be smart to understand that — in fact it’s even easier to understand if you’re not that smart.”

SNL kicked off its version of the news conference with Trump embellishing the results of his recent physical: “I’m still standing 6′7, 185 pounds — shredded,” Baldwin deadpanned before making the case for a wall along the southern border.

“We need wall, okay. We have a tremendous amount of drugs flowing into this country from the southern border — or the brown line, as many people have asked me not to call it."

“You all see why I gotta fake this emergency, right? I have to because I want to,” he added. “It’s really simple. We have a problem. Drugs are coming into this country through no wall.”

“I’m basically taking military money so I can has wall,” he explained before offering a breathless vision of what might happen as the result of his national emergency declaration:

“I’ll immediately be sued and the ruling will not go in my favor and then it will end up in the Supreme Court and then I’ll call my buddy [Brett] Kavanaugh and I’ll say ‘it’s time to repay the Donny,’ and he’ll say, ‘new phone, who dis?’ And by then the Mueller report will be released, crumbling my house of cards and I can plead insanity and do a few months in the puzzle factory and my personal hell of playing president will finally be over.”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, At least 40 newspapers cancel 'Non Sequitur' comic strip over profane message, Maria Sciullo, Feb 17, 2019. One week after artist Wiley Miller slipped in a profane message to Donald A. Trump in “Non Sequitur,” many newspapers around the country have canceled the comic strip and others are still weighing what action to take. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is one of more than 700 media outlets carrying the strip, which runs daily as a single-panel and on Sundays in multiple panels. Because the Post-Gazette prints the Sunday comics two weeks in advance at its production facility in Clinton, “Non Sequitur” was distributed in Sunday’s editions. A decision will be forthcoming from editors on whether the newspaper will keep it.

In Mr. Miller’s strip published Feb. 10, a coloring book parody featuring a character named Leonardo BearVinci included tiny scribbles of text throughout the drawings. In one corner of the middle panel was the almost illegible “We fondly say … go [expletive] yourself.”

At least 40 newspapers — first was the family-owned Butler Eagle, followed by the Atlanta Constitution, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant, Orlando Sentinel, Dallas Morning News and others — have canceled “Non Sequitur.” They took this action not because the strip was aimed at a conservative target, but said it was due to a “lack of trust” that Mr. Wiley might do something like it again.

Feb. 16

Border 'Emergency'

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion; Phony Wall, Phony Emergency, Editorial Board, Feb. 16, 2019 (print edition). The president plans to manage the border crisis from the golf course at Mar-a-Lago this weekend. “I didn’t need to do this,” President Trump insisted at a Rose Garden appearance on Friday, as he declared a national emergency aimed at shaking loose a few billion dollars in financing for his beloved border wall.

The president’s assertion was both ludicrous and self-defeating. If a declaration was unnecessary and the wall on track (the wall is “very very on its way,” the president said earlier in the week), how could he claim to be addressing an emergency? As Mr. Trump explained it, “But I’d rather do it much faster.” A presidential desire for speed does not constitute a crisis — no matter how eager a president is to camouflage his failures.

 washington post logoWashington Post, An emergency declaration by Trump will lead to lawsuits. Lots of them, Fred Barbash, Ellen Nakashima and Josh Dawsey, Feb. 16, 2019 (print edition). Opponents of a border wall are expected to sue in several jurisdictions. The Supreme Court probably will have the final say.

washington post logoWashington Post, How President Trump came to declare a national emergency to fund his border wall, Matt Zapotosky and Josh Dawsey, Feb. 16, 2019 (print edition).
President Trump knew that lawmakers were unlikely to ever give him the billions of dollars he wanted to build a wall on the southern border, so in early 2018, he gave aides a directive: Find a way to do it without Congress.

ICE logoIt was hardly an easy assignment. The White House had some flexibility to spend money the way it wanted, but could not move the necessary billions at will. Trump could declare a national emergency, but White House attorneys repeatedly warned him the risk of failure in court was high.

On Friday, Trump did it anyway. Stepping to a microphone in the Rose Garden, the president told reporters he was invoking his powers to declare a national emergency, then acknowledged what his lawyers had been warning him: He will get sued and, at least initially, will probably lose.

The remarkable moment, people familiar with the matter say, marked the culmination of months of heated internal deliberations between the White House Counsel’s Office, the Justice Department, the Office of Management and Budget, lawmakers and the president over how to fund the wall.

Catholic Church

ny times logoNew York Times, Pope Defrocks Theodore McCarrick, Ex-Cardinal Accused of Sexual Abuse, Elizabeth Dias and Jason Horowitz, Feb. 16, 2019. Pope Francis (shown at right in a file photo) expelled Pope FrancisTheodore E. McCarrick (below at left), a former cardinal and archbishop of Washington, from the priesthood, after an expedited canonical process that found him guilty of sexually abusing minors and adult seminarians over decades. It appears to be the first such penalty for a U.S. cardinal or bishop.

theodore mccarrickIt appears to be the first time that a cardinal or bishop in the United States has been defrocked, or laicized, from the Roman Catholic Church, and the first time any cardinal has been laicized for sexual abuse. Laicization, which strips a person of all priestly identity, also revokes church-sponsored resources like housing and financial benefits.

While the Vatican has laicized hundreds of priests for sexual abuse of minors, few of the church’s leaders have faced severe discipline. The move to defrock Mr. McCarrick is “almost revolutionary,” said Kurt Martens, a professor of canon law at the Catholic University of America.

Mueller Probe

Guardian, Roger Stone: Mueller Discloses Evidence Trump Adviser Communicated With WikiLeaks, Feb. 16, 2019. Stone says evidence is ‘innocuous Twitter direct messages’ that prove ‘absolutely nothing.’ The US special counsel, Robert Mueller, disclosed for the first time on Friday that his office has evidence of communications between Roger Stone and WikiLeaks related to the release of hacked Democratic party emails.

robert mueller full face fileIn a court filing on Friday, Mueller’s office said it had gathered that evidence in a separate inquiry into Russian intelligence officers who were charged by Mueller with hacking the emails during the 2016 US presidential campaign and staging their release.

In an email criticising media coverage of Mueller’s filing on Friday, Stone, a longtime associate of Donald Trump, said the evidence was “innocuous Twitter direct messages” that have already been disclosed to the House Intelligence Committee and “prove absolutely nothing”.

Also on Friday, a federal judge placed some limits on what Stone and his lawyers can say publicly about his criminal case brought by the special counsel in the Russia investigation.

amy berman jacksonBut the US district judge, Amy Berman Jackson (left), stopped short of imposing a broad ban on public comments by the outspoken political operative, issuing a limited gag order she said was necessary to ensure Stone’s right to a fair trial and “to maintain the dignity and seriousness of the courthouse and these proceedings”.

Stone was indicted last month for lying to Congress about his communications with others about the hacked emails. Mueller did not say at the time that he had evidence of communications with WikiLeaks. Stone, an ally of Trump for 40 years, has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Stone has previously acknowledged brief exchanges with WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 but maintains he never had advance knowledge about the release of hacked emails.

But Friday marked the first time Mueller indicated he had obtained related evidence, although it remained unclear if the evidence is more substantial than what is publicly known.

Europeans Attack U.S. Policy

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump foreign policy under attack from all sides at European security conference, Griff Witte and Michael Birnbaum, Feb. 16, 2019. An annual security conference where Western allies have long forged united fronts erupted Saturday into a full-scale assault on the Trump administration’s foreign policy. European leaders, would-be Democratic challengers and even the president’s Republican backers took the floor to rebuke the president’s go-it-alone approach.

angela merkel flikr glyn lowe photoworksGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel — habitually cautious about provoking Trump — led the charge, unleashing a stinging, point-by-point takedown of the administration’s tendency to treat its allies as adversaries.

The speech appeared to provide much-needed catharsis. Trump’s antagonistic behavior has bred two years of accumulated grievance in much of Europe but has been met with few substantive answers on how to effectively challenge it.

Merkel (shown in a Flickr file photo) accused the United States of strengthening Iran and Russia with its plans for a speedy military pullout from Syria. She expressed shock that the Trump administration would deem BMWs made in South Carolina a threat to national security.

U.S. Politics

ny times logoNew York Times, Patrick Caddell, Self-Taught Pollster Who Helped Carter to White House, Dies at 68, Sam Roberts, Feb. 16, 2019. Patrick Caddell, the political pollster who helped send an obscure peanut farmer named Jimmy Carter to the White House, later became disillusioned with fellow Democrats and finally veered to advise supporters of Donald J. Trump, died on Saturday in Charleston, S.C. He was 68.

His death, from complications of a stroke, was confirmed by a colleague, Prof. Kendra Stewart of the College of Charleston.

While Mr. Caddell was considered instrumental in Mr. Carter’s victory, he also shared the blame for limiting him to a single term. He helped persuade the president to deliver a speech that was intended to inspirit the nation during an energy crisis and economic slump, but instead tarred Mr. Carter as a weakling who was unable to lift the country out of its malaise.

Instead, in 1980 voters chose Ronald Reagan, a Republican who promised a rosier vision that he would describe during his successful re-election campaign as “morning again in America.”

Feb. 15

Trump Claims 'National Emergency'

Donald Trump (Gage Skidmore portrait)

 ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: A Trump-Made Emergency, Editorial Board, Feb. 15, 2019. The president decides that fulfilling a campaign promise is more important than respecting the separation of powers.

washington post logoWashington Post, Shutdown averted as Trump signs spending bill, John Wagner, Josh Dawsey and Damian Paletta​, Feb. 15, 2019. President announces national emergency as he seeks funds to pay for wall. Many of President Trump’s Republican allies have called a national emergency ill-advised, and Democrats immediately called the move unconstitutional. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the House Armed Services Committee chairman, said that Trump’s plan was “utterly disrespectful” to members of the military.

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: ‘I didn’t need to do this’: Trump just kneecapped his own case, Aaron Blake​, Feb. 15, 2019. President Trump basically admitted that this was a choice for him — a matter of expediency, quite literally — and not something required by events on the ground.

American Flag

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Trump’s bewildering national emergency news conference, annotated, Aaron Blake​, Feb. 15, 2019. President Trump declared a national emergency at the southern border — but not without making a scene full of false claims, offbeat comments and tense exchanges.

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Trump’s border wall is a departure from the 31 other current emergencies, Kevin Schaul, Feb. 15, 2019. Nearly all national emergency declarations under the 1976 National Emergencies Act relate to sanctions or export restrictions.

djt time crying child 6 18Roll Call, Trump’s executive order will tap $6.6. billion in Pentagon, Treasury funds for wall, source says, John T. Bennett, Feb. 15, 2019. Money will come from DOD drug interdiction program and Treasury’s drug forfeiture funds. President Donald Trump on Friday will use his executive authorities to access more than $6.6 billion in Pentagon and Treasury Department funds for his border wall after he signs a bill that will bring the total to $8 billion, according to a source with knowledge of his plans.

The White House announced Thursday that the president would sign a massive spending measure that includes $1.375 billion for fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also confirmed what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had said moments earlier: Trump will tap his executive authorities for billions more. ABC News first reported details of the plan.

Trump Justice Dept.

william barr djt swearing in feb 14 2019 wh tia dufour

U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts, center, swears in William Barr, right as attorney general on Feb. 14 at an Oval Office ceremony as President Trump looks on (White House photo by .Tia Dufour)

Palmer Report, Opinion: Mueller reveals proof of Trump-Russia collusion, and Roger Stone’s life is over, Bill Palmer, Feb. 15, 2019. Today a federal judge hit Roger Stone with a gag order, preventing him from publicly discussing the criminal charges against him going forward. That might be just as well, as Special Counsel Robert Mueller just made a court filing which essentially nails Stone for treason, and it proves Trump-Russia election collusion in the process.

bill palmer report logo headerRobert Mueller’s new court filing this evening reveals that he’s seized communications between Roger Stone and the Russian government hacker collective known as Guccifer 2.0. This means that Stone was criminally conspiring with the Kremlin to try to alter the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. roger stoneAlthough Stone came and went as a Trump campaign adviser, he remained a personal political adviser to Donald Trump throughout the campaign. In other words, “yes collusion.” But there’s more.

All that’s left to prove now is that Donald Trump knew Roger Stone (shown in a file photo) was conspiring with the Kremlin to alter the outcome of the election, and it’ll mean that Trump is guilty of Stone’s crimes. Mueller is now one step away from nailing Donald Trump for conspiring against the United States to rig the election in his favor.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: We’re entering a new phase of the Trump-Russia investigation, David Ignatius (right), Feb. 15, 2019 (print edition). President Trump has been insisting for so long that any investigation of his personal finances would cross a “ red line ” that people may have overlooked the outrageousness of his david ignatiusclaim. But this self-declared immunity is about to change.

We’re entering a new phase of the Trump-Russia investigation, in which the president’s efforts to contain the probe are failing. Information he tried to suppress about his business and political dealings is emerging — with more to come.

adam schiff official“There are no red lines except what’s necessary to protect the country,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), left, said during an interview Monday. Schiff, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, told me he plans to request information, perhaps by subpoena, from Deutsche Bank, a major Trump lender, and that “our work on Trump’s finances has already begun.”

A Deutsche Bank subpoena would be especially sensitive.

deutsche bank logoThe president’s relationship with Deutsche Bank intrigues investigators for several reasons. Trump turned to the big German bank two decades ago, when U.S. banks wouldn’t extend him more large loans. The Post estimated in 2016 that Deutsche Bank had $360 million in outstanding loans to Trump’s companies. Deutsche Bank also lent $285 million to Jared Kushner’s family real estate company in October 2016.

Investigators have noted other points of interest: Deutsche Bank, unusually, managed its lending to Trump through its private-banking division rather than normal commercial lending. Finally, the bank has been implicated in Russian money laundering, paying $630 million in fines in 2017 to settle U.S. and British charges that it had improperly transferred $10 billion from Russia.

Ailing 9/11 Survivors

ny times logoWashington Post, ‘We recognize this is horribly unfair’: Sept. 11 victim fund will cut payouts by up to 70 percent as claims surge, Devlin Barrett​, Feb. 15, 2019. The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund plans to cut future payouts in half — and in some cases by as much as 70 percent — as it struggles with a surge of new claims from those who have gotten sick and the families of those who have died, officials announced Friday.

The fund was opened by the federal government in 2011 to compensate for deaths and illnesses linked to toxic exposure at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, Pa., after terrorists crashed four hijacked airliners in 2001. To date, the $7.3 billion fund has paid about $5 billion to roughly 21,000 claimants. About 700 were for deaths that occurred long after the attacks.

Now, faced with more than 19,000 additional unpaid claims, the math has become painful.

“We recognize that this is horribly unfair, particularly because we have spent the balance of this program paying claims at full value, and claimants who are coming in now are going to receive less,” said Rupa Bhattacharyya, who administers the fund. “Unfortunately, the law really leaves us no choice. This is the fairest way we could come up with to do it.”

U.S. Politics

Real Clear Politics, Ann Coulter: "The Only National Emergency Is That Our President Is An Idiot," Tim Hains, Feb. 15, 2019. Ann Coulter, the author of "In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome," responded to the president's comment that she was "off the reservation" in an interview Friday on KABC Radio in Los Angeles. President Trump mentioned Coulter in his Friday emergency declaration speech, saying he "hardly knows her," and hasn't "spoken to her in way over a year."

Coulter told KABC that she was going to change the title on the paperback version of her book to "In Trump We Trusted."

"Thank God he's released me from any responsibility for what he's been doing," she said. "That was the biggest favor anyone could do for me today. The country is over, by the way, that's why."

She said the president was "fooling the rubes with a national emergency."

Real Clear Politics, Sarah Sanders: Ann Coulter Is Not "An Influential Voice In This Country" Or In The White House, Tim Hains, Feb. 15, 2019. In an interview with [Fox News sarah huckabee sanders 2017 05 05Channel's] FNC's Dana Perino, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders (shown in a file photo) dismissed the idea that Ann Coulter had any influence in the White House. Coulter, the author of "In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome," strongly denounced the president's decision to sign a compromise border security bill and declare a national emergency on Twitter and in a radio interview on Friday.

"I don’t think Ann Coulter has any influence over this White House, or influence over much of anything, to be honest. I don’t think she did before the president became the president. I don’t think she does now. I just don’t see her as being an influential voice in this country, and certainly not one in this building," Sanders said.

Pres. Trump on Ann Coulter, right-wing commentator who has been critical of the president's actions on immigration: "I don't know her. I hardly know her...I just don't have the time to speak to her."

"I like her, but she's off the reservation." (11:35 AM - Feb 15, 2019)

Ann Coulter: "Now you know: Trump's 'national emergency' ruse was always just a way to fool the rubes in his base....He CAN'T declare a national emergency to do something a bill he signed prevents him from doing."

Daniel Horowitz: "The goal of a national emergency is to end illegal immigration and cartel smuggling. Building 100-200 miles of fencing gradually will not do it. With this new amnesty,they UACs will come anywhere including points of entry and not only get amnesty for themselves but for those here"

Ann Coulter: "No, the goal of a national emergency is for Trump to scam the stupidest people in his base for 2 more years."

washington post logobill weld campaign portraitWashington Post, Former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld says he will challenge President Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, Staff report, Feb. 15, 2019. The president remains popular with Republican voters, but Weld said he would attempt to defeat him or at a minimum hurt him with a primary challenge. Weld, who was governor of Massachusetts from 1991 until 1997, left the Republican Party in 2016 to run as the Libertarian Party’s vice-presidential nominee. He returned to the GOP this month. He is shown in a 2016 campaign photo.

washington post logoWashington Post, Conservatives can’t stop obsessing over Ocasio-Cortez. Their latest target: her boyfriend, Reis Thebault, Feb. 15, 2019. Fox News, Breitbart and others are wondering why Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s partner has a mail.house.gov email address..

Inside Trump World

ny times logoNew York Times, As Federal Debt Surpasses $22 Trillion, Little Concern in Washington, Binyamin Appelbaum, Feb. 15, 2019. The United States government now owes more than $22 trillion, a record that comes despite continued economic growth. But debt reduction no longer seems to be a top issue in Washington.

ny times logoNew York Times, Trumps Give Up on New Hotels, Blaming Political Climate, Steve Eder, Ben Protess and Eric Lipton, Feb. 15, 2019 (print edition). Plans for two hotel chains are to be shelved indefinitely, most likely for the remainder of President Trump’s term. The retrenchment comes as the Trump Organization faces growing scrutiny from federal prosecutors and congressional investigators.

Plans for the two hotel chains, Scion and American Idea, are to be shelved indefinitely, most likely for the remainder of the presidency. As a practical matter, that means calling off just one agreement, in Mississippi, though two years ago the Trump Organization said it had as many as 30 potential deals in the pipeline.

The retrenchment comes as the company faces growing scrutiny from federal prosecutors and congressional investigators, and as a former employee, Michael D. Cohen, heads to prison for multiple crimes. With Democrats now in control of the House of Representatives, any new hotel deals could have provided investigative fodder for critics of the president.

Future of Freedom Foundation, Opinion: Donald Trump, America’s Elected Dictator, Jacob G. Hornberger (right), Feb. 15, 2019. After losing his battle against Congress to secure funding jacob hornberger headshotfor his wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, President Trump is declaring that that the congressional rebuff is irrelevant anyway. The reason? Trump is declaring an “emergency” under the “National Emergencies Act,” which, he says, authorizes him to spend U.S. taxpayer money on the wall without congressional authorization. He’s going to have the U.S. military, which will dutifully follow his orders, construct his Berlin Wall.

Trump’s action is the very essence of dictatorship. Check out other dictators around the world — Maduro in Venezuela, Ortega in Nicaragua, Diaz-Canel in Cuba, Kim Jong-Un in North Korea, el-Sisi in Egypt, and Zi in China. They don’t have to jack around with congresses. They have the authority to just act or order. That’s what makes them dictators.

In their customary blind support of their great leader, Trumpistas will say that Trump can’t be a dictator because he was democratically elected. They are confused. Democracy is simply a means by which people place people into public office. Dictatorship refers to the power that the ruler wields after he is put into power.

Thus, a dictator can be democratically elected or take power without having been elected. Gen. Augusto Pinochet was a brutal dictator in Chile who was never elected. So was Cuba’s president Fidel Castro. On the other hand, the new president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, was democratically elected but wields dictatorial powers. In fact, Latin Americans have an old saying regarding their democratic systems —that they have the right to elect their dictator every four years.

Trump claims that an immigration “emergency” gives him the power to exercise his dictatorial power. Of course, he’s not the first ruler to cite “emergency” to justify dictatorship. Rulers throughout history have done so. Among the most notable was Adolf Hitler, who cited the “emergency” arising from a terrorist attack on the German Parliament building to convince the Reichstag to give him dictatorial powers. That’s what the Enabling Act was all about.

Mass Shooting In Illinois

ny times logoNew York Times, 5 People Are Killed and 6 Others Are Hurt in Aurora Shooting, Julie Bosman and Mitch Smith, Feb. 15, 2019. The gunman at the Illinois warehouse was gary martinidentified as a former employee. He might have lost his job recently, the police said. The injured included five police officers and one worker. The gunman died in an exchange of gunfire with police officers.

His sister, Tameka Martin, said Gary Martin (right) had worked at the Henry Pratt Company’s industrial warehouse for about 20 years before he was let go two weeks ago. The police said they believed that Mr. Martin had lost his job even more recently, on Friday.

#MeToo Federal Finding

ny times logoWashington Post, Mel Watt attempted to ‘coerce’ relationship with employee while FHFA director, investigation finds, Renae Merle, Feb. 15, 2019. Former congressman Mel Watt misused his position as director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency by attempting to “coerce or induce” a relationship with a female employee seeking a promotion, according to a previously unreleased inspector general’s report.

The inspector general’s investigation was completed in late November and sent to the White House, but President Trump took no action against Watt. He retired at the end of his term in January and Trump has nominated a replacement. The results of the IG investigation, released to The Washington Post after a Freedom of Information Act request, have not been previously disclosed.

Watt implied he could use his position as head of a powerful financial regulator to help Simone Grimes obtain an executive position, the report found. He was also not “candid” with investigators and attempted to explain away his conversations with Grimes, some of which were recorded, as jokes or part of an attempt to mentor her, according to the report.

ny times logoNew York Times, Supreme Court to Hear Case on Census Citizenship Question, Adam Liptak, Feb. 15, 2019. The Supreme Court agreed to decide whether the Trump administration may add a citizenship question to the next census. Critics say that adding it would undermine the survey’s accuracy.

Critics say that adding the question would undermine the accuracy of the census, because both legal and unauthorized immigrants might refuse to fill out the form. By one government estimate, about 6.5 million people might decide not to participate.

democratic donkey logoThat could reduce Democratic representation when congressional districts are drawn in 2021 and affect the distribution of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal spending.

The Supreme Court stepped in before any appeals court had ruled on the matter, and it put the case on an unusually fast track, scheduling arguments for April so that it can issue a decision before census forms are printed in June.

Civil Rights, Football, Collusion

ny times logoNew York Times, N.F.L. and Colin Kaepernick Settle Collusion Case, Kevin Draper, Feb. 15, 2019. The N.F.L. and Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, have settled a case that accused the league of colluding to keep him off a team. Kaepernick has not played in the N.F.L. since the 2016 season, when he ignited a protest movement against racism and police brutality.

colin kaepernick nike ad CustomThe N.F.L. and Colin Kaepernick (shown in a Nike ad), the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who ignited a protest movement against racism and police brutality by kneeling on the sideline during the playing of the national anthem at games, have settled a case that accused the league of colluding to keep him off a team.

nfl logoThe league also settled a similar claim lodged by another player, Eric Reid, who knelt alongside Kaepernick and went unsigned for a period before playing last season for the Carolina Panthers. The statement by the N.F.L. said that “the parties have decided to resolve the pending grievances” and that “there will be no further comment” because the players and the league reached a confidentiality agreement.

This movement, however, seemed to lose momentum, and few players knelt during this past season. Kaepernick has said little, reserving most of his comments to his social media accounts.

Media News

National Press Club, Club criticizes Capitol Police manhandling of reporters, Rachel Oswald, Feb. 15, 2019. The National Press Club on Friday sharply criticized the Capitol Police for reportedly manhandling several reporters this week in the Senate basement and blocking the press from interviewing some senators during a vote.

The incident contravened the chamber’s long-standing bipartisan practice of supporting journalists’ access to lawmakers. During a routine Thursday afternoon floor vote, a large number of reporters were gathered in the Senate basement to interview lawmakers when, without warning, Capitol Police officers interjected themselves between senators and reporters and in some instances manhandled and shoved reporters away, according to a Roll Call news report. This reportedly happened to the surprise of several senators, who were willingly engaging in interviews.

The altercation between reporters and police did not last long, and the police eventually allowed reporters to resume their customary subway interview practices. But it was nonetheless unacceptable, Club leaders said.

“Capitol Police dramatically over-reacted on Thursday and did more harm than good when they prevented accredited reporters from doing their job and further obstructed senators from communicating with the press. There was no call for the police to shove or place their hands on the reporters,” said National Press Club President Alison Kodjak.

The Senate basement is an area where senators embark and disembark from an internal subway system on their way to-and-from floor votes. It is widely considered one of the best spots on Capitol Hill for reporters to interview lawmakers. The general public is not permitted in the Senate subway area but duly accredited reporters have long been granted access. Rules around journalists’ physical access are determined by the Senate Rules Committee and are administered by the Sergeant-at-Arms office, which traditionally has had a constructive working relationship with the self-governing press associations that determine which news outlets are accredited.

“We urge the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Rules Committee, Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, to reaffirm that accredited reporters have authorization to interact with and ask questions of senators in the Senate subway area," Kodjak said. “We call upon the Sergeant-at-Arms to continue the office’s long-standing practice of working with the standing committees in devising access protocols for those times when heightened-security is warranted.”

whowhatwhy logoWhoWhatWhy, Opinion: Who’s Telling the Truth About the Israel Lobby and Anti-Semitism? Jeff Schechtman, Feb. 15, 2019. Scholars Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer discuss the influence of AIPAC and “the Israel lobby.” The recent charges of “anti-Semitism” leveled against Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) have reignited the debate about the power and influence of AIPAC and the Israel lobby.

In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, we talk with Stephen Walt, professor of international affairs at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and John Mearsheimer, the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago. They have been looking at this issue for years and co-authored the book The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy.

Brexit, Ireland, Venezuela

ny times logoNew York Times, How a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit Could Open a Path to Irish Unity, Benjamin Mueller, Feb. 15, 2019. On the Catholic, mainly nationalist side of the divide in Northern Ireland, many think an abrupt withdrawal — and a hard border — could lead to reunification.

ny times logoNew York Times, Humanitarian Aid Stalls, Testing Venezuela’s Opposition, Nicholas Casey and Anatoly Kurmanaev, Feb. 13, 2019. The battle over the legitimate leadership of Venezuela — which has included rallies of thousands, international diplomacy and oil sanctions — is now focused on a single heavily guarded shipment of humanitarian aid.

Venezuela’s opposition, which has relished a month of victories in its effort to challenge President Nicolás Maduro and take over as the country’s legitimate government, brought the donated supplies of food and medical kits to the country’s border with Colombia.uo, in which Mr. Maduro retains control.

Feb. 14

Border National Emergency?

washington post logoWashington Post, Congress passes budget bill; Trump is expected to sign it, then declare emergency, Erica Werner, Damian Paletta, Seung Min Kim and Rachael Bade, Feb. 14, 2019. A national emergency declaration, the White House said, would let President Trump build a border wall even though the budget deal has little funding for it.

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Plans to Declare National Emergency to Build Border Wall, Peter Baker and Emily Cochrane, Feb. 14, 2019. President Trump plans to declare a national emergency so he can bypass Congress and build his long-promised wall along the border even as he signs a spending bill that does not fund it.

The move would effectively end a two-month war of attrition between the president and Congress that closed much of the federal government for 35 days and left it facing a second shutdown as early as Friday, but it could instigate a new constitutional clash over who controls the federal purse.

“President Trump will sign the government funding bill, and as he has stated before, he will also take other executive action — including a national emergency — to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary.

The legislation headed for Senate passage Thursday afternoon includes the seven remaining bills to keep the remainder of the government open through the end of September. House and Senate negotiators unveiled the 1,159-page bill just before midnight Thursday, leaving little time for lawmakers to actually digest its contents. Final passage was expected Thursday night when the House was to take it up.

washington post logoWashington Post, ‘Off the rails’: Inside Trump’s attempt to frame a border wall defeat as a victory, Robert Costa, Rachael Bade, Josh Dawsey and Seung Min Kim​, Feb. 14, 2019. After three weeks of pained negotiations to keep the federal government open, President Trump almost blew the whole thing up again. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pleaded with him to stay the course, said people familiar with the conversations.

washington post logoWashington Post, House Democrats to challenge Trump’s emergency declaration; Republicans divided on action, Rachael Bade, Seung Min Kim, Mike DeBonis and Paul Kane, Feb. 14, 2019. House Democrats are gearing up to pass a joint resolution disapproving of President Trump’s emergency declaration to build his U.S.-Mexico border wall, a move that will force Senate Republicans to vote on a contentious issue that divides their party.

jerrold nadler o SmallHouse Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), right, said Thursday evening in an interview with The Washington Post that the House would take up the resolution in the coming days or weeks. The measure is expected to easily clear the Democratic-led House, and because it would be privileged, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would be forced to put the resolution to a vote that he could lose.

“This is a gross abuse of presidential power,” Nadler said of the news that Trump would declare a national emergency to try to move money around to fulfill one of his central campaign promises. “This is an attempt to overturn the basic constitutional doctrine of separation of powers. Congress has the power of the purse. It cannot be tolerated.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Declaring an emergency for a wall is unprecedented — and unpopular, Fred Barbash, Ellen Nakashima and Josh Dawsey, Feb. 14, 2019. An emergency declaration by Trump will lead to lawsuits. Lots of them, Opponents of a border wall are expected to sue in several jurisdictions. The Supreme Court probably will have the final say.

Trump Probes

 washington post logofbi headquarters library of congressWashington Post, McCabe says he quickly opened FBI investigation of Trump for fear of being fired, Matt Zapotosky and John Wagner​, Feb. 14, 2019. Former acting FBI andrew mcCabe odirector Andrew McCabe (left) said in an interview that aired Thursday that he authorized an investigation into President Trump’s ties to Russia a day after meeting with him in May 2017 out of fear that he could soon be fired. FBI headquarters is shown at right in a Library of Congress photo.

“I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground in an indelible fashion that were I removed quickly or reassigned or fired that the case could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace,” McCabe told CBS.

His comments were the first time McCabe has publicly addressed why he opened an investigation into Trump following the firing of former FBI director James B. Comey, whose post McCabe took over.

Andrew McCabe

ny times logoNew York Times, Justice Dept. Discussed Removal of Trump From Office, Former Official Says, Adam Goldman and Matthew Haag, Feb. 14, 2019. Andrew G. McCabe (right), the former deputy F.B.I. director, said that top Justice Department officials were alarmed by President Trump’s decision in May 2017 to fire James B. Comey, the bureau’s director. Mr. McCabe said that they discussed whether to recruit cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Mr. Trump from office.

Senate Confirms Barr As Attorney General

william barr senate hearing cnn screengrab jan 15 2019

Roll Call, Senate confirms Barr amid questions about Mueller report, Todd Ruger, Feb 14, 2019. William Barr (shown above during his Senate confirmation hearing last month) takes over the Justice Department on Thursday at a pivotal moment for the nation’s legal landscape, with his tenure closely tied to how he will handle the special counsel’s Russia investigation and any political pressure from the White House. The Senate voted 54-45 to confirm Barr as the next attorney general, mostly along party lines. Senators have strong clues that he will continue the Trump administration’s conservative policies and legal arguments on immigration, civil rights enforcement and LGBT employment discrimination.

But senators lack a clear picture of exactly how much information Barr will make public when Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III submits a report on his probe into the 2016 presidential election — and that ultimately became a central focus of the confirmation debate.

Justice Department logo“As to how much he will release, we will know when he gets the report,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on the floor. “But here is what I do believe: He is going to err on the side of transparency.”

Barr, 68, pitched himself to senators as an end-of-career professional, ready to step into a job he previously held for two years during the George Bush administration, with the ability to bring a steady hand to the department he loves and do the right thing without caring about the political consequences.

fbi logoHe said the divided country needs a credible resolution of the special counsel probe, free of “partisan politics, personal interests, or any other improper consideration.” He said he would resign before firing Mueller without good cause, and inform the public and Congress of as much as possible of what Mueller reports to him.

But other Democrats, such as Judiciary Committee member Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., questioned whether Barr’s assertion of independence and transparency during the confirmation process will stand up to President Donald Trump.

Whitehouse said that Barr’s answers, taken together, left open a loophole that could mean Barr would not release any Mueller findings on Trump. Barr told the committee that Justice Department policy is to not release derogatory investigative information about people who are not charged with a crime. And there's a decades-old internal DOJ legal opinion, never tested in court, that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

Barr, a conservative lawyer at Kirkland and Ellis law firm in Washington who ran the Justice Department from 1991 to 1993, spent 14 years working at GTE, which later became Verizon, and advises major corporations. Barr replaces acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who has been in the spotlight since Jeff Sessions was forced to resign in November.

washington post logoWashington Post, Barr expected to be confirmed as attorney general and supervise Mueller’s probe, Matt Zapotosky, Feb. 14, 2019. William P. Barr is likely to be confirmed Justice Department log circularThursday as the U.S. attorney general, putting him in command of the Justice Department at one of the most politically charged moments in its history.

Barr, a Justice Department veteran who served as attorney general previously in the George H.W. Bush administration, has but one hurdle left to clear to become the country’s top law enforcement officer — full Senate confirmation. Lawmakers are expected to vote on his nomination at some point Thursday, though the precise time is unclear. The outcome is all but guaranteed, after Barr cleared a procedural hurdle by a 55-to-44 vote that was mostly along party lines.

Trump, Saudi Defender

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Trump’s friend just tried to blame America First, Dana Milbank (right), Feb. 14, 2019 (print edition). Billionaire Tom Barrack, Donald dana milbank CustomTrump’s friend, informal adviser and chairman of the president’s inaugural committee, sounded like a man without a soul.

With a bone-chilling bloodlessness, Barrack (below left) on Tuesday defended the Saudi government’s murder of Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Asked at a Milken Institute gathering in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, about the murder, Barrack replied that “whatever happened in Saudi Arabia, the atrocities in America are equal or worse than the atrocities in Saudi Arabia.” He added: “For us to dictate what we think is the moral code there . . . I think is a mistake.”

tom barrackheadshotIncredibly, that wasn’t all. “The problem with what’s happened with the Khashoggi incident is the same problems of the West misunderstanding the East” for a century, Barrack said. “The West is confused at the rule of the law, doesn’t understand what the rule of law is in the kingdom.”

I don’t know what would make Barrack take such a dim view of American values, though the New York Times reported last year that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates provided 24 percent of the $7 billion that Barrack’s business raised in the 17 months after Trump’s inauguration.

Of greater concern is that Barrack advises a president who seems to think similarly.

RFK Murder & Deep Statelisa pease rfk cover

The Washington Post published a review of A Lie Too Big to Fail: The Real History of the Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. Photo credit: Feral House.

whowhatwhy logoruss baker cropped david welkerWhoWhatWhy, Shocker: ‘Washington Post’ Publishes Nuanced Article About RFK Assassination, Russ Baker (right), Feb. 14, 2019. Saturday was a turning point in American history. For perhaps the first time ever, one of the biggest legacy news organizations published a fair, fact-based article about a political assassination without dismissing, out of hand, any evidence of conspiracy.

The article, about a new book on the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy and the possible role played by elements of the national security establishment, likely would not have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the New Yorker, or on NPR, PBS, CBS, NBC, and the like.

And yet here it is in the Washington Post.

washington post logoThis article would also likely never have appeared in the Post in the decades prior to Jeff Bezos’s taking over ownership. Say what you will about Bezos — and there’s plenty to say — he seems to be ushering in a new era of journalistic candor.

For many years, the Washington Post, like the Times and so many other news outlets, was a witting or unwitting participant in the CIA’s Operation Mockingbird, a program to shape public opinion by planting disinformation in the media.

One thing the national security establishment didn’t want was journalists taking a good look under the hood of our power hierarchy, or asking questions about the military-security-industrial complex that former presidents Eisenhower, Truman, and others warned against.

The powers-that-be certainly didn’t want the public knowing that US government agencies went around the world foiling democracy — including, on occasion, killing or sanctioning the killing of elected officials in other countries. (To see just a few of our eye-opening stories on this subject, please go here, here, and here.)

U.S. Politics

ny times logoPresident Donald Trump officialNew York Times, Analysis: Trump Puts Best Face on Border Deal, as Aides Try to Appease Angry Right, Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman, Feb. 14, 2019 (print edition). A single-minded drive to force Congress to finance his signature campaign promise has left President Trump right back where he started. The agreement was arguably the most punishing defeat Mr. Trump has experienced in office, and it left the White House scrounging for other ways to pay for a wall.

 washington post logoWashington Post, Lawmakers rush to resolve last-minute snags in spending bill as shutdown looms, Erica Werner, John Wagner and Robert Costa, Feb. 14, 2019 (print edition). Aides to President Trump indicate he is open to signing the legislation to keep the government open but wants to see the final package.

Growing U.S. Corruption?

The Atlantic, Commentary: Russian-Style Kleptocracy Is Infiltrating America, Franklin Foer, Feb. 14, 2019 (March 2019 print edition). When the U.S.S.R. collapsed, Washington bet on the global spread of democratic capitalist values — and lost.

For two years, in the early 1990s, Richard Palmer served as the CIA station chief in the United States’ Moscow embassy. The events unfolding around him — the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the rise of Russia — were so chaotic, so traumatic and exhilarating, that they mostly eluded clearheaded analysis. But from all the intelligence that washed over his desk, Palmer acquired a crystalline understanding of the deeper narrative of those times.

Much of the rest of the world wanted to shout for joy about the trajectory of history, and how it pointed in the direction of free markets and liberal democracy. Palmer’s account of events in Russia, however, was pure bummer. In the fall of 1999, he testified before a congressional committee to disabuse members of Congress of their optimism and to warn them of what was to come.

American officialdom, Palmer believed, had badly misjudged Russia. Washington had placed its faith in the new regime’s elites; it took them at their word when they professed their commitment to democratic capitalism.

But Palmer had seen up close how the world’s growing interconnectedness — and global finance in particular — could be deployed for ill.  In the dying days of the U.S.S.R., Palmer had watched as his old adversaries in Soviet intelligence shoveled billions from the state treasury into private accounts across Europe and the U.S. It was one of history’s greatest heists.

SCOTUS: Thomas Resignation?

Supreme court 2018 Mandel Ngan/AFP)

With another Supreme Court vacancy, or two, President Trump’s record and influence on the future of the country will look even more secure. (photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP)

jeffrey toobinNew Yorker, Analysis: Is Clarence Thomas Ready to Go? Jeffery Toobin (right), Feb. 14, 2019. No one tells a Supreme Court Justice when to retire. But there are currently two new yorker logoretirement dramas under way at the Court — one semi-public and the other semi-private — and they both have the potential to reshape the meaning of the Constitution for decades.

The public story is that of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Court’s senior liberal. Late last year, she fell and broke three ribs and, when she was being treated, doctors discovered that she had lung cancer, her third bout with cancer. She underwent surgery, apparently successfully, and the Court released word that she would need no further treatment. But, in January, she missed oral arguments for the first time in twenty-five years on the Court, and there is no guarantee that she will be there when the Justices next hear cases, on February 19th. Still, the retirement drama regarding Ginsburg is straightforward. She will hang on for as long as she can, in the hopes that a Democratic President will appoint her successor after the 2020 election.

clarence thomas HRThe more complex drama involves Clarence Thomas, who is seventy years old and the longest-tenured Associate Justice on the Court. With fifty-three Republicans now in the Senate (and no filibusters allowed on Supreme Court nominations), President Trump would have a free hand in choosing a dream candidate for his conservative base if Thomas were to retire this year. The summer of 2019 would seem an ideal time to add a third younger conservative to the Court (along with Neil Gorsuch, who is fifty-one, and Brett Kavanaugh, who is fifty-four). It’s true that Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, would likely violate his Merrick Garland rule and try to push through a nominee in 2020, an election year, but 2019 would be much easier to navigate. So, many conservatives are asking, why shouldn’t Thomas leave now?

It seems that the President may have had the same thought. Trump has shown unusual solicitude for Justice Thomas and his wife, Ginni, a hard-right political activist. The President and the First Lady had the Thomases to dinner, and then Trump welcomed Ginni and some of her movement colleagues to the White House for an hour-long discussion.

djt brett kavanaugh amy coney barrettBut will Thomas retire? Over the years, he has made little secret of the fact that he doesn’t enjoy the job very much. With a conservative future of the Court secure, why wouldn’t he call it a day after twenty-eight years? Because, according to his friends, he feels an obligation to continue doing the job for as long as he is able, regardless of the political implications of his departure. Of course, no one except Thomas knows for sure what he will do, and that leaves his decision open to speculation.

There seems little doubt, however, about what would happen if either he or Ginsburg leaves in the next year or two. The President would likely nominate as a replacement Amy Coney Barrett, a forty-seven-year-old judge on the Seventh Circuit. A former professor at Notre Dame Law School, Barrett was nominated to the appeals court by Trump, in 2017, and she has already been considered for a Supreme Court seat — the one that went to Kavanaugh. (Barrett and Kavanaugh are shown together in a graphic last summer before Kavanaugh's nomination.).

U.S.-Allied Dictatorships

ny times logoNew York Times, Egypt’s Parliament Clears Way for El-Sisi to Rule Until 2034, Declan Walsh, Feb. 14, 2019. Lawmakers approved measures that would allow President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to stay in power for 12 more years, enshrining the military’s dominance in politics.

National Press Club, Club calls for charges against journalist Maria Ressa to be dropped, Kathy Kiely, Feb. 14, 2019. The National Press Club and its nonprofit Journalism Institute are calling on the Philippine government to end its intimidation campaign against Maria Ressa, a journalist targeted for her investigations of official corruption in her home country.

Ressa, whose work has been widely honored by fellow journalists and press freedom organizations, was arrested earlier this week in the newsroom of Rappler, the online news site that she founded. The site is known for its critical coverage of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Ressa reportedly spent the night in custody before her lawyers were able to post bail Thursday.

“This represents the latest escalation of Duterte’s efforts to stifle legitimate scrutiny of his government,” said NPC President Alison Fitzgerald Kodjak. “We stand with Maria Ressa and our Philippine colleagues.”

U.S. Gun Deaths

washington post logoWashington Post, A year after Parkland shooting, school turns to surveillance software that can flag threats, Drew Harwell, Feb. 14, 2019 (print edition). The artificial-intelligence system, which would allow security officials to track students based on their appearance, has raised major questions over its accuracy, invasiveness and effectiveness.

 ny times logoNew York Times, 14 Children Died in the Parkland Shooting. Nearly 1,200 Have Died From Guns Since, Adeel Hassan, Feb. 14, 2019 (print edition). A nonprofit news organization that reports on gun violence wanted to remember the dead not as statistics, but as human beings with rich histories. For the project “Since Parkland,” teenage journalists wrote profiles for every child killed by gun violence in the year since the Florida school shooting.

Media Report: Facebook Privacy Fine

washington post logoWashington Post, The U.S. government and Facebook are negotiating a record, multi-billion dollar fine for the company’s privacy lapses, Tony Romm​, Feb. 14, 2019. The facebook logoFederal Trade Commission and Facebook are negotiating over a multi-billion dollar fine that would settle the agency’s investigation into the social media giant’s privacy practices, according to two people familiar with the probe.

The fine would be the largest the agency has ever imposed on a technology company, but the two sides have not yet agreed on an exact amount. Facebook has expressed initial concern with the FTC’s demands, one of the people said. If talks break down, the FTC could take the matter to court in what would likely be a bruising legal fight.

Virginia Scandal Update

 washington post logovanessa tyson scripps college via apWashington Post, Woman who says Fairfax sexually assaulted her to meet with law enforcement officials, Fenit Nirappil, Jenna Portnoy and Laura Vozzella​, Feb. 14, 2019 (print edition). Vanessa Tyson (right) accused Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of assault during the 2004 Democratic National Convention. The statute of limitations for sexual assault in Massachusetts is 15 years.

Air Force Leak / Media Probes

washington post logomonica witt militaryWashington Post, Ex-Air Force specialist charged with conspiring to reveal classified information to Iran, Matt Zapotosky, Feb. 14, 2019 (print edition). ​Monica Elfriede Witt, 39,(shown in an Air Force file photo) spent more than a decade working in sensitive jobs for the U.S. government. She defected to Iran in 2013.

 washington post logoWashington Post, A potential witness in Monica Witt’s defection case grew up in New Orleans. Now she defends the Iranian Revolution, Antonia Noori Farzan, Feb. 14, 2019. On Jan. 23, protesters gathered outside the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to demand the release of Marzieh Hashemi, a longtime television anchor in Iran. The 59-year-old had been picked up by FBI agents at St. Louis Lambert International Airport and detained for 10 days without being charged with a crime. Outrage had mounted after unconfirmed reports from her employer, Press TV, alleged that she had been brutally shackled and had her hijab ripped off, and that she had been denied halal food in jail.

marzieh hashemi headshotLater that day, Hashemi (shown at left) was released from federal custody. Upon her return to Iran, she was greeted by cheering crowds who handed her flowers and held up their phones to snap photographs. But the reason for her confinement remained a mystery. Court documents indicated only that Hashemi, who was born in the United States, had been held on a rare material-witness warrant, indicating that prosecutors needed her testimony for a grand jury investigation and believed that she was likely to flee.

monica witt headscarfOne possible explanation emerged on Wednesday, when authorities revealed that a grand jury had brought espionage charges against Monica Elfriede Witt, a former Air Force counterintelligence specialist who defected to Iran in 2013. Witt, a native of Texas, had been trained in Farsi after joining the Air Force in 1997, and quickly rose to a position that gave her access to some of the military’s most tightly-guarded secrets. At some point, her loyalties shifted. The newly unsealed indictment alleges that the 39-year-old shared highly classified information with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and helped Iranian hackers to carry out spearfishing attacks that targeted her former colleagues.

The indictment details Witt’s frequent communications with Individual A, a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen who allegedly was assisting Iranian intelligence services. Prosecutors allege that in June 2012, Individual A hired Witt to work as her assistant on an anti-American propaganda film that later aired in Iran.

Officials declined to say whether Hashemi was the dual national described in the indictment as Individual A, but the two women’s stories have a strikingly similar trajectory: Both grew up in the United States, then later made the unusual choice to shift their allegiances to Iran’s repressive government.

Supreme Court / Abortion

linda greenhouse cover just a journalistny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: When Judges Defy the Supreme Court, Linda Greenhouse (shown on the cover of her memoir Just A Journalist), Feb. 14, 2019. The chief justice faces a time of great testing, both of himself and of the institution he heads, as the lower courts move rapidly even to his right. No, I wasn’t surprised last week, as most people apparently were, when Chief Justice John Roberts cast the deciding fifth vote to preserve access to abortion in Louisiana for at least a little while longer. In fact, I had predicted it (and I have witnesses).

john roberts oThe voluminous commentary on what happened at the court last week has for the most part not fully conveyed the blatant nature of the lower court’s decision, on which the Supreme Court put a temporary hold to afford the plaintiffs — an abortion clinic and its doctors — the chance to file a formal appeal.

The court is the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, based in New Orleans and covering Texas and Mississippi along with Louisiana. Not surprisingly given its territory, it has been the location of numerous legal battles over abortion. The Trump administration has been spectacularly successful in filling seats on the Fifth Circuit. Five of the 16 active judges are Trump appointees. That places the Fifth Circuit at the leading edge of the coming wave of Trump judges (sorry, Chief Justice Roberts, I’m afraid that’s what they are), so it’s important to understand what is going on there.

Alliance For Justice, Opinion: Brown, Upside-Down, Bill Yeomans (right), Feb. 14, 2019. Neomi Rao is the latest Trump judicial nominee to refuse to say whether she thinks Brown v. Board. of Education was correctly decided. She joins a growing list of Trump picks who refuse to endorse this iconic Supreme Court decision.

The stated reason is that they don’t want to start down a slippery slope of endorsing and rejecting decisions. That explanation is nonsense, since there are many sticky footholds along the descent from Brown to cases now pending in the courts. The more credible reason is that they don’t want to have to embrace or reject Roe v. Wade. Nor do they want to have to explain why they would endorse Brown, but refuse to opine on Roe, thereby consigning Roe to a less secure class of decisions.

alliance for justice logoBut, other recent, high profile Republican nominees, including Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, John Roberts, and Samuel Alito have been willing to praise Brown as an example of the Supreme Court at its best. They all faced the same concerns about Roe, yet plowed ahead on Brown. If they could do it, why not circuit court nominees Rao, Chad Readler, or Andrew Oldham, or a series of district court nominees? Is there something more that is pushing them away from Brown or that makes its embrace no longer politically necessary?

The truth is that conservatives never fully embraced Brown. The Court’s decision striking down laws requiring racial segregation of schools was met with massive resistance by people living in affected states, conservative politicians, and conservative intellectuals. President Eisenhower was no fan. Barry Goldwater opposed the decision. William F. Buckley rejected the Court’s reasoning.

Appeals to resisters of Brown lay at the core of Nixon’s southern strategy. The drive to appoint ideologically conservative judges was born, in significant part, out of reaction to Brown and Roe v. Wade.

Global Affairs: U.S. /  Europe

mike pence speech Custom

Vice President Pence addresses American allies in Munich on Feb. 14 Presidential advisors Jared Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump sit at right. (White House photo.)

washington post logomike pence oWashington Post, Pence launches combative broadside against U.S. allies, calling on them to withdraw from nuclear deal with Iran, Carol Morello and Anne Gearan, Feb. 14, 2019. Vice President Pence, right, on Thursday launched a combative broadside against some of America’s closest allies, calling on European iran flag mapcountries to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran and accusing them of attempting to break U.S. sanctions against “that vile regime” in Tehran.

Officials from Britain, France and Germany — all countries that negotiated and signed the 2015 landmark agreement that President Trump withdrew from last year — were in the audience as Pence accused them of essentially joining sides with America’s enemy. Virtually all countries in Europe support the Iran nuclear agreement as essential to their own security and oppose U.S. efforts to dismantle it.

 ny times logoNew York Times, Europe’s Middle Class Is Shrinking. Spain Bears Much of the Pain, Liz Alderman, Feb. 14, 2019. Since the recession of the late 2000s, the middle class has shrunk in over two-thirds of the European Union, echoing a similar decline in the United States and reversing two decades of expansion. While middle-class households are more prevalent in Europe than in the United States — around 60 percent, compared with just over 50 percent in America — they face unprecedented levels of vulnerability.

Inside DC: Chemicals

washington post logoepa clean water logoWashington Post, EPA vows to rein in toxic ‘forever’ chemicals detected in U.S. drinking water for millions, Brady Dennis​, Feb. 14, 2019. The Environmental Protection Agency unveiled what officials called a historic effort to rein in a class of long-lasting chemicals that scientists say pose serious health risks.

Feb. 13

Narcotics Post-Chapo

ny times logoNew York Times, El Chapo Is Behind Bars, but Drugs Still Flow From Mexico, Alan Feuer, Feb. 13, 2019. The verdict against the Mexican crime lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera may have little lasting impact on the wider effort to stem the flow of drugs into the United States. Federal agents say Mr. Guzmán’s empire remains intact and is now being run by his sons and his longtime partner, Ismael Zambada García.

joaquin el chapo guzmanThe conviction this week of the Mexican crime lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera, shown in a file photo under arrest, was one of the most visible victories for American law enforcement since the war on drugs began in the 1970s, a triumph over a cartel leader who survived — and thrived — for decades on his business skills, brutal violence and bottomless bribes to Mexican officials.

And yet on Jan. 31, the same day that the trial of Mr. Guzmán — known to the world as El Chapo — ended in a Brooklyn federal courtroom, border officials in Arizona made an announcement: They had just seized the largest load of fentanyl ever found in the United States, a haul that was hidden in a truck carrying cucumbers on its way through the Nogales port of entry, a crossing that Mr. Guzmán’s organization, the Sinaloa drug cartel, has traditionally run for years.

The fentanyl seizure — enough for 100 million lethal doses — was a clear signal that even after the hard-fought task of convicting Mr. Guzmán on drug conspiracy charges, American federal agents still have far to go in their attempts to dismantle Mexico’s infamous cartels. The verdict against the kingpin on Tuesday, may, in the end, have little lasting impact on either Mr. Guzmán’s group or the wider effort to stem the flow of drugs into the United States.

Trump Probes

paul manafort rnc 2016 abc flickr

Former Trump Presidential Campaign Manager Paul Manafort In 2016 (file photo from ABC-TV)

washington post logoWashington Post, Federal judge finds Paul Manafort lied to Mueller probe about contacts with Russian aide, Spencer S. Hsu, Feb. 13, 2019. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied to prosecutors with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III about matters close to the heart of their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

paul manafort mugThe judge’s finding that Manafort, 69 (shown in a mug shot), breached his cooperation deal with prosecutors by lying after his guilty plea could add years to his prison sentence and came after a set of sealed court hearings.

amy berman jacksonManafort’s lies, the judge found, included “his interactions and communications with [Konstantin] Kilimnik,” a longtime aide whom the FBI assessed to have ties to Russian intelligence.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the District (shown at left) said Manafort also lied to the special counsel, the FBI and the grand jury about a payment from a company to a law firm — which he previously characterized as a loan repayment — and made false statements that were material to another Justice Department investigation whose focus has not been described in public filings in Manafort’s case.

Palmer Report, Commentary: It's official -- Robert Mueller has destroyed Paul Manafort once and for all, Bill Palmer, Feb. 13, 2019. Paul Manafort gambled that he could cut a robert mueller kit fox medill flickr croppedcooperating plea deal with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, feed him false information, coordinate it all with Donald Trump, and not get caught. Manafort quickly lost that gamble, and as of this evening, he’s paying for it with everything he has.

Mueller (right) announced awhile back that he was ripping up Paul Manafort’s plea deal, citing Manafort’s bad faith actions. Of course this requires the approval of a judge, and so the two found themselves back in front of Federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson. She ruled this evening that Manafort intentionally lied to Mueller about multiple matters. This is a big deal for two reasons, and one of them is very bad news for Donald Trump.

bill palmer report logo headerFirst, this means that Paul Manafort’s life is effectively over. His plea deal was his one chance at possibly getting out of prison before the end of his natural lifespan. Now that he’s officially been faulted for the demise of his plea deal, he’ll be in prison forever. Donald Trump has already made clear that he’s not willing to take the risk of sticking his neck out to pardon people like Manafort. Even if he were to try, Manafort would still rot, thanks to state-level charges in New York.

Second, this further weakens Donald Trump’s “no collusion” fantasy. Robert Mueller accused Paul Manafort of lying about his interactions with Russian spy Konstantin Kilimnik, and sure enough, the judge says she agrees. That means Trump’s campaign chairman is going to prison partly for colluding with the Kremlin during the 2016 election. That’s on top of Donald Trump Jr’s emails, Roger Stone’s emails, and other hard proof of an illegal conspiracy between Russia and Team Trump to rig the 2016 election.

washington post logoWashington Post, How Manafort’s 2016 meeting with Russian goes to ‘heart’ of Mueller’s probe, Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger, Feb. 13, 2019. In a sealed court hearing last week, prosecutors revealed they are deeply focused on a dinner Paul Manafort had at the Grand Havana Club with Russian political operative Konstantin Kilimnik.

The 2016 nominating conventions had recently concluded and the presidential race was hitting a new level of intensity when Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, ducked into an unusual dinner meeting at a private cigar room a few blocks away from the campaign’s Trump Tower headquarters in Manhattan.

rnc logoCourt records show that Manafort was joined at some point by his campaign deputy, Rick Gates, at the session at the Grand Havana Room, a mahogany-paneled space with floor-to-ceiling windows offering panoramic views of the city.

The two Americans met with an overseas guest, a longtime employee of their international consulting business who had flown to the United States for the gathering: a Russian political operative named Konstantin Kilimnik.

The Aug. 2, 2016, encounter between the senior Trump campaign officials and Kilimnik, who prosecutors allege has ties to Russian intelligence, has emerged in recent days as a potential fulcrum in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation.

The New Republic, Investigative Report: The Spy Who Wasn't, James Bamford, Feb. 11, 2019. The U.S. government went looking for someone to blame for Russia's interference in the 2016 election—and found Maria Butina, the perfect scapegoat. “Real-life ‘Red Sparrow’? Court Filings Allege Russian Agent Offered Sex for Access,” blared an ABC News headline. “Maria Butina, Suspected Secret Agent, Used Sex in Covert Plan, Prosecutors Say,” declared The New York Times.


maria butina with gun adSince August 17, Butina has been housed at the Alexandria Detention Center, the same fortresslike building that holds Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. On November 10, she spent her 30th birthday in solitary confinement, in cell 2F02, a seven-by-ten-foot room with a steel door, cement bed, and two narrow windows, each three inches wide. She has been allowed outside for a total of 45 minutes. On December 13, Butina pleaded guilty to conspiracy to act as an unregistered agent of the Russian Federation. She faces a possible five-year sentence in federal prison.


With anti-Russia fervor in the United States approaching levels directed at Muslims following the attacks of September 11, 2001, it was easy for prosecutors to sell the story of Butina as a spy to the public and the press. But is she really? Last February, Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the Russia probe, indicted 13 Russian spies for interfering with the 2016 election. And in July, two days before Butina was arrested, Mueller charged twelve more Russians with hacking into email accounts and computer networks belonging to the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. It is not inconceivable that Butina is among their ranks.


Yet a close examination of Butina’s case suggests that it is not so. Butina is simply an idealistic young Russian, born in the last days of the Soviet Union, raised in the new world of capitalism, and hoping to contribute to a better understanding between two countries while pursuing a career in international relations.

James Bamford is the author of "The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America" and a documentary filmmaker for PBS.

CNN, Daughter and son-in-law of AG nominee leaving the Justice Department, David Shortell, Laura Jarrett and Pamela Brown, Feb. 13, 2019. As William Barr, President Donald Trump's attorney general nominee, awaits a Senate vote to confirm his move to the top of the Justice Department, his daughter and son-in-law, both Justice Department employees, are on their way to different jobs.

Mary Daly, Barr's oldest daughter and the director of Opioid Enforcement and Prevention Efforts in the deputy attorney general's office, is leaving for a position at the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), the Treasury Department's financial crimes unit, a Justice official said.

Tyler McGaughey, the husband of Barr's youngest daughter, has been detailed from the powerful US attorney's office in Alexandria, Virginia, to the White House counsel's office, two officials said.

It's not clear if McGaughey's switch is a result of Barr's pending new role, and the kind of work he'll be handling at the White House is not public knowledge.
Daly's husband will remain in his position in the Justice Department's National Security Division for now.

The moves were by choice and are not required under federal nepotism laws, but Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, called them "a good idea" to "avoid the bad optics that could come from the appearance of them working for him."

However, Shaub added that McGaughey's detail to the White House counsel's office was "concerning."

"That's troubling because it raises further questions about Barr's independence," Shaub said.

As attorney general, Barr will oversee the special counsel's investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 US presidential election and whether there was a conspiracy with the Trump campaign. Barr, who himself had a storied career at the Justice Department, capped off by his first stint as attorney general under George H.W. Bush, joked about his family of government lawyers at his confirmation hearing last month.

Israel Seeks 'War' v. Iran?

Moon of Alabama, Opinion: Netanyahoo Asks Arabs to "Advance The Common Interest Of War With Iran," b, Feb. 13, 2019. The U.S. had called for a high level anti-Iran meeting in Poland. The purpose of the meeting was to bring with its allies and poodles into line with the U.S. agenda on Iran, to press them at least into issuing harsher sanctions. But the European rejected that.

benjamin netanyahu frownThat State Department effort to somewhat hide the real agenda was sabotaged when the Prime Minister of Israel arrived and made it clear what the meeting is all about:

"I am going to a meeting with 60 foreign ministers and envoys of countries from around the world against Iran. What is important about this meeting – and this meeting is not in secret, because there are many of those – is that this is an open meeting with representatives of leading Arab countries, that are sitting down together with Israel in order to advance the common interest of war with Iran (emphasis added)."

The statement has now been changed into "combating Iran." But that is not what Netanyahoo said in Warsaw and there is video to prove it. There were also witnesses.

iran flag mapWhy is Netanyahoo doing this? No other country, except maybe the U.S., has any interest in waging war on Iran. Certainly not the Arab countries near the Persian Gulf. In case of a war they are all extremely vulnerable to Iranian retaliation. Their oil and gas installations would be in serious danger. The desalination plants which provide their drinking water are all within easy reach of Iranian missiles.

By claiming that the conference is about waging war on Iran Netanyahoo is not only embarrassing the State Department and Secretary Mike Pompeo. He also makes it extremely difficult for other attendees to justify their presence. The Arabs will be especially furious that they are shown in such an open alliance with Israel and its hostility against Iran. Scheming with Israel in the dark is fine.

jacob hornberger headshotFuture of Freedom Foundation, Opinion: Why Iranians Bash the U.S. Government, Jacob G. Hornberger (right), Feb. 13, 2019. Two days ago, the New York Times carried an article by Times’ journalist Thomas Erdbrink entitled, “For Iran, a Grand Occasion to Bash the U.S.,” which was about Iran’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of its revolution in 1979. The article included the following sentence, “And like some evil doppelgänger, the United States was omnipresent, despite having broken all ties with Iran in 1981.”

Unfortunately, Erdbrink failed to point out two things: One, it is understandable why the Iranian people bash the U.S. government, and, two, while the U.S. government may have broken diplomatic ties with Iran, it has nonetheless continued to use economic sanctions to target the Iranian people with impoverishment and death as a way of hopefully effecting another regime change within the country.

iran flag mapFirst things first though. When the Times refers to “bashing the U.S.,” it makes a common mistake by conflating the U.S. government and our nation. Actually, they are two separate and distinct entities, a phenomenon best reflected by the Bill of Rights, which expressly protects the citizenry (i.e., our country) from the U.S. government.

The distinction is important because the Iranian people love Americans. They just hate the U.S. government. And when one considers what the U.S. government has done to Iranians and continues to do to Iranians, which, unfortunately, many Americans don’t like to think about, it is not difficult to understand the deep enmity that Iranians have toward the U.S. government.

mohammad mossadeqIn 1953, the CIA, which is one of three principal parts of the national-security branch of the federal government, secretly initiated a regime-change coup in Iran, one that not only ousted from power the democratically elected prime minister of the country, Mohammed Mossadegh (left), but also destroyed Iran’s experiment with democracy. That’s ironic, of course, given that U.S. officials are always reminding people how enamored they are with “democracy.”

Why did the CIA initiate this regime-change operation? Because the U.S. national-security establishment was convinced that there was a worldwide communist conspiracy to take over the United States and the rest of the world, a conspiracy that was supposedly based in Moscow, Russia. (Yes, that Russia!)

What did that supposed worldwide conspiracy have to do with Mossadegh? The CIA was convinced that Mossadegh was leaning left because he had nationalized British oil interests, which, needless to say, had not sat well with British oil companies. Therefore, the CIA concluded, Mossadegh could conceivably be a secret agent for this supposed worldwide communist conspiracy that was supposedly based in Russia.

Inside DC

washington post logoWashington Post, FEMA head Brock Long is resigning, Joel Achenbach, William Wan, Lisa Rein and Nick Miroff, Feb. 13, 2019. Federal Emergency Management Agency brock longAdministrator William “Brock” Long announced his resignation less than two years into a tenure marked by five major hurricanes, multiple lethal wildfires and a tense relationship with his boss, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

Long clashed with Nielsen in September, when Nielsen appeared intent on forcing Long out of his job in the middle of hurricane season. Just as Hurricane Florence began slamming into the Carolinas, the bitter feud intensified as an internal investigation became public, conducted by the inspector general from Nielsen’s department who was looking into Long’s use of government vehicles to travel between Washington and his home in North Carolina.

Last Syrian ISIS Bastion

washington post logoWashington Post, Hundreds stream out of Syrian village as the Islamic State clings to last sliver of once-sprawling territory, Louisa Loveluck, Feb. 13, 2019. l U.S.-backed forces expect to capture the only village still held by the militant group within days and gave the area’s remaining inhabitants a chance to flee or give themselves up.

VA, NJ Bishops List Accused Pedophiles

washington post logoWashington Post, Catholic bishops in Va. release names of 58 priests they say were credibly accused of sexually abusing minors, Michelle Boorstein and Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Feb. 13, 2019. Since a new Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis exploded last year, dioceses around the country have released lists. Virginia’s two Catholic dioceses on Wednesday released lists of clergy who officials say were deemed “credibly accused” of sexually abusing youth, the latest in a slew of U.S. dioceses to make public such names amid a national crisis over clerical abuse and coverups.

The Diocese of Arlington, which covers the northeastern corner of Virginia, released a list of 16 names. It said the list was the product of two former FBI agents contracted by the diocese and given access to clergy files and information dating to its founding in 1974. It was not immediately clear whether any of the names of the accused were not previously known to Catholics of the diocese.

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge said in a letter that he ordered the list be released to help “victims and survivors of clergy abuse to find further healing and consolation.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Roman Catholic bishops in New Jersey named almost 200 priests who were accused of sexually abusing children, Rick Rojas, Feb. 14, 2019.

Global Diplomacy

washington post logoWashington Post, House passes measure to end U.S. military involvement in Yemen war, repudiating Trump’s continued backing of Saudi-led coalition, staff report, Feb. 13, 2019. The war-powers legislation now heads to the Senate, where sponsors have said they are hopeful Republicans and Democrats will vote to support it in coming weeks. Lawmakers lack the numbers, however, to overcome a promised presidential veto.

washington post logoWashington Post, A subtle snub? Key countries signal top diplomats will skip conference co-hosted by U.S., Carol Morello, Feb. 13, 2019. Several countries appear to be engaging in a diplomatic snub to protest the Trump administration’s policies toward Iran and Syria. Arriving in Poland to host an international conference on Middle East peace and security, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Tuesday that more than 30 foreign ministers would attend.

As a measure of its prospects, however, many countries have signaled that they will not be sending their top diplomats to the meeting — possibly nearly half.

As Pompeo and Vice President Pence prepare to welcome representatives of about 60 nations to Poland, co-host of the event, it is unclear what can be accomplished in a day of meetings over conflicts that have roiled the region for many years.

What Pompeo originally billed as a major conference to pressure Iran on its regional influence, missile testing and terrorism is now as likely to be defined by what it is not — and who is not coming. Several key countries appear to be engaging in a subtle diplomatic snub to protest the Trump administration’s policies toward Iran and Syria.

The muted response to an ambitious White House endeavor is partly due to concern that Pompeo and Pence would unleash a full-throttle rhetorical attack on Iran. Europeans have created a special barter-type trading system to work around U.S. sanctions reimposed on the country after Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal last year.

nigeria csis graphic what is happening 2 13 2019

Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), What's Happening in Nigeria? Narrator: Judd Davermont CSIS Africa Program Director), Feb. 13, 2019 (3:59 min. video). Nigeria is one of Africa’s most dynamic and flourishing countries, and its presidential election on February 16 will impact the entire continent. Which path will Nigeria choose?

Toxic Iraqi Fires Harm Vets, Civilians

ny times logoNew York Times, Congress Poised to Help Veterans Exposed to ‘Burn Pits’ Over Decades of War, Jennifer Steinhauer, Feb. 13, 2019 (print edition). ‘Our Generation’s Agent Orange’ Draws the Attention of Congress. One of the least understood ailments endured by the newest generation of veterans is related to exposure to toxins in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially from open-air trash fires.

LaRouche Dead At 96

washington post logoWashington Post, Lyndon LaRouche Jr., conspiracy theorist and presidential candidate, dies at 96, Timothy R. Smith, Feb. 13, 2019. Often described as an extremist crank and fringe figure, Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr. cut a shadowy and alarming path through American politics for half a century. He built a political organization often likened to a cult and ran for president eight times, once while in prison for mail fraud. In recent decades, he operated from a heavily guarded compound near Leesburg, Va.

lyndon larouche larouche tv croppedMr. LaRouche (right, shown in a screengrab), who built a worldwide following based on conspiracy theories, economic doom, anti-Semitism, homophobia and racism, died Feb. 12. He was 96.

Mr. LaRouche drew headlines for his more outrageous claims — that England’s Queen Elizabeth II was a drug trafficker and that the International Monetary Fund created and spread the AIDS virus. He also said the CIA, the KGB and British intelligence officials were plotting to assassinate him, according to a 1985 Washington Post profile that included interviews with followers.

LaRouchians, as the group was known, never numbered more than 3,000, according to some estimates, but were a vocal, sometimes disturbing presence on the American political landscape. They heckled, harassed and occasionally threatened opponents.

Alaskans Face Major Budget Cuts

Anchorage Daily News, 'We’re not going to rubber-stamp the governor’s budget,’ James Brooks, Feb. 13, 2019. It will affect every man, woman and child in Alaska. At 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy will unveil a proposal expected to cut $1.6 billion from Alaska’s budget, bringing a smoldering fiscal debate to full flame in the 49th state.

“It’s going to go from an ember to a bonfire,” said Senate Majority Leader Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, discussing public interest.

Details of the governor’s proposal have been held close within the governor’s inner circle. In a weekend interview, Dunleavy said he built his budget from the ground up to focus on “core services," namely “education, public safety, management of resources, transportation.”

Health care did not make the governor’s list of core services, which has alarmed some lawmakers. The state-federal Medicaid program provides health care to more than 210,000 Alaskans, according to the latest figures from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. Of those, almost 48,000 are covered by Medicaid expansion under an administrative order signed by former Gov. Bill Walker. Dunleavy could reverse that expansion effort with an order of his own.

Feb. 12

U.S. Shutdown/Immigration

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump’s support of deal to avert shutdown in doubt, Fredrica Werner, Damian Paletta and Sean Sullivan​, Feb. 12, 2019. The agreement came as Democrats dropped some of their demands on immigration detention. The plan includes $1.375 billion for border fencing — compared to the $5.7 billion sought by President Trump — and the president’s support for the deal was uncertain.

President Donald Trump officialKey lawmakers announced a tentative deal late Monday that would avert another government shutdown at the end of the week while denying President Trump much of the money he’s sought to build new walls along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The agreement came together during intense hours of closed-door negotiations at the Capitol, as lawmakers resurrected talks that had fallen apart over the democratic donkey logoweekend in a dispute over new Democratic demands to limit immigrant detention. Democrats ultimately dropped some of those demands, which had come under fire from Republicans, clearing the way for a deal.

Hurdles remained, and Trump’s ultimate backing was in doubt after quick opposition emerged from conservatives. But lawmakers on both sides said they were motivated to find agreement by the looming specter of another government shutdown Friday night, three weeks after the last one ended.

• Washington Post, Why immigration detention beds became a new issue in the border wall fight

washington post logoWashington Post, Dueling rallies by Trump, O’Rourke encapsulate clash over border security, Philip Rucker, Toluse Olorunnipa and Jenna Johnson, Feb. 12, 2019 (print edition). The president tried to paint an image of crime and lawlessness at the border while claiming falsely that violent crime went down in El Paso after a wall was built.

President Trump’s push to get Congress to fund his proposed border wall officially converged with his 2020 reelection campaign here on Monday night, as the president and potential Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke, right, staged dueling rallies in this vibrant border city.

beto orourke o 113th CongressThe two events along the U.S.-Mexico border encapsulated the fierce debate over illegal immigration and border security that has been roiling Washington and is emerging as a flash point in the presidential campaign.

He referred to O’Rourke several times during the rally, calling the former congressman “a young man who’s got very little going for himself.” Trump claimed O’Rourke’s rally was poorly attended and that his 2018 election loss to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). should disqualify him from seeking higher office.

About a mile down the road, several thousand demonstrators gathered at a high school carrying American flags, rainbow banners, “Beto for President” flags, and flags for Mexico and Texas. There were also signs decrying Trump and his border wall — such as “Trump made America hate again” — and chants from the crowd that included “Make tacos, not walls!”

• Washington Post, El Paso officials tell Trump to stop falsehoods about their border city

C-SPAN, President Trump Rally in El Paso, Texas, Feb. 12, 2019 (print edition). President Trump held a “Make America Great Again” rally in El Paso, Texas.

Global Human Rights

ny times logoturkey flagNew York Times, Turkey’s Mass Trials Deepen Wounds Left by Coup, Carlotta Gall, Feb. 12, 2019. The country’s courts have nearly concluded hundreds of trials over the failed 2016 coup that killed 251 people and wounded more than 2,000. While the sweeping verdicts are welcomed by the government, critics say they are deeply flawed and represent collective punishment. Turkish courts are just weeks from concluding some 300 mass trials intended to draw a line under the most traumatic event of Turkey’s recent history.

Trump Probes

washington post logoWashington Post, Americans view Mueller as more credible than Trump, but views of his probe are scattered, poll finds, Scott Clement and Matt Zapotosky, Feb. 12, 2019. A Washington Post-Schar School poll found that people trust the special counsel’s version of the facts by a margin of 56 percent to 33 percent.

Media News

washington post logoWashington Post, A hedge fund’s ‘mercenary’ strategy: Buy newspapers, slash jobs, sell the buildings, Jonathan O'Connell and Emma Brown, Feb. 12, 2019 (print edition). Alden Global Capital says it is saving newspapers. Records show its subsidiaries are profiting from the remnants of their demise.

When the building housing the downtown Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper sold last April, the name of the buyer — Twenty Lake Holdings LLC — seemed of little consequence. The paper would be moving from its longtime home amid declining circulation and a shrinking staff under its owner, Gannett. The old newsroom was little more than an afterthought.

gannett logo CustomBut Twenty Lake Holdings is not just another commercial real estate investor. It is a subsidiary of Alden Global Capital, the New York City hedge fund that backed the purchase of and dramatic cost-cutting at more than 100 newspapers — causing more than 1,000 lost jobs.

For Alden and its subsidiary, the Gannett empire’s newspapers are clearly an attractive feature. But by purchasing the Memphis building and others like it, Alden has already begun coming for what it may consider a bigger prize: Gannett’s real estate.

The hedge fund’s newspaper business, Digital First Media, is bidding to buy Gannett, operator of the nation’s largest chain of daily newspapers by circulation, including USA Today — as well as its $900 million in remaining property and equipment — for more than $1.3 billion.

The tactics employed by Alden and Digital First Media are well-chronicled: They buy newspapers already in financial distress, including big-city dailies such as the San Jose Mercury News and the Denver Post, reap the cash flow and lay off editors, reporters and photographers to boost profits.

Media News

npc press freedom journalist sanctions header

National Press Club, Panel calls sanctions an effective tool to protect press, but only if actually used, Justin Duckham, Feb. 12, 2019. The assassination of The Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi sparked outrage on Capitol Hill,prompting a bipartisan collection of Senators to trigger an investigation under the Global Magnitsky Act a panel of human rights experts told a National Press Club audience Monday. The Act is a 2016 law that sets the stage for levying sanctions against individuals responsible for human rights violations.

The threat of such sanctions could be an important tool to protect journalists across the globe, the panel said. That is, they emphasized, if the U.S. is actually willing to take action, something that has appeared increasingly unlikely in the Khashoggi case.

Media stories have reported that Khashoggi was murdered last October after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. As details continue to emerge, suspicions have grown that Saudi Prince Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud played a key role in the journalist’s death.

“Could a future administration bolster the deterrent effect by making clear publicly and in advance that those responsible for gross violations of human rights targeting members of the press … could face consequences for their actions? Yes, that’s conceivable,” Rob Berschinski, the senior vice president for policy at Human Rights First, said.

Although, Berschinski noted, there is little reason to be optimistic.

The panel discussion, centered on the use of sanctions to protect reporters and moderated Congressional Quarterly foreign policy reporter Rachel Oswald, came just days after the White House signaled it is unwilling to confront Saudi leadership, members said.

Under the terms of the Senate-mandated investigation, the Trump administration had 120 days to compile a report on who was responsible for Khashoggi’s death, but the deadline arrived on Friday and the administration offered few answers, the panel noted.

The White House issued a statement that President Donald Trump “maintains his discretion to decline to act on congressional committee requests when appropriate.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a letter to the Senate detailing sanctions the administration had previously taken against 17 Saudi nationals implicated in the journalist’s murder, but declined to address Mohammad Bin Salman’s involvement.

The responses stand in stark contrast to an assessment from the U.S. intelligence community reportedly concluding that the Saudi prince likely ordered Khashoggi to be killed, the panel said. They do, however, echo Trump’s public warnings that harsh action against the Saudi government could hobble the U.S. economy,

Courtney Radsch, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ advocacy director, said the administration’s reaction poses immediate concerns, but leaves an opening for lawmakers to pick up the slack.

“The fact that the Trump administration decided not to reply with any meaningful information on Friday sends a very dangerous and negative signal,” Radsch said. “I think we’re going to hear from Congress and I’d be interested to know what the next steps from Congress are to hold Jamal Khashoggi’s murder and the mastermind accountable.”

Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, concurred, adding that it appears the White House may have broken the law by ignoring Congress’ request.

“This is, in my opinion as a member of Congress, an example of the executive branch defying the law. They would rather defy the law than offend Saudi Arabia,” Malinowski said.

Now, he added, Congress may be motivated to pass legislation that would require sanctions rather than leaving the decision in the hands of the president.

While the panel acknowledged that consistently enforced U.S. sanctions would be effective, they also agreed that more can certainly be done, especially on the world stage.

In some cases, Berschinski, said, that effort is already well underway, including related laws in Canada, the United Kingdom and some Baltic states.

Considering Europe’s proximity to dictatorial regimes, Radsch pointed out that the European Union passing a law similar to the Magnitsky Act could be particularly beneficial.

“If we’re talking about protecting journalists in countries that lack any sort of protection for journalists, lack due process and lack any sort of respect for press freedom, I think we’re going to have to look externally,” Radsch said.

Ex-FBI Chief Thwarts Scam

washington post logowilliam websterWashington Post, A scammer was caught in a reverse sting after he unknowingly called an ex-FBI and CIA director, Tom Jackman, Feb. 12, 2019 (print edition). The caller received a six-year sentence after threatening to kill William Webster (shown in a file photo) and his wife if they didn't send money to receive a phony jackpot.

Instead of sending $50,000 to the random caller, he performed reverse phone sting for FBI.

The caller with the Jamaican accent told the 90-year-old District man he had won $72 million and a new Mercedes Benz in the Mega Millions lottery, but the man needed to send $50,000 in taxes and fees to get his money. He also told the Washington man he’d done his research on the top winner.

“You’re a great man,” the Jamaican man cajoled. “You was a judge, you was an attorney, you was a basketball player, you were in the U.S. Navy, homeland security. I know everything about you. I even seen your photograph, and I seen your precious wife.”

Trump World

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump, the first president in a century with no dog, explains why: ‘I don’t have any time,' Antonia Noori Farzan, Feb. 12, 2019. ‘How would I look walking a dog on the White House lawn?’: Trump on owning a dog.

When Barbra Streisand sat down with a reporter in November to promote her new album, the singer couldn’t help going off-topic and ruminating on a question that has plagued many Americans.

“How does the president not have a dog?” she asked the Los Angeles Times. “He’s the first president in 120 years that doesn’t have a dog in the White House.”

At last, we have an answer straight from President Trump himself. On Monday night, during his rally in El Paso, he finally explained that he doesn’t have a dog because the idea of getting one seems “phony” to him, and his base likes him just fine regardless. Plus, he said, he doesn’t have time.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump and the GOP are accused of anti-Semitism double standard after piling on Rep. Ilhan Omar, Isaac Stanley-Becker, Feb. 12, 2019. Both messages were elliptical, relying on innuendo and allusion. One was delivered in a seemingly stream-of-consciousness appeal, the other in its online equivalent: a tweet.

The insinuation, in both cases, was that Jews use money to pull strings and sway politics. The contrasting responses to the opinions, offered by then-candidate Donald Trump in December 2015 and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) this week, speak to concerns about double standards and to the different ways in which the two parties police their own members.

“People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) said in a CNN appearance on Monday night.

Earlier in the day, Trump and other GOP leaders had eagerly joined the political pile-on besetting Omar, the freshman Democrat who is one of the first two Muslim women in Congress, after she appeared to draw on an anti-Semitic trope about the currency of Jewish clout in political life.

Feb. 11

U.S. Gov. Shutdown Returning?

washington post logoWashington Post, Lawmakers reach ‘agreement in principle’ to avoid shutdown, Erica Werner, Damian Paletta and Sean Sullivan​, Feb. 11, 2019. Top lawmakers say they have reached a deal that calls for $1.375 billion for border barriers. If signed into law by President Trump, it would stave off a partial government shutdown set to start Saturday. Earlier stories:

washington post logoWashington Post, As shutdown looms, top lawmakers to meet in effort to revive stalled border talks, Erica Werner and Damian Paletta, Feb. 11, 2019.  Lawmakers had hoped to reach an agreement by midday, a timeline they thought was sufficient to win House and Senate approval this week. But talks broke down over the weekend, leading to acrimonious finger-pointing and angry outbursts from President Trump.

washington post logoWashington Post, ‘How am I supposed to dig out?’ Eli Saslow; Photos by Jabin Botsford, Feb. 11, 2019 (print edition). A federal worker devastated by the 35-day partial government shutdown wonders how much worse things could become under another one. • Washington Post, Analysis: The mere threat of another shutdown will do lasting damage to the federal workforce

Trump, Beto In Border Duel

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump and O’Rourke Face Off in El Paso Over Wall, Michael Tackett, Feb. 11, 2019. President Trump’s confrontations with potential Democratic challengers in 2020 have mostly been limited to sniping on Twitter. But on Monday night in El Paso, he will engage in his most direct conflict with a possible rival — former Representative Beto beto orourke o 113th CongressO’Rourke, right, a native of the city that shares a border with Mexico.

Mr. Trump’s rally in El Paso is his most significant since the midterm elections that delivered the House of Representatives to Democrats. It will provide the president with a backdrop that he will use to again argue for a border wall to stop what he said is a surge of crime and drugs being brought into the country by migrants seeking illegal entry.

Mr. O’Rourke has been among those who have strongly rebutted the president’s case that El Paso serves as an example of where building a wall has indeed provided a solution to crime. It seems a near certainty that Mr. Trump will try to counter the protest in El Paso and its unofficial leader, Mr. O’Rourke. How frontally he criticizes the former congressman, and whether he tries to brand him with a derogatory nickname will be measures of how seriously he takes Mr. O’Rourke’s potential candidacy.

#MeToo Scandal: Costa Rica

ny times logooscar arias sanchez croppedNew York Times, A High-Profile #MeToo Case in Costa Rica Shows the Hurdles to Being Heard, Elisabeth Malkin and Frances Robles, Feb. 10, 2019. A former Miss Costa Rica says Óscar Arias Sánchez, a former president and Nobel laureate, attacked her. Telling her story was hard. Finding a lawyer was harder. The case of Mr. Arias, who faces accusations from at least nine women, is emerging as the most significant of the #MeToo era in Latin America.

Trump’s World

Palmer Report, Analysis: Melania Trump has a whole new problem, Shirley Kennedy, Feb. 11, 2019. In a new Vanity Fair piece published on the Trump inauguration committee scandal, we are reintroduced to a somewhat forgotten player: Stephanie Winston Wolkoff. The piece, which discusses the subpoenas and alleged misdeeds, describes Wolkoff as the female counterpart of Michael Cohen -– except the person whom she sought to protect is Melania Trump.

djt melania liberty ball inauguration 2017While Wolkoff initially enjoyed a close relationship with Melania, the two eventually parted ways, likely because Wolkoff tried to advise Melania in ways in which she did not want to be advised, such as Wolkoff’s insistence that Melania’s “Be Best” campaign sounded “illiterate.” No disagreement there. More important to the investigations at hand, Wolkoff is the one who is caught up in the Trump inaugural scandal. Out of the $107 million raised for the inauguration, $26 million allegedly went to “outside contractors” who provided services for the event. This payment, along with other questionable salaries and payments, rests at the center of the SDNY investigation.

melania trump twitterWolkoff made $500,000 of the $26 million. The bulk of those overall funds allegedly went to “outside contractors,” including $24 million to Apprentice creator Mark Burnett (who wanted to remain anonymous) and $100,000 to since-confessed felon Rick Gates. When the Times broke the story of unaccounted funds totaling $40 million, Wolkoff turned to Melania for help, but Melania left her high and dry. As is typical for this administration, Wolkoff – who worked gratis for Melania after the inauguration – was used and then thrown under the bus when she was no longer necessary. It appears that Wolkoff may be unwittingly getting her revenge.

Reuters, Qatar revamps investment strategy after Kushner building bailout, Dmitry Zhdannikov, Herbert Lash, Saeed Azhar, Feb. 11, 2019. When news emerged that Qatar may have unwittingly helped bail out a New York skyscraper owned by the family of Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law, eyebrows were raised in Doha.

Kushner, below at left, a senior White House adviser, was a close ally of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman - a key architect of a regional boycott against Qatar, which Riyadh accuses of sponsoring terrorism. Doha denies the charge.

jared kushner head shotBrookfield, a global property investor in which the Qatari government has placed investments, struck a deal last year that rescued the Kushner Companies’ 666 Fifth Avenue tower in Manhattan from financial straits.

The bailout, in which Doha played no part and first learned about in the media, has prompted a rethink of how the gas-rich kingdom invests money abroad via its giant sovereign wealth fund, two sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

The country has decided that the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) will aim to avoid putting money in funds or other investment vehicles it does not have full control over, according to the sources, who are familiar with the QIA’s strategy.

“Qatar started looking into how its name got involved into the deal and found out it was because of a fund it co-owned,” said one of the sources. “So QIA ultimately triggered a strategy revamp.”

Venezuela Crisis

Moon of Alabama, Opinion: Venezuela - 57% Say Maduro Is Their Legitimate President, b, Feb. 11, 2019. The legitimacy of a ruler can best be determined by asking the ruled people. The independent Venezuelan polling firm Hinterlaces asked (in Spanish) 1,580 Venezuelans in direct interviews who they consider to be the legitimate president of Venezuela.

57% said that the Nicolás Maduro is the legitimated president. 32% said Juan Guaidó. 11% did not know or did not respond. The well-respected scientific research service of the German Bundestag advised (in German) that foreign recognition of someone as a president does not confer legitimacy. Legitimacy of a president requires that he has actual enforcing capabilities within the country. As long as that is not established a recognition must be seen as interference in the internal affairs of the foreign country. Such an interference, which the German and other governments committed, is inconsistent with international law.

Alfred-Maurice de-Zayas, a professor for international law and a longtime senior lawyer at the United Nations, confirms that opinion. He writes: Members of the United Nations are bound by the Charter, articles one and two of which affirm the right of all peoples to determine themselves, the sovereign equality of states, the prohibition of the use of force and of economic or political interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states. Yet these fundamental principles of international order are being grossly violated in the case of Venezuela.

Hartford Courant Union Petition

WNPR, 'Hartford Courant' Journalists Petition To Unionize, Avie Schneider, Feb. 11, 2019. Members of the Hartford Courant newsroom are moving to form a union, NPR has learned. It's the latest Tribune Publishing newspaper where journalists have been pushing to organize. Journalists at the Hartford, Conn., paper said Monday they have filed a petition for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board while also asking Tribune Publishing to voluntarily recognize the union. Nearly 80 percent of eligible staffers signed union cards saying they want to be represented by the Providence Newspaper Guild, a local chapter of The NewsGuild-CWA, the organizers said.

The move at the Courant follows similar successful efforts at the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and the combined newsrooms of The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., and the Daily Press in Newport News, Va. (The parent company, previously named Tronc, subsequently sold the LA Times to a billionaire investor.)

The union would cover about 60 reporters, editors and photographers at the Courant.

"In my short time in the newsroom, I've seen our staff decimated and demoralized by buyouts and layoffs," said Kathleen McWilliams, who has been a Courant reporter since 2015. "I've watched our workloads increase without commensurate compensation and I've grown deeply concerned as my colleagues and I struggle to maintain the quality of our publication while corporate managers take home $5 million bonuses."

Dominic Amore, a Courant reporter for more than three decades, said: "We hope to move forward with a relationship based on mutual trust and respect and to secure the necessary tools to succeed."

The unionization drive comes amid continued turmoil at Tribune Publishing, which has been the focus of sale and merger talks. Last month, the newspaper chain announced the departures of its CEO and the two top officials of its digital arm.

U.S. Politics

washington post logoWashington Post, Former White House aide Cliff Sims sues Trump after attack over tell-all book, Josh Dawsey and Felicia Sonmez​, Feb. 11, 2019. The lawsuit comes after the president attacked Sims on Twitter as a low-level “gofer,” and Trump’s lawyers filed an arbitration claim saying his book about his time in the White House violated a non-disclosure agreement.

Muslim Dem Forced To Apologize

ny times logoNew York Times, Ilhan Omar Apologizes for Statements Condemned as Anti-Semitic, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Feb. 11, 2019. Democrats have joined Republicans in criticizing Representative Ilhan Omar, right, Democrat of Minnesota, for comments that they say are anti-Semitic. Representative Ilhan Omar, who has been battling charges of anti-Semitism for weeks, apologized on Monday for insinuating that American support for Israel is fueled by money from a pro-Israel lobbying group — a comment that drew swift and unqualified condemnation from fellow Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

ilhan omar o“Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes,” Ms. Omar, a freshman Democrat from Minnesota and one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, said in a statement that she released on Twitter. “My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole.”

She added, “I unequivocally apologize.” But she did not back away from her contention that the lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has too much power in Washington. “At the same time, I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry,” Ms. Omar wrote.

US Taxes, Regulation

washington post logoWashington Post, Many Americans are upset their 2018 refunds shrank after the GOP tax cuts, Heather Long, Feb. 11, 2019 (print edition). The average tax refund check is down 8 percent this year, the IRS reported, and the number of people receiving a refund has dropped by almost a quarter. The tax code treats all 1 percenters the same. It wasn’t always this way.

washington post logoWashington Post, FDA launches tougher oversight of supplements, Laurie McGinley​, Feb. 11, 2019. The Food and Drug Administration says it plans to beef up oversight of the sprawling, $50 billion-a-year dietary supplements industry, warning that the sector’s explosive growth has resulted in risks to consumers.

More On Border Security

ny times logoNew York Times, California Expected to Pull National Guard Troops Out of Border Duty, Jose A. Del Real, Feb. 11, 2019. Troops deployed last year will now help combat drug gangs and fight wildfires instead, under an order Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to sign today.

Trump Probes

Palmer Report, Opinion: Jared Kushner is busted, Shirley Kennedy, Feb. 11, 2019. As we all know by now, questions have been surrounding the Trump campaign and how it spent donor funds in violation of campaign finance laws. The latest recipient of an illegal funds transfer is none other than “president” Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

jared kushner head shotRecords show that Trump’s campaign has spent almost $100,000 in legal fees for Kushner, right. According to ABC News, two payments – $55,330 and $42,574 – have been paid to the law firm of Winston & Strawn, in payment of legal fees to Kushner’s counsel, Abbe Lowell.

Interestingly, Lowell just joined that firm in May of 2018, so these payments were made when Trump’s campaign was well aware that such expenditures of donor funds is illegal. We can assume they don’t care about the law, which should come as a surprise to no one.

#MeToo: Southern Baptists

washington post logoWashington Post, ‘Pure evil’: Southern Baptist leaders condemn decades of sexual abuse revealed in investigation, Kristine Phillips and Amy B Wang, Feb. 11, 2019 (print edition).  As many as 700 victims — some as young as 3 — were sexually abused, some raped and molested repeatedly, according to a report by two Texas newspapers.

Feb. 10.

Fighting Scandal

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: The allegations against Justin Fairfax are grave. They must be investigated, Editorial Board, Feb. 10, 2019 (print edition). If the lieutenant governor does not resign, the state should undertake an immediate inquiry into the accusations against him.

justin fairfaxVirginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, left, has now been accused of sexual assault by two women, neither of whom has any apparent reason to lie. If Mr. Fairfax does not resign, as he has been urged to do by many prominent Virginia’s Democrats and Republicans, the state should undertake an immediate inquiry into the allegations against him. They cannot be allowed to fester.

The furor around Mr. Fairfax, a Democrat and former federal prosecutor, involves allegations of criminality: First, the accusation by Vanessa Tyson, now a college professor, that he forced her to perform oral sex on him nearly 15 years ago in a hotel room in Boston. Second, the accusation by Meredith Watson that he raped her when both of them were undergraduates at Duke University in 2000.

david pecker michael cohen

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: American Media Inc.'s threats against Bezos could be against the law. Here’s how, Harry Litman, Feb. 10, 2019 (print edition). In a just system of criminal law, socially abhorrent conduct is almost invariably criminal. And there are federal statutes that potentially apply to AMI’s conduct.

In the wake of Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos’s revelation that American Media Inc. was threatening to publish embarrassing photographs of him, commentators were unanimous in calling out the National Enquirer owner’s conduct as sleazy but less certain whether it amounted to a crime.

In fact, AMI’s reported conduct appears to meet the elements of the federal crime of extortion. More important, it probably lands the company in boiling-hot water with the Southern District of New York, the prosecutors’ office with whom AMI recently entered into a cooperation agreement to avoid prosecution for a campaign-finance violations That violation entailed a plan worked out with the Trump campaign to “catch and kill” — i.e., pay for and then bury — the story of a woman who alleged a past affair with Trump. AMI Chairman David Pecker is shown above at left with Trump fixer Michael Cohen.

Inside DC

washington post logoWashington Post, John Dingell: My last words for America, john dingell headshotJohn D. Dingell, Feb. 8, 2010 (Feb. 10 print edition). John D. Dingell, right, a Michigan Democrat who served in the U.S. House from 1955 to 2015, was the longest-serving member of Congress in American history. He dictated these reflections to his wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), below at left, at their home in Dearborn, on Feb. 7, the day he died.

One of the advantages to knowing that your demise is imminent, and that reports of it will not be greatly exaggerated, is that you have a few moments to compose some parting thoughts.

debbie dingell oIn our modern political age, the presidential bully pulpit seems dedicated to sowing division and denigrating, often in the most irrelevant and infantile personal terms, the political opposition.

And much as I have found Twitter to be a useful means of expression, some occasions merit more than 280 characters.

My personal and political character was formed in a different era that was kinder, if not necessarily gentler. We observed modicums of respect even as we U.S. House logofought, often bitterly and savagely, over issues that were literally life and death to a degree that — fortunately – we see much less of today.

As I prepare to leave this all behind, I now leave you in control of the greatest nation of mankind and pray God gives you the wisdom to understand the responsibility you hold in your hands.

Roll Call, GOP Rep. Walter Jones dies at 76, Emily Kopp, Feb. 10, 2019. North Carolina Republican congressman’s change of heart against the Iraq War put him at odds with his walter jones oparty. Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr., an independent Republican resolute in his commitments to ending U.S. wars and diminishing the role of government, died Sunday. He was 76. Jones died in Greenville, N.C., according to a statement from his office. He had been absent from the Capitol with an undisclosed illness since September. He moved into hospice on Jan. 26 after suffering a broken hip.

“Congressman Jones will long be remembered for his honesty, faith and integrity,” the statement said. “He was never afraid to take a principled stand. He was known for his independence, and widely admired across the political spectrum. Some may not have agreed with him, but all recognized that he did what he thought was right.”

republican elephant logoJones’ Southern drawl and courtly manners belied a conviction that often put him at odds with his own party. He represented an eastern section of North Carolina that included the Outer Banks and several military installations for 24 years, casting hundreds of votes in that time, but he was haunted by one: his vote to authorize the war in Iraq in 2002.

Jones often recalled the spring day in 2003 that he resolved to oppose the war at the sight of the young son of a U.S. Marine killed in combat. Jones sat beside the slain man’s widow at his funeral at Camp Lejeune, the Marine Corps’ East Coast headquarters located in his district. The wrenching realization that her child would grow U.S. House logoup without a father moved Jones. By the end of that year, U.S. fatalities in Iraq would reach nearly 600.

Once a hawk who directed House cafeterias to rename French fries “freedom fries” because France opposed the war of Iraq, Jones became one of the most persistent anti-war voices in Congress.

Axios, Sneak Peak: 2. Scoop: New leaks amid leak probe, Jonathan Swan, Feb. 10, 2019.  Our lead item last week — a leak of three months of Trump’s private schedules — enraged White House officials. The president’s secretary Madeleine Westerhout tweeted that the leak was "a disgraceful breach of tDonald Trumprust."

• Then Politico scooped (and we confirmed) that the White House has launched an internal hunt to find the leaker.
This crackdown has not stopped the leaking. Alexi obtained four of the president's private schedules from last week. You can view them here, retyped in their original format for source protection.
• The schedules show the president spent 50% of the four days last week in non-structured "Executive Time."
• As we reported in our story last week, these schedules do not give a complete picture of the president's time. Trump has a more detailed, tightly held schedule that is not emailed to senior staff. Those schedules often have one or two additional meetings per day and contain more detail about the meetings listed on the private schedules that senior staff can see. story. "When the term Executive Time is used, I am generally working, not relaxing," he wrote.

Another U.S. Shutdown Looming?ICE logo

washington post logoWashington Post, Border talks break down as shutdown deadline nears, officials say, Erica Werner and Damian Paletta​, Feb. 10, 2019. Lawmakers were trading offers and trying to resolve the border wall dispute to avoid a government shutdown on Friday, but negotiations are now at an impasse, two people familiar with the situation said.

Bipartisan talks aimed at resolving the border wall dispute and averting a government shutdown Friday have broken down and are at an impasse, two people familiar with the situation said Sunday.

The people spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private deliberations.

Lawmakers had been trading offers, trying to finalize how much money could go to barriers along the border as President Trump demands money for his wall. Trump has called for $5.7 billion, but lawmakers were trying to find a number between $1.3 billion and $2 billion that would be acceptable to both sides.

At the same time, Democrats were trying to limit the number of detention beds that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency would have access to. Democrats want to cap detention beds as a way to limit aggressive detention activities by ICE. One of the people familiar with the situation said that was the issue that led to the impasse

ny times logoNew York Times, A Video Reveals the Fears of a Princess Who Tried to Escape Dubai, Vivian Yee, Feb. 10, 2019. The adult daughter of Dubai’s ruler tried to escape a life of stultifying restrictions. She was captured at sea, forcibly taken back, and has not been heard from since.

The princess known as Sheikha Latifa had not left Dubai, the glittering emirate ruled by her father, in 18 years. Her requests to travel and study elsewhere had been denied. Her passport had been taken away. Her friends’ apartments were forbidden to her, her palace off-limits to them.

At 32, Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum went nowhere without a watchful chauffeur.

“There’s no justice here,” she said in a video she secretly recorded last year. “Especially if you’re a female, your life is so disposable.”

So it was with a jolt of astonishment that her friends overseas read a WhatsApp message from her last March announcing that she had left Dubai “for good.”
thanks to the video she made before fleeing, the sheikha’s face and voice have made their way around the world, drawing more than 2 million views on YouTube, spurring avid news coverage and marring Dubai’s image as a world capital of glitz and commerce like a graffiti tag.

Like the young women who have fled Saudi Arabia’s restrictive regime, Sheikha Latifa has made sure no one can forget how few freedoms are allotted to women in the Middle East’s most conservative societies — or how costly crossing Dubai’s ruler can be.

Trump Probes

washington post logomichael cohen ap file croppedWashington Post, The fixer’s secret agenda: Cohen claimed ‘blind loyalty’ to Trump but chased his own ambitions, Paul Schwartzman, Feb. 10, 2019 (print edition). Michael Cohen, right, who is scheduled to report to prison next month, built a reputation as Donald Trump’s loyal bulldog. He thought his loyalty would pay off in the form of elective office or a key White House job. It never did.

Part of an in-depth series: ‘All the best people’: How President Trump’s inner circle has changed the way Washington works.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Matthew Whitaker’s five minutes are up, Dana Milbank, Feb. 10, 2019. The incompetence of the Trump administration is on full display. Friday’s raucous, six-hour hearing was a vivid reminder that time has run out for the Trump administration.

For two years, the GOP majority shielded Trump administration incompetence and worse from public view. That ends now. The scrutiny by the House’s new Democratic majority won’t necessarily stop bungling and impropriety, but now such behavior will no longer happen in darkness

Feb. 9

Sex Claims Mount Against Virginia Lt. Gov.

washington post logoWashington Post, A second woman accuses Va. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault, Jenna Portnoy and Gregory S. Schneider​, Feb. 9, 2019 (print edition). Meredith Watson said Fairfax raped her when the two were Duke undergraduates in 2000. A spokesman for Fairfax said that "we are calling for an investigation on all of these matters." The allegation came days after another woman accused Fairfax of assaulting her in 2004.

justin fairfaxA Maryland woman said Friday she was raped by Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) (right) in a “premeditated and aggressive” assault in 2000, while they both were undergraduate students at Duke University. She is the second woman this week to make an accusation of sexual assault.

The woman, Meredith Watson, said Friday in a written statement through her attorney that she shared her account immediately after it happened with several classmates and friends. Watson did not speak publicly Friday and her lawyer did not make her available for an interview.

Fairfax denied the allegations forcefully.

“I deny this latest unsubstantiated allegation,” Fairfax said in a statement. “It is demonstrably false. I have never forced myself on anyone ever.”

Watson was friends with Fairfax at Duke but they never dated or had any romantic relationship, Watson’s lawyer, Nancy Erika Smith, said.

vanessa tyson scripps college via apVanessa Tyson, right, is an associate professor in politics at Scripps College in California (Photo Credit:Scripps College, via Associated Press)

ny times logoNew York Times, Vanessa Tyson Draws Support for Assault Allegation Against Justin Fairfax, Stephanie Saul and Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Feb. 9, 2019 (print edition). Last fall, after Vanessa C. Tyson began a prestigious fellowship at Stanford, she told a gathering of colleagues in a behavioral sciences program that she had been sexually assaulted years earlier, citing personal experience to illustrate a larger point involving sexual violence.

As several fellows shared lunch on a patio, Dr. Tyson expressed the sense of having been blindsided by her assailant, a man she worked with at the 2004 Democratic National Convention whose political career had since taken off, according to Elizabeth A. Armstrong, a professor of sociology at the University of Michigan who was part of the lunch group.

“What she told us was pretty much exactly what was in the statement that she released but with vastly less detail,” said Dr. Armstrong, a fellow in the Stanford program.

Another fellow, Jennifer J. Freyd, a University of Oregon professor known for her work in sexual violence, also remembers the conversation, relaying how Dr. Tyson described how the incident was “clearly a traumatic experience.”

 Report On New RFK Assassination Book

Was Robert Maheu (1917 – 2008), an aide to Howard Hughes, responsible for Bobby Kennedy’s assassination? A new book claims that Maheu (right), a longtime CIA operative, may robert maheuhave arranged the assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.).

washington post logoWashington Post, Retropolis: CIA may have used contractor who inspired ‘Mission: Impossible’ to kill RFK, new book alleges, Tom Jackman, Feb. 9, 2019. Robert A. Maheu was such a colorful character that it’s widely believed the television show “Mission: Impossible” was based on him and his private investigative agency.

As an ex-FBI agent, the CIA asked him to handle jobs it wanted to steer clear of, such as lining up prostitutes for a foreign president or hiring the mafia to kill Fidel Castro. For more than 15 years, Maheu and his Washington-based company were on monthly retainer to “The Agency,” CIA records show. And during much of that time, Maheu was the right-hand man to Howard Hughes as Hughes bought up vast swaths of Las Vegas and helped finance CIA operations.

lisa pease rfk coverNow, a new book alleges that Maheu may have performed another mission for the CIA: the assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.).

A spokeswoman for the CIA declined to comment on the book’s allegations, though she acknowledged that Hughes did finance some CIA operations.

Maheu would have had access to the CIA’s experiments in hypnosis and mind control, which were being conducted at the time in California and elsewhere. That would have enabled him to frame Sirhan Sirhan as a patsy for the slaying of Kennedy, while other gunmen actually fired the fatal shots, argues author Lisa Pease, who spent 25 years researching her book, A Lie Too Big to Fail.

Pease is not the first person to link the CIA to the June 1968 assassination of Kennedy, in the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. A documentary in 2007 by author Shane O’Sullivan placed three CIA operatives in the hotel that night, and Sirhan’s lawyers in 2010 accused the CIA of hypnotizing Sirhan and making him “an involuntary participant.” The agency may have feared Kennedy because he opposed the CIA’s expansive use of power and would have pressed the agency for answers in the assassination of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, five years earlier, Pease theorizes.

[See also Washington Post, Who killed Bobby Kennedy? His son, RFK Jr., doesn't believe it was Sirhan Sirhan, Tom Jackman, June 5, 2018.]

Trump Probes

washington post logoWashington Post, Acting attorney general says he has not talked about Mueller probe with Trump, senior White House officials, Devlin Barrett and Karoun Demirjian​, Feb. 9, 2019 (print edition). matthew whitaker headshot recentActing attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker said Friday he has not spoken to President Trump about the special counsel probe since taking the helm at the Justice Department in November.

From the opening minutes of a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Whitaker (right) was pressed by Democrats to explain his role in overseeing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Whitaker made clear at the outset that he would not talk about his conversations with Trump — which led quickly to a contentious exchange with the committee’s chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).

 washington post logoWashington Post, From Costa Rica to New Jersey: A pipeline of illegal workers for Trump goes back years, Joshua Partlow, Nick Miroff and David A. Fahrenthold​, Feb. 9, 2019 (print edition). Accounts by former employees of Trump National Golf Club Bedminster add to evidence that even as President Trump vilifies workers without legal status, he has long benefited from their labor.

U.S. Economy

HuffPost, Average Tax Refunds Down 8.4 Percent As Angry Taxpayers Vent On Twitter, Mary Papenfuss, Feb. 9, 2019. Average tax refunds were down last week 8.4 percent for the first week of the tax season over the same time last year, according to the Internal Revenue Service. Dipping refunds are inflaming a growing army of taxpayers stunned by the consequences of the Trump administration’s tax law — and the effects of the partial government shutdown.

The average refund check paid out so far has been $1,865, down from $2,035 at the same point in 2018, according to IRS data. Low-income taxpayers often file early to pocket the money as soon as possible. Many taxpayers count on the refunds to make important payments, or spend the money on things like home repairs, a vacation or a car.

Sanctions As Press Freedom Tool? npc press freedom journalist sanctions header

National Press Club, Using Sanctions to Protect Journalists, Staff report, Feb. 9, 2019. Lawmakers, former senior State Department officials and journalists will gather at the National Press Club on Feb. 11 for a discussion about the growing use of human rights sanctions to protect journalists around the world. The panel discussion “Using Sanctions to Protect Journalists” will take place from 1:30 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. in the club's Murrow Room. The event is open to the public. Registration is required and can be completed below.

Confirmed panelists at the event, sponsored by the National Press Club Journalism Institute and Club's Freedom of the Press Committee, include:

tom malinowski oRep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J. (right), House Foreign Affairs member and former assistant secretary of State for human rights, democracy and labor
● Rob Berschinski, senior vice president for policy at Human Rights First and former deputy assistant secretary of State for democracy, human rights and labor
● Courtney Radsch, advocacy director at the Committee to Protect Journalists
● Rachel Oswald, CQ foreign policy reporter and Press Freedom vice chair (moderator)

Named after the deceased anti-corruption Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, the first human rights sanction laws were passed in 2012 and 2016. The U.S. has imposed sanctions for human rights violations before (such as on Saddam Hussein for his use of chemical weapons) but Magnitsky appears to be the first law to include journalists as a protected class of workers that human rights sanctions can be imposed upon if they are targeted for their work.

Since it passed, the law has gained popularity, with Canada, the United Kingdom, and Estonia passing similar laws. Last October, Congress explicitly invoked the press freedom component of the sanctions for the first time when it triggered a Magnitsky investigation into the assassination of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post. President Trump has until Feb. 8 to determine whether Khashoggi’s killing was a human rights violation

The panel will examine the use of Magnitsky sanctions, including:

● Next steps following the end of the U.S. government's mandatory four-month investigation into the Khashoggi murder
● Responses from foreign governments and individuals threatened with press freedom sanctions
● The strategy behind press freedom sanctions: punishment, deterrent, both?
● Lessons learned for other countries considering their own Magnitsky laws

Feb. 8

U.S. Supreme Court: Abortion, Trends

ny times logoNew York Times, Supreme Court Blocks Louisiana Abortion Law, Adam Liptak, Feb. 8, 2019 (print edition). The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked a Louisiana law that its opponents say could have left the state with only one doctor in a single clinic authorized to provide abortions.

john roberts oThe vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the court’s four-member liberal wing to form a majority. That coalition underscored the pivotal position the chief justice has assumed after the departure last year of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who used to hold the crucial vote in many closely divided cases, including ones concerning abortion.

The court’s brief order gave no reasons, and its action — a temporary stay — did not end the case. The court is likely to hear a challenge to the law on the merits in its next term, which starts in October. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh said they would have denied the stay. Only Justice Kavanaugh published a dissent, taking a middle position that acknowledged the key precedent and said he would have preferred more information on the precise effect of the law.

ny times logoNew York Times, With Abortion in Spotlight, a Flurry of Legislation Across the Country, Julia Jacobs and Matt Stevens, Feb. 8, 2019. The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked a Louisiana law that its opponents say would leave the state with a single doctor authorized to perform abortion, the latest development in the national legal fight over the fate of abortion law under a conservative-leaning court.

brett kavanaughLouisiana’s law, which requires that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, was enacted in 2014. But in recent days and weeks, there has been a flurry of new state legislation that could prove important if the nation’s highest court rules on more abortion-related cases.

Since the nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh (left) to the Supreme Court in July, abortion rights groups have warned of a threat to Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that made abortion legal nationwide, prompting some states to try to shore up access to the procedure. Anti-abortion groups have been pushing for more restrictions.

Here is the status of some recent state abortion legislation.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: The biggest losers in the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling, Jennifer Rubin (right), jennifer rubin new headshotFeb. 8, 2019. States are passing new abortion laws in a test of the Supreme Court's new majority. The Supreme Court on Thursday in a 5-4 decision blocked a Louisiana law that would have, in effect, barred most abortions. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. sided with the four Democratic-appointed justices; the other Republican-appointed justices, including Neil Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh, voted to uphold the law.

The decision was a triumph for abortion rights advocates in several respects. Ilyse Hogue, head of NARAL Pro-Choice America, tweeted:

susan collins oHogue told me, “Susan Collins (left) gaslighted millions of Americans claiming we were hysterical in believing that Justice Kavanaugh would vote to overturn precedent ... His decision in the Louisiana case proves us correct.” She added, “Senator Collins, you broke it, you bought it.” (In fact, the Republican senator from Maine voted for both Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, creating a huge political problem for her should she run for reelection in 2020.)

The ruling is especially significant since abortion rights opponents swore up and down that eradicating Roe v. Wade wasn’t on the table. It certainly was, and their credibility has taken a hit.

Most important is what the decision tells us about the Supreme Court’s shifting alliances. Increasingly concerned about the Supreme Court’s credibility and the appearance of partisanship, Roberts joined up for the first time to protect abortion rights, something previously unimaginable. Should Roberts follow course on other issues, in essence stepping into the Justice Anthony Kennedy role as a persuadable justice, President Trump’s effort to refashion the court for a generation will be diminished.

washington post logoWashington Post, Commentary: Chief Justice Roberts playing longer game for Republicans, Paul Waldman, Feb. 9, 2019. The Supreme Court has just handed down a pair of decisions that illustrate an important truth: Chief Justice John Roberts is not, as many conservatives believe, some kind of traitor to their cause, an unreliable ally who will stab them in the back whenever he gets the chance. In his own way, he’s as devoted to the fortunes of the Republican Party as any of the other conservative justices. But unlike Samuel Alito (generally recognized as the most partisan judge on the court) or Brett Kavanaugh (who will almost certainly challenge Alito for that distinction), Roberts is playing a longer game. He’s trying to save the GOP from itself.

Let’s begin with the decision on abortion where Roberts sided with the four liberal justices to prevent a Louisiana “TRAP” (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) law from taking effect before the court hears a challenge to it. The Louisiana law was almost identical to a Texas law the court struck down before Anthony Kennedy retired. Thus, the four justices who dissented in the Louisiana case were saying not just that the previous decision should be overturned but that the precedent itself is utterly meaningless and can be ignored even before they overturn it if the law in question has the salutary effect of making it impossible for women to exercise their reproductive rights. That’s not how they put it, of course, but that’s the essence of their position.

Pro-lifers were naturally outraged. But their anger at Roberts is completely misplaced. Roberts is no less committed than ever to seeing abortion rights eliminated. But he seems to want to do it carefully, in a way that minimizes the inevitable backlash against the Republican Party.

Feb. 7

Bezos Claims Enquirer Extortion

david pecker cnn screenshot

Trump family friend David Pecker, chairman of American Media, Inc. (AMI), parent company of the National Enquirer (screenshot from CNN)

washington post logoWashington Post, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos accuses National Enquirer’s parent of ‘extortion’ over ‘intimate’ photos, Paul Farhi​, Feb. 8, 2019 (print edition). Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, said the blackmail threat was made after he began looking into how the Enquirer acquired text messages that revealed his relationship with a former TV anchor.

jeffrey bezos washington postAmazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos (left) said Thursday that he was the target of an extortion attempt by the National Enquirer, which he said threatened to publish embarrassing photos of him if he didn’t halt his investigation into how the tabloid obtained private texts and photos between him and his mistress.

Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, said the Enquirer made the blackmail threat after he began looking into how the tabloid acquired text messages that revealed his relationship with Lauren Sanchez, a former TV anchor.

In a rare and revealing statement posted to the online publishing platform Medium, Bezos said the National Enquirer wanted him to make a false public statement to the news media that he and his security consultant, Gavin de Becker, “have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI’s coverage [of the affair] was politically motivated or influenced by political forces.” (AMI is American Media, the parent company of the National Enquirer.)

djt don jr ivanka pecker eric

 washington post logoWashington Post, National Enquirer’s parent says it will ‘thoroughly investigate’ extortion claims made by Bezos, Cleve R. Wootson Jr., Paul Farhi, Sarah Ellison and Devlin Barrett​, Feb. 8, 2019. American Media Inc. said it believes the tabloid acted lawfully in its reporting on Jeffrey P. Bezos, the Amazon chief executive and owner of The Post.

lauren sanchez jeff bezos david pecker ap via fox news

Lauren Sanchez, Jeffrey ezos and David Pecker (left to right, Associated Press via Fox News photos)

Background: Daily Beast, Bezos’ Investigators Question the Brother of His Mistress, Lauren Sanchez, in National Enquirer Leak Probe, Lachlan Markay and Asawin Suebsaeng, Jan. 31, 2019. Michael Sanchez is an outspoken Trump supporter with ties to Roger Stone and Carter Page. Jeff Bezos’ top personal security consultant has questioned his mistress’ brother as part of the probe into how the couple’s text messages wound up in the hands of the National Enquirer.

Gavin de Becker, the Amazon chief’s longtime personal security consultant and the point person for the investigation, confirmed to The Daily Beast on Wednesday that his probe has scrutinized Michael Sanchez, the brother of Bezos mistress Lauren Sanchez and a personal and business associate of Trumpworld figures including Roger Stone, Carter Page, and Scottie Nell Hughes.

On Wednesday, The Daily Beast first reported the existence of that investigation, which is taking place independent of Amazon and being funded by Bezos personally. Three sources familiar with the inquiry said it was increasingly probable that whoever leaked the text messages to the Enquirer, which ran a conspicuously large 12-page spread on Bezos’ affair, harbored political animosity towards Bezos, the owner of the Washington Post.

Michael Sanchez’s name bubbled up on the British celebrity news and gossip website Popbitch last week in the context of the Enquirer story. Stone also mentioned Sanchez in an interview with conspiracy theory site Infowars on Wednesday that sought to preempt The Daily Beast’s reporting by falsely claiming that it would accuse him of conspiring with the Trump administration to hack Bezos’ phone.

'Green New Deal' Proposed

ed markey

ny times logoNew York Times, `Liberal Democrats Formally Call for a ‘Green New Deal,’ Giving Substance to a Rallying Cry, Lisa Friedman and Glenn Thrush, Feb. 8, 2019 (print edition). Liberal Democrats put flesh on their “Green New Deal” slogan on Thursday with a sweeping resolution intended to redefine the national debate on climate change by calling for the United States to eliminate additional emissions of carbon by 2030.

alexandria ocasio cortezThe measure, drafted by freshman Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (left) of New York and Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts (shown above in a file photo by the Justice Integrity Project), is intended to answer the demand, by the party’s restive base, for a grand strategy that combats climate change, creates jobs and offers an affirmative response to the challenge to core party values posed by President Trump.

The resolution has more breadth than detail and is so ambitious that Republicans greeted it with derision. Its legislative prospects are bleak in the foreseeable future; Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California has no plan to bring the resolution in its current form to the floor for a vote, according to a Democratic leadership aide with direct knowledge of her plans.

More Evidence On Saudi Murder?

ny times logoNew York Times, Year Before Killing, Saudi Prince Told Aide He Would Use ‘a Bullet’ on Jamal Khashoggi, Mark Mazzetti, Feb. 8, 2019 (print edition). Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia told a top aide in a conversation in 2017 that he would use “a bullet” on Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist killed in October, if Mr. Khashoggi did not return to the kingdom and end his criticism of the Saudi government, according to current and former American and foreign officials with direct knowledge of intelligence reports.

jamal khashoggi western suitThe conversation, intercepted by American intelligence agencies, is the most detailed evidence to date that the crown prince considered killing Mr. Khashoggi (right) long before a team of Saudi operatives strangled him inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and dismembered his body using a bone saw. Mr. Khashoggi’s murder prompted weeks of outrage around the world and among both parties in Washington, where senior lawmakers called for an investigation into who was responsible.

mohammad bin salman cropped file smallThe Saudi government has denied that the young crown prince played any role in the killing, and President Trump has publicly shown little interest in trying to get the facts about who was responsible. Prince Mohammed, left, the next in line to the Saudi throne behind his ailing father, King Salman, has become the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia and a close ally of the Trump White House — especially Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser.

The conversation appears to have been recently transcribed and analyzed as part of an effort by intelligence agencies to find proof of who was responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s death. The National Security Agency and other American spy agencies are now sifting through years of the crown prince’s voice and text communications that the N.S.A. routinely intercepted and stored, much as the agency has long done for other top foreign officials, including close allies of the United States.

Media: More Scandal Claims

ronan farrowHuffpost, Ronan Farrow Says Jeff Bezos Isn’t The Only One AMI Tried To Blackmail, Liza Hearon, Feb. 8, 2019. Ronan Farrow’s allegation comes after the Amazon CEO accused tabloid publisher American Media Inc. of blackmail and extortion. Journalist Ronan Farrow (shown in a file photo) said tabloid publisher American Media Inc. sent him blackmail threats over his reporting on President Donald Trump and the National Enquirer.

Farrow tweeted about the “stop digging or we’ll ruin you” efforts shortly after Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, in a bombshell blog post on Medium, said AMI CEO David Pecker threatened to publish embarrassing photos of him if he didn’t stop investigating the company.

Political Wire, Jerome Corsi Sues Roger Stone for Defamation, Taegan Goddard, Feb. 8, 2019. Jerome Corsi, who is listed as “Person 1” in the indictment of Roger Stone, is suing Stone, accusing him of defamation for repeatedly saying that Corsi lied.

U.S. Politics / Justice: Virginia

charlottesville torchlight parade 8 12 2017

Tyler Watkins Davis, who belonged to the League of the South, is the fourth man convicted in the 2017 assault on DeAndre Harris during the "Unite the Right" rally.

washington post logoWashington Post, Ex-white nationalist found guilty in beating black man in Charlottesville parking garage, Ian Shapira, Feb. 8, 2019. A fourth man was found guilty Friday of brutally attacking a 20-year-old African American man in a city parking garage during the deadly “Unite the Right” white nationalist rally in 2017.

Tyler Watkins Davis, 50, of Middleburg, Fla., once a member of white nationalist group the League of the South, entered an Alford plea in Charlottesville Circuit Court on a malicious wounding charge. The Alford plea acknowledged that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him in the assault on DeAndre Harris, a former special education instructional assistant.

Davis, through his attorney, told The Washington Post after the hearing that he has renounced white nationalism.

washington post logoWashington Post, Pressure to oust Virginia governor is easing as scandals engulf other top officials, Gregory S. Schneider, Dan Balz, Laura Vozzella and Paul Kane, Feb. 8, 2019 (print edition). Most Democrats now want Gov. Ralph Northam (D) to stay in office at least until there is clarity on the issues involving Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) and Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D). Related story: How Va.’s top three Democrats dug deeper holes for themselves.

Amazon.com To Reconsider NYC Site?

washington post logoamazon logo smallWashington Post, Amazon is reconsidering its New York headquarters site because of local opposition, Robert McCartney, Jonathan O'Connell and Patricia Sullivan, Feb. 8, 2019. Company executives have had internal discussions to reassess a plan to bring 25,000 jobs to Queens, according to two officials familiar with Amazon's thinking.

Inside DC

washington post logoWashington Post, Maryland woman reportedly charged in assault of Kellyanne Conway at Bethesda restaurant, Lindsey Bever, Feb. 8, 2019. The Trump adviser told CNN she was assaulted in October when a woman approached her at an Uncle Julio’s in Bethesda. According to the network, the woman denies the allegation.

Wkellyanne conway gage skidmorehite House counselor Kellyanne Conway said in a recent interview with CNN that she was physically assaulted in October at a Mexican restaurant in Maryland. A woman has been charged in the case, CNN reported. Conway (shown in a file photo by Gage Skidmore) said that she was at dinner with her teenage daughter and her daughter’s friends at an Uncle Julio’s in Bethesda when a woman approached her from behind, grabbed her arms and shook her so hard that “I thought maybe somebody was hugging me.”

Conway told that she quickly realized “it felt like it was a little aggressive.”

“I turned around and the woman had grabbed my hands,” Conway added. “She was just unhinged. She was out of control. I don’t even know how to explain her to you. She was just, her whole face was terror and anger. She was right here, and my daughter was right there. And she ought to pay for that . . . because she has no right to touch anybody.”

CNN reported that police said the woman is a 63-year-old Maryland resident. According to CNN:

Conway said she called 911, though the woman had left before local police arrived. After an investigation, Mary Elizabeth Inabinett was charged in November with second-degree assault and disorderly conduct. A trial is set for March in Maryland state court. Inabinett's lawyer, William Alden McDaniel Jr., disputed Conway's story and the assault allegations, and said his client would plead not guilty in court next month. “Ms. Inabinett saw Kellyanne Conway, a public figure, in a public place, and exercised her First Amendment right to express her personal opinions. She did not assault Ms. Conway. The facts at trial will show this to be true, and show Ms. Conway’s account to be false,” McDaniel said in a statement.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Public Records Belong to the Public, Editorial Board, Feb. 8, 2019 (print edition). There’s no reason for the federal government to profit from access to court documents  One bright spot of the Trump era is a greater public understanding of the rule of law and the institutions and individuals who sustain it. But concerned citizens who wish to keep up with court cases — not to mention journalists covering them — face a barrier: the byzantine and overly expensive Public Access to Court Electronic Records system, more commonly known as Pacer.

Pacer, a 30-year-old relic that remains unwieldy to use, is a collection of online portals run by the administrative arm of the federal court system. It was designed, at least in principle, to provide online access to the more than one billion court documents that have been docketed in federal courts across the country since the advent of electronic case filing.

But the public can gain access to these public documents online only by paying significant fees. Pacer charges 10 cents per page to view electronic court documents — or up to $3 for documents exceeding 30 pages, which are common. It’s easy to burn up $10 just by looking up rudimentary information about a single case.

This can translate to significant costs for news outlets. The Times’s newsroom has in recent years paid tens of thousands of dollars in fees for access to federal court documents. Such costs can be a burden on smaller newsrooms, many of which have struggled financially in recent years.

As Adam Liptak, the longtime Supreme Court correspondent for The Times, noted this week, Pacer’s fee structure is “preposterous.”

It may be unlawful, too. The E-Government Act of 2002 says that courts may impose fees “only to the extent necessary” to make public records available. That phrase is now at the center of a class-action lawsuit brought by nonprofit advocacy groups. The groups are challenging the fee structure of the Pacer system, which in 2016 took in $146 million, despite costing only a small fraction of that to operate. The litigation has revealed that the federal court system uses the surplus to fund expenditures — such as courtroom technology and court notices to law enforcement agencies — that have nothing to do with enhancing public access or understanding of how the justice system works. The plaintiffs are asking that the government not “exceed the expenses actually incurred in providing records upon request.”

Feb. 7

World's Richest Man Claims Extortion

Medium, Opinion: No thank you, Mr. Pecker, Jeff Bezos, Feb. 7, 2019. Something unusual happened to me yesterday. Actually, for me it wasn’t just unusual  —  it was a first. I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse. Or at least that’s what the top people at the National Enquirer thought. I’m glad they thought that, because it emboldened them to put it all in writing. Rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail, I’ve decided to publish exactly what they sent me, despite the personal cost and embarrassment they threaten.

AMI, the owner of the National Enquirer, led by David Pecker, recently entered into an immunity deal with the Department of Justice related to their role in the so-called “Catch and Kill” process on behalf of President Trump and his election campaign. Mr. Pecker and his company have also been investigated for various actions they’ve taken on behalf of the Saudi Government.

And sometimes Mr. Pecker mixes it all together:

“After Mr. Trump became president, he rewarded Mr. Pecker’s loyalty with a White House dinner to which the media executive brought a guest with important ties to the royals in Saudi Arabia. At the time, Mr. Pecker was pursuing business there while also hunting for financing for acquisitions…”

Palmer Report, Opinion: The sheer genius of what Jeff Bezos just did to Donald Trump, Bill Palmer, Feb. 7, 2019. Amazon CEO and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos found himself in the ultimate no-win situation. National Enquirer and its boss David Pecker had already exposed his affair and ruined his marriage. Bezos tried to investigate whether his enemy and Pecker’s friend Donald Trump was behind the whole thing.

bill palmer report logo headerSo what did Jeff Bezos do in response to this no-win situation? He screamed as loudly as possible, for all to hear, that the National Enquirer had compromising photos of him.

By going public about the whole thing, Jeff Bezos has ensured that David Pecker will go to prison for a long time because this extortion attempt will blow up his immunity plea deal with the SDNY. Further, Pecker’s lawyers are surely explaining to him right now that if he does sell or publish these pictures, it’ll ensure that Pecker will go to prison for even longer.

Background On Pecker Plea Deal:

ny times logoNew York Times, David Pecker, Chief of National Enquirer’s Publisher, Is Said to Get Immunity in Trump Inquiry, Jim Rutenberg, Rebecca R. Ruiz and Ben Protess, Aug. 23, 2018. Federal prosecutors reached an immunity deal with the tabloid executive David J. Pecker, a key witness in their monthslong investigation into payments during the 2016 campaign to two women who said they had affairs with Donald J. Trump, according to two people familiar with the investigation.

Mr. Pecker is the chairman of American Media Inc., the nation’s biggest tabloid news publisher, which was involved in the payments, which prosecutors have identified as illegal contributions made in violation of campaign finance law.

As prosecutors in New York built a case against Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s longtime lawyer, that resulted in a guilty plea on Tuesday, Mr. Pecker emerged as an important figure. The investigation appears to be continuing, and as a longtime friend and ally of Mr. Trump, Mr. Pecker could have additional information valuable to the prosecutors.

In pleading guilty to campaign finance violations, Mr. Cohen said Mr. Trump directed him to arrange the hush money payments to protect Mr. Trump from embarrassing stories during the campaign. The cooperation of Mr. Pecker is another potential blow to the president from a former loyalist.

Trump Probes

washington post logoWashington Post, House Democrats begin hearings on obtaining President Trump’s tax returns, Jeff Stein, Feb. 7, 2019. Democrats face pressure from liberal lawmakers and activist groups to obtain the returns and investigate the president’s business empire.

robert mueller full face fileBloomberg, Mueller Examines Manafort Meeting With Suspected Russian Spy, David Voreacos and Andrew M Harris, Feb. 7, 2019. Special Counsel Robert Mueller (right) is focusing on a meeting that Paul Manafort held as chairman of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign with a translator suspected of having ties to Russian intelligence, according to a court transcript unsealed Thursday.

The meeting in August 2016 involved Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik, the translator whom the FBI believes had a “relationship” with Russian spies, a prosecutor told a judge at a Feb. 4 hearing in a sealed courtroom. “This goes, I think, very much to the heart of what the special counsel’s office is investigating,” prosecutor Andrew Weissmann told U.S. District Amy Berman Jackson, according to the transcript. “That meeting and what happened at that meeting is of significance to the special counsel.”

Mueller’s prosecutors, who have charged more than 30 people, are investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether anyone in the Trump campaign conspired with the Russians. Kilimnik worked with Manafort and Manafort’s former right-hand man, Rick Gates. They worked for a decade as political consultants for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.

paul manafort rick gates nbcnews Custom 2Palmer Report, Commentary: Looks like Rick Gates sold out the entire Donald Trump campaign for conspiring with the Kremlin to rig the election, Bill Palmer, Feb. 7, 2019.  Last month we all learned that when Paul Manafort (above left) was running Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, he gave Trump’s private internal polling data to the Kremlin. The big question at the time was how the Feds found out. Now we’re getting the official answer from Robert Mueller’s team: it was Rick Gates (above right) who told them. While this was somewhat predictable, it’s nonetheless a big deal, and it tells us a lot.

bill palmer report logo headerRick Gates was a longtime sidekick and business partner to Paul Manafort. But Gates was also a key Donald Trump 2016 campaign adviser, and he was loyal enough to the campaign that he stayed on even after Manafort was fired. Gates also had close ties to the Republican National Committee which went beyond Trump or Manafort. Yet despite all this, Manafort didn’t try to hide from Gates the fact that he was giving the Trump campaign’s internal data to the Kremlin.

washington post logoWashington Post, House Democrats begin hearings on obtaining President Trump’s tax returns, Jeff Stein, Feb. 7, 2019. Democrats face pressure from liberal lawmakers and activist groups to obtain the returns and investigate the president’s business empire.

washington post logoWashington Post, New Trump-Russia probe will focus on reports of money laundering, House committee chairman says, Karoun Demirjian​, Feb. 7, 2019 (print edition). Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) outlined a five-point plan for the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation, encompassing Russia’s election interference and the question of whether foreign governments have leverage over President Trump, his relatives or associates.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump lashes out as Democrats step up inquiries of him and his administration, Mike DeBonis and Seung Min Kim, Feb. 7, 2019 (print edition). With hearings on presidential tax returns and family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border, the lights are set to shine brightly on a president who has, until now, faced little scrutiny from a Republican Congress. President Trump called Democratic investigations into his administration and business “ridiculous” and “presidential harassment.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in turn accused the president of delivering an “all-out threat” to lawmakers sworn to provide a check and balance on his power.

Related story: Washington Post, ‘Unlimited Presidential Harassment’: Trump takes fresh aim at DemocratsJohn Wagner, Feb. 7, 2019. President Trump took fresh aim Thursday at House Democrats, claiming they were going “nuts” with unprecedented investigations into his administration and businesses.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Adam Schiff just dropped a bomb on Donald Trump, Daniel Cotter, Feb. 7, 2019. “President” Donald Trump gave his State of the Union Address yesterday and was “low energy.” But House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff has announced a broad investigation by his committee into Trump and his behaviors.

First, the committee voted to send transcripts to Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Jared Kushner, Hope Hicks, Corey Lewandowski, Jeff Sessions, Alexander Nix, Brad Parscale, Steve Bannon, Donald Trump Junior, and dozens of other lesser-known names.

The statement released by Schiff stated that it would continue the Russian probe but would also include an examination into “whether any foreign actor has sought to compromise or holds leverage, financial or otherwise, over Donald Trump, his family, his business or his associates.” This is serious.

Virginia Scandals

ny times logoNew York Times, Woman Accusing Justin Fairfax of Sexual Assault Comes Forward, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Feb. 7, 2019 (print edition). Justin Fairfax, the lieutenant governor of Virginia, has denied that he sexually assaulted a woman in 2004. The woman who has accused Lt. Gov. Justin E. Fairfax of Virginia of sexual assault came forward on Wednesday, issuing a statement through a law firm that described a 2004 encounter at the Democratic National Convention in Boston that, she said, began with kissing but quickly turned into an episode of forced oral sex.

justin fairfaxMr. Fairfax, who has retained lawyers to assist him, has emphatically denied the allegation and argued that there is no corroborating evidence to support it.

Late Wednesday night, aides to a prominent Democratic Virginia congressman, Bobby Scott, said that the woman told him a year ago that she had made an allegation of sexual assault against Mr. Fairfax.

The woman identified herself on Wednesday as Dr. Vanessa C. Tyson, an associate professor of politics and expert in black history at Scripps College in California. She has also spent years advocating for victims of sexual assault and has spoken openly about being molested by her father when she was a child.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Democrats rallied around Christine Blasey Ford. Will they do the same with Vanessa Tyson? Karen Tumulty, Feb. 7, 2019 (print edition). She has decided we should know her name. It is Vanessa Tyson. And she has decided we should know her story. It is that, according to her, a man who is poised to become the governor of Virginia sexually assaulted her more than 14 years ago.

Now comes a test for the rest of us — one that shows what was learned, if anything, as the country processed hauntingly similar allegations last year against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh.

christine blasey ford headshot croppedDemocrats and women’s groups rallied in support of Christine Blasey Ford (shown in a file photo), when she claimed that Kavanaugh had tried to force himself on her during a drunken encounter at a party of high schoolers in the early 1980s.

Will Tyson get the same reception, given that the target of her allegation is Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a rising star in the Democratic Party and the man many hope will replace embattled Gov. Ralph Northam? All of this comes as the entire Democratic leadership in Virginia is engulfed in overlapping scandals.

washington post logoWashington Post, Northam reaches out to Herring and Fairfax as all 3 weather calls for resignation amid scandals, Gregory S. Schneider, Laura Vozzella and Paul Kane​, Feb. 7, 2019. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said the state’s Democratic congressional delegation, which had called for Gov. Ralph Northam (D) to resign, is withholding judgment on Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D), who is trying firm up support from black leaders.

Meanwhile, for the first time Thursday, unflattering revelations spread to a powerful Republican.

Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City) was managing editor of the VMI yearbook in 1968 when it featured several photos of people in blackface and included a number of racial slurs, including one use of the n-word.

“The use of blackface is abhorrent in our society and I emphatically condemn it,” Norment said in the statement. “As one of seven working on a 359-page yearbook, I cannot endorse or associate myself with every photo, entry, or word on each page. However, I am not in any of the photos referenced on pages 82 or 122, nor did I take any of the photos in question.”

Epstein Scandal Whitewash

jeffrey epstein sex offender

ny times logoNew York Times, The Justice Department is investigating how President Trump’s labor secretary handled a sexual abuse case in 2007, Liam Stack, Feb. 7, 2019 (print edition). The Justice Department said Wednesday that it had opened an investigation into a 2007 plea deal negotiated by a prosecutor who is now a member of President Trump’s cabinet that kept the financier Jeffrey E. Epstein (above) from facing federal charges related to accusations that he molested dozens of underage girls.

ben sasse o croppedThe inquiry came in response to requests from Senator Ben Sasse (right) of Nebraska, who on Wednesday posted a letter on his website from Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd informing him of the investigation.

alexander acostaThe plea deal, which was negotiated by the labor secretary, R. Alexander Acosta (left), when he was the top federal prosecutor in Miami, was the subject of a Miami Herald investigation that was cited by both Senator Sasse and Mr. Boyd.

The letter does not mention Mr. Acosta by name. In the letter, Mr. Boyd said the Justice Department Office of Professional Responsibilities would look “into allegations that Department attorneys may have committed professional misconduct in the manner in which the Epstein criminal matter was resolved.”

Trump's World

 melania trump twitterVanity Fair, “I Am Disgusted”: Behind the Scenes of Trump’s Increasingly Scrutinized $107 Million Inauguration, Emily Jane Fox, Feb. 7, 2019. . Stephanie Winston Wolkoff was the mastermind event producer behind Trump’s inaugural celebration, which has since come under S.D.N.Y. investigation. Now, taped conversations reveal Wolkoff’s concerns with how money was being spent, the general chaos of the process, the involvement of the Trump family, and the people in charge, namely Rick Gates and Tom Barrack.

Global Economics / Trade

ny times logoNew York Times, E.U. Rebuffs Theresa May’s New Brexit Demand, but Promises More Talks, Steven Erlanger and Stephen Castle, Feb. 7, 2019. The British prime minister went to Brussels to reopen the withdrawal agreement that she negotiated with the European Union. The talks came to a predictably inconclusive conclusion.

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Is a Fan of the New Nafta. Congress Isn’t, Jim Tankersley, Feb. 7, 2019 (print edition). The president’s most significant achievement on trade — a revised deal with Canada and Mexico — is imperiled amid Democratic and Republican concerns.

U.S. Politics: Transition

john dingell headshotRoll Call, John D. Dingell, legendary former dean of the House dies, Staff report, Feb. 7, 2019. John D. Dingell, the longest-serving member of Congress in American history and easily the most overpoweringly influential House committee chairman in the final decades of the last century, died Thursday. He was 92 years old.

us house logo“He was a lion of the United States Congress and a loving son, father, husband, grandfather, and friend. He will be remembered for his decades of public service to the people of Southeast Michigan, his razor sharp wit, and a lifetime of dedication to improving the lives of all who walk this earth,” read a statement from the office of Rep. Debbie Dingell, his wife and successor in the House. The statement said that Dingell “died peacefully today at his home in Dearborn.”

Media News

ny times logoNew York Times, Sandy Hook Victims’ Families Gain Ground in Alex Jones Suits, Elizabeth Williamson, Feb. 7, 2019. As defamation cases inch toward trial, the conspiracy theorist faces the possibility that he will have to be deposed and provide business records.

Families of the Sandy Hook school shooting victims have won a series of victories in their defamation suits against the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones that would open Mr. Jones’s business records to them and compel him to speak under oath.

alex jones headshotTen families are pursuing lawsuits against Mr. Jones (right) over his role in spreading bogus claims about the shooting, including that the victims’ families were actors in a plot to confiscate firearms from Americans. The families have endured death threats, stalking and online abuse.

Mr. Jones, a far-right provocateur and the owner of Infowars, a radio show and website on which he sells diet supplements, survivalist gear and gun paraphernalia, has come under growing scrutiny over the past year and has lost access to much of his online audience. Facebook, Twitter, Apple and YouTube have all banned him, and a recent deal for his show to stream on Roku was revoked last month after public outrage.

The suits by the Sandy Hook families have advanced on several fronts in recent weeks.

A Texas judge on Jan. 25 ordered Mr. Jones and representatives of his company to submit to questioning by lawyers for Scarlett Lewis, the mother of Jesse Lewis, one of the 20 children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012. The Texas judge also granted access to Mr. Jones’s relevant business records, and denied his lawyer’s motion to keep the records sealed.

In Connecticut, a judge ordered Infowars representatives and business partners to testify, and a ruling is expected as soon as mid-February on the families’ request to depose Mr. Jones, and several Infowars “reporters” and associates.

They include Wolfgang Halbig, a former school administrator and Infowars contributor who for years has deluged Newtown officials with open records requests, demanding, among other things, records from the cleanup of “bodily fluids, brain matter, skull fragments and around 45-60 gallons of blood.”

Some families of the victims have been subjected to years of harassment from people who have embraced the bogus crisis-actor theory promoted by Mr. Jones.

washington post logoWashington Post, Jill Abramson, former New York Times executive editor accused of plagiarism, defends her book, Annie Linskey and Amy Gardner, Feb. 7, 2019 (print edition). Former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson denied allegations Wednesday that she plagiarized portions of her new book, “Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts.”

Abramson was confronted about the allegations — which are outlined in a Twitter thread by Vice News’s Michael Moynihan — during an appearance on Fox News. When asked by anchor Martha MacCallum if she had any comment on the numerous similarities detailed by Moynihan, Abramson replied, “I really don’t.”

U.S. Politics

washington post logoWashington Post, D.C. is slated to vote last in 2020 Democratic primaries. That might change, Steve Thompson and Fenit Nirappil, Feb. 7, 2019 (print edition). “If you want to be competitive in the democratic process, you need to be early up,” said D.C. Council member Jack Evans, who represents the District on the Democratic National Committee.

washington post logoWashington Post, Warren reckons with a long-held question: Why did she keep claiming to be Native American? Annie Linskey and Amy Gardner, Feb. 7, 2019 (print edition). Elizabeth Warren was a law professor at the University of Texas when she filled out a form from the state bar that asked her to list her race. Her answer, printed in careful block letters: “American Indian.”

Thirty-three years later — and days before the official launch of her presidential run — that newly disclosed document has emerged as a political flash point, forcing Warren to reckon with a question that has been dogging her for years and that she has never put to rest: why, through much of her life and legal career, she claimed to be Native American despite being white.

More on Trump Probes

washington post logoWashington Post, Sergei Millian, identified as an unwitting source for Steele dossier, sought proximity to Trump’s world in 2016, Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger, Feb. 7, 2019. Democratic lawmakers plan to renew efforts to interview the Belarus-born businessman. Around the time of President Trump’s inauguration, two of his supporters met to toast the new administration at the Russia House, a Washington restaurant known among Russian diplomats and emigres for its vodka and caviar.

The Dupont Circle spot was suggested by Sergei Millian, according to onetime Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who said he met with the Belarus-born businessman there.

The get-together followed months of outreach Millian had made to the young aide — including offering him a lucrative consulting contract to work simultaneously for Trump and an unidentified Russian, which Papadopoulos said he rebuffed. FBI agents later pressed Papadopoulos about his relationship with Millian, Papadopoulos’s lawyers have said.

The interactions between the two men — the extent of which have not been reported previously — show how Millian, a self-described real estate developer who served as an unwitting source of information for former British spy Christopher Steele, was in closer proximity to Trump’s world than previously known.

Justice Department Disputes william barr senate hearing cnn screengrab jan 15 2019

William Barr, President Trump's nominee for Attorney General, testifies during his Senate confirmation hearing on Jan. 15 (screenshot).

washington post logoWashington Post, Barr’s attorney general nomination clears Senate panel. If confirmed, he would oversee Mueller probe, Matt Zapotosky​, Feb. 7, 2019. The procedural step sets the stage for William P. Barr’s confirmation vote next week before the entire Senate.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday along party lines to advance William P. Barr’s nomination to become attorney general, a procedural step that sets the stage for his confirmation vote next week before the entire Senate.

Because Republicans control the Senate, Barr is likely to be confirmed easily — though potentially without any Democratic support. At the Judiciary Committee’s hearing Thursday, all 10 panel Democrats voted against moving the nomination forward, while all 12 Republicans voted to advance it.

Democrats said they were particularly concerned that Barr would not specifically commit to letting the public see whatever report results from the special-counsel investigation into President Trump’s campaign.

“They paid for it,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who has co-sponsored a bill requiring the findings be released. “They deserve to see everything that’s in it.”

ny times logoNew York Times, After Heated Exchange, Whitaker Says He Will Testify Before House, Katie Benner and Charlie Savage, Feb. 7, 2019. The acting attorney general, Matthew G. Whitaker, said he would testify about the Russia inquiry and President Trump’s firing of Jeff Sessions after all. After a heated back and forth with House Democrats, the acting attorney general, Matthew G. Whitaker, told lawmakers late Thursday that he will testify before the House Judiciary Committee as scheduled on Friday, having received assurances that they would not issue a subpoena for his testimony.

matthew whitaker headshot recentEarlier in the day, the Justice Department sent the committee a letter demanding a commitment in writing that any subpoena not be used during the hearing, a promise that the committee chairman, Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, would not give.

washington post logoWashington Post, Whitaker says he won’t testify before House panel unless Democrats drop subpoena threat, Karoun Demirjian and Devlin Barrett, Feb. 7, 2019. The House Judiciary Committee voted to give its chairman the authority to subpoena the acting attorney general, should he fail to appear or answer lawmakers’ questions.

The confrontation highlights efforts by Democrats to assert their newfound control of the House of Representatives as a check on the Trump administration’s power, and the administration’s determination to push back against congressional investigations decried by the president. However the Whitaker subpoena standoff ends, it may set the tone for months or years more of wrangling between the White House and congressional Democrats.

Alliance for Justice, Opinion on Justice in the Trump Era, H.R. 1 and Brett Kavanaugh, Bill Yeomans, Feb. 7, 2019. Democrats are kicking off the new Congress with hearings on H.R. bill yeomans afj cropped Custom1, the For the People Act of 2019. The bill contains a blueprint for strengthening democracy through reforms in voting, campaign finance, and ethics in all three branches of government. It is massive, ambitious and long overdue. The bulk of the bill addresses access to the ballot and how to make those votes meaningful.

Buried deep in the lengthy proposal, however, there appears a longstanding proposal, discussed in excellent testimony, to subject Supreme Court justices to a code of conduct for the first time. That provision provides the occasion for a crucial examination of the health of the Supreme Court, including the challenges raised by its newest member.

Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed by a Senate in which partisan fealty and a commitment to radically conservative ideology steamrolled concern about the integrity of the Court. The severely truncated process installed a nominee who was credibly accused of sexual assault. He lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee about a range of other matters, from his denial that he knowingly received memos stolen from Democratic Judiciary Committee staffers to the meaning of entries in his high school yearbook. His hearing proceeded without production of 90% of his official paper trail and the FBI was not permitted to conduct a full probe of the sexual assault allegations against him. His second appearance before the committee featured angry, partisan, injudicious attacks – by the nominee. The process left a bitter aftertaste for anyone concerned about the future of the Court.

H.R. 1 offers the opportunity to put that aftertaste to work. Kavanaugh serves as the poster child for reforms to the Court’s ethics. Kavanaugh’s confirmation cemented the image of the Court as a profoundly political institution. It continued the decades-long alliance between conservative politicians and the conservative legal movement to stock courts – and particularly the Supreme Court – with judges and justices who would apply conservative legal ideology to implement a conservative political agenda.

U.S. Coup Failing In Venezuela?

Moon of Alabama, Opinion: Venezuela -- U.S. Aid Gambit Fails -- War Plans Lack Support, b, Feb. 7, 2019. A day after the U.S. coup attempt in Venezuela the U.S. game plan was already quite obvious: "The opposition in Venezuela will probably use access to that 'frozen' money to buy weapons and to create an army of mercenaries to fight a 'civil' war against the government and its followers. Like in Syria U.S. special forces or some CIA 'contractors' will be eager to help. The supply line for such a war would most likely run through Colombia. If, like 2011 in Syria, a war on the ground is planned it will likely begin in the cities near that border."

CIA LogoThe U.S. is using the pretext of 'delivering humanitarian aid' from Columbia to Venezuela to undermine the government and to establish a supply line for further operations. It is another attempt to pull the military onto the coup plotter's side. A New York Times op-ed by a right-wing former foreign minister of Mexico, Jorge G. Castañeda, details the escalation potential. 

Venezuelan military officials and troops in exile will then move these supplies into Venezuela, where if all goes well, army troops still loyal to Mr. Maduro will not stop their passage nor fire upon them. If they do, the Brazilian and Colombian governments may be willing to back the anti-Maduro soldiers. The threat of a firefight with their neighbors might just be the incentive the Venezuelan military need to jettison Mr. Maduro, making the reality of combat unnecessary.

venezuela flag waving customThis escalation strategy is unlikely to work unless some additional provocation is involved. The Venezuelan government blocked the border bridge between Cúcuta in Colombia and San Cristobal in Venezuela. Its military stands ready to stop any violation of the country's border. The Venezuelan military has shown no sign of interest to change its loyalty. The fake aid will be rejected.

The government of Venezuela does not reject aid that comes without political interference. Last year it accepted modest UN aid which consisted mostly of medical supplies from which Venezuela had been cut off due to U.S. sanctions. The UN claimed that around 12 percent of Venezuelans are undernourished. But such claims have been made for years while reports from Venezuela (vid) confirmed only some scarcity of specific products. There is no famine in Venezuela that would require immediate intervention.

The International Red Cross, the Catholic church's aid organization Caritas and the United Nations rejected U.S. requests to help deliver the currently planned 'aid' because it is so obviously politicized:

Feb. 6

 ny times logoNew York Times, Firms Recruited by Paul Manafort Are Investigated Over Foreign Payments, Kenneth P. Vogel, Feb. 6, 2019 (print edition). Prosecutors are looking into foreign payments to top law and lobbying firms recruited by Mr. Manafort, Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, to improve the image of the Russia-aligned president of Ukraine.

paul erickson maria butina

Palmer Report, Opinion: Maria Butina’s boyfriend Paul Erickson has just been arrested in the Trump Russia scandal – and it’s a big deal, Bill Palmer, Feb. 6, 2019. Everyone is waiting to see if Special Counsel Robert Mueller arrests Donald Trump Jr next, and the SDNY is aggressively making moves against seemingly everyone in Donald Trump’s orbit. Even as this plays out, the U.S. Attorney’s office for South Dakota of all places just got in on the Trump-Russia scandal action, arresting Paul Erickson.

bill palmer report logo headerPaul Erickson is best known as the boyfriend of confessed Russian spy Maria Butina (shown in file photos above). Erickson is also a Republican Party operative with deep ties to the party. Various media reports have asserted that Erickson was knee-deep in working with the Kremlin around the time of the 2016 election.

For now, the Feds in South Dakota have merely indicted Erickson in a fraud scheme in which he allegedly scammed people in wheelchairs by promising them fake toilets, and he pretended to build a bunch of homes in nearby North Dakota, according to the Daily Beast. None of this has anything to do with Trump-Russia, of course, but it doesn’t have to. These are the kinds of felonies that usually result in comparatively swift and easy convictions.

U.S. State of Union Analysis

djt pelosi pence feb 5 2019

President Trump, Vice President Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (who is matching the president's words to pre-released text) (Feb. 5, 2019 screengrab photo).

washington post logoWashington Post, In dissonant speech, Trump seeks unity while depicting ruin, Philip Rucker and Toluse Olorunnipa, Feb. 6, 2019 (print edition). Speech with a unifying tone that was in conflict with many of his own actions and statements. President Trump confronted a split Congress for the first time Tuesday night by delivering a dissonant State of the Union address, interspersing uplifting paeans to bipartisan compromise with chilling depictions of murder and ruin.

Calling the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border “an urgent national crisis,” Trump again called on Congress to approve construction of his long-promised wall — and argued that without the physical barrier, working-class Americans would lose their jobs and grapple with dangerous crime and overcrowded schools and hospitals.

Trump also sounded an unmistakable threat to the new Democratic House majority over impending oversight investigations into his conduct and personal finances, as well as alleged corruption in the administration. The president warned that everyday Americans may suffer from what he termed “ridiculous” probes.

Roll Call, Pelosi said she took Trump’s SOTU line about investigations as an ‘all-out threat,’ Lindsey McPherson, Feb. 6, 2019. Speaker Nancy Pelosi was visibly appalled at much of President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, but there was one particular line that seemed to be bugging her the next morning: “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.”

“It was a threat. It was an all-out threat,” the California Democrat told reporters Wednesday morning.

“The president should not bring threats to the floor of the House,” Pelosi said. “He said he wasn’t going to cooperate unless we didn’t exercise our constitutional responsibility to oversight.”

And that’s what it is, she emphasized. “It’s not investigations. It’s oversight.”

Democrats are willing to work with Trump on matters like lowering prescription drug prices and rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure if he was sincere, the speaker said. But she wasn’t so sure he was. “It’s a speech. It’s a presentation. It’s a performance,” Pelosi said.

The speaker also said that her forward reaching applause line that appeared sarcastic and has become a viral internet meme was sincere. Pelosi’s infamous clap came as Trump said, “We must reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution — and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise and the common good.”

“It wasn’t sarcastic,” Pelosi said. “Look at what I was applauding. I wanted him to know that was a very welcome message.”

Other House Democrats were also appalled at Trump’s comment on investigations.

Roll Call, One speech, two Trumps, John T. Bennett, Feb. 6, 2019 (print edition). Despite softer touches, president’s State of the Union still divides. Republican lawmakers stood and roared Tuesday night as President Donald Trump described the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border as a hellscape awash in drugs and violent criminals moving freely into the country. Democrats sat statuesque and silent, displaying no sign that his call for cross-party cooperation resonated inside the House chamber.

Trump stood before Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker Nancy Pelosi and delivered what has become customary for Republican and Democratic presidents alike, saying that the state of the country is “strong” and that the American people hope “we will govern not as two parties but as one nation.”

And while he added some quintessential Trumpian bravado when he implored members of both parties to “choose greatness” over “pointless destruction,” the president’s second State of the Union address revealed a government — like the country for which it ostensibly works — as divided as ever.

He bemoaned “ridiculous partisan investigations” as House Democrats prepare to look into many aspects of his 2016 campaign, business dealings and presidency. “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation,” he said after also panning “foolish” overseas conflicts. “It just doesn’t work that way.”

The reactions of the two parties in the chamber perhaps couldn’t have been starker than when the president spoke about immigration and his proposed southern border wall.

nancy pelosi djt sotu feb 6 2019 doug mills nytimes via ap feb 2019

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: The exquisite shade of Nancy Pelosi's applause at the State of the Union, Monica Hesse, Feb. 6, 2019. Seated behind Trump's left shoulder, the speaker of the House made her entire face a silent rejoinder, and -- at one point -- clapped mockingly. The lasting visual image from Tuesday night’s State of the Union address was captured by photographer Doug Mills. It featured House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) applauding President Trump in a way that can only be described as . . . withering? Pitying? Lucille Bluth-like in its contemptuousness?

At his lectern, the president mentioned bipartisanship and turned to acknowledge Speaker Pelosi; she rewarded him by cocking her head, arching an eyebrow, and inventing, as comedian Patton Oswalt would put it online, a clap that somehow managed to be a profanity.

Its power was in its restraint. Pelosi was not booing the president. She was acknowledging his words. She was providing him, in the technical sense, with exactly what he was hoping for: approval. But this was a derogatory clap, make no mistake. This was mockery wearing a half-baked costume of politeness.

The State of the Union is, by definition, a solo act: Its entire purpose is for the president to address Congress uninterrupted for as long as he or she pleases, which in this case was a little less than 90 minutes. An hour and a half is a long time for the opposing party to have no rejoinder. Pelosi, who was seated behind the president’s left shoulder and consistently in the camera’s lens, sidestepped that issue by making her entire face a silent, screaming rejoinder.

stacey abrams 2012 kerry battles via flickr

ny times logoNew York Times, Stacey Abrams Delivers a Democratic Appeal for Ballot Fairness, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Feb. 6, 2019 (print edition). Ms. Abrams (shown above in a file photo), the Georgia candidate who nearly became the first African-American female governor, pushed for health care, inclusive immigration and ballot access.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Donald Trump just unwittingly spelled out the path to his own demise, Bill Palmer, Feb. 6, 2019. Last night Donald Trump gave a State of the Union address that was chaotically all-over-the-place. For all his partisan rhetoric, childish boasting, and absurd lies, most of this speech will soon be forgotten. But Trump made one remark, in a clear cut attempt at getting himself off the legal hook, that’ll probably be remembered by the history books – and not for the reasons Trump might have been hoping.

bill palmer report logo headerDonald Trump didn’t even bother yelling “witch hunt” or “no collusion” during his speech, perhaps because he realizes it’s too late for those kinds of chants to help him. Instead he took a different approach, busting out this failed attempt at a catchy slogan: “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be robert mueller full face filewar and investigation.” In so doing, Trump gave away his new strategy.

Now that the Democrats have control of the investigative power in the House, even as Robert Mueller (right) and the SDNY are expanding their criminal investigations into Donald Trump’s life of corruption, Trump is now counting on “investigation fatigue.” If enough moderates and non-political types get tired of there being too many investigations into all things Trump, perhaps it’ll work to Trump’s favor. The trouble is that another famous criminal, and a much smarter one at that, already tried this strategy – and famously failed.

Media News

washington post logoWashington Post, Was tabloid exposé about Bezos’s affair just juicy gossip or a political hit job? Marc Fisher, Manuel Roig-Franzia and Sarah Ellison, Feb. 6, 2019 (print edition). Dueling investigations seek to learn how the National Enquirer obtained text messages sent by Amazon CEO Jeffrey P. Bezos, the owner of The Washington Post.

jeffrey bezos washington postWhen the National Enquirer published explicit text messages between Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos (shown in a file photo) and the woman he was having an affair with, the world’s richest man made clear he wanted to find out how the tabloid got hold of his private communications.

Bezos commissioned an investigation into the Enquirer’s investigation of his love life, thereby leaping into a roiling mix of political attacks and conspiracy theories featuring the president of the United States, key figures in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, minor Hollywood celebrities and the owner of The Washington Post, Bezos himself.

Depending on whom you believe, the Enquirer’s exposé on Bezos’s affair was a political hit inspired by President Trump’s allies, an inside job by people seeking to protect Bezos’s marriage, or no conspiracy at all, simply a juicy gossip story.

More On Virginia Scandal

washington post logoWashington Post, Woman who accused Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault identifies herself and gives her account of what happened, Samantha Schmidt, Fenit Nirappil and Laura Vozzella​, Feb. 6, 2019. Vanessa Tyson, a college professor, described the alleged incident in a statement. Fairfax has denied the allegation.

justin fairfaxThe woman who accused Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D), right, of sexual assault released a statement The allegations of sexual assault have further enveloped Richmond in chaos as Gov. Ralph Northam (D) resists calls to resign over racist photos that appeared on his medical school yearbook page and his acknowledgment that he darkened his face for a dance competition in the 1980s.

Attorney General Mark R. Herring acknowledged Wednesday that he dressed in blackface while in college, plunging the state Democratic Party into crisis as all three Democratic state-level officeholders are embroiled in controversies.

Wednesday identifying herself and describing an encounter in July 2004 during which she said Fairfax sexually assaulted her.

“What began as consensual kissing quickly turned into a sexual assault,” said Vanessa Tyson, a fellow at Stanford University and associate professor at Scripps College. She accused Fairfax of forcing her to perform oral sex during the encounter, which allegedly took place during the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

“I cannot believe, given my obvious distress, that Mr. Fairfax thought this forced sexual act was consensual,” Tyson said.

Tyson’s statement came just hours after Fairfax released a lengthy statement of his own, denying the allegation of sexual assault and urging his supporters to treat the accuser with respect.

The allegations of sexual assault have further enveloped Richmond in chaos as Gov. Ralph Northam (D) resists calls to resign over racist photos that appeared on his medical school yearbook page and his acknowledgment that he darkened his face for a dance competition in the 1980s.

Attorney General Mark R. Herring acknowledged Wednesday that he dressed in blackface while in college, plunging the state Democratic Party into crisis as all three Democratic state-level officeholders are embroiled in controversies.

ny times logoNew York Times, Ralph Northam Seeks Signs of Support as Crisis Strains Virginia Leadership, Alan Blinder, Jonathan Martin and Trip Gabriel, Feb. 6, 2019 (print edition). The ralph northam file headshotbesieged Democratic governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam (right), began to emerge from his defensive crouch on Tuesday, and signaled through his diminished corps of allies that he believed he could remain in office and, perhaps, prove that he did not appear in a racist photograph more than 30 years ago.

The governor, whose power has been on the verge of collapse since the photograph surfaced on Friday, intends to hire a private investigator to examine the circumstances of the picture, according to a Democrat familiar with his plans. The image appeared on Mr. Northam’s medical school yearbook page and showed a person dressed in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe.

John Dingell 'New Phase'

john dingell headshotRoll Call, Debbie Dingell says ailing former Rep. John Dingell has entered ‘new phase,’ Chris Cioffi, Feb. 6, 2019. Rep. Debbie Dingell announced Wednesday that she is home with her husband, former Michigan Rep. John Dingell, who has been in failing health. Dingell announced on Twitter that she was “home with John and we have entered a new phase. He is my love and we have been a team for nearly 40 years.” Dingell, 92, suffered a heart attack in September.

She went on to say Wednesday that the family will be “taking each day as it comes. We thank people for their friendship and support and ask for prayers and privacy during this difficult time.”

Dingell is the longest-serving member of Congress. He served from 1955 until his retirement in 2015. Dingell’s father, John David Dingell, Sr., was also a longtime member of the House. He was a strong proponent of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal program. He was also a proponent of a national insurance plan, and other laws including the National Labor Relations Act and Social Security.

Dingell’s wife, Debbie, succeeded him as Michigan’s 12 District representative. In September, Dingell said her husband had suffered a heart attack and was admitted to Henry Ford Hospital. “He’s alert and in good spirits, cracking jokes like always,” she said at the time.

Feb. 5

Trump's 'State of Union'

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump uses State of the Union to defiantly defend his immigration agenda, announce date of next summit with North Korea’s Kim, Felicia Sonmez, John Wagner and Mike DeBonis, Feb. 5, 2019. President also blasts investigations, offers dates for summit with North Korea. President Trump spent a considerable part of his speech warning of the dangers of illegal immigration. “Tolerance for illegal immigration is not compassionate; it is cruel,” he said.

ny times logoNew York Times, Watch State of the Union 2019: Live Updates, Staff report, Feb 5, 2019. Join New York Times reporters for live analysis and fact checks during President Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address to Congress. The speech began at 9 p.m. Eastern time.

washington post logoPresident Donald Trump officialWashington Post, Trump pitches bipartisanship at State of the Union, Felicia Sonmez, John Wagner and Mike DeBonis​, Feb. 5, 2019. In the Democratic response, Stacey Abrams will argue that the recent federal shutdown was a “stunt,” according to excerpts of her speech.

washington post logoWashington Post, Stacey Abrams is taking a risk in giving the Democrats’ response, Vanessa Williams and Sean Sullivan, Feb. 5, 2019. It's a chance for the former gubernatorial candidate to raise her profile. But speakers from previous years have seen their stars fade — or burn out entirely.

U.S. Justice System

Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), Investigation/Commentary: Manhattan's dirty prosecutor, Wayne Madsen (syndicated columnist, author, former Navy intelligence officer), Feb. 5, cyrus vance jr2019 (Subscription required, excerpted with permission). The only thing Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. shares with his father is his name. Vance, Jr. possesses none of the attributes of his famous father, Cyrus Vance, Sr., who, in 1980, resigned as President Jimmy Carter's Secretary of State to protest the Operation Eagle Claw military mission to rescue U.S. hostages in Tehran.

In fact, Cyrus Vance, Jr. (shown at right) has demonstrated a commitment to botching or otherwise closing down critical law enforcement investigations, all the signs that he is a quintessential "dirty prosecutor."

#MeToo Scandal

washington post logopope francis 2013 SmallWashington Post, Pope Francis confirms sexual abuse of nuns by clergy and vows to fight the problem, Max J. Rosenthal and Michelle Boorstein​, Feb. 5, 2019. The pope's acknowledgment of the scandal of priests and bishops sexually abusing nuns came — for the first time in public — during a news conference on his flight to Rome from the United Arab Emirates. The pope is shown in a file photo at right.

 ny times logoNew York Times, Nobel-Winning Former President of Costa Rica Is Accused of Sexual Assault, Frances Robles, An antinuclear activist filed a criminal complaint saying Óscar Arias Sánchez assaulted her four years ago. Mr. Arias remains the most powerful figure in the country. An antinuclear activist filed a criminal complaint saying Óscar Arias Sánchez assaulted her four years ago. Mr. Arias remains the most powerful figure in the country.

washington post logoWashington Post, ‘This isn’t me’: Northam’s defiance caught his advisers off guard, Gregory S. Schneider and Laura Vozzella​, Feb. 5, 2019. The embattled Democratic Virginia governor pondered becoming an independent amid the fallout from his racist yearbook photo.

washington post logoWashington Post, Democrats grapple with Fairfax assault accusation in #MeToo era, Jenna Portnoy, Laura Vozzella and Antonio Olivo, Feb. 5, 2019. The day after Lt. Gov. justin fairfaxJustin Fairfax (D), right, denied allegations of sexual misconduct, Democrats grappled with how to respond without betraying a rising star in their party or abandoning victims in the #MeToo era.

Nearly all Democrats at the state and federal level swiftly called for Gov. Ralph Northam (D), below left, to resign over a racist photo from his 1984 yearbook that became public Friday. But lawmakers and party officials interviewed took a more circumspect approach to the allegation against Fairfax, which surfaced Monday, just ralph northam file headshotthree days later.

Although Democrats at the state and national level have been quick to say women should be believed and that all allegations should be investigated, they say they are resisting a rush to judgment. Unlike claims of assault against Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, former senator Al Franken (D-Minn.), former congressman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and others, Virginia Democrats privately note the accuser in the Fairfax case has not yet offered evidence she says corroborates her claim.

U.S. Politics

washington post logoelizabeth warren cfpbWashington Post, Sen. Elizabeth Warren apologizes for calling herself Native American, Annie Linskey and Amy Gardner, Feb. 5, 2019. The comments by the Massachusetts Democrat reflect her struggle to quiet a controversy that is shadowing her as she prepares to formally announce a presidential bid.

NY Feds Demand Trump Inaugural Info donald trump inauguration ny tabloidsNew York City's two major tabloids used the same front page headline in reporting on President Trump's now-scandal-tainted Inaugural in 2017.

wsj logoWall Street Journal, Lawyers for Trump Inaugural Committee Receive Subpoena for Documents, Rebecca Ballhaus and Rebecca Davis O’Brien, Feb. 5, 2019 (print edition).  Manhattan U.S. djt inaugural ball national building museum dod photo 1 20 17attorney’s office has been investigating president’s inaugural fund.

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Inaugural Committee Is Ordered to Give Documents to Investigators, Maggie Haberman and Ben Protess, Feb. 5, 2019 (print edition). President Trump’s inaugural committee was ordered on Monday to turn over documents about its donors, finances and activities to federal prosecutors in Manhattan, according to two people familiar with their investigation into the committee’s activities.

A lawyer working with the inaugural committee received a subpoena on Monday evening seeking documents related to all of the committee’s donors and event attendees; any benefits handed out, including tickets and photo opportunities with the president; federal disclosure filings; vendors; contracts; and more, one of the people said.

Prosecutors also showed interest in whether any foreigners illegally donated to the committee, as well as whether committee staff knew that such donations were illegal, asking tom barrack cbsfor documents laying out legal requirements for donations. Federal law prohibits foreign contributions to federal campaigns, political action committees and inaugural funds.

A spokesman for the inaugural committee said it was still reviewing the subpoena and intended to cooperate with the investigation. A spokesman for the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan declined to comment. ABC first reported that a subpoena was in the works.

The inaugural committee was chaired by Thomas J. Barrack (above left), a close friend of the president. No one who worked for the committee, or donated to it, has been accused of wrongdoing, and a subpoena is an initial step in the inquiry.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Everything is happening at once now, Bill Palmer, Feb. 5, 2019. Yesterday afternoon the House Intelligence Committee scheduled a vote to send all of its bill palmer report logo headerTrump-Russia testimony transcripts to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which will give Mueller the ability to imminently indict several people in Donald Trump’s orbit – including two of his family members – at any time.

Then last night we learned that the SDNY [Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney's Office] is moving in on everyone in Trump’s orbit who participated in his crime-filled inauguration. This isn’t a coincidence.

Inside DC

ny times logoPresident Donald Trump officialNew York Times, Trump’s Path to a Border Wall Narrows Ahead of the State of the Union, Glenn Thrush and Emily Cochrane, Feb. 5, 2019 (print edition). President Trump’s legislative path to a border wall has narrowed significantly on the eve of Tuesday’s State of the Union speech, and his fallback plan to circumvent Congress by declaring a state of emergency could yield a major rupture in his own party.

As he prepares to make his case to the largest national audience of the year, Mr. Trump appeared to be in an increasingly precarious position, unable to sway the wider public to his cause and unwilling, at least so far, to apply the persuasion and compromise that have gotten previous presidents out of political jams.

Global News

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump’s Plan for U.S. Forces Is Met With Rejection in Iraq, Alissa J. Rubin and Eric Schmitt, Feb. 5, 2019 (print edition). President Trump’s unexpected announcement that he wanted American troops in Iraq to stay there to “watch Iran” achieved a previously unattainable goal: unity in the Iraqi political establishment. His proposal added momentum to legislation that could hamper American troops’ ability to operate in Iraq.

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump to Nominate David Malpass to Lead the World Bank, Peter Baker, Feb. 5, 2019 (print edition). President Trump plans to nominate David Malpass (shown below at right), the under secretary of the Treasury for international affairs, to head the World Bank, picking an outspoken critic of the institution who has pushed to overhaul its longstanding practices, administration officials said on Monday.

david malpassThe officials, who insisted on anonymity to confirm the choice before the formal announcement, said the president will unveil his selection on Wednesday. The nomination must be ratified by the bank’s board, but by tradition, the United States, the largest shareholder, has long named its president.

Mr. Malpass’s nomination could prompt debate given his past comments about the role of multilateral institutions. Like Mr. Trump, he has questioned the scope and mission of international institutions such as the World Bank, saying they have grown “more intrusive” and need to be refocused. The larger trend toward multilateralism, he has said, “has gone substantially too far.”

That viewpoint squares with a broader skepticism that Mr. Trump’s administration has shown toward various structures of what is often called the liberal international order, including the World Trade Organization, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the European Union and any number of international agreements. Just last week, the administration announced that it has suspended a nuclear arms treaty negotiated by President Ronald Reagan in 1987, citing Russian cheating.

Virginia Scandal Claims

washington post logoWashington Post, Turmoil surrounds Va. leaders as Northam considers resigning and Fairfax denies assault claim, Gregory S. Schneider and Laura Vozzella, Feb. 5, 2019 (print edition). The state Capitol hit a new level of chaos Monday as Gov. Ralph Northam (D) asked staffers to stand by as he decided his fate, while the man who would succeed him, Lt. ralph northam file headshotGov. Justin Fairfax (D), denied a sexual assault allegation that appeared on a conservative website.

Northam (shown in a file photo) gathered Cabinet members and staffers Monday to apologize for the pain caused by a racist photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page and told them he was still weighing options, according to several people who attended.

The governor urged staffers not to quit and promised to decide his fate soon, but how soon was left unsaid, according to three people familiar with what transpired, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to decribe a private meeting. It could take days, according to one person familiar with his thinking.

ny times logoNew York Times, Justin Fairfax, Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor, Denies Sexual Assault Allegation, Jonathan Martin, Feb. 5, 2019 (print edition). Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of Virginia issued a statement Monday morning denying an unsubstantiated allegation of sexual assault that a right-wing media site published amid extraordinary political turmoil in the state that has raised the possibility of Mr. Fairfax becoming the next governor.

justin fairfaxIn a statement issued at 2:55 a.m., aides to Mr. Fairfax (right) — a Democrat who has drawn national attention as Gov. Ralph Northam considers resigning over past racist behavior — said the allegation was “false” and that Mr. Fairfax had “never assaulted anyone — ever — in any way, shape or form.” The aides said that Mr. Fairfax is considering “appropriate legal action against those attempting to spread this defamatory and false allegation.”

The Times has reached out to intermediaries for the woman who has made the allegation. They did not immediately comment on Monday.

The Fairfax aides said The Washington Post investigated the allegation around the time of the lieutenant governor’s inauguration in January 2018 and chose not to publish a story.

The Post published a story on Monday that partially disputed the Fairfax statement. According to the Post story, the woman contacted the newspaper after Mr. Fairfax won election in November 2017 and alleged that he had sexually assaulted her in 2004 soon after they met in Boston at the Democratic National Convention.

The Post had been unable to corroborate her allegations, which Mr. Fairfax had denied, according to Monday’s story. The Post, however, disputed the Fairfax statement’s assertion that the newspaper had found inconsistencies and red flags in the woman’s allegation; the newspaper labeled those assertions as incorrect.

As Mr. Northam met Monday with advisers in the state capitol complex here to discuss his future, stunned legislators arrived to word of the middle-of-the-night statement by the Fairfax aides after the publication of the story by the right-wing website, Big League Politics.

The allegation threw Virginia’s government into a deeper state of chaos, just two days after Mr. Northam admitted that in 1984 he had used shoe polish to darken his face for a Michael Jackson-themed dance party but denied in the same year that he had appeared in blackface or a Ku Klux Klan robe.

JFK Assassination Research

 john newman into the storm

whowhatwhy logoWhoWhatWhy, Book Excerpt: Antonio Veciana, Mystery Man in JFK Assassination, Part 1, John M. Newman (shown above with the cover of his new book), Feb. 5, 2019. Introduction by Alan Dale: More than 50 years after President John F. Kennedy’s death, details relating to his assassination have accumulated like snowflakes in a blizzard. Hundreds of names, thousands of alleged facts, millions upon millions of words competing for our attention and requiring our judgment: Is this important? Is this true? Who would know?

John M. Newman, PhD is unique in what he knows. He is a retired US Army intelligence officer who served for two years as military assistant to the director General William Odom at the National Security Agency. He has testified before various subcommittees of the US House of Representatives, and has been a consultant for various US and foreign media organizations including PBS Frontline, the History Channel, C-Span, and NBC. (He is also an adjunct professor of Political Science at James Madison University.)

His expertise as a strategic intelligence cryptologic analyst makes his credentials unique among those who delve into the hidden histories buried within America’s military and intelligence bureaucracies. For the past quarter century his works have overturned orthodoxies, introduced new facts, and produced revelations about America during the Cold War.

john newman book collage whowhatwhyHis past publications include Oswald and the CIA: The Documented Truth About the Unknown Relationship Between the U.S. Government and the Alleged Killer of JFK (2008); Where Angels Tread Lightly: The Assassination of President Kennedy, Volume I (2015); Countdown to Darkness: The Assassination of President Kennedy, Volume II (2017); JFK and Vietnam: Deception, Intrigue and the Struggle for Power 2nd Ed (2017). (Book collage graphic by WhoWhatWhy.)

His latest book — "Into the Storm: The Assassination of President Kennedy Volume III" (2019) — was described by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as a “groundbreaking work that finally illuminates the dark places where democracy goes to die.”

Here we present the first of two excerpts from that book. They reveal the intricate web of claims, contradictions, and complexities relating to the former leader of the murderous anti-Castro paramilitary group Alpha-66, Antonio Veciana. Veciana made the explosive claim that he was present in Dallas two months before the Kennedy assassination, with Lee Harvey Oswald and an agent/handler whom he knew by the name of Maurice Bishop (eventually identified by Veciana as CIA officer David Atlee Phillips).

Chapter Three. When Fiction is Stranger Than Truth: Veciana and Phillips in Cuba — 1959-1960.

Feb. 4

Trump Intelligence Scandal

time logo ogTime Magazine, 'Willful Ignorance.' Inside President Trump's Troubled Intelligence Briefings, John Walcot, Feb. 2, 2019 (print edition Feb. 4). In the wake of President Donald cia logoTrump’s renewed attacks on the U.S. intelligence community this week, senior intelligence briefers are breaking two years of silence to warn that the President is endangering American security with what they say is a stubborn disregard for their assessments.

Citing multiple in-person episodes, these intelligence officials say Trump displays what one called “willful ignorance” when presented with analyses generated by America’s $81 billion-a-year intelligence services. The officials, who include analysts who prepare Trump’s briefs and the briefers themselves, describe futile nsa official logoattempts to keep his attention by using visual aids, confining some briefing points to two or three sentences, and repeating his name and title as frequently as possible.

What is most troubling, say these officials and others in government and on Capitol Hill who have been briefed on the episodes, are Trump’s angry reactions when he is given information that contradicts positions he has taken or beliefs he holds. Two intelligence officers even reported that they have been warned to avoid giving the President intelligence assessments that contradict stances he has taken in public.

U.S. Wars

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Wants Troops in Iraq to Monitor Iran, Possibly Upending ISIS Fight, Eric Schmitt and Alissa J. Rubin, Feb. 4, 2019 (print edition). President Trump said he planned to keep troops in Iraq to monitor Iran, even as he moves to withdraw forces from Syria and Afghanistan. The president’s remarks could jeopardize weeks of delicate talks with Iraq to move troops there from Syria in order to strike at the Islamic State.

ny times logoamerican flagNew York Times, Opinion: End the War in Afghanistan, Editorial Board, Feb. 4, 2019 (print edition). It is time to bring American soldiers back home. On Sept. 14, 2001, Congress wrote what would prove to be one of the largest blank checks in the country’s history. The Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists gave President George W. Bush authority to attack the Taliban, the Sunni fundamentalist force then dominating Afghanistan that refused to turn over the mastermind of the attacks perpetrated three days earlier, Osama bin Laden.

More than 17 years later, the United States military is engaged in counterterrorism missions in 80 nations on six continents. The price tag, which includes the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and increased spending on veterans’ care, will reach $5.9 trillion by the end of fiscal year 2019, according to the Costs of War project at Brown University. Since nearly all of that money has been borrowed, the total cost with interest will be substantially higher.

Trump Threatens GOP With 'Emergency Powers'

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: If Trump declares a national emergency, Pelosi can jam Republicans. Here’s how, Greg Sargent, Feb. 4, 2019. Senate Republicans appear to be in a panic about President Trump’s threat to declare a national emergency to realize his unquenchable fantasy of a big, beautiful wall on the southern border. Republicans are reportedly worried that such a move could divide them, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky., left) has delivered that warning to Trump in private conversations.

mitch mcconnell2Republicans have good reason to be deeply nervous. Here’s why: According to one of the country’s leading experts on national emergencies, it appears that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) can trigger a process that could require the GOP-controlled Senate to hold a vote on such a declaration by Trump — which would put Senate Republicans in a horrible political position.

Trump reiterated his threat to declare a national emergency in an interview with CBS News that aired over the weekend. “I don’t take anything off the table,” Trump said, adding in a typically mangled construction that he still retains the “alternative” of “national emergency.”

nancy pelosiBut Pelosi (right) has recourse against such a declaration — and if she exercises it, Senate Republicans may have to vote on where they stand on it.

The Post reports that acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney has privately told Trump that a national emergency is “viable,” and officials at the Army Corps of Engineers are searching for ways to build the wall. This would be challenged in the courts, which would have to decide whether the statute Trump invoked actually does authorize this type of spending.

But Pelosi has a much more immediate way to challenge Trump’s declaration. Under the National Emergencies Act, or NEA, both chambers of Congress can pass a resolution terminating any presidentially declared national emergency.

Global News

european union logo rectangle

washington post logoWashington Post, While E.U. tries to bypass U.S. sanctions on Iran, Trump administration turns up heat, Griff Witte and Erin Cunningham, Feb. 4, 2019 (print edition. To be a European company with links to Iran in the age of American sanctions can mean dealing with challenges that verge on the existential.

Truthdig via OpEdNews, Opinion: Goodbye to the Dollar, Chris Hedges, Feb. 4, 2019. The inept and corrupt presidency of Donald Trump has unwittingly triggered the fatal blow to the American empire-the abandonment of the dollar as the world's principal reserve currency.

Nations around the globe, especially in Europe, have lost confidence in the United States to act rationally, much less lead, in issues of international finance, trade, diplomacy and war. These nations are quietly dismantling the seven-decade-old alliance with the United States and building alternative systems of bilateral trade. This reconfiguring of the world's financial system will be fatal to the American empire, as the historian Alfred McCoy and the economist Michael Hudson have long pointed out. It will trigger an economic death spiral, including high inflation, which will necessitate a massive military contraction overseas and plunge the United States into a prolonged depression. Trump, rather than make America great again, has turned out, unwittingly, to be the empire's most aggressive gravedigger.

donald trump make great logoThe Trump administration has capriciously sabotaged the global institutions, including NATO, the European Union, the United Nations, the World Bank and the IMF, which provide cover and lend legitimacy to American imperialism and global economic hegemony.

john bolton youtube guardianThe U.S. intervention in Venezuela, the potential trade war with China, the withdrawal from international climate accords, leaving the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the paralysis in Washington and disruptive government shutdown and increased hostilities with Iran bode ill for America. American foreign and financial policy is hostage to the bizarre whims of stunted ideologues such as Mike Pompeo, John Bolton (right) and Elliott Abrams. This ensures more global chaos as well as increased efforts by nations around the globe to free themselves from the economic stranglehold the United States effectively set in place following World War II.

U.S. Politics

djt wh waving

President Trump rallying supporters (White House photo)

Wayne Madsen Report via OpEdNews, Commentary: Trump's vision of a single cultish political party, Wayne Madsen (commentator, former Navy intellience officer and author of 16 wayne madsen trumps bananas coverbooks, including his latest, Trump's Bananas Republic), Feb. 4, 2019. Donald Trump's vision of a country with a single political party pledging total loyalty to him, and only him, took a step closer to reality on January 25 after the Republican National Committee (RNC) voted to approve a resolution declaring its "undivided support" for Trump in the 2020 presidential election. The RNC move was designed to thwart any other Republican presidential hopeful from challenging Trump for the GOP nomination.

On January 26, Trump tweeted his thanks to the RNC: "Thank you to the Republican National Committee, (the RNC), who voted UNANIMOUSLY yesterday to support me in the upcoming 2020 Election. Considering that we have done more than any Administration in the first two years, this should be easy. More great things now in the works!"

rnc logoAlthough Trump's boast about his accomplishments to date is a lie, the RNC's move set about a chain of actions among Republican state-level parties to cancel primaries and caucuses.

In a number of states, the Republican Party leadership has been seized by Trump loyalists who are opposed to any attempt by a GOP moderate challenger to Trump, for example, Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland or Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, to mount primary and caucus challenges. This is especially the case in South Carolina, Kansas, Arizona, and Florida.

washington post logoWashington Post, Va. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax denies sex assault allegation from 2004, Theresa Vargas, Feb. 4, 2019. Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax issued a statement early Monday denying a sexual assault allegation that appeared on the same conservative website that posted a racist photograph from Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook page.

“Lt. Governor Fairfax has an outstanding and well-earned reputation for treating people with dignity and respect,” read the statement from his chief of staff and communications director. “He has never assaulted anyone — ever — in any way, shape or form.”

The statement came after the online publication Big League Politics ran a story under the headline: “UPDATE: Stanford Fellow Hints At Possible Justin Fairfax Sex Assault.”

The story was based on a private Facebook post from the woman, which the publication said it had obtained from a friend of hers who had permission to share it.

martin baron at 2018 pulitzers wikimedia commonsFairfax and the woman told different versions of what happened in the hotel room with no one else present. The Washington Post could not find anyone who could corroborate either version. The Post did not find “significant red flags and inconsistencies within the allegations,” as the Fairfax statement incorrectly said.

Martin Baron (shown in a photo at the 2018 Pulitzer Prize awards ceremony distributed via WikiMedia), executive editor of The Post, said the news organization had an obligation to publish.

“Lt. Gov. Fairfax is a public official who may well rise to the position of governor,” Baron said in a statement. “He began the morning by issuing a statement regarding allegations against him, making specific representations about Post reporting that had not resulted in publication. We then had an obligation to clarify the nature of both the allegations and our reporting.“

ny times logoNew York Times, As Calls Mount for Ralph Northam to Resign, Some Virginians Mull a Second Chance, John Eligon, Feb. 4, 2019 (print edition). When Steve Peacock first saw ralph northam file headshotthe decades-old racist photograph that has Gov. Ralph Northam (shown in a file photo) of Virginia in hot water, it took him back to the days when he was getting chased home every day by angry white classmates.

He also remembered the time he was in a restaurant with several white friends, and they all had to leave when the restaurant would not serve him because he was black.

democratic donkey logo“The worst feeling of my life,” he said. The experiences, he said, made him hate white people.

But Mr. Peacock, 61, is among the Virginians bucking the political establishment that has swiftly demanded Mr. Northam’s resignation after an image on his medical school yearbook page surfaced on Friday, showing two figures, one in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe.

 U.S. Election Integrity

washington post logoWashington Post, In N.C., a Trump appointee’s crackdown on alleged voter fraud focused on prosecuting immigrants, Amy Gardner, Beth Reinhard and Alice Crites, Feb. 4, 2019 (print edition). The decision to prioritize prosecution of noncitizens over looking into ballot-tampering allegations in Bladen County comes amid a push by the president and other Republicans to portray illegal voting as a widespread phenomenon.

Inside DC

ny times logoNew York Times, Ex-Oil Lobbyist Is Picked to Lead Interior Dept., Coral Davenport, Feb. 4, 2019. david bernhardt oPresident Trump on Monday announced he would nominate David Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist and current deputy chief of the Interior Department, to succeed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who resigned amid allegations of ethical missteps.

While Mr. Zinke had been the public face of some of the largest rollbacks of public-land protections in the nation’s history, Mr. Bernhardt was the one quietly pulling the levers to carry them out, opening millions of acres of land and water to oil, gas and coal companies. He is described by allies and opponents alike as having played a crucial role in advancing what Mr. Trump has described as an “energy dominance” agenda for the country.

ny times logorobert mueller full face fileNew York Times, Will the Mueller Report Be Made Public? Trump Won’t Commit, Katie Rogers, Feb. 4, 2019 (print edition). In an interview on CBS, President Trump would not say whether he would push to release the results of the inquiry by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III (shown at right). The law does not require the Justice Department to release a report, and Mr. Mueller has been silent on the issue.

washington post logoWashington Post, ‘It’s way too many’: Senators grow concerned as vacancies pile up in Trump administration, Juliet Eilperin, Josh Dawsey and Seung Min Kim, Feb. 4, 2019 (print edition). From Veterans Affairs to the Justice Department, vast swaths of the government have top positions filled by officials serving in an acting capacity — or no one at all.

Media Trends

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: How the media can cover Trump without being manipulated, Jill Abramson (shown at right, journalist and author of the new book Merchants of Truth”), Feb. 4, 2019 (print edition. The news media’s collective shock that Donald Trump won in 2016 was evidence of how out of touch most reporters were jill abramsonwith the less affluent, less educated, rural parts of the country, where white voter rage galvanized into votes that made him the 45th president.

I was powerfully moved by a recent article in the New Yorker about journalism by LBJ biographer Robert Caro. He described how he couldn’t really understand President Lyndon B. Johnson’s native Texas Hill Country until he and his wife actually moved there from New York City for three years. The locals had a derisive name for the reporters who parachuted in and out: “portable journalists.”

Mueller Probe

BuzzFeed News, Investigation: A Lobbyist At The Trump Tower Meeting Received Half A Million Dollars In Suspicious Payments, Emma Loop, Anthony Cormier, Jason Leopold, Tanya Kozyreva, and John Templon, Feb. 4, 2019. A bank flagged transactions, including large cash deposits, made before and after Rinat Akhmetshin attended the 2016 Trump Tower meeting.

A Russian-born lobbyist who attended the controversial Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 received a series of suspicious payments totaling half a million dollars before and after the encounter.

Documents reviewed by BuzzFeed News show that Rinat Akhmetshin, a Soviet military officer turned Washington lobbyist, deposited large, round-number amounts of cash in the months preceding and following the meeting, where a Russian lawyer offered senior Trump campaign officials dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The lobbyist also received a large payment that bank investigators deemed suspicious from Denis Katsyv, whose company Prevezon Holdings was accused by the US Justice Department of laundering the proceeds of a $230 million Russian tax fraud.

The Trump Tower meeting and those who attended it have become a focus of special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into whether the president’s campaign colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election. As part of that inquiry, banks were asked to pull financial information on the meeting attendees, and investigators at Wells Fargo handed over documents on Akhmetshin to the US Treasury in 2017. Those records were passed to Mueller's team, but Peter Carr, a spokesperson for the special counsel, declined to say whether the transactions are under investigation. Congressional investigators also requested the financial information from the Treasury Department.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Prison bells chime for Donald Trump Jr and Jared Kushner, Bill Palmer, Feb. 4, 2019. Donald Trump Jr. (shown in a file photo, right) and Jared Kushner just got the worst news possible. donald trump jr fileWe all knew it was coming eventually, but now it’s a reality. The House Intelligence Committee has scheduled a vote for this Wednesday, just forty-eight hours from now, on turning over the Trump-Russia testimony transcripts to Special Counsel Robert Mueller. This appears to be the final piece of the puzzle in the long awaited indictments and arrests of both these goons. So now what?

bill palmer report logo headerBack when corrupt Trump puppet Devin Nunes was in charge of the House Intel Committee, he encouraged everyone in the Trump-Russia scandal to come in and profess innocence, so he could then announce that they had all been “cleared.” This was the dumbest plot of all time, because not only did Nunes’ declaration carry no legal weight, it also resulted in these people committing felony perjury.

We’ve already seen Kushner repeatedly lie on his security clearance forms, also a felony. So it’s not too difficult to figure out that Kushner almost certainly lied to the committee as well.

Feb. 3

U.S. Politics: Trump

washington post logoPresident Donald Trump officialWashington Post, ‘A watershed moment’: Trump faces crossroads amid mounting threats on all sides, Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey and Toluse Olorunnipa, Feb. 3, 2019. As the president prepares for his State of the Union address, advisers say the West Wing has the feel of Trump Tower, where Trump had absolute control over his family business and was free to follow his impulses.

 ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Sought a Loan During the 2016 Campaign. Deutsche Bank Said No, David Enrich, Jesse Drucker and Ben Protess, Feb. 2, 2019. Donald J. Trump turned to the German bank to borrow millions of dollars that would go to his golf resort in Scotland. Senior officials at the bank believed that Mr. Trump’s divisive candidacy made such a loan too risky, sources said.

Donald J. Trump was burning through cash.

deutsche bank logoIt was early 2016, and he was lending tens of millions of dollars to his presidential campaign and had been spending large sums to expand the Trump Organization’s roster of high-end properties.

To finance his business’s growth, Mr. Trump turned to a longtime ally, Deutsche Bank, one of the few banks still willing to lend money to the man who has called himself “The King of Debt.”

Mr. Trump’s loan request, which has not been previously reported, set off a fight that reached the top of the German bank, according to three people familiar with the request. In the end, Deutsche Bank did something unexpected. It said no.

Senior officials at the bank, including its future chief executive, believed that Mr. Trump’s divisive candidacy made such a loan too risky, the people said. Among their concerns was that if Mr. Trump won the election and then defaulted, Deutsche Bank would have to choose between not collecting on the debt or seizing the assets of the president of the United States.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Deutsche Bank has sold out Donald Trump, Bill Palmer, Feb. 3, 2019. For the past two years, investigators around the world have been gradually closing in on Deutsche Bank over its key role in a massive Russian money laundering scheme that very much appeared to have served as the vehicle for how the Kremlin has been keeping Donald Trump afloat financially. Deutsche Bank has been cooperating incrementally, but apparently insufficiently, as evidenced by the German government’s recent raid on its headquarters. Now Deutsche is finally selling Trump out.

bill palmer report logo headerFor several years, even as Donald Trump repeatedly went broke, and banks around the world were increasingly unwilling to lend him more money, Deutsche Bank in Germany was singularly eager to keep stuffing large sums of money into Trump’s wallet. Combine this with Deutsche Bank’s 2017 bust for laundering Russian money into the hands of clients in places like Trump’s hometown of New York City, and it’s not difficult to parse that the “loans” were merely a front for the Kremlin funneling money to Trump.

deutsche bank logoThe question now is whether Deutsche Bank has sold Donald Trump out voluntarily. Yesterday the New York Times reported that during the 2016 election cycle, Trump tried to borrow even more money from Deutsche Bank, but it rejected the request, for fear that Trump would become president and then use the office to find a way to not have to pay the loan back. Here’s the thing. There are only two possible sources for this story. One is Deutsche Bank itself. The other potential source would be criminal investigators who have seized the bank’s records.

The Intercept, Commentary: NBC News, to Claim Russia Supports Tulsi Gabbard, Relies on Firm Just Caught Fabricating Russia Data for the Democratic Party, Glenn Greenwald, Feb. 3 2019. NBC News published a predictably viral story Friday, claiming that “experts who track websites and social media linked to Russia have seen stirrings of a possible campaign of support for Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard.”

tulsi gabbardBut the whole story was a sham: The only “expert” cited by NBC in support of its key claim was the firm New Knowledge, which just got caught by the New York Times fabricating Russian troll accounts on behalf of the Democratic Party in the Alabama Senate race to manufacture false accusations that the Kremlin was interfering in that election.

To justify its claim that Gabbard is the Kremlin’s candidate, NBC stated, “analysts at New Knowledge, the company the Senate Intelligence Committee used to track Russian activities in the 2016 election, told NBC News they’ve spotted ‘chatter’ related to Gabbard in anonymous online message boards, including those known for fomenting right-wing troll campaigns.”

nbc news logoWhat NBC — amazingly — concealed is a fact that reveals its article to be a journalistic fraud: That same firm, New Knowledge, was caught just six weeks ago engaging in a massive scam to create fictitious Russian troll accounts on Facebook and Twitter in order to claim that the Kremlin was working to defeat Democratic Senate nominee Doug Jones in Alabama. The New York Times, when exposing the scam, quoted a New Knowledge report that boasted of its fabrications: “We orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the [Roy] Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet.'”

Inside Trump White House

Axios, Investigation: Insider leaks private Trump schedules; "executive time" dominates, Jonathan Swan, Feb. 3, 2019. A White House source has leaked nearly every day of President Trump's private schedule for the past 3 months to Axios' Alexi McCammond.

Why it matters: This unusually voluminous leak gives us unprecedented visibility into how this president spends his days.

• We've published every page of the leaked schedules in the story that accompanies this item. To protect our source, we retyped the schedules in the same format that West Wing staff receives them.
• The schedules, which cover nearly every working day since the midterms, show that Trump has spent around 60% of his scheduled time over the past 3 months in unstructured "Executive Time."

What the schedules show: Trump, an early riser, usually spends the first 5 hours of the day in Executive Time. Each day's schedule places Trump in "Location: Oval Office" from 8 to 11 a.m.

• But Trump, who often wakes before 6 a.m., is never in the Oval during those hours, according to 6 sources with direct knowledge.
• Instead, he spends his mornings in the residence, watching TV, reading the papers, and responding to what he sees and reads by phoning aides, members of
Congress, friends, administration officials and informal advisers.

 Virginia Race Controversy

ralph northam yearbook blackface

Ralph Northam’s page in the 1984 yearbook of Eastern Virginia Medical School in which two people are wearing blackface and a KKK costume. (Obtained by The Washington Post)

ny times logoNew York Times, Virginia Governor, Ralph Northam, Defies Calls to Resign Over Racist Photo, Jonathan Martin, Trip Gabriel and Alan Blinder, Feb. 3, 2019 (print edition). Gov. ralph northam file headshotRalph Northam of Virginia (right), defying pleas from his own party to resign, said on Saturday that he would remain in office, and flatly denied that he had worn Ku Klux Klan robes or appeared in blackface in an image from his medical school yearbook that has upended his governorship and embarrassed his fellow Democrats.

mark warner“It was definitely not me,” Mr. Northam said at an afternoon news conference. “I can tell by looking at it.”

But within hours, three of the state’s most senior Democrats said they had called Mr. Northam to tell him to step down, depriving the governor of his last remaining support and intensifying the pressure on him. “We no longer believe he can effectively serve as the governor of Virginia and that he must resign,’’ Senators Mark R. Warner (shown on his Twitter photo) and Tim Kaine and Representative Robert C. Scott said in a statement.

If Mr. Northam does ultimately resign, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who is black, would become the state’s governor. Mr. Fairfax broke his silence after the governor’s news conference, but did not directly urge him to stay or go, saying in a statement that “we must make decisions in the best interests of the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Lt. Gov. Justin E. Fairfax, the second African-American to ever win statewide election in Virginia, is next in the line of succession, Mitch Smith and Sandra E. Garcia, Feb. 3, 2019 (print edition). When he was sworn in last year as Virginia’s lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax kept in his pocket the document that freed his great-great-great-grandfather from slavery. When state legislators moved to honor the Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, Mr. Fairfax left the Senate dais as a form of quiet protest. And after a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017, Mr. Fairfax offered his support for efforts to remove a statue of Lee.

justin fairfaxMr. Fairfax, the second African-American ever to win a statewide election in Virginia, finds himself surrounded once more by the commonwealth’s painful racial history. As calls mount from both parties for the resignation of Gov. Ralph Northam, a white Democrat whose medical school yearbook page included a photo of people in blackface and in Ku Klux Klan robes, Mr. Fairfax is next in line for the state’s highest office.

democratic donkey logoMr. Fairfax, a 39-year-old Democrat who presides over the State Senate as lieutenant governor, a part-time post, has built a reputation as an affable and effective politician who can speak passionately about racial divisions while also appealing to a broad base of voters.

Should Mr. Northam resign soon — and for now, he seems to have no intention of doing so — Mr. Fairfax’s ascendance could help Democrats repair some of the mounting political damage, or at least change the conversation, in time for next year’s presidential election.

More U.S. Politics

washington post logokamala harris portraitWashington Post, ‘I am who I am’: Kamala Harris, daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, defines herself simply as ‘American,’ Kevin Sullivan, Feb. 3, 2019. The Democratic senator from California has long avoided ruminations on her blended heritage. Her background in many ways embodies the culturally democratic donkey logofluid, racially blended society that is second-nature in California’s Bay Area and is increasingly common across the United States.

But as she embarks on a campaign for president, she is facing new pressure to address her identity.

Global News: Saudis

washington post logoSaudi Arabian flagWashington Post, Saudi Arabia encouraged foreign workers to leave — and is struggling after so many did, Kareem Fahim, Feb. 3, 2019 (print edition). The government imposed fees on the dependents of expatriate workers and restricted foreigners from working in certain sectors. The result, amid rising costs, has been a massive exodus of foreigners from the labor force, but Saudi citizens have not filled the jobs that expatriates are vacating.

Media News

washington post logoWashington Post, Book Review: The sad, inspiring state of modern news, Ann Marie Lipinski, Jan. 31, 2019 (Feb. 3 print edition). Jill Abramson owes two debts to David Halberstam and The Powers That Be, the late writer’s epic 1979 examination of four powerful news companies. The first is her career. Reading it inspired her to become a jill abramsonjournalist, a path that led to the executive editorship of the New York Times.

Three years into that post, Abramson, right, was fired, and Halberstam’s book inspired her anew. Surveying a battlefield on which she had become a casualty, jill abramson merchants of truthshe saw a contested future for quality news. What Halberstam had done for a Golden Age in media, Abramson wanted to do for journalism’s Age of Anxiety.

Following the Halberstam template, Abramson studies the fortunes of four companies struggling, as she puts it, “to keep honest news alive.” Her book, Merchants of Truth is a reported meditation on journalism’s last decade, told through the experiences of BuzzFeed, the New York Times, Vice and The Washington Post. Like Halberstam’s chosen four (Time, The Post, CBS and the Los Angeles Times), Abramson saw at each news organization good and important work. “And all four are endangered,” she asserts.

Ann Marie Lipinski directs the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. She is the former editor of the Chicago Tribune, where she received a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting.

Economic Justice

washington post logoWashington Post: Book Review, Why retirement is no longer a time of relaxation and security, Cynthia Estlund (Professor of Law at New York University), Jan. 31, 2019 (Feb. 3 print edition). "Downhill from here" is an exquisitely ambiguous phrase for the state of retirement security in America. It might suggest a restful and well-earned glide down the back of the mountain that one has climbed in a lifetime of hard work. But the same phrase can mean nearly the opposite — a descent into hardship or suffering.

katherine newman downhill from here coverIt is the latter, darker meaning that sets the tone for Katherine S. Newman’s excellent new book, Downhill From Here: Retirement Insecurity in the Age of Inequality. But Newman’s title also evokes the contrast between what retirement means in today’s America and what it is supposed to mean.

Newman is a gifted writer and the author of more than a dozen books, including No Shame in My Game, about the travails of the urban working poor. As she has done in her previous work, Newman creates vivid individual portraits in her latest book to humanize her analysis.

We learn about the retirement woes of truck drivers and telecommunications and airline workers caught in the cross-currents of deregulation and industry restructuring; of Detroit civil servants in the wake of municipal bankruptcy; of would-be retirees forced back into a hostile labor market to pay their bills; and of the very poor, who are barely surviving. As Newman’s title suggests, the crisis of retirement insecurity reflects the larger problem of economic inequality in today’s America.

Running through Newman’s wide-ranging narrative is a river of broken promises. Take, for example, Lisa Hannigan, whose career began with the monopoly Bell System, known as Ma Bell, and ended at Verizon. Shortly after nudging Lisa into early retirement, Verizon spun off her division — along with its $9.5 billion in pension liabilities — into a new company that seemed designed, or at least destined, to fail.

After it did fail just two years later, Lisa and her husband, who had left the company on disability years earlier, found their pensions reduced and their retiree health benefits eventually eliminated. Newman quotes John: “They said they were going to take care of [me] for the rest of my life. They just lied. Totally lied. . . . They don’t care who they walk on, who they step on.”

Media / Politics

washington post logoWashington Post, Tip from ‘concerned citizen’ exposed racist photo in Va. governor’s yearbook, Paul Farhi, Feb. 3, 2019. Patrick Howley, editor in chief of the website Big League Politics, first reported the existence of a photo on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s page of his 1984 medical-school yearbook depicting a figure in blackface standing next to another person in a Ku Klux Klan hood.

Feb. 2

U.S. Politics: Emergency Warning?

washington post logoWashington Post, McConnell privately cautions Trump about emergency declaration on border wall, Sean Sullivan, Erica Werner and Seung Min Kim, Feb. 2, 2019 (print edition). Senate Republicans are divided about a national emergency, with several concerned about the precedent. The Senate majority leader told the president the move could trigger political blowback.

Virginia Politics: Race Scandal

washington post logoWashington Post, Va. Gov. Northam’s medical school yearbook page shows men in blackface, KKK robe, Laura Vozzella, Jim Morrison and Gregory S. Schneider, Feb. 2, 2019 (print edition). A photograph on Gov. Ralph Northam (D)’s medical school yearbook page shows a man wearing blackface next to another person in a Ku Klux Klan robe. The image is in a 1984 yearbook from Eastern Virginia Medical School on a page with other photos of Northam and personal information about the future governor.

ralph northam CustomNortham, a pediatric neurologist, graduated from the Norfolk medical school in 1984 after earlier graduating from Virginia Military Institute.

The page is labeled Ralph Shearer Northam, along with pictures of him in a jacket and tie, casual clothes and alongside his restored Corvette.

It shows two people, one in plaid pants, bow tie and black faced, and the other in full Klan robes. Both men appear to be holding beer cans.

democratic donkey logoThe person in black face is smiling. Beneath the photo is a writeup about Northam listing his alma mater, noting that his interest is pediatrics and giving a quote: “There are more old drunks than old doctors in this world so I think I’ll have another beer.”

Jack Wilson, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia said that if Northam had dressed in either blackface or a KKK robe, he should step down. The yearbook image was first posted Friday by the website Big League Politics, a conservative outlet founded by Patrick Howley, a former writer for the Daily Caller and Breitbart.

washington post logoWashington Post, Northam says he’s ‘deeply sorry’ for ‘racist’ photo; some call for him to resign, Laura Vozzella, Jim Morrison and Gregory S. Schneider, Feb. 1, 2019. The image was in a 1984 yearbook from Eastern Virginia Medical School. In a statement, the Democratic Virginia governor said, “I recognize that it will take time and serious effort toheal the damage this conduct has caused.”

Trump White House djt intel team jan 31 2019

washington post logoWashington Post, After ridiculing spy chiefs, Trump claims the media fabricated a conflict, Shane Harris, Feb. 1, 2019. The president (shown in a White House photo with leaders from the intelligence communicty, including CIA Director Gina Haspel, center) said that intelligence officials were “misquoted” after a televised Senate hearing and that they were “on the same page” on Iran, North Korea and other security threats.

ronnie jacksonPalmer Report, Opinion: The real reason Donald Trump just brought the Dr. Ronny Jackson disaster back to the forefront, Bill Palmer, Feb. 2, 2019. Last year Donald Trump’s personal military physician, Admiral Ronny Jackson, right, made the laugh-out-loud false claim that Trump only weighed 239 pounds. Trump then tried to reward Jackson’s dishonesty by nominating him to run the VA. This led to a number of ugly allegations surfacing about Jackson, prompting him to withdraw from the nomination and cease being Trump’s primary doctor. Now Trump is dragging Jackson into the forefront again.

bill palmer report logo headerIf you recall, various people accused Dr. Ronny Jackson of being an out of control drunk and harasser of women, along with illegally handing out prescription drugs like candy to people in the Trump White House. These allegations were never proven or disproven, at least in public view, because Jackson withdrew his name before things could progress any further. But now we’re learning that the military is still investigating the allegations against Jackson – and this has somehow prompted Trump to come out swinging in his favor.

Jackson is under consideration to receive an additional Admiral star, which has become controversial because of the allegations and ongoing investigation. But Donald Trump is demanding that Jackson receive the honor, ad he’s also decided to reinstate Jackson as his chief medical advisor, according to CNN and other major news outlets. It’s not clear why Trump is choosing to reignite this old and forgotten scandal at this time, but we have our theories.

One possibility would be that Donald Trump fears the ongoing investigation will expose that Ronny Jackson was giving him improper prescription drugs, and so he’s trying to shield Jackson from the investigation. Another possibility would be that Trump has decided he needs a new false medical report, and Jackson is the only guy he knows who’s willing to do it. The question would be what Trump wants Jackson to falsely say about him this time. Is he looking to have Jackson declare him mentally unfit, so he can mount an insanity defense at his increasingly inevitable criminal trial?

Feb. 1

Inside DC

washington post logomike pompeo portraitWashington Post, U.S. to withdraw from nuclear arms control treaty with Russia, Anne Gearan and Carol Morello​, Feb. 1, 2019. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, said the Trump administration was pulling out of the Cold War agreement on grounds that Russian violations render it moot.

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Calls Border Talks a ‘Waste of Time’ and Dismisses Investigations, Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman, Feb. 1, 2019 (print edition). A defiant President Trump declared on Thursday that he has all but given up on negotiating with Congress over his border wall and will build it on his own even as he dismissed any suggestions of wrongdoing in the investigations that have ensnared his associates.

In an interview in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump called the talks “a waste of time” and indicated he will most likely take action on his own when they officially end in two weeks. At the same time, he expressed optimism about reaching a trade deal with China and denied being at odds with his intelligence chiefs.

djt handwave file“I think Nancy Pelosi is hurting our country very badly by doing what she’s doing and, ultimately, I think I’ve set the table very nicely,” Mr. Trump said. He made no mention of closing the government again, a move that backfired on him, but instead suggested he plans to declare a national emergency to build the wall. “I’ve set the table,” he said. “I’ve set the stage for doing what I’m going to do.”

Addressing a wide range of subjects, Mr. Trump (shown in a file photo) brushed off the investigations that have consumed so much of his presidency, saying that his lawyers have been reassured by the departing deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, that the president himself was not a target. “He told the attorneys that I’m not a subject, I’m not a target,” Mr. Trump said. But even if that is the case, it remains unknown whether the matter would be referred to the House for possible impeachment hearings.

U.S. Media / Politics

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Discusses Claims of ‘Fake News’ With Times’s Publisher, Michael M. Grynbaum, Feb. 1, 2019. A.G. Sulzberger asked the president to curb his anti-press rhetoric. Mr. Trump replied with a request for “a great story, just one” from The Times.

 washington post logoWashington Post, The Newseum was a grand tribute to the power of journalism. Here’s what went wrong, Peggy McGlone and Manuel Roig-Franzia, Feb. 1, 2019. The museum has been weighted down by debt and beset by management upheaval, and its downfall has long been foretold, but it is still a gut punch to an industry labeled the “enemy of the people” by President Trump and struggling with digital-era troubles.

U.S. Politics

washington post logoWashington Post, After chatting with Trump, Foxconn says it will build U.S. factory after all, Danielle Paquette, Feb. 1, 2019. Two days after the Taiwanese tech manufacturer said it no longer planned to build a sprawling new factory in Wisconsin, the company appears to have reversed course, citing a “personal conversation” with President Trump.

U.S. Justice System

washington post logoWashington Post, Marines falsely accused of war crimes 12 years ago finally get vindication, Andrew deGrandpre, Feb. 1, 2019 (print edition). Fred Galvin and six other Marines were smeared by a Taliban lie that was amplified by senior U.S. officers. Now Galvin’s permanent record will be wiped clean, an extraordinary affirmation of his claim that their reputations were destroyed by the military’s effort to imprison the men.

Mueller Probe: Stone Hearing

washington post logoWashington Post, Judge in Roger Stone case warns she might impose gag order, Spencer S. Hsu, Paul Duggan and Matt Zapotosky, Feb. 1, 2019. The federal judge overseeing the criminal case against longtime Trump friend Roger Stone said Friday she is considering whether to impose a gag order after Stone went on a week-long media blitz to discuss the allegations against him.

amy berman jacksonU.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, left, told prosecutors and Stone’s attorneys to file any opposition to such a directive by next Friday. Stone, a political operative who relishes media attention, has said he worries about a possible gag order because his career is in speaking and writing.

Jackson’s comment came as Stone returned to federal court in Washington on Friday for a scheduling hearing after pleading not guilty this week to charges in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

roger stone mirror portrait SmallThe judge said that Stone might have been justified in making his position clear after his arrest but added that she needed to ensure he received a fair trial.

“This is a criminal proceeding, not a public-relations campaign,” Jackson said, threatening to cut off public comments by parties and attorneys about the case. “I believe it’s better for counsel and parties to do their talking in pleadings, not on courthouse steps, not on the talk show circuit.”

Stone, 66 (shown in a file photo), a longtime GOP operative and self-described “dirty trickster,” entered Courtroom 3 wearing a charcoal gray suit with broad pinstripes and a billowing paisley pocket square. He sat with two lawyers to his right at the defendant’s table.

Stone is charged with lying about his efforts to gather information concerning hacked Democratic Party emails that were published by the WikiLeaks organization. Stone has pleaded not guilty and vowed to fight the charges.

A gag order would not be entirely surprising; Jackson issued such a directive during Mueller’s prosecution of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, which was a similarly high-profile case. But muzzling Stone might be more consequential.

Trump Watch

Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), Opinion: Trump and the Tropical Trump, partners in crime, Feb. 1, 2019. Trump and the "Tropical Trump" -- partners in crime Donald Trump and Brazil's new far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro -- nicknamed the "Tropical Trump" -- appear to have more than fascist- and racist-oriented politics in common.