(Note that NONE OF THIS IS APRIL FOOLS' DAY ANYTHING. Horribly, freakishly, this is all real.)
Let's pick up with the Russian election subversion.
"Trump’s White House struggles to get out from under Russia controversy" is probably the understatement of the year so far. And a bad headline for a bad article, given that it kind of treats all this as political, but that's kind of why I'm including it. "Did Russia Help Trump Win the Primary? Marco Rubio Deliberately 'Sidelined,' Senate Investigation Told" has piqued Marco Rubio's interest, for whatever that's worth.
But the big question at the moment is Flynn. "Could Michael Flynn Turn on Trump?" Not yet, he's not. "Chaffetz: Flynn's request for immunity 'very mysterious'"? Perhaps. I like the analysis in "Why Michael Flynn may be seeking immunity," and I, too, immediately went to the Ollie North fiasco - wherein Ollie North's grant of immunity was key in the Reagan administration getting away with treason in Iran-Contra. Keep that in mind when considering any support for immunity for Flynn. Nonetheless, "The Trump White House is in deep legal trouble, according to Trump’s own standards." Also Flynn's, by his own pre-election statements. "Rachel Maddow Explains How Mike Pence Is Going To Go Down With Trump For Russia Scandal" reminds us of how completely nonsensical Mike Pence's "I had no idea!" response to Flynn being a foreign agent actually is. Thankfully, so far, "Senate Intelligence Committee Denies Immunity To Michael Flynn In Russia Probe." And Maxine Waters asks, "Republicans: Where are the Patriots?" Ask the Republicans who supported Reagan through Iran-Contra, and Nixon's sabotage of Vietnam peace talks in 1968. Once is an accident, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action.
"Lisa Desjardins breaks down the financial connections between President Trump, the people around him and Russia." It's a fairly short runthrough. "Trump won't reveal his taxes, so Congress should change the way presidents report their finances" writes a Republican lawyer.
"I saw what happens when a U.S. president lets Vladimir Putin get away with murder. His name was Barack Obama." is from a former president of the Republic of Georgia. A bit of a ... not a counterpoint, because he thinks Trump is far worse. But there you are.
Not that it helps that State has been being gutted. "Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spends his first weeks isolated from an anxious bureaucracy" - wherein staffers are reportedly told not to talk to him or even make eye contact. BECAUSE EYE CONTACT. WHAT.
Because hopping christ on a hairy pogo stick it's an administration made ENTIRELY OF STEROIDAL BABOONS doing NOTHING but APE GRUNT BIGGER DICK HORSESHIT apparently.
Sorry. (Not sorry.)
Fuck, where were we? Subversion or corruption, subversion or corruption? Subversion? Sure. "Betsy DeVos’s Brother, The Founder Of Blackwater, Is Setting Up A Private Army For China, Sources Say." Erik Prince says it's not really military, it's private security. Military-type private security. Like, a private army. But not military.
And, about as promised, "President Trump's Middle East Policy Consists of Bombing People."
Corruption! HHS secretary "Price intervened on rule affecting drug profits the same day he got drug stocks: report." AWESOME! More complete version of the story: "Tom Price Intervened on Rule That Would Hurt Drug Profits, the Same Day He Acquired Drug Stock."
What _should_ be administration-ending news - "Trump University Suit Settlement Approved by Judge" ($25 million payout for fraud) - goes nicely in parallel with "Trump’s Administration Is Making It Easier for For-Profit Colleges to Screw Over More Students."
Scientific American: "Republicans Want to Destroy Our National Parks. It's Up to Us to Save Them" is a call to protest. "Judge halts shutdown of last Kentucky abortion clinic" is our only old-school culture-war element today.
Locally, we have "Free press? State hits tiny paper with pricey lawsuit after it seeks public records" [Note: despite being the Seattle Times, this story is about Oregon, and involves a question of medical records] and, in the _one_ piece of good news here, Washington State "AG sues Tim Eyman for $2M, says he profited from campaigns." For those not from here, Tim Eyman is an anti-government-funding/anti-tax activist who has made a career in-state of running a for-profit company which does nothing but run rightist initiative campaigns. His signature gatherers are generally well paid, there has been fraud, almost all of his initiatives get ruled unconstitutional even if they pass, but various usual suspects - and some local people - keep funding him. He's also been busted - successfully - for spending campaign funds on personal expenses before, so _this ain't new_. Last time hurt him; hopefully this time will too.
Good luck out there.
----- 1 -----
Trump’s White House struggles to get out from under Russia controversy
By David Nakamura and Ashley Parker | The Washington Post | 31 March 2017
President Trump entered his 11th week in office Friday in crisis mode, his governing agenda at risk of being subsumed by escalating questions about the White House’s conduct in the Russia probe — which the president called a “witch hunt.”
Trump and his senior aides spent much of the day on the defensive, parrying the latest reports that senior administration officials had potentially acted improperly in the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Moscow’s meddling in the U.S. elections and possible links between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer defended the actions of three senior White House aides who, according to media reports, helped facilitate the visit of the committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), to the White House grounds last week to view classified intelligence documents.
For the White House, it was another chaotic day in which its attempt to regain control of the political conversation — this time through two executive orders on trade — was relegated to an afterthought in Washington.
On Thursday, the administration announced its first major staff adjustment, with Deputy Chief of Staff Katie Walsh leaving to oversee an outside political group that supports the president’s agenda.
The official explanation was that after the health-care bill’s collapse, Walsh realized she could be of more value to the White House from the outside, helping guide a pro-Trump group that has provided almost no air cover for the president or his agenda.
But Walsh, one of the few top women in the West Wing, was never a likely fit in the Trump administration. A longtime confidante of Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who had served as the Republican National Committee chairman, Walsh viewed Trump with skepticism throughout much of the campaign. And, in return, she was treated with suspicion by Trump loyalists who distrusted her background in mainstream Republican Party politics and thought she leaked information to the press, according to several administration officials.
----- 2 -----
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spends his first weeks isolated from an anxious bureaucracy
By Anne Gearan and Carol Morello | The Washington Post | March 30, 2017
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson takes a private elevator to his palatial office on the seventh floor of the State Department building, where sightings of him are rare on the floors below.
On many days, he blocks out several hours on his schedule as “reading time,” when he is cloistered in his office poring over the memos he prefers ahead of in-person meetings.
Most of his interactions are with an insular circle of political aides who are new to the State Department. Many career diplomats say they still have not met him, and some have been instructed not to speak to him directly — or even make eye contact.
On his first three foreign trips, Tillerson skipped visits with State Department employees and their families, embassy stops that were standard morale-boosters under other secretaries of state.
----- 3 -----
Did Russia Help Trump Win the Primary? Marco Rubio Deliberately 'Sidelined,' Senate Investigation Told
By Jason Le Miere | Newsweek | 3/30/17
Russia not only worked to help President Donald Trump win the presidential election over Hillary Clinton last November, it also aided his victory in the Republican primary, the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating the allegations of Kremlin meddling was told Thursday.
Clinton Watts, a senior fellow at the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at The George Washington University, told the investigation that Russia worked to undermine the campaigns of both Republican and Democratic candidates who held less favorable views toward Russia, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
“Russia’s overt media outlets and covert trolls sought to sideline opponents on both sides of the political spectrum with adversarial views toward the Kremlin,” Watts said. “They were in full swing during both the Republican and Democratic primary seasons and may have helped sink the hopes of candidates more hostile to Russian interests, long before the field narrowed.
“Senator Rubio, in my opinion, you anecdotally suffered from these measures.”
----- 4 -----
Could Michael Flynn Turn on Trump?
By Ryan Lizza | The New Yorker | March 31, 2017
“I’ve seen the transcript,” a Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee told me recently. “It was explained to us. I don’t know why Flynn did it.” The congressman was talking about a conversation that took place in late December between Michael Flynn, then Trump’s incoming national-security adviser, and the Russian Ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. He noted that he didn’t know why Flynn had discussed sanctions with Kislyak, and wasn’t sure whether he had crossed any legal or ethical lines.
Flynn’s conversation with Kislyak is now at the center of F.B.I. and congressional investigations into Russian interference in the Presidential election, which are seeking to determine whether there was coördination between Russia and the Trump campaign. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Flynn is seeking immunity from the Justice Department and the House and Senate committees in return for his coöperation and testimony. “Gen. Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit,” Flynn’s lawyer, Robert Kelner, said in a statement. (It’s notable that Flynn chose to be represented by Kelner, a self-described #NeverTrump Republican who voted for the independent candidate Evan McMullin.)
I asked the Republican congressman if he believed that Flynn did anything illegal in the phone call, in which Flynn discussed actions taken the same day by the Obama Administration. A rarely enforced eighteenth-century law known as the Logan Act makes it illegal to “influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government” or “defeat the measures of the United States” in disputes with an adversary. “That’s open to question,” the Republican congressman told me.
If a former high-ranking official like Flynn is offered immunity, it generally means he can offer up a bigger fish. “The problem with being high up in government is that there are few people higher for the purposes of targeting,” the legal scholar Jonathan Turley noted today on his blog. “People get immunity to incriminate the Flynns of the world. With the exception of the President himself, it is hard to see who Flynn could offer as a possible target in exchange for his own immunity.”
----- 5 -----
Trump won't reveal his taxes, so Congress should change the way presidents report their finances
By Richard W. Painter | The Los Angeles Times Op-Ed | 31 March 2017
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing on government transparency last week. On the agenda: bills that put government data into more accessible, readable formats; that subject mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to Freedom of Information Act requests; and that require an audit of the Federal Reserve.
These are fine ideas, but none comes close to dealing with the lack of transparency at the top of our democracy.
Although we know that Russia tried to help put President Trump in power through a sophisticated computer hacking operation, and that the FBI has information suggesting some of Trump's campaign operatives may have collaborated with the Russians, we still do not have even the most basic information about the president’s or the Trump Organization’s financial dealings with the Russians or with any other foreign power.
The reason for this is simple — the president has not released his tax returns. He doesn’t have to; there’s no law forcing his hand, although every other president since the 1970s has done so. As a candidate, Trump filled out Form 278, which is a financial disclosure statement that presidents, candidates for president and other senior executive branch officials must file annually. But Form 278 alone, without Trump’s tax returns and given his refusal to truly divest from his businesses, isn’t sufficient to do the disclosure job.
----- 6 -----
Rachel Maddow Explains How Mike Pence Is Going To Go Down With Trump For Russia Scandal
By Jason Easley on Thu, Mar 30th, 2017
[I'm only linking this because it has the video, and a partial relevant transcript. But the whole video is relevant; it's two and a half minutes long.]
Mike Pence had been the head of the Trump transition. As such, he would have been intimately involved with the selection and vetting process for a job as important as national security adviser. Nevertheless, Vice President Mike Pence has professed absolute ignorance of any of the scandals of any of the foreign payments, contacts and all the rest of it surrounding Mike Flynn. Pence was the leader of the transition. As leader of the transition, he was notified in writing by members of Congress about Flynn’s apparent financial ties to the government of Turkey. The transition was also apparently notified twice by Flynn’s own lawyers about his financial relationship with the government of Turkey, but nevertheless, Vice President Mike Pence says he has no idea about any of that.
Vice President Mike Pence claims he had absolutely no idea about that despite him being notified about on the record multiple times and it being a matter of considerable public discussion. Mike Pence’s role in the Mike Flynn scandal is flashing like a red beacon for anyone who sees him as the normal Republican in this setting.
----- 7 -----
Price intervened on rule affecting drug profits the same day he got drug stocks: report
By Nikita Vladimirov - The Hill - 03/31/17
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, while serving as a Georgia congressman, sought to intervene on a rule that would have hurt drug profits and driven down share prices the same day he purchased drug stocks, ProPublica reported Friday.
According to records examined by the outlet, Price's broker bought up to $90,000 worth of stock in six pharmaceutical companies last year, including companies Eli Lilly, Amgen, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, McKesson, Pfizer and Biogen.
According to ProPublica, Price legislative aide Carla DiBlasio emailed health officials on the same day as the stock purchase in an attempt to set up a call with Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services chief medical officer Patrick Conway.
----- 8 -----
Tom Price Intervened on Rule That Would Hurt Drug Profits, the Same Day He Acquired Drug Stock
While in Congress, HHS Secretary Tom Price acted to help kill a rule that would hurt drug company profits shortly after his broker bought him up to $90,000 worth of pharmaceutical stock.
by Robert Faturechi | ProPublica, March 31, 2017, 2:46 p.m.
On the same day the stockbroker for then-Georgia Congressman Tom Price bought him up to $90,000 of stock in six pharmaceutical companies last year, Price arranged to call a top U.S. health official, seeking to scuttle a controversial rule that could have hurt the firms’ profits and driven down their share prices, records obtained by ProPublica show.
Stock trades made by Price while he served in Congress came under scrutiny at his confirmation hearings to become President Trump’s secretary of health and human services. The lawmaker, a physician, traded hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of shares in health-related companies while he voted on and sponsored legislation affecting the industry, but Price has said his broker acted on his behalf without his involvement or knowledge. ProPublica previously reported that his trading is said to have been under investigation by federal prosecutors.
On March 17, 2016, Price’s broker purchased shares worth between $1,000 and $15,000 each in Eli Lilly, Amgen, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, McKesson, Pfizer and Biogen. Previous reports have noted that, a month later, Price was among lawmakers from both parties who signed onto a bill that would have blocked a rule proposed by the Obama administration, which was intended to remove the incentive for doctors to prescribe expensive drugs that don’t necessarily improve patient outcomes.
What hasn’t been previously known is Price’s personal appeal to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services about the rule, called the Medicare Part B Drug Payment Model.
The same day as the stock trade, Price’s legislative aide, Carla DiBlasio, emailed health officials to follow up on a request she had made to set up a call with Patrick Conway, the agency’s chief medical officer. In her earlier emails, DiBlasio said the call would focus on payments for joint replacement procedures. But that day, she mentioned a new issue.
“Chairman Price may briefly bring up ... his concerns about the new Part B drug demo, as well,” she wrote. “Congressman Price really appreciates the opportunity to have an open conversation with Dr. Conway, so we really appreciate you keeping the lines of communication open.”
----- 9 -----
Trump’s Administration Is Making It Easier for For-Profit Colleges to Screw Over More Students
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has already picked a for-profit college official for her team—are more to come?
By Michelle Chen | The Nation | 31 March 2017
Remember when candidate Trump promised to make college affordable for everyone? Yeah, that’s not happening.
Instead, Trump is turning to the notorious corporateers who have been pouring McDiplomas on the nation’s steaming trillion-dollar student debt pyre to shake up higher education.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s controversial pick for a special assistant—for-profit college corporate lawyer Robert Eitel, may be a portent. As counsel for Bridgepoint, the parent company of the now-tainted brands of Ashford University and University of the Rockies, was forced by the Obama administration last year to pay $24 million in tuition, private debt costs, and civil damages to students after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that its heavy marketing scheme for its online programs, and “deceived its students into taking out loans that cost more than advertised.”
Bridgepoint is just one player in a sector of for-profit institutions that are known for exploiting millions in federal loans and grants, providing substandard academics and granting worthless diplomas. While many companies were reined in by regulators under Obama, the industry as a whole has survived, and is now poised for revival under Trump. In fact, even those companies penalized for defrauding students have not been held fully accountable over federal student debts; Bridgepoint’s sanction, for example, did not encompass federal loans, even though graduates are typically chained to about $33,000 in taxpayer-subsidized debt.
----- 10 -----
Trump University Suit Settlement Approved by Judge
By STEVE EDER and JENNIFER MEDINA | The New York Times | MARCH 31, 2017
A federal judge on Friday gave final approval to a $25 million agreement to settle fraud claims arising from Donald J. Trump’s for-profit education venture, Trump University, rejecting a last-minute objection to the deal.
The judge, Gonzalo P. Curiel, in San Diego, issued his order after considering a challenge from Sherri Simpson, a former Trump University student from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., whose lawyers say she should have had a chance to opt out of the class-action settlement and individually sue President Trump, perhaps forcing a trial.
The civil settlement was not enough for Ms. Simpson, who wanted to see Mr. Trump tried on criminal racketeering charges. She also wanted an apology.
But Judge Curiel, in his ruling, sided with the class-action plaintiffs’ lawyers, who had urged him to approve the agreement, saying it was the best possible outcome for roughly 3,730 students. They could recoup more than 90 cents on the dollar of what they spent at Trump University.
“The court finds that the amount offered in settlement is fair, adequate, and reasonable, and accordingly concludes that this factor weighs in favor of final approval,” wrote Judge Curiel, who approved the agreement and dismissed the objection in a 31-page order. It is subject to appeal.
----- 11 -----
The Trump White House is in deep legal trouble, according to Trump’s own standards
By Aaron Blake | The Washington Post | March 31, 2017
President Trump on Friday urged his former top adviser, Michael Flynn, to seek an immunity deal from Congress, after news broke late Thursday that Flynn was seeking such a deal. Trump said Flynn should cut a deal because the entire thing is “a witch hunt” that ostensibly won't lead anywhere.
Trump used to have a very different take on immunity deals.
It wasn't long ago that Trump seemed to believe such deals signaled guilt and were a very bad thing for a certain presidential candidate.
And here's Trump in late September: “The reason they get immunity is because they did something wrong. If they didn't do anything wrong, they don't think in terms of immunity. Five people. Folks, I'm telling you: Nobody's seen anything like this in our country's history.”
----- 12 -----
After Just Ten Weeks, Trump Teeters on the Brink
by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann | NBC News | 31 March 2017
Just 10 weeks on the job, President Trump's approval rating is stuck in the 30s and 40s. His health-care effort failed. The travel ban is tied up in courts. Congress and the FBI are investigating his campaign's possible links to Russia. He's calling out fellow Republicans for failing to help him on health care. His White House tried to cover up (for a while at least) his aides providing information to House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes. And now his ousted national security adviser says he'll cooperate with the FBI and Congress in exchange for immunity.
Any one of these stories would ensnare a presidency in a crisis. But you add up these seven storylines above — we're sure we're leaving others out — and it's unsustainable. Conservative commentators are already hitting the panic button. "Crisis reveals the character, the essential nature of a White House. Seventy days in, that is my worry," Peggy Noonan writes in the Wall Street Journal. Adds former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson: "This is a pretty bad combination: empty, easily distracted, vindictive, shallow, impatient, incompetent and morally small. This is not the profile of a governing party." This is a presidency on the brink of a free-fall, and it has to start repairing the damage on all of these fronts — popularity, the agenda, congressional relations, Russia, Flynn.
----- 13 -----
Betsy DeVos’s Brother, The Founder Of Blackwater, Is Setting Up A Private Army For China, Sources Say
The controversial Blackwater founder says he is setting up two bases in China, but his company says “this does not involve armed personnel.”
Aram Roston | BuzzFeed News Reporter
Erik Prince — founder of the private military company Blackwater, financial backer of President Donald Trump, brother to the new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and frequent Breitbart radio guest of White House power broker Stephen Bannon — has been offering his military expertise to support Chinese government objectives and setting up two Blackwater-style training camps in China, according to sources and his own company statements.
The move could put him at odds with Trump, who has often taken a hard line against China, and could also risk violating US law, which prohibits the export of military services or equipment to China.
Former associates of the 47-year-old Prince told BuzzFeed News that the controversial businessman envisions using the bases to train and deploy an army of Chinese retired soldiers who can protect Chinese corporate and government strategic interests around the world, without having to involve the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.
In December, Frontier Services Group, of which Prince is chairman, issued a press release that outlined plans to open “a forward operating base in China’s Yunnan province” and another in the troubled Xinjiang region, home to the mostly Muslim Uighur minority.
“He’s been working very, very hard to get China to buy into a new Blackwater,” said one former associate. “He’s hell bent on reclaiming his position as the world’s preeminent private military provider.”
----- 14 -----
When America Toes Moscow’s Line
I saw what happens when a U.S. president lets Vladimir Putin get away with murder. His name was Barack Obama.
By Mikheil Saakashvili
March 31, 2017
For someone with personal experience of Russian harassment and full-blown military attack, it is hard to observe the recent debate in the United States about Russian meddling with merely an academic interest. As the president of Georgia from 2004 to 2013, I saw firsthand how Russia treats its neighbors—and now Americans are getting a small taste of what former Soviet states have experienced for decades.
It’s quite a turn of events, because since the end of World War II, every step taken by United States has had direct implications for the well-being and even the existence of countries around Russia. In August 2008, Russian troops headed toward Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, were stopped by the somehow belated but still powerful intervention of the George W. Bush administration, which made very clear to the Russians that Washington would not tolerate the full occupation of Georgia and the overthrow of its democratically elected government.
Back then, President Bush sent several ships from the U.S. Sixth Fleet to Georgia to provide humanitarian relief—and to send an unmistakable signal to Moscow: Don’t push it. And when Turkish authorities created certain bureaucratic obstacles to passing through the Bosphorus, the commander of the Sixth Fleet told them that he would go through with or without documents since it was an order of the U.S. president. I believe Bush’s bold actions spared the full annihilation of the Georgian state and restored U.S. credibility after Russia dared to invade its pro-American neighbor. Kremlin strongman Vladimir Putin got the message loud and clear.
From the very beginning, Barack Obama’s administration behaved rather differently. U.S. officials made it very clear that nobody should expect the United States to act the way Bush acted in 2008. Many in the new administration were convinced that Russia’s invasion was in fact the result of a Georgian provocation designed to help John McCain to win the U.S. presidential election, some in the White House told us. From day one, the Obama administration saw relations with Russia’s neighbors through the eyes of Moscow, introducing, for instance, a de facto arms embargo in Georgia. And in March 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov pushed the reset button in the misguided hope that the Kremlin would become more cooperative. Watching this, the leader of one of Russia’s neighbors told me he had a feeling the two were trying to kill us off like some annoying flies.
----- 15 -----
Lisa Desjardins breaks down the financial connections between President Trump, the people around him and Russia
PBS News Hour | 31 March 2017
[This is video]
----- 16 -----
Obama Officials Made List of Russia Probe Documents to Keep Them Safe
by Richard Greenberg | NBC News | 31 March 2017
Obama administration officials were so concerned about what would happen to key classified documents related to the Russia probe once President Trump took office that they created a list of document serial numbers to give to senior members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, a former Obama official told NBC News.
The official said that after the list of documents related to the probe into Russian interference in the U.S. election was created in early January, he hand-carried it to the committee members. The numbers themselves were not classified, said the official.
The purpose, said the official, was to make it "harder to bury" the information, "to share it with those on the Hill who could lawfully see the documents," and to make sure it could reside in an Intelligence committee safe, "not just at Langley [CIA hq]."
----- 17 -----
Trump walked out of an executive order signing ceremony without having signed the executive orders
Politico | 31 March 2017 | Video on twitter
----- 18 -----
Republicans Want to Destroy Our National Parks. It's Up to Us to Save Them
You can protect our public lands. Here's how
By Dana Hunter on March 31, 2017 | Scientific American
Since the election, Republicans in Congress have launched a sustained attack on America's national parks and public lands. Starting in January, they wasted no time putting in place new rules and legislation that threaten the future of our national treasures. They launched their assault on their very first day in session, and haven't stopped.
Republicans are determined to place our public lands in corporate hands, and Trump is happy to help them. So it's up to us. If you've ever loved our national parks, if you've ever enjoyed the wildlife in federal refuges, if you've ever taken your family to explore our heritage at national historic sites, now's the time for you to act.
----- 19 -----
President Trump's Middle East Policy Consists of Bombing People
Why are we aimlessly blowing stuff up?
By Charles P. Pierce | Esquire | Mar 30, 2017
You know, if I hadn't been convinced by very smart people that Hillary Rodham Clinton was the warmonger in last year's presidential campaign, and by other very smart people that Donald Trump was a non-interventionist America-First-Morris-Hillquit-For-The-New-Millennium kind of guy, I'd swear this administration is following a policy in the Middle East that would get Paul Wolfowitz and the rest of the neocon establishment all hot and bothered.
A summary, courtesy of The New York Times:
"The United States launched more airstrikes in Yemen this month than during all of last year. In Syria, it has airlifted local forces to front-line positions and has been accused of killing civilians in airstrikes. In Iraq, American troops and aircraft are central in supporting an urban offensive in Mosul, where airstrikes killed scores of people on March 17. Two months after the inauguration of President Trump, indications are mounting that the United States military is deepening its involvement in a string of complex wars in the Middle East that lack clear endgames."
Two, three, many Vietnams!
This would be alarming even if I believed that the guy in the White House knew the difference between Mosul and Miami Beach, which I do not believe he does. Part and parcel of electing somebody who doesn't know dick about anything, and thinks he knows everything about everything, is that you wind up with a president who, through sheer ignorance and/or embarrassment, lets everybody below him do anything they want. So far, that's led to catastrophic consequences for the people in whose countries we are presently making war.
----- 20 -----
Chaffetz: Flynn's request for immunity 'very mysterious'
By Max Greenwood - 03/31/17 11:40 AM EDT - The Hill
House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) on Friday questioned former national security adviser Michael Flynn's offer to speak to congressional investigators if granted legal immunity, calling the proposal "very mysterious."
In an interview with Fox News, Chaffetz also chided President Trump's Friday morning tweet in which he defended Flynn's request for immunity and called congressional investigations into his potential ties to Russia a "witch hunt."
"No, I don’t think it’s a witch hunt,” Chaffetz said in the interview. "Look, it’s very mysterious to me, though, why all of a sudden General Flynn is suddenly out there saying he wants immunity.
"I don’t think Congress should give him immunity. If there’s an open investigation by the FBI, that should not happen. I also don’t believe that, actually, that the president should be weighing in on this," he continued. "They’re the ones that actually would prosecute something."
----- 21 -----
Senate Intelligence Committee Denies Immunity To Michael Flynn In Russia Probe
Flynn, the former national security adviser, has hired an anti-Trump lawyer to represent him.
By Amanda Terkel | The Huffington Post | 31 March 2017
WASHINGTON ― Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, once one of President Donald Trump’s strongest supporters and then his national security adviser, is scrambling to save himself from prosecution in exchange for telling Congress what he knows about Russia’s involvement in the 2016 elections. And to do so, he has hired a lawyer who has been a vocal opponent of Trump.
“General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit,” Flynn’s lawyer, Robert Kelner, said in a statement on Thursday evening.
NBC reported Friday that the Senate Intelligence Committee turned down Flynn’s request for immunity, telling Kelner it was “wildly preliminary” and “not on the table” at this time. The Huffington Post confirmed the report with a Senate staffer. The committee declined to comment.
Kelner tried to tamp down speculation that Flynn might have done something that opens him up to charges, saying in his statement, “No reasonable person, who has the benefit of advice from counsel, would submit to questioning in such a highly politicized, witch hunt environment without assurances against unfair prosecution.”
Flynn’s hiring of Kelner is notable. Kelner was an outspoken opponent of Trump during the campaign, questioning his campaign’s ties to Russia, among other matters.
----- 22 -----
Why Michael Flynn may be seeking immunity
By Philip Bump | The Washington Post | March 31, 2017
Remember: Defense attorneys generally are quick to advise clients not to talk to prosecutors at all. That Flynn’s attorney publicly demonstrated his willingness to “tell his story” under the cover of immunity gives us a hint of what the strategy might be. As Alex Whiting also noted at the blog Just Security, Flynn’s attorney may be hoping that Congress, not prosecutors, grant him immunity before he tells them anything. Congress can’t make Flynn immune from prosecution, but lawmakers can make his testimony immune from being used against him — as has famously been done in the past.
In 1990, a federal appeals court vacated three convictions against Oliver North, a former Reagan administration official who had been caught in the Iran-contra scandal several years earlier. Convicted of bribery, destruction of documents and obstructing a congressional inquiry, he received a suspended sentence. Those convictions were overturned, however, because North had been granted immunity for his testimony before Congress as part of its investigation into the scandal. While that testimony wasn’t used as part of North’s criminal prosecution, the court determined that it may have tainted the evidence that was included. In 1991, the convictions were thrown out.
“Everyone familiar with these proceedings has recognized the difficulties presented by the grant of immunity by Congress,” prosecutor Lawrence Walsh told the New York Times when the appeals court decision was announced.
Flynn’s attorney may be hoping to do the same thing. Get a blanket immunity from a congressional committee. Tell the committee what you know, which may or may not be anything of any significance. Let that immunity then muddy the waters around any criminal inquiry. Since the North incident, Bussert said he wasn’t aware of any fixes that could prevent the same thing from happening again — after all, we’re talking about two independent branches of government. “Strategically,” he said, “it makes sense.”
----- 23 -----
Republicans: Where are the Patriots?
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) | 31 March 2017
Please read my op-ed concerning the latest developments in the #Trumprussia investigation.
[Attachments are images of text]
----- 24 -----
Judge halts shutdown of last Kentucky abortion clinic
Dylan Lovan, Associated Press | Updated 2:48 pm, Friday, March 31, 2017
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A federal judge has halted the impending shutdown of the only clinic in Kentucky that performs abortions.
U.S. District Judge Greg Stivers issued a restraining order Friday that prevents Kentucky officials from revoking the license of the EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville.
Stivers said in his ruling that the clinic demonstrated its patients "would be immediately and irreparably harmed" without the court's order. The temporary restraining order expires in two weeks.
----- 25 -----
Free press? State hits tiny paper with pricey lawsuit after it seeks public records
Danny Westneat / Columnist | The Seattle Times | Originally published March 31, 2017 at 9:03 pm
Les Zaitz says he’s got more pressing matters to attend to than being sued by the government.
“We’re out here trying to cover the onion harvest,” he told me by phone Friday from deep eastern Oregon. “We’ve got Easter egg rolls coming up.”
Zaitz is editor and publisher of the Malheur Enterprise, a 1,400-circulation weekly in Vale, Oregon. The town’s an old stop on the Oregon Trail up against the Idaho border. The paper is one of those little community weeklies that have been struggling all over the country, victims of tectonic shifts in tastes and business models.
Now this one’s also got $400-an-hour taxpayer-financed attorneys to reckon with.
The tiny weekly was sued this past week by a state agency. Not because the paper did anything wrong, but because it’s pursuing public records in a horrific murder case of intense interest in the town. The government wants to shield the records, and make the paper pay its court costs and any “additional relief as this court deems just and proper.”
“They want to hide these public records from the public, which I’m used to dealing with,” Zaitz said. “But what really got me is that they want us to pay them for hiding the records.
“We’re this teensy paper in the poorest county in Oregon. I’m faced with potentially bankrupting us over this.”
This is sadly becoming common, which is why I’m highlighting it. With the press weakening, it’s as if governments both big and small can smell blood in the water. Small papers especially have almost no resources to take on cases like this (though I think here they’ve poked the wrong small-town newspaper editor).
----- 26 -----
AG sues Tim Eyman for $2M, says he profited from campaigns
By Joseph O’Sullivan | The Seattle Times | Originally published March 31, 2017
The long-smoldering investigation of Tim Eyman hit a flashpoint Friday as state Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced a $2.1 million lawsuit accusing the anti-tax activist of enriching himself with money donated to initiative campaigns.
The lawsuit also accuses Eyman of spending money donated for one initiative on a different initiative campaign in 2012.
Eyman and Citizen Solutions, a for-profit company, could face at least $1.8 million in penalties over the allegations, Ferguson said.
The attorney general is also asking that Eyman return more than $308,000 donated to the two campaigns, and that the courts restrict his role in future political campaigns.
William Agazarm, an officer of Citizen Solutions, a signature-gathering firm involved in one of the 2012 campaigns, is also named in the lawsuit, as is Eyman’s corporation, Watchdog for Taxpayers.
The Attorney General’s Office filed the suit Friday in Thurston County Superior Court.
In a Seattle news conference, Ferguson accused Eyman of weaving an “elaborate web of unlawful financial transactions” and said Eyman “personally profited” from those transactions.
“These defendants demonstrate contempt for our campaign-finance laws, and they will be held accountable,” the attorney general said.