Solarbird (solarbird) wrote,

  • Mood:

good morning, it's 29 may 2017

I have been rather overwhelmed lately. I apologise for that.

This is a catch-up round of news. I'm not attempting to make it complete, but I think it's a reasonable overview of some of the worst, at least, before this weekend.

----- 1 -----
Suspect in Portland Hate Crime Murders is a Known White Supremacist
by Doug Brown • May 27, 2017 - The Portland Mercury

The man accused of the brutal hate crime slayings of two people at the Hollywood Transit Center on Friday afternoon is a known local white supremacist.

Jeremy Christian, 35, was booked early Saturday morning on two aggravated murder charges, an attempted murder charge, two intimidation (hate crime) charges, and a felon in possession of a restricted weapon charge.

The Portland Police Bureau (PPB) reported that the man "was on the MAX train yelling various remarks that would be best characterized as hate speech toward a variety of ethnicities and religions. At least two of the victims attempted to intervene with the suspect and calm him down. The suspect attacked the men, stabbing three, before leaving the train."

Witnesses told the police that he was harassing two women who appear to be Muslim. One was described as wearing a hijab. One of the men he stabbed died at the scene, one was pronounced dead at a hospital, and one is expected to survive.

Christian is a known right wing extremist and white supremacist. On April 29, Christian showed up to the right-wing "March for Free Speech" on 82nd Avenue in Montavilla with a baseball bat in an attempt to assault left-wing protesters. The bat was quickly confiscated by Portland police officers. He ranted how he was a nihilist. He'd soon yelled racial slurs ("fuck all you n*****s") and gave the Nazi salute throughout the day. He yelled "Hail Vinland" throughout the day.

----- 2 -----
The conservative mind has become diseased
The Washington Post
By Michael Gerson Opinion writer May 25, 2017

To many observers on the left, the initial embrace of Seth Rich
conspiracy theories by conservative media figures was merely a
confirmation of the right’s deformed soul. But for those of us who
remember that Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity were once relatively
mainstream Reaganites, their extended vacation in the fever swamps is
even more disturbing. If once you knew better, the indictment is

The cruel exploitation of the memory of Rich, a Democratic National
Committee staffer who was shot dead last summer, was horrifying and
clarifying. The Hannity right, without evidence, accused Rich rather
than the Russians of leaking damaging DNC emails. In doing so, it has
proved its willingness to credit anything — no matter how obviously
deceptive or toxic — to defend President Trump and harm his opponents.
Even if it means becoming a megaphone for Russian influence.

The basic, human questions are simple. How could conservative media
figures not have felt — felt in their hearts and bones — the God-awful
ickiness of it? How did the genes of generosity and simple humanity get
turned off? Is this insensibility the risk of prolonged exposure to our
radioactive political culture? If so, all of us should stand back a
moment and tend to the health of our revulsion.

But this failure of decency is also politically symbolic. Who is the
politician who legitimized conspiracy thinking at the highest level?
Who raised the possibility that Ted Cruz’s father might have been
involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy? Who hinted that
Hillary Clinton might have been involved in the death of Vince Foster,
or that unnamed liberals might have killed Justice Antonin Scalia? Who
not only questioned President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, but
raised the prospect of the murder of a Hawaiian state official in a
coverup? “How amazing,” Trump tweeted in 2013, “the State Health
Director who verified copies of Obama’s ‘birth certificate’ died in
plane crash today. All others lived.”

----- 3 -----
Republican wins Montana election one night after being charged with assault
By David Weigel and Elise Viebeck May 26, 2017
The Washington Post

BOZEMAN, Mont. — Republican businessman Greg Gianforte won Montana’s
sole House district in a special election Thursday, keeping a seat in
Republican hands despite facing assault charges for allegedly attacking
a reporter who’d asked him about the GOP’s health-care bill.

In his victory speech, Gianforte admitted to the attack and apologized
for it.

“I shouldn’t have treated that reporter that way,” he told supporters
at his rally here.

The victory, called by the Associated Press, offered some relief for
Republicans, who have struggled to sell their Obamacare overhaul, the
American Health Care Act. But it was a closer call than the party had
expected when it tapped the multimillionaire to run in a state
President Trump carried by 20 points — and when Democrats nominated
folk singer Rob Quist instead of an experienced politician. With 83
percent of the vote counted, Gianforte led Quist 51 percent to 44
percent, according to preliminary returns.

Some in the crowd laughed at the mention of the incident. “I made a
mistake,” said Gianforte.

“Not in our minds!” yelled a supporter.

----- 4 -----
Republicans respond with jokes, platitudes after candidate is charged with assault of reporter
Most just admitted they wanted another Republican vote in the House.
Ryan Koronowski - May 25, 2017

Republican politicians and groups are making clear that having another vote in Congress is more important to them than having congressmen who do not physically assault reporters.

On Wednesday night, Montana congressional candidate Greg Gianforte allegedly assaulted Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs after being asked a question about the new Congressional Budget Office score for the House health care bill. Eyewitnesses — Fox News reporters in the room — said that Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck, slammed him to the ground, and began punching him. Jacobs was briefly hospitalized.

Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin, who has actually donated $250 to the Gianforte campaign, announced that night that Gianforte had been charged with misdemeanor assault, which could carry a $500 fine or six months in jail if he is convicted.

Three of Montana’s biggest newspapers — the Billings Gazette, the Missoulian, and the Independent Record —had abruptly pulled their endorsements of Gianforte by early Thursday morning. Gianforte had touted their endorsements on Twitter hours before the alleged assault.

But national and state Republicans have been mostly silent on the status of their prior support of Gianforte — except when they’ve been making jokes or maintaining their support for another Republican vote in the House.

----- 5 -----
The investigation of Jared Kushner fits a very troubling pattern
By Aaron Blake May 25, 2017 | The Washington Post

Jared Kushner has just been revealed as the senior White House adviser who is under investigation in the Russia probe — which is news that comes as little surprise. Indeed, when The Washington Post reported last week that a then-unnamed top Trump adviser was a focus, many quickly assumed it was Kushner.

But while those assumptions were based on his known contacts with Russians and his status as one of few senior White House aides, there's another reason his naming fits the puzzle: He's related to Trump.

Kushner's ability to even work in the White House has been the subject of plenty of debate because he is Trump's son-in-law. (Kushner has made concessions to try and avoid violating a federal anti-nepotism law, including forgoing a paycheck.) And a big reason anti-nepotism laws exist is to avoid the corruption that all too often comes with installing your relatives in positions of power. As any expert on corrupt authoritarian regimes throughout history will tell you, those regimes' wrongdoing will often run through family members with official titles.

It isn't clear what possible crimes might be under investigation, and it's important to emphasize that Kushner hasn't been charged with anything. We don't know where this will lead, if anywhere.

But here's a key part of The Post's story:

In addition to possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election, investigators are also looking broadly into possible financial crimes — but the people familiar with the matter, who were not authorized to speak publicly, did not specify who or what was being examined.

In other words, this isn't just about whether Kushner or anyone else facilitated collusion with Russia during the 2016 campaign; indeed, the two meetings he had with Russians that have been spotlighted actually came in December, after Trump was elected. Federal investigators appear to be cluing on some other potential crimes that may or may not be related to that.

----- 6 -----
AHCA is $874 billion in tax cuts and $119 billion in deficit reduction, financed by a net $993 billion reduction in spending on health care.
Nick Silver on Twitter

AHCA is $874 billion in tax cuts and $119 billion in deficit reduction, financed by a net $993 billion reduction in spending on health care.
[Links to image with data]

----- 7 -----
Trump’s crisis of legitimacy
By Mark Mellman - 05/23/17 - The Hill

Donald Trump loves being treated like a king and he suffers terrible insecurities about the legitimacy of his election.

The former was evident is his response to Saudi Arabia; the latter is on self-destructive display in his reaction to everything Russia.

Trump’s obsession with the investigations reveals his deep-seated concern that his Kremlin cohorts may just have tipped the outcome in his favor.
While Russian interference with our election now seems incontrovertible, we can never know whether Moscow made the decisive difference.

However, another lurking threat to Trump’s legitimacy has attracted virtually no attention.

Politicians can and do change their minds. The view from Air Force One differs from the panorama visible on the campaign plane.

But democracy requires some important correlation between words uttered on the campaign trail and actions taken in the Oval Office.

Without such linkage, elections are a farce.

If voters can’t count on some relationship between what a candidate says and what he or she will later do, they are denied the possibility of making a reasonable choice.

Imagine a candidate standing up at their convention, making 100 promises to the American people, but closing with a pledge to carry out half those policies, but do the opposite of what he promised on the other half. And oh, by the way, the candidate refuses to say which promises fall into which bucket.

Such a candidate would garner no support and rightly be judged a threat to democracy.

No candidate has so thoroughly turned his back on his own campaign promises, more often, or more completely, than Donald Trump.

----- 8 -----
North Carolina Is Once Again Found Guilty of Discriminating Against Black Voters
The Supreme Court strikes down two of the state’s congressional districts as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.
By Ari Berman - The Nation

On May 15, the Supreme Court let stand a decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruling that North Carolina’s sweeping voting restrictions targeted African-American voters “with almost surgical precision.”

A week later, on May 22, the Supreme Court struck down two of North Carolina’s congressional districts as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, upholding a lower-court opinion that “race predominated” in drawing the districts.

It’s now overwhelmingly clear that Republicans in North Carolina illegally made it harder for African Americans to vote and diminished the power of their votes. Today’s decision could have far-reaching ramifications for striking down gerrymandering nationwide.

In a 5-3 opinion today, Justice Kagan (surprisingly joined by Justice Thomas) ruled that North Carolina artificially increased the number of black voters in the state’s 1st and 12th congressional districts. In the 1st district, the black voting-age population jumped from 48.6 percent to 52.7 percent and in the 12th from 43.8 percent to 50.7 percent. Although black Democrats had held both seats since 1992, Republican leaders said they needed to make the two districts over 50 percent African American to comply with the Voting Rights Act, which Kagan said was blatantly untrue.

Kagan cited a conversation former congressman Mel Watt, who represented the 12th District from 1993 to 2013, had with GOP State Senator Bob Rucho, who oversaw redistricting efforts:

----- 9 -----
Education Secretary DeVos To Give All Student Loan Accounts To One Company; Strip Away More Protections
Consumerist - May 22, 2017
By Ashlee Kieler

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has made another sweeping change to the student loan system that consumer advocates claim favors student loan collectors over the American people repaying those loans.

The latest move from DeVos — who only weeks ago rescinded a number of student loan servicing protections put in place by the previous administration — will put all federal student loan servicing under the control of just one company starting in 2019.

There are currently nine student loan servicers handling these accounts for the federal government.

Late Friday afternoon, DeVos announced the upcoming changes via an amendment [PDF] to the contracting process, which will see the student loan servicing contract awarded to just one of the following: Navient (the servicer spun off from Sallie Mae), GreatNet, or the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA).

Whichever company ultimately receives the contract will be required to build a platform to collect on and service an estimated 32 million federal direct student loans.

DeVos claimed Friday that the changes were necessary in order to provide superior customer service and protections to borrowers.

“The federal student loan servicing solicitation we inherited was cumbersome and confusing — with shifting deadlines, changing requirements and defacto regulations that at times contradicted themselves,” she wrote in a statement. “Internal and external stakeholders both agreed it was destined for a massive and unsustainable budget overrun.”

While education officials tell the Washington Post that by contracting with one company it can better monitor the programs and ensure borrowers are being treated fairly, consumer advocates caution that putting of its student loan-collecting eggs in once basket could create a servicer that is “too big to fail.”

“The changes may increase profits for the industry, but may do little to tame the high levels of default in the program,” explains Rohit Chopra of the Consumer Federation of America and also the former student loan ombudsman at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Less Competition; Fewer Protections

In addition to creating a single student loan servicer program, this latest change removes several other requirements previously outlined by the Obama administration when creating the contract process.

For instance, the servicer who ultimately receives the contract would not be required to provide “high-touch” (personalized, proactive) customer service for in-trouble and delinquent borrowers. This means no requirement for preemptive outreach when a borrower is late, or when they need to re-enroll in income-driven repayment plans.

----- 10 -----
‘We’re right, they’re wrong’: Hannity doubles down on DNC murder conspiracy after Fox retracts story
Noor Al-Sibai - Raw Story - 23 May 2017

[See also Keith Olbermann: ]

Despite his employer retracting their coverage of conspiracy theories surrounding the murder of former DNC staffer Seth Rich, Fox News host Sean Hannity continues to plug the debunked theories on his radio show.

During his May 23 show, which aired just a few hours after Fox retracted their report on theories about Rich’s murder, Hannity took to the FM airwaves to double down on the conspiracy.

During his segment on the Rich conspiracy, Hannity claimed that he’s spoken to Rich’s family.

“These reports that I haven’t talked to the family are not true,” Hannity said.

Rather than claiming he’s ignoring Rich’s family, most reports are centered around a cease-and-desist letter sent to a Hannity contributor for continuing to allege that their deceased loved one was involved in a Wikileaks conspiracy. The contributor then retracted his statements.

----- 11 -----
Budget director brags about Trump’s cruel welfare cuts: ‘You have to have compassion’ for wealthy taxpayers
David Edwards - Raw Story
23 May 2017

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney asserted on Tuesday that President Donald Trump had produced the first federal budget that provides “compassion” for taxpayers.

During a briefing at the White House, Mulvaney defended Trump’s drastic cuts to entitlement programs to pay for increased military spending, a border wall and sizable tax reductions that would benefit the wealthy.

According to Mulvaney, the proposal looks “at the budget through the eyes of the taxpayer” instead of those who receive benefits from federal programs.

“If I can look you in the eye and say I’m going to take this money from you so I can help this injured vet, I can do that in good conscience,” he said. “I am a lot less comfortable to the point of not wanting to look you in the eye and say, ‘Look, I need to take this money from you to give to this person over here who really isn’t disabled but is getting a disabled benefit or this person over here who is supposed to use the money to go to school but isn’t actually going.”

Mulvaney said that the government would “no longer measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs, but by the number of people we help get off of those programs.”

“That is the part of the budget that deals with American greatness,” he insisted.

Mulvaney went on to say “you have to have compassion for folks who are receiving the federal funds, but also you have to have compassion for folks who are paying it.”

----- 12 -----
This is why RussiaGate will inevitably destroy the Trump presidency
Douglas Blackmon - Raw Story
23 May 2017

A little more than a week ago, I said on CNN and wrote on Facebook that — based on reporting I’d just completed in Washington DC — it was clear that the controversy surrounding Russian contacts with advisers to President Donald J. Trump and his campaign team was about to become much more serious and much more directly focused on the president himself, and would have deeply troubling consequences for our democracy.

The revelations since then have confirmed all of that, and will be remembered as the point when an extraordinary but perhaps still manageable political embarrassment for the Trump administration mushroomed into the most serious controversy to engulf a presidency since Watergate.

Based on what we know already, and new revelations that will soon illuminate more key events in this sequence, our country faces a dramatic constitutional exigency. This crisis now is directly about the president himself, and one for which — with the firing of FBI Director Jim Comey — he now bears complete responsibility. Bluntly stated, it has become a catastrophic failure of conduct and leadership — and a debacle from which the Trump presidency will not recover.

What I couldn’t say last week was that, earlier on that day, I spent more than four hours conducting Sally Yates’ first media interview since being fired by President Trump as acting US attorney general. With me in the interview was The New Yorker magazine’s Washington correspondent, Ryan Lizza, whose profile of Yates appeared on Monday, May 22. (I have known Yates for more than 25 years, and in February wrote a profile of her for Slate.)

During our interview, and in subsequent conversations in the following days, Yates never disclosed any classified details of the ongoing investigation or specific new bombshells. But by the end of that long series of questions, answers and clarifications, important contours of the scandal — the boundaries of what is known or not known and the enormous scale of the stakes involved — became much more clear. Combined with that and other reporting, it became apparent that the Trump-Russia scandal was far more serious than understood when the first revelations of the investigation occurred, and since then have only grown more ominous. These observations are my own, based on my interviews with Yates, national security experts and other people close to these events, as well as close reading of congressional testimony, publicly available documents and disclosures by trusted fellow journalists.

To understand why this is so serious, it’s important first to realize what is truly important to the inquiry — and to escape some of the distractions of the past six months. Why Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in November, or exactly how Russian interests attempted to disrupt and influence our electoral process, is important, but ultimately not what matters most. Whether former Trump campaign officials and advisers failed to disclose past business dealings with interests in Ukraine, Russia and Turkey is a question that will be answered, but not a defining one. That President Trump and his family have had past business dealings or allegedly engaged in personal hijinks in Russia is hardly important at all.

----- 13 -----
I’m not sure people truly appreciate the Madoff-level accounting fraud involved in Trump’s budget.
Seth Hanlon on Twitter
I’m not sure people truly appreciate the Madoff-level accounting fraud involved in Trump’s budget. Bear with me... 1/
[Read entire thread]

----- 14 -----
Ex-national security adviser 'lied' on security clearance
BBC News • 23 May 2017

Ex-US National Security Adviser Michael Flynn "lied" about income from Russian companies while renewing his security clearance, a top Democrat says.

Elijah Cummings released a letter that shows Mr Flynn said his foreign trips were paid for by US firms, but a Moscow visit was funded by a Russian company.

The claim follows Mr Flynn's refusal to hand files to a Senate panel probing alleged Russian political meddling.

He was fired after misleading the White House about his Russian contacts.

The fresh allegations against him came hours after he invoked his right against self-incrimination on Monday and failed to co-operate with a Senate panel's investigation on possible links between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

The Senate Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena - a legal summons - two weeks ago to obtain documents related to Mr Flynn's contacts with Russians dating back to June 2015.

But in a letter to the panel, his lawyers said he was rejecting its request in response to the current political climate and an "escalating public frenzy against him".

The former Army lieutenant general is invoking the fifth amendment to the US constitution, which protects Americans from being legally compelled to testify against themselves in a criminal case.

Mr Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, later published a letter urging the panel's chairman, Jason Chaffetz, to subpoena the documents.

----- 15 -----
New: Cummings letter to Chaffetz says the Cmte has docs “that appear to indicate” Flynn lied during his security clearance interview in '16.
Kyle Griffin on Twitter
[Link includes images of documents]

----- 16 -----
Senate Moves Forward With Bipartisan Bill to Rein in Jeff Sessions
Co-sponsors Rand Paul and Patrick Leahy call out the Attorney General's backwards approach to criminal justice, the drug war and mandatory minimums
Rolling Stone
By Tana Ganeva
May 18, 2017

Bluntly calling out Attorney General Jeff Sessions' hard-line stance on criminal justice as "wrong," a "mistake" and "aggressive," Senators Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, and Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, have pledged to fight for sentencing reform.

"We've been working on trying to get rid of some of the injustice of mandatory minimums and give judges more discretion," Paul said in a telephone press conference Wednesday. The Justice Safety Valve Act, introduced to the Senate by Paul, Leahy and Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley, would empower federal judges to give out sentences below the mandatory minimum in certain cases. The law could go a long way towards neutralizing Attorney General Jeff Sessions' memo, issued earlier this month, directing prosecutors to seek the toughest possible sentences, even in cases of non-violent drug offenders. The memo rolls back the criminal justice reforms that took place during the Obama administration.

At the time, Sessions defended the memo by citing President Trump's broadly-defined vow to protect the American public from threats both foreign and domestic. "This is a key part of President Trump's promise to keep America safe," Sessions said. "If you are a drug trafficker, we will not look the other way. We will not be willfully blind to your conduct."

Paul and Leahy pointed out that rather than keep Americans safe, the drug war Sessions seems eager to revive ties judges' hands and needlessly ruins lives, all while being very costly to taxpayers. "We know it doesn't work, now we're trying to get something done that does work," Paul said.

Paul listed a few examples of shocking prison terms handed down thanks to mandatory minimums. There's John Horner, a father of three serving 25 years for selling some of his own painkillers to a friend who turned out to be a police informant. There's Weldon Angelos, who got 55 years after getting caught selling some weed – a drug that is legal in many parts of the country.

Leahy, a former prosecutor, emphasized the high cost of imprisoning so many people for so long, a strategy that has yet to rid America of either illegal drugs or crime.

"The idea that, 'We've got to stiffen the penalties and crime will stop,' we've found it doesn't work," Leahy said. "This is extraordinarily expensive... Then, there's less money to go to violent, serious crime."

----- 17 -----
Nazi Site Recommends Removing Condoms During Sex In Order To Get White Women Pregnant
By Robyn Pennacchia - Wonkette - May 21, 2017

Earlier this month, two state lawmakers in California and Wisconsin introduced bills to treat “stealthing” — the practice of secretly removing a condom during sex, without the consent or knowledge of the person you are having sex with — as the crime it so clearly is.

In Wisconsin, Rep. Melissa Sargent introduced Bill LRB-3346, which would more clearly define the act as a crime of sexual assault. In California, Cristina Garcia introduced a bill that would treat tampering with a condom during sex in this way as a form of rape.

Now, one would assume that these laws would be something we could all get behind. Because, duh, if someone consents to sex with a condom, their consent to sex is conditional on that condom being there and protecting them from pregnancy or STIs. Remove the condom, remove the consent. As you may recall, this is the crime Julian Assange was accused of in Sweden.

But if you were to assume that, you would be wrong. Because people are horrible! Especially Nazi-type people who really, really love Donald Trump, who are not only horrible in the way that they are Nazis who love Donald Trump, but also in every other imaginable way.

Over on The Daily Stormer, contributer KKKomerad is very upset about this and believes it is a conspiracy on behalf of Jewish people and feminists to “make all Goyish sex rape” and also to prevent them from continuing the white race. For some reason they seem to believe that the laws will only apply to White Christians, despite the fact that this is definitely not mentioned in either piece of legislation. That reason would be the fact that they are batshit fucking crazy.

----- 18 -----
GOP Lawmaker: Lynch Anyone Who Takes Down Confederate Monuments
Karl Oliver later removed the Facebook post and apologized for his remarks.
The Huffington Post - 22 May 2017

After condemnation from members of his own party, a Republican member of the Mississippi House of Representatives apologized Monday for calling for the lynching of anyone who removes a Confederate monument, including lawmakers in a neighboring state.

On Saturday, state Rep. Karl Oliver (R) had described the “destruction” of Confederate monuments in Louisiana as “heinous and horrific” and compared leaders in that state to Nazis.

“They should be LYNCHED!” Oliver wrote in comments posted on his Facebook page.

[Link includes screencap of post]

----- 19 -----
White House looking at ethics rule to weaken special investigation: sources
Fri May 19, 2017 | 6:01 PM EDT
Reuters | By Julia Edwards Ainsley | WASHINGTON

The Trump administration is exploring whether it can use an obscure ethics rule to undermine the special counsel investigation into ties between President Donald Trump's campaign team and Russia, two people familiar with White House thinking said on Friday.

Trump has said that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's hiring of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to lead the investigation "hurts our country terribly."

Within hours of Mueller's appointment on Wednesday, the White House began reviewing the Code of Federal Regulations, which restricts newly hired government lawyers from investigating their prior law firm’s clients for one year after their hiring, the sources said.

An executive order signed by Trump in January extended that period to two years.

Mueller's former law firm, WilmerHale, represents Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, who met with a Russian bank executive in December, and the president's former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who is a subject of a federal investigation.

Legal experts said the ethics rule can be waived by the Justice Department, which appointed Mueller. He did not represent Kushner or Manafort directly at his former law firm.

If the department did not grant a waiver, Mueller would be barred from investigating Kushner or Manafort, and this could greatly diminish the scope of the probe, experts said.

The Justice Department is already reviewing Mueller's background as well as any potential conflicts of interest, said department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores.

Even if the Justice Department granted a waiver, the White House would consider using the ethics rule to create doubt about Mueller's ability to do his job fairly, the sources said. Administration legal advisers have been asked to determine if there is a basis for this.

----- 20 -----
Trump Told Russians That Firing ‘Nut Job’ Comey Eased Pressure From Investigation
The New York Times - MAY 19, 2017

WASHINGTON — President Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office this month that firing the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, had relieved “great pressure” on him, according to a document summarizing the meeting.

“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

Mr. Trump added, “I’m not under investigation.”

The conversation, during a May 10 meeting — the day after he fired Mr. Comey — reinforces the notion that the president dismissed him primarily because of the bureau’s investigation into possible collusion between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russian operatives. Mr. Trump said as much in one televised interview, but the White House has offered changing justifications for the firing.

The comments represented an extraordinary moment in the investigation, which centers in part on the administration’s contacts with Russian officials: A day after firing the man leading that inquiry, Mr. Trump disparaged him — to Russian officials.

The White House document that contained Mr. Trump’s comments was based on notes taken from inside the Oval Office and has been circulated as the official account of the meeting. One official read quotations to The Times, and a second official confirmed the broad outlines of the discussion.

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, did not dispute the account.

----- 21 -----
Trump tells advisers he wants to end key Obamacare subsidies
Many senior aides oppose the move for fear it will backfire politically.
By Josh Dawsey , Jennifer Haberkorn and Paul Demko
05/19/2017 03:06 PM EDT
Updated 05/19/2017

President Donald Trump has told advisers he wants to end payments of key Obamacare subsidies, a move that could send the health law's insurance markets into a tailspin, according to several sources familiar with the conversations.

Many advisers oppose the move because they worry it would backfire politically if people lose their insurance or see huge premium spikes and blame the White House, the sources said. Trump has said that the bold move could force Congressional Democrats to the table to negotiate an Obamacare replacement.

Lawyers and other administration officials are trying to thread the needle.

Trump told aides in a Tuesday Oval Office meeting that he wants to end the payments to insurers because he doesn't gain anything by continuing them, according to a senior White House adviser. "Why the hell would we?" he asked about continuing the payments, according to the adviser. Trump added that if Congress wants the subsidies, lawmakers would find a way to pay for them, the adviser said.

Trump has previously expressed conflicting opinions on the issue. Insurers have been pressing for certainty as they plan for next year.

The payments, estimated at $7 billion for this year, go to insurance companies to reduce deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs for low-income consumers — an estimated 7 million people in 2017. Insurers are on the hook under the health law to keep paying even if the federal money stops.

----- 22 -----
DOJ Threatens Immigration Rights Lawyers, Demands They Drop Their Clients
The Trump administration tries a scary new tactic to keep lawyers from aiding immigrants.
By Joe Patrice - Above the Law - May 19, 2017

If you can’t beat ’em, bully them with “cease and desist” letters and trumped-up disciplinary accusations. That’s apparently the new motto down at the Department of Justice, where the government is lashing out at the immigration rights attorneys who stymied the administration’s efforts to implement their travel ban. And it’s not just non-profit groups (though those are the first lawyers getting hit); the clever, if diabolical, argument the DOJ has cooked up could be launched to shut down Biglaw attorneys working pro bono matters next. They may have stumbled out of the gate, but this Justice Department came to play hardball, folks.

In a piece posted this morning over at The Nation, Rachel Tiven discusses the plight of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), a non-profit group that offers assistance to people facing deportation hearings. After volunteering their services to fight the Muslim travel ban, NWIRP received a stern cease-and-desist letter from DOJ directing them to close up their asylum advisory services. As one might imagine, this is not something the government can usually order attorneys to do, but the government found a loophole to exploit:

----- 23 -----
Russian Activists Say They’ve Been Told US Visas Are Out Of Reach For Gay Chechens
Around 40 survivors of the crackdown in Chechnya are in hiding in other parts of Russia, but can't find a safe country to take them in.
Originally posted on May 17, 2017, 18:01 GMT
Updated on May 18, 2017, 19:46 GMT
J. Lester Feder
BuzzFeed News

A Russian LGBT advocacy group says conversations with the US embassy have led it to believe that visas to the United States are out of reach for gay Chechens fleeing a wave of kidnappings, torture, and disappearances in the semi-autonomous Russian region.

A group of around 40 Chechens are now in hiding in other parts of Russia, said a spokesperson for the Russia LGBT Network, one of the primary groups supporting fleeing Chechens. Though they have escaped their region, they are having difficulty securing visas that would allow them to flee the country.

After initial publication of this story, the Russia LGBT Network spokesperson clarified that the US had not yet formally denied any visa applications. But the group was not facilitating applications to the United States because it was so discouraged by their conversations with the US embassy.

"We were informed there was no political will,” said the spokesperson, who asked her name be withheld because of security concerns. “They’re not going to provide visas. They’re going to support us in other ways, but not with visas."

Since the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta first reported the abuse of dozens of gay Chechens in April, just two have managed to secure visas to safe countries, despite the European Union and the United States expressing concern about the allegations, the spokesperson said. A handful of gay Chechens have fled without visas because they believed the danger of staying in Russia was too great.

The gay men seeking visas continue to fear for their lives in Russia. The strongman who rules Chechnya with near impunity, Ramzan Kadyrov, is accused of having his critics hunted down both in other parts of Russia and outside Russia's borders.

----- 24 -----
VP claims team did not see Cummings letter, despite written response acknowledging receipt.
[Links to documents, etc]

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A Timeline: Russia and President Trump
Investigative reporters have begun to flesh out the Trump/Russia timeline. To keep everything in one location, here’s an updated summary (so far).
By Steven Harper | Moyers and Company

[This is a regularly-updated timeline of what's known, with links]

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Tags: fascism watch, politics
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