Business

Neither Insignificant Nor Unexpected

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Special Counsel Robert Mueller (AP Photo)

The lede from Associated Press is not insignificant, but it is also expected:

Investigators working for special counsel Robert Mueller have interviewed one of President Donald Trump’s closest friends and confidants, California real estate investor Tom Barrack, The Associated Press has learned.

Barrack was interviewed as part of the federal investigation of possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election, according to three people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations . . . .

. . . .One of the people who spoke to AP said the questioning focused entirely on two officials from Trump’s campaign who have been indicted by Mueller: Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and Manafort’s longtime deputy, Rick Gates. Gates agreed to plead guilty to federal conspiracy and false-statement charges in February and began cooperating with investigators.

This person said Barrack was interviewed “months ago” and was asked a few questions about Gates’ work on Trump’s inaugural committee, which Barrack chaired, and but there were no questions about the money raised by that committee.

A second person with knowledge of the Barrack interview said the questioning was broader and did include financial matters about the campaign, the transition and Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.

If the question is what Barrack’s interview means in the larger scheme, the fact of the interview itself is expected in part because of his proximity to candidate- and then President Trump, but also for his connection to convicted felon Rick Gates, which includes helping him gain access to the White House. And if the unsurprising news is not insignificant, we need only stick the proverbial pin and stay tuned.

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The Pruitt Watch (Peat Fire)

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Detail of 'Lucifer', by Franz von Stuck, 1890.

While the idea of a rioting dumpster fire experienced brief vogue among media commentators trying to describe the Donald Trump presidency, the slowburning, filthy corruption of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt seems to describe something akin to a peat fire. The lede from the New York Times:

Since moving to Washington, Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has attracted the attention of federal investigators because of his unusual association with lobbyists, including his rental of a condominium last year owned by the wife of a lobbyist with business before the E.P.A.

As a state senator in Oklahoma 15 years ago, Mr. Pruitt went even further: He bought a home in the state capital with a registered lobbyist who was pushing for changes to the state’s workers’ compensation rules—changes that Mr. Pruitt championed in the legislature.

And as with the condominium rental in Washington, Mr. Pruitt never publicly disclosed his financial relationship with the lobbyist, who, like Mr. Pruitt, lived in the home when in Oklahoma City on business.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment, on Capitol Hill, 26 April 2018, in Washington D.C. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)But if for some reason the Pruitt Watch seems frustrating, or even verges toward incomprehensible, perhaps the striking report from The Atlantic suggests a flashpoint:

As Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt faces a seemingly endless stream of scandal, his team is scrambling to divert the spotlight to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. And the White House isn’t happy about it.:

In the last week, a member of Pruitt’s press team, Michael Abboud, has been shopping negative stories about Zinke to multiple outlets, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the efforts, as well as correspondence reviewed by The Atlantic.

“This did not happen, and it’s categorically false,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said.

To the other, an unnamed White House official claiming knowledge of the situation explained: “Absolutely nothing Scott Pruitt did would surprise me.” And, yes, that last might as well include, the prospect of the EPA Administrator simply persisting and enduring, though the article did not.

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Thoroughly and Properly Out of Control

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks to employees in Washington, D.C., 21 February 2017. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

This is thoroughly and properly out of control.

First up—

A third top EPA official is leaving the agency amid intensifying scrutiny of Administrator Scott Pruitt’s travel, spending and condo rental.

Associate Administrator Liz Bowman, the top public affairs official at the Environmental Protection Agency, is leaving to become a spokeswoman for Senator Joni Ernst, a Republican from Iowa.

Bloomberg reports on the third high-ranking departure from Scott Pruitt’s EPA this week. Liz Bowman came to the agency from a trade group called the American Chemistry Council, which in turn hires lobbyists on behalf of chemical manufacturers such as Dow, BASF, and Monsanto.

CNN adds particular detail from “a source close to Bowman”—

Bowman is the third top EPA official to leave the agency this week, following the resignation of Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta, who headed Pruitt’s security detail, and Albert “Kell” Kelly, an Oklahoma business associate of Pruitt who led the agency’s superfund cleanup program. Unlike Bowman, both men had come under scrutiny for their role in the scandals swirling around Pruitt.

The source said she is leaving because she has two small children and wants to be able to spend more time with them.

—and postures what seems an obvious contrast. Another source, from EPA, pointed to the growing cascade of scandals, “said Bowman ‘broke her back trying to fight these stories the last few months'”.

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The Pruitt Watch (#swamped)

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. (Photo: Jason Andrew/Getty Images)

The list from Steve Benen might, ‘twixt now and Monday, have become obsolete; it’s hard to tell, some days.

1. The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s controversial travel habits.

2. The House Oversight Committee is also exploring the EPA chief’s use of public funds for first-class travel.

3. The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s behind-the-scenes talks with the National Mining Association.

4. Pruitt’s exorbitant spending on an around-the-clock security detail is the subject of three inspector general investigations.

5. The House Oversight Committee is also examining the EPA chief’s security expenditures.

6. The Government Accountability Office has already investigated Pruitt for exceeding federal spending limits when he bought a $43,000 phone booth for his office.

7. The White House Office of Management and Budget is also investigating the phone booth.

8. The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s use of funds set aside for the Safe Drinking Water Act and diverting the money to give generous raises to two of his top aides.

9. The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s four-day trip to Morocco late last year.

10. The Government Accountability Office is investigating Pruitt’s ouster of scientists from the EPA’s science advisory committee.

11. The Government Accountability Office is investigating whether Pruitt broke lobbying laws with comments he made to the National Cattleman’s Beef Association.

12. The House Oversight Committee is investigating Pruitt’s living arrangement at a lobbyist’s condo.

13. And as noted above, the EPA’s inspector general is now also taking a closer look at Pruitt’s time at that condo.

Before the day was out, the msnbc blogger found himself adding to the list, sort of, noting a “controversy that should become the 14th” in a Reuters report describing a financial hardship waiver Pruitt’s EPA granted to an Oklahoma facility for a company owned by former Trump administration hand Carl Icahn:

The waiver enables Icahn’s CVR Energy Inc (CVI.N) to avoid tens of millions of dollars in costs related to the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program. The regulation is meant to cut air pollution, reduce petroleum imports and support corn farmers by requiring refiners to mix billions of gallons of biofuels into the nation’s gasoline and diesel each year.

And it does, you know, just keep going downhill.

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Apropos of Nothing: Truth, Justice, and the American Ouroboros

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

VIII. Adjustment.

This is just a question: Is anyone else enjoying the hell out of the fact that Judge Wood might well be the undoing of Donald Trump and, thereby, very possibly the great Republican swindle itself?

That the crushing blow comes through her court would be . . . pretty much the epic saga Americans have been wanting, and, well . . . yeah. There’s also that.

Furthermore, that we Americans could manage to do this to ourselves? How is that not one of the most fascinating questions history could possibly countenance?

Trump Trumping Trump

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

U.S. President Donald Trump attends a Generation Next forum at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., 22 March 2018. (Photo: Leah Millis/Reuters)

The thing is, it’s just not supposed to be this easy:

First, prosecutors have suggested that while Michael Cohen is an attorney, his work with Trump hasn’t strictly been in a legal capacity. The president seemed eager to bolster this point this morning, emphasizing repeatedly that Cohen is principally “a businessman.”

Second, the official line from Trump World has been that the president had nothing to do with the Stormy Daniels controversy. He wasn’t involved in the pre-election hush-money payoff, the argument went, and the president is completely in the dark when it comes to the whole sordid affair.

Trump suggested this morning that this narrative is false, making clear that Cohen represented him in the “deal” with the porn star, and asserting that he knows campaign funds weren’t used to buy Daniels’ silence.

And third, Trump is apparently of the opinion that if campaign funds didn’t finance the hush money, then there was nothing wrong with the payoff. That’s not even close to being true. In fact, there are all kinds of lingering questions about in-kind contributions and possible fraud that have nothing to do with whether campaign funds were used or not.

Michael Avenatti was apparently delighted to see Trump blurt out all of this useful information on national television this morning, describing the president’s on-air comments as “another gift from the heavens in this case.”

(Benen)

The part boggling all sensibility is how casually President Trump and his clownish cohort go about hurting themselves.

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Image notes: President Donald Trump attends a Generation Next forum at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., 22 March 2018. (Photo: Leah Millis/Reuters)

Benen, Steve. “Daniels’ lawyer: Trump’s new comments are a ‘gift from the heavens'”. msnbc. 26 April 2018.

One of Those Moments Spent Wondering What the Hell Is Wrong With President Trump

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Donald Trump attends the Miss Universe 2013 competition at Crocus City Hall in Moscow, Russia, 9 November 2013. (Photo: Alexander Aleshkin/Epsilon/Getty Images)This is the sort of question that might well remain beyond any definitive answer:

President Donald Trump twice gave James Comey an alibi for why a salacious report about the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow couldn’t be true: He never even spent the night in Russia during that trip, Trump told the former FBI director, according to Comey’s memos about the conversations.

Yet the broad timeline of Trump’s stay, stretching from Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, through the following Sunday morning, has been widely reported. And it’s substantiated by social media posts that show he slept in Moscow the night before the Miss Universe contest.

Now, flight records obtained by Bloomberg provide fresh details. Combined with existing accounts and Trump’s own social-media posts, they capture two days that, nearly five years later, loom large in the controversy engulfing the White House and at the heart of the Comey memos, which the Justice Department turned over last week to Congress.

(Silver)

In all of history, given every stupid gaffe and inadequate excuse we might ever hear from politicians, what part of this was worth lying about, and by what measure would anyone expect to get away with it? The social media aspect is itself ridiculously damning. That is to say, it is perhaps possible to imagine a circumstance whereby someone like Donald Trump might not even bother to think about whether or not flight records can be ultimately hidden, but, you know, posing for promotional pictures and then saying one was not actually there is one of the tougher sells. True, Trump voters will generally be okay with it because whatever Trump says is #WhatTheyVotedFor, but for the rest of society, regardless of any other mystery about the #TrumpRussia debacle, this one just shines.

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Image note: Donald Trump attends the Miss Universe 2013 competition at Crocus City Hall in Moscow, Russia, 9 November 2013. (Photo: Alexander Aleshkin/Epsilon/Getty Images)

Silver, Vernon. “Flight Records Illuminate Mystery of Trump’s Moscow Nights”. Bloomberg. 23 April 2018.

What They Voted For: Trump Family Values

#familyvalues | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Donald Trump Jr. speaks at a Global Business Summit in New Delhi, India, 23 February 2018. (Photo: Manish Swarup/AP Photo, File)

Ah! scandal! Or, via Page Six:

Years before Vanessa Trump filed for divorce from Donald Trump Jr., their marriage was rocked when—around the time she was pregnant with their third child—he cheated on her with a contestant from “The Celebrity Apprentice.”

Page Six has exclusively learned that Don Jr.—then a so-called “adviser” on the NBC show—fell for busty Danity Kane star Aubrey O’Day while filming “Celebrity Apprentice” in 2011.

Sources say that Vanessa—who filed for divorce from President Donald Trump’s eldest son last week after 13 years of marriage—was devastated when he told her that he planned to leave her for O’Day.

Vanessa was pregnant with their third child, Tristan, around that time.

That was yesterday; the New York Post gossip team rolls on, today asking, “Is Aubrey O’Day’s song ‘DJT’ about Donald Trump Jr.?”

What will the post-presidential reality show be called? Trump Family Scandals? Trump Shore? The Real Assholes of Manhattan? The Ballad of “Donny Smalls”?

Additionally, it is worth noting that apparently we now must give a damn about who Aubrey O’Day is. That is to say, branded celebrity is easy enough to avoid until it isn’t, and the crossing of such thresholds ought to count for something.

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Image note: Donald Trump, Jr. (Photo: Manish Swarup/AP Photo, File)

Bacardi, Francesca. “Is Aubrey O’Day’s song ‘DJT’ about Donald Trump Jr.?”. Page Six. 20 March 2018.

Coleman, Oli and Carlos Greer. “Donald Trump Jr. romanced Aubrey O’Day during marriage to Vanessa”. Page Six. 19 March 2018.

A Clutch Performance

Detail of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, by Zach Weiner, 19 March 2018.If we say it could be worse, that speaks nothing of the actual comic strip itself, in this case, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, by the one and only Zach Weiner.

If we go with something about Aquaman and the fish fertilizer farm, is that too arcane?

A Quote: Kansas Cluck

Great Seal of Kansas (detail)

“The KFC bucket came with a side of Republican panic.”

Hunter Woodall and Bryan Lowry

It takes two, or perhaps some occasions simply beg a hook in lieu of a lede, but still, Woodall and Lowry do eventually get around to such niceties ‘twixt cluckin’ buckets:

Anxiety over the GOP’s weakened grasp on Kansas’ 2nd congressional district, which includes Topeka and Lawrence, was on full display during last month’s state party convention.

Kansas Congressional candidate Paul Davis [D-02]. (Photo: Associated Press)GOP Rep. Lynn Jenkins is retiring. Republicans lack a clear front runner in the race to replace her, while Democrats have coalesced around Paul Davis, a former state lawmaker who won the district during his unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2014.

“If the election were held today, (there’s) a 70 percent chance Davis gets elected,” Mike Stieben, co-chair of Kansans For Life’s political action committee, told the crowd at a convention prayer breakfast.

He passed an empty KFC bucket around the room, urging people to drop in donations so his anti-abortion group could start campaigning in the district.

“We cannot elect Paul Davis,” Stieben said. “And he’s ahead. Wake up. We need your help.”

There is a great moment in which we might toss coins or play some obscure dice game to decide between “now more than ever”α, and why not pitch for one’s own anti-abortion group. This is, after all, Kansas.   (more…)