Government

Mundane Strangeness (Trump Turnover Mix)

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

The lede from CNN

White House aides have been told to decide before the end of January whether they intend to leave the administration or stay through the November midterm elections, an official said, a deadline intended to help bring a sense of order to an anticipated staffing exodus.

—seems yet another bit of news that makes no real sense, though we really do not intend to dispute with the reporters. That is to say, this is the Trump administration, so, yeah, sure, sounds about right.

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Image note: The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Zeleny, Jeff, Kevin Liptak, Dana Bash, and Dan Merica. “Facing staffing exodus, Trump struggles to fill West Wing”. CNN. 9 January 2018.

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A Very Interesting Question

#PutiTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

A child walks past a graffiti depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on the walls of a bar in the old town in Vilnius, Lithuania, 14 May 2016. (Photo by Mindaugas Kulbis/AP Photo)

Yes, that Jack Goldsmith, for Lawfare:

One puzzle that deepens with Mike Schmidt’s New York Times story on “Trump’s Struggle to Keep [a] Grip on [the] Russia Investigation” is why Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has not recused himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation.

In short, before the Schmidt story, we knew that Rosenstein was intimately involved in the president’s decision to fire Comey. Rosenstein’s memo was used as a pretext to fire Comey;Rod Rosenstein is shown during his confirmation hearing to become deputy attorney general on 7 March 2017. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press) Rosenstein knew that the president wanted to fire Comey; and he read the Bedminster draft before he wrote his own memorandum.

In this light, it has been very puzzling for a while why Rosenstein does not have a conflict of interest in the Mueller investigation. The Washington Post reported unequivocally that Mueller’s investigation includes “whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice,” including, as a central issue, in his firing of Comey. Rosenstein was in the middle of that firing. He possesses information about the president’s beliefs and motives in firing Comey, and quite possibly a personal interest in how those beliefs and motives are construed, since he appeared to many to have been used by the president (and was reportedly very angry about it). Rosenstein would thus would very likely be a fact witness in any obstruction inquiry in connection with the Comey firing. It is hard to understand why he did not have a conflict of interest the moment Mueller’s investigation turned to obstruction in the firing of Comey.

File under, he might have a point, y’know.

Just sayin’.

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Image notes: Top —A child walks past a graffiti depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on the walls of a bar in the old town in Vilnius, Lithuania, 14 May 2016. (Photo by Mindaugas Kulbis/AP Photo)  Right — Rod Rosenstein is shown during his confirmation hearing to become deputy attorney general on 7 March 2017. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

Barrett, Devlin, Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima, and Sari Horwitz. “Special counsel is investigating Trump for possible obstruction of justice, officials say”. The Washington Post. 14 June 2017.

Goldsmith, Jack. “Why Hasn’t Rod Rosenstein Recused Himself from the Mueller Investigation?” Lawfare. 5 January 2018.

Schmidt, Michael S. “Obstruction Inquiry Shows Trump’s Struggle to Keep Grip on Russia Investigation”. The New York Times. 4 January 2018.

A Question of Presupposition (Graham Cracked Edition)

#PutiTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

#PutiTrump: Protest image of Vladimir Putin, artist unknown. Donald Trump in detail of photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for msnbc, 2016.

“I always said he had a blindspot to Russia but things are changing for the better. He finally allowed the Ukraine to be given defensive weapons. But when it comes to Russia, I’ve said on your show a million times, he has an attitude toward Putin that I think is counterproductive. The president does believe his intel agencies.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

It really is easy to pin a lot on the quote; Steve Benen offers this take:

Now, it’s quite likely that Trump and Graham, who appear to now be rather close allies, have had private conversations in which the president has said things to the senator that he hasn’t shared with the public. But if Trump told Graham he now believes Russians stole Democratic documents, it would represent a dramatic change of heart.

As recently as mid-November—not quite two months ago—Trump told reporters that Vladimir Putin personally assured him that Russia didn’t meddle in the American election. “Every time he sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it,” the American president said in reference to his Russian counterpart.

It was part of a lengthy pattern in which Trump refused to accept U.S. intelligence agencies’ findings. “Nobody really knows for sure” whether Russia intervened in the American elections, the president said in July—after intelligence professionals told him they do know for sure.

But according to Lindsey Graham, sometime between mid-November and early-January, Trump changed his mind, and if the senator is right, the shift is a pretty important development.

The analysis is not wrong; we should always bear in mind, however, questions of presupposition.

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A Threshold (Trumping Transformation)

#trumpswindle | #wellduh

President Donald Trump reacts to the song as he arrives at a rally at the Phoenix Convention Center, Tuesday, 22 August 2017, in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo: Alex Brandon/AP Photo)

There is breaking report today via NBC News explaining that Donald Trump’s lawyers are reportedly negotiating with Robert Mueller and the Office of Special Counsel, both for the terms of a presidential interview and in hopes of avoiding one altogether. We ought to mark the point simply as a matter of threshold: Last year, or, that is to say, last month, we heard from the president’s lawyers an expectation that Mueller and OSC would be wrapping up their investigation and clearing the president. Today we hear chatter that they are maneuvering to drag out the inquiry by trying to keep Special Counsel Mueller away from President Trump.

Say what we will about inevitability, but the transformation would seem to mark a threshold.

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Image note: President Donald Trump reacts to the song as he arrives at a rally at the Phoenix Convention Center, Tuesday, 22 August 2017, in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo: Alex Brandon/AP Photo)

Welker, Kristen, Carol E. Lee, Julia Ainsley, and Hallie Jackson. “Initial talks underway about Trump interview in Mueller Russia probe”. NBC News. 8 January 2018.

Trashy Schizophrenic Drudgery (Bannon Booty Mix)

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Composite: Donald Trumps, père and fils, photo by Sam Hodgson/New York Times; Vladimir Putin protest image, artist unknown.

“The book does seem to be a collection of stuff Wolff heard. How much of that stuff is actually true is a different question—one that’s much tougher to answer.”

―Andrew Prokop

The idea that Andrew Prokop should be explaining anything about the “gossipy new Trump book” he has not read might seem somehow inappropriate, but everything we might survey about the tome is a matter of reputation, and in that the Vox writer gives reasonable enough consideration:

Stephen Bannon, CEO of Republican nominee Donald Trump's presidential campaign, meets with the Trump Hispanic Advisory Council at Trump Tower in Manhattan, 20 August 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)The excerpts from it out so far tell a mostly familiar big-picture story of chaos during the presidential transition and in Trump’s early months in the White House. Wolff spruces things up, though, with new quotes, anecdotes, and purported personal details—many of which are eye-popping and unflattering.

Indeed, some of the things Wolff describes in the excerpts sound so outlandish—and also happen to be so hazily sourced—that there’s already a vigorous discussion in the political world about how, exactly, this book should be interpreted. As fact? As “trashy tabloid fiction,” as the White House argues? Or as something in between?

And while there is plenty about the reputation of author Michael Wolff, we might consider the idea of Matt Drudge calling Steve Bannon “schizophrenic”, and for better reasons than two assholes fighting for headlines, or noting this or that about once upon a time, the competition, and who counts as the establishment journalist. Remember that Steve Bannon told Michael Wolff precisely what news consumers want to hear from their favorite talking heads.

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Image notes: Top — Composite featuring Donalds père and fils, protest image of Vladimir Putin. (Credits: Sam Hodgson/New York Times; anonymous.)  Right — Steve Bannon (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters).

Edison Hayden, Michael. “Matt Drudge criticized ‘schizophrenic’ Steve Bannon”. Raw Story. 3 January 2018.

Prokop, Andrew. “The controversy around Michael Wolff’s gossipy new Trump book, explained”. Vox. 4 January 2018.

Perspicacity, Not Clairvoyance

#PutiTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Special Counsel Robert Mueller (AP Photo)

This is just a note to file away. No reason. Never mind. Anyway, Digby reminds:

Perhaps it’s a coincidence that so much of the information in question was republished on a website called HelloFLA by a Florida Republican and former congressional staffer named Aaron Nevins, who was connected to Trump associate and longtime political operative Roger Stone. It could be completely random that among the core group of Mueller antagonists, those calling the probe a “coup d’état” and demanding purges of members of the “deep state” are Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who proposed that Mueller’s funding be cut off, and the aforementioned Rep. Francis Rooney, who’s been all over TV talking about purging the FBI.

Indeed, as journalist Marcy Wheeler pointed out a while back, one of the ringleaders of the movement to discredit the Department of Justice and Robert Mueller, Rep. DeSantis, directly benefited from Guccifer 2.0’s leak to Nevins after the latter published five documents regarding the DCCC’s recruitment of DeSantis’ Democratic opponent, George Pappas. According to The Wall Street Journal, Guccifer 2.0 even sent a link with a HelloFLA article directly to Roger Stone, who told reporters he didn’t forward the hacked material to anyone—the answer to a question nobody asked.

If Mueller’s team is looking into the digital operation and Roger Stone’s interactions with Guccifer 2.0, as one would expect them to do, then these shenanigans in Florida are also coming into view. That may explain why this little circle of Sunshine State GOP congressmen are so anxious to shut him down.

Flip a coin. Heads, say something, it turns out to be nothing, you end up sounding paranoid. Tails, say nothing, and, well, it’s a complicated tale of tailored traditions having to do with four words best left unsaid. And that’s the thing; say nothing and there will never be any temptation to say those words, but that probably is not so important as the point that such opportunity means something happened.

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Everyday, Easy Cowardice (Palmetto Virtue Edition)

#rapeculture | #WhatTheyVotedFor

House Benghazi Committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC04) speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, 6 January 2016, before the start of the committee's closed-door hearing. The House committee is looking into the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya and is interviewing former CIA director David Petraeus as the investigation enters its third calendar year, and a presidential election year. (Susan Walsh/AP Photo)

The report from Griffin Connolly, for Roll Call, might not be surprising—

Rep. Trey Gowdy, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, will not initiate an investigation into allegations of sexual assault against President Donald Trump, he signaled in a letter Tuesday.

—but it seems worth pointing out that Republicans are not even trying. Nor is this a new phenomenon; it just seems especially relevant.

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Cheap Sarcasm (w/Apologies to The Hill)

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President Donald Trump speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., 28 June 2017. (Evan Vucci/AP Photo/File)

Would someone please correct me, as I’m wrong?

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders denied Friday that former Presidents Obama and George W. Bush were referring to President Trump when they warned in separate speeches Thursday about politicians sowing anger and division in the country.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP Photo)“Our understanding is that those comments were not directed towards the president and, in fact, when these two individuals, both past presidents, have criticized the president, they’ve done so by name and very rarely do it without being pretty direct, as both of them tend to be,” Sanders said. “So we will take them at their word that these actions and comments were not directed at the president.”

(Easley)

The thing is, I’m loath to pick on The Hill, this time around, but perhaps someone accidentally edited out the part where White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders actually quoted or cited former Presidents Bush and Obama when claiming to “take them at their word”.

That is to say, she didn’t just make it up, right?

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The Republican Character (Even More Fuckless)

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

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

This is unsurprising, though perhaps saying so risks overstating the point. Via Washington Post:

The EPA inspector general’s office announced in August that it had opened an inquiry into Pruitt’s frequent travel to his home state of Oklahoma. The internal watchdog at the time said its investigation was triggered by “congressional requests and a hotline complaint, all of which expressed concerns about Administrator Pruitt’s travel—primarily his frequent travel to and from his home state of Oklahoma at taxpayer expense.”

The probe was triggered in part by findings from the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit group that detailed through public records that Pruitt had spent nearly half of the days in March, April and May in Oklahoma. Initially, EPA investigators said they planned to audit Pruitt’s travel records, as well as those of his security and top aides, through the end of July.

But on Friday, the inspector general’s office said it would expand that inquiry to include all of Pruitt’s travel through the end of September, and not just trips to Oklahoma.

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The Republican Character (Flying Fuckless)

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP Photo)

This should be surprising. No, really, at some point it seems significant that this basic, commonsense, “Republicans just spent twenty-five years complaining about all this!” stupidity of two-bit, everyday corruption in the Trump administration is anything but surprising.

A summer visit that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke made to the Vegas Golden Knights hockey team is now under two investigations by federal watchdogs.

The Interior Department’s inspector general has added concerns about Zinke’s meeting with the new NHL team and use of a private jet from Las Vegas to an investigation it opened Friday looking into the secretary’s travel, an IG spokesperson confirmed to CNN Wednesday.

The Office of Special Counsel has also opened a Hatch Act investigation into Zinke’s meeting with the hockey team.

The OSC probe is the sixth known investigation into travel by the administration’s cabinet members.

(Green)

This is not really so obscure. In the long history of abusing the -gate suffix, there was “Travelgate”. This had to do with Republicans complaining about Clinton White House hirings in the Travel Office. Something goes here about Bill Clinton’s successor, political hiring, and that bit even ties into a Republican email scandal, if you can believe it. No, really. Private email server. Twenty-two million missing emails discovered right at the time we needed to know what was going on about the replacement of career bureaucrats with political favors. An actual travel scandal? To the one, we ought not be surprised. To the other, Republicans just aren’t trying. For all the trauma they drag the nation through in fevered scandalmongering, Republicans owe us an appearance of trying to at least pretend an appearance of giving a flying fuck.    (more…)