International

The Man of the Hour

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Political strategist Stephen Bannon speaks at a Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore campaign rally in Midland City, Alabama, 11 December 2017. (Reuters/Carlo Allegri)

The triple-bylined exclusive from The Daily Beast opens like sublime comedy:

Steve Bannon is lawyering up as he gets ready to face investigators looking into the Trump-Russia nexus.

The Daily Beast has learned that the former top White House strategist has retained Bill Burck, of the firm Quinn Emanuel. Two sources tell us Burck is helping Bannon prepare for an interview with the House intelligence committee, which is currently scheduled for next week. Sources also said Bannon plans to “fully cooperate” with investigators.

Puti TootsBurck also represents White House Counsel Don McGahn and former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus for the purposes of the Russia probe ....

(Woodruff, Markay, and Suebsaeng)

To the one, this ought to be in some manner artistically appreciable; to the other, we cannot reiterate enough that as much as Mr. Bannon needs to testify under oath, and about more than simply his time with the Trump campaign, neither, really, can he be trusted. That is to say, spectacularly flaming paragon of right-wing cynicism he might be, Steve Bannon not only can be expected to throw the House Intelligence Committee, and thus the entire Beltway, into chaos, but virtually cannot fail to discredit Congressional inquiries into the #TrumpRussia affair.

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Nearly Laughable

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President Donald Trump delivers remarks at a press conference in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, D.C., 16 February 2017. (Photo: Associated Press)

At first glance, it seems nearly laughable—

President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon will be interviewed next week by a U.S. House of Representatives committee investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, a person familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

The interview behind closed doors on Tuesday with the House Intelligence Committee will focus on Bannon’s time on the campaign, not the transition or his time in the White House, the source said.

Political strategist Stephen Bannon speaks at a Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore campaign rally in Midland City, Alabama, 11 December 2017. (Reuters/Carlo Allegri)—but the news from Reuters reporters Karen Freifeld and Patricia Zengerle can also sound like the start of something, well, if not good then at least spectacular.

To the other, this is Steve Bannon, and if he can tell news consumers precisely what they want to hear, he can tell politicians exactly what needs to in order that the Beltway should rupture into flaming panic.

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Image note: Top —President Donald Trump delivers remarks at a press conference in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, D.C., 16 February 2017. (Photo: Associated Press)  Right — Political strategist Stephen Bannon speaks at a Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore campaign rally in Midland City, Alabama, 11 December 2017. (Reuters/Carlo Allegri)

Freifeld, Karen and Patricia Zengerle. “Bannon to appear before Congress committee for Russia probe”. Reuters. 11 January 2018.

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.

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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#DimensionTrump: The Lulzie Lede (Stone Stupid Mix)

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

L-R: Julian Assange of WikiLeaks; comedian Randy Credico; longtime Republican hand and boasting conspirator Roger Stone.  (Detail of composite image via RT, ca. 2017.)

It ought to be significant of something that Dan Friedman of Mother Jones can possibly offer a lede like this:

Randy Credico, a comedian and radio host who Trump adviser Roger Stone claims was his intermediary to WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, has asserted his Fifth Amendment right ahead of an interview with the House Intelligence Committee that was scheduled for Friday, according to his lawyer. As a result, the committee has released Credico from appearing before the panel as part of its investigation into the Trump-Russia scandal.

To some degree, this kind of utter stupidity really is some aspect of #WhatTheyVotedFor.   (more…)

A Moment in re a Moment

Sometimes it’s a quick rethinking:World Health Organization [WHO]

The World Health Organization rescinded Zimbabwe’s controversial longtime President Robert Mugabe’s status as a goodwill ambassador on Sunday.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus issued a statement announcing the removal of Mugabe’s goodwill ambassador status after he conferred with international health groups.

“Over the last few days, I have reflected on my appointment of H.E. President Robert Mugabe as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for NCDs in Africa,” Tedros said. “As a result I have decided to rescind the appointment.”

(Uria)

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A Moment from the World Today

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe during a meeting with South African President Jacob Zuma, at the Presidential Guesthouse in Pretoria, South Africa, 3 October 2017.  (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe/File)

The headline from Associated Press is itself something of a wonder to behold: “WHO chief now ‘rethinking’ Mugabe ‘goodwill ambassador’ post”. The detail, then, is about what we might expect.

After widespread shock and condemnation, the head of the World Health Organization said Saturday he is “rethinking” his appointment of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe as a “goodwill ambassador.”

In a new tweet, WHO director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus said that “I’m listening. I hear your concerns. Rethinking the approach in light of WHO values. I will issue a statement as soon as possible.”

As condemnation poured in from around the world, well, yes, it would seem the decision needed rethinking. Still, we should remember that there is in fact something of an international custom of reaching out to pariah states by giving them seemingly absurd chairs on important panels and committees in the international discourse. Perhaps the time for this, as with many other nod and wink accommodations of bad behavior, has come to an end. If so, call it progress.

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Image note: Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe during a meeting with South African President Jacob Zuma, at the Presidential Guesthouse in Pretoria, South Africa, 3 October 2017. (Themba Hadebe/AP Photo)

Associated Press. “WHO chief now ‘rethinking’ Mugabe ‘goodwill ambassador’ post”. 21 October 2017.

Sixty Million Dollars, and Probably Still Counting

#PutiTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Paul Manafort appears on Meet the Press, 10 April 2016; the Donald Trump campaign aide would eventually become campaign manager. (Detail of image from NBC News)

The headline from NBC News, that “Manafort Had $60 Million Relationship With a Russian Oligarch”, might actually be understated:

An NBC News investigation reveals that $26 million changed hands in the form of a loan between a company linked to Manafort and the oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire with close ties to the Kremlin.

The loan brings the total of their known business dealings to around $60 million over the past decade, according to financial documents filed in Cyprus and the Cayman Islands.

(Petropoulos and Engel)

The important point, then, might well be the sum of known dealings. In other words, the headline could soon need updating to a larger number. Then again, that would be kind of like the problem with trying to follow the sad, epic ballad of Paul Manafort, which, in turn, is much like trying to keep up with the spectacular disaster that is the Donald Trump Experience; things go downhill so quickly that if you stop to make the point it is already obsolete.

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Image note: Paul Manafort appears on Meet the Press, 10 April 2016. (Detail of image from NBC News)

Petropoulos, Aggelos and Richard Engel. “Manafort Had $60 Million Relationship With a Russian Oligarch”. NBC News. 13 October 2017.