#DrainTheSwamp

The Art of the Swamp (Smile Through)

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Michael D. Cohen in New York City, 13 April 2018. (Detail of photo by Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

The setup, via Jonathan Chait:

Viktor Vekselberg. (Photo: Mikhail Metzel/TASS via Getty Images)Earlier this month, when Michael Avenatti reported that Michael Cohen’s Delaware shell company received half a million dollars from a firm linked to a Russian oligarch, it looked quite shady. But the firm, Columbus Nova, quickly asserted the oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, had only a tangential relationship to it, and had not used it as a conduit to pay Cohen. Columbus Nova released a statement insisting it was “owned and controlled by Americans and not Vekselberg, and denied that Vekselberg had ever owned the company or used it as a conduit for payments.” So maybe it wasn’t a Russian bribe. Maybe it was just an investment firm, which happened to have a large Russian client, looking to get influence with the administration the way many businesses do.

As more information has dribbled out, the innocent explanation has looked less and less plausible.

And the punch line, from the New York Times:

Eleven days before the presidential inauguration last year, a billionaire Russian businessman with ties to the Kremlin visited Trump Tower in Manhattan to meet with Donald J. Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, according to video footage and another person who attended the meeting.

In Mr. Cohen’s office on the 26th floor, he and the oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, discussed a mutual desire to strengthen Russia’s relations with the United States under President Trump, according to Andrew Intrater, an American businessman who attended the meeting and invests money for Mr. Vekselberg. The men also arranged to see one another during the inauguration festivities, the second of their three meetings, Mr. Intrater said.

Days after the inauguration, Mr. Intrater’s private equity firm, Columbus Nova, awarded Mr. Cohen a $1 million consulting contract, a deal that has drawn the attention of federal authorities investigating Mr. Cohen, according to people briefed on the inquiry.

(Rashbaum, Protess, and McIntire)

Such as it is, something about gravity goes here. There is a certain point at which it is not so much the notion of everything going downhill from there, but, rather, the appearance of trying to smile through a screaming, flaming plummet into a cursed abyss. No, really, there is even a clown car taxi joke in there having to do with a “series of coincidences” that really does sound like a its own manner of comedic setup about how there they all were minding their own business when all of a sudden . . . .

Something, something, #WhatTheyVotedFor.

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Image notes: Top — Michael D. Cohen in New York City, 13 April 2018. (Detail of photo by Jeenah Moon/Reuters)  Right Viktor Vekselberg. (Photo: Mikhail Metzel/TASS via Getty Images)

Chait, Jonathan. “Did a Russian Oligarch Funnel Money From Russia to Michael Cohen?” New York. 25 May 2018.

Rashbaum, William K., Ben Protess, and Mike McIntire. “At Trump Tower, Michael Cohen and Oligarch Discussed Russian Relations”. The New York Times. 25 May 2018.

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The Pruitt Watch (Probably Not Pizza)

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Kenneth P. Vogel (@kenvogel): "During trip to Italy, SCOTT PRUITT dined at a 5-star restaurant with a Cardinal who is a climate change skeptic, even though @EPA staff knew the Cardinal was under investigation for child sex abuse. But they omitted the Cardinal's name from schedules released under FOIA. THREAD:" ―Eric Lipton (@EricLiptonNYT): "FOLLOW ALONG WITH US HERE, as we walk through a FASCINATING collection of documents The NYT has pulled together about a certain dinner in Rome that EPA's Scott Pruitt had last June with Cardinal Pell, who is now facing sexual..." [via Twitter, 10 May 2018]

Rude balls and shitfire! (What? At least it’s not two-bit slapdash about what five-star pizza tastes like. No, seriously, what the hell is anybody supposed to say? Of all the extraneous scandals on the planet, five-star dinner in Rome with an accused child molesting Cardinal who just happens to be a climate change wan― . . . I mean . . . goddamnit!)

Oh, right:

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)During trip to Italy, SCOTT PRUITT dined at a 5-star restaurant with a Cardinal who is a climate change skeptic, even though @EPA staff knew the Cardinal was under investigation for child sex abuse. But they omitted the Cardinal’s name from schedules released under FOIA.

Ken Vogel’s summary, via Twitter, suffices, but the real action, as he notes, is Eric Lipton’s tweet thread covering New York Times research and investigation into yet another scandal challenging EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

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Image notes: Top — Tweet by Kenneth P. Vogel, 10 May 2018.  Right — 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)

@EricLiptonNYT. “Follow along with us here, as we walk through a fascinating collection of documents The NYT has pulled together about a certain dinner in Rome that EPA’s Scott Pruitt had last June with Cardinal Pell, who is now facing sexual abuse charges”. Twitter. 10 May 2018.

@kenvogel. “During trip to Italy, Scott Pruitt dined at a 5-star restaurant with a Cardinal who is a climate change skeptic, even though @EPA staff knew the Cardinal was under investigation for child sex abuse. But they omitted the Cardinal’s name from schedules released under FOIA.” Twitter. 10 May 2018.

Rudy’s Bizarre Adventure

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President Donald Trump leaves after speaking during the first meeting of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, 19 July 2017, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

In truth, the problem with calling Rudy Giuliani the gift that keeps on giving is not the fact of its politic, but, rather the disaster that statement represents. Caroline Orr, for instance, noted yesterday—

Speaking about the Mueller probe, Rudy Giuliani tells Judge Jeanine: “Maybe they think Manafort’s somebody they can flip faster.”

… hence implying that Manafort has incriminating evidence on Trump that would give him leverage to flip.

—and that ought to be hilarious except for the fact that it is real. And toward a certain political objection we might simply note that regardless of aesthetics and sincerely held beliefs, there really are investigations afoot, and one of President Trump’s attorneys really is putting on some extraordinary manner of flaming excremental spectacle.

The lede from Zeke Miller for Associated Press is striking insofar as it is a lawyer saying it instead of some conservative pundit on cable news—and, sure, go ahead and make the obvious point about Rudy Giuliani as a pundit, but what, really, is anyone to actually do with it?—but then we also face the prospect that this is an attorney for the President of the United States, which ought to be significant in and of itself even before begging the question of a sitting president pleading the Fifth:

President Donald Trump’s new attorney, Rudy Giuliani, won’t rule out the possibility that the president would assert his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in the swirling Russia investigation.

“How could I ever be confident of that?” the former New York City mayor and U.S. attorney said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

Giuliani said despite Trump’s openness to sit down with special counsel Robert Mueller, he would strongly advise Trump against it.

“I’m going to walk him into a prosecution for perjury like Martha Stewart?” Giuliani said. Stewart was convicted in 2004 of lying to investigators and obstruction in an insider trading case.

Giuliani suggested that Trump wouldn’t necessarily comply with a subpoena from Mueller, but he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of the president sitting for an interview with Mueller.

“He’s the president of the United States,” Giuliani said. “We can assert the same privileges other presidents have.”

That last is, technically, true; many critics will rightly point out it is also functionally meaningless; asserting privilege is different from actually exercising them insofar as one must make the assertion stick, and history does in fact seem clear on this point, which in turn means invoking and asserting a constitutional right: The President of the United States will not convey any true information that would incriminate him.    (more…)

The Pruitt Watch (Peat Fire)

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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

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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)

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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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The Pruitt Watch (#swampstyle)

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

The lede from Bloomberg ought to be enough—

President Donald Trump called his embattled environmental chief Monday to assure him his job is safe amid mounting scrutiny of Scott Pruitt’s travel, hiring practices and an unorthodox condo rental arrangement last year, according to two administration officials.

—to beg the question: So, the clock is ticking, then, right?

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What They Voted For: Swampstyle

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

Ital Vardi brings this wonderful bit of news for the Huffington Post:

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is a shareholder in a private Montana company that manufactures and sells firearms and advanced weapons materials, a financial interest he did not disclose when nominated last year.

In response to inquiries from HuffPost, both Zinke and the company, PROOF Research Inc., confirmed the secretary’s holdings, though the dollar value placed on them varied. This previously undisclosed holding comes to light after numerous decisions in his first year in office that benefited the hunting and gun industries.

PROOF Research Inc. was first established in 2011 in Zinke’s hometown of Whitefish, Montana, under the name Extreme Precision Armaments Inc., according to state of Montana business records. The company specializes in the production of lightweight rifles with high-precision carbon fiber barrels for hunting and military applications and was born as a merger of four smaller firearms and gun parts companies. It later changed its name to PROOF Research Inc. and moved to the nearby town of Columbia Falls.

According to the company’s website, its facility in Columbia Falls produces “the world’s finest composite barrels, stocks, and complete rifles.” A second facility in Dayton, Ohio, makes specialized high-temperature composite materials for the aerospace and defense industries, including components for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and B-2 stealth bomber.

Obvious questions present themselves, but there is also something inherently clownish about the brazen stupidity of the omission, and given everything else, Steve Benen’s point last week, that the “Interior Secretary can’t seem to stay out of trouble”, resonates anew. There is also some impulse to raise an eyebrow at the seeming strangeness of a small firearms firm with such specialized defense-industry pedigree.

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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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