US Senate

Infamy (James Brien Comey, Jr.)

FBI Director James Comey testifies before a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on oversight of the State Department, 7 July 2016, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: REUTERS/Gary Cameron)

Peter Elkind, for ProPublica:

FBI director James Comey generated national headlines last week with his dramatic testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, explaining his “incredibly painful” decision to go public about the Hillary Clinton emails found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop.

Perhaps Comey’s most surprising revelation was that Huma Abedin—Weiner’s wife and a top Clinton deputy—had made “a regular practice” of forwarding “hundreds and thousands” of Clinton messages to her husband, “some of which contain classified information.” Comey testified that Abedin had done this so that the disgraced former congressman could print them out for her boss ....

.... The problem: Much of what Comey said about this was inaccurate. Now the FBI is trying to figure out what to do about it.

FBI officials have privately acknowledged that Comey misstated what Abedin did and what the FBI investigators found. On Monday, the FBI was said to be preparing to correct the record by sending a letter to Congress later this week. But that plan now appears on hold, with the bureau undecided about what to do.

Take some time. Let that sink in.

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Image note: FBI Director James Comey. (Photo: Gary Cameron/Reuters)

Elkind, Peter. “Comey’s Testimony on Huma Abedin Forwarding Emails Was Inaccurate”. ProPublica. 9 May 2017.

Some 2020 Democratic Presidential Speculation, Just Because

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

It would be easy enough to overplay the drama in an early look toward the 2020 election by Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin of the New York Times:

In a largely leaderless party, two distinct groups are emerging, defined mostly by age and national stature. On one side are three potential candidates approaching celebrity status who would all be over 70 years old on Election Day: Mr. Biden, and Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Competing against the Democrats’ senior cohort is a large and relatively shapeless set of younger candidates who span the ideological spectrum: governors, senators, mayors, wealthy executives and even members of the House. They are animated by the president’s turbulent debut and the recent history, from Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 to Mr. Trump’s last year, of upstart candidates’ catching fire.

In the Senate alone, as much as a quarter of the Democrats’ 48-member caucus are thought to be giving at least a measure of consideration to the 2020 race, among them Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Kamala Harris of California. All are closer to 40 than 80.

For now, however, it is the party’s septuagenarian trio that is casting the longest shadow over 2020, and all three have taken steps to extend or expand their leadership status in the party.

In between, for good measure, is discussion of an amorphous non-faction we might consider as the collected other, including Rep. Seth Moulton (MA-06), Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. Before booking the orchestra for a dramatic score, we should remember this is merely April, 2017; Democrats need to to read the midterm map, first. That is to say, it seems a bit early to see who lands where in relation to what. And, admittedly, it is hard to account for the proverbial known unknowns in the time of Trump; the unknown unknowns seem extraordinary at this time, too.α

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The “Candy Option”

#SameSameButDifferent | #WhatTheyVotedFor

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (left) meets with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI01; center) and Vice President-elect Mike Pence on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., 10 November 2016. (Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

“As full-blown tax reform looks more and more like an unreachable stretch, there’s increasing conversation on the Hill about what’s being called a “candy option”—all the goodies, with none of the pain.”

Jonathan Swan

Three brief notes go here:

• A Senate aide is actually calling it, “the candy option”.

• Apparently, the reason for a candy option, in the first place, is that, “It’s something they can pass”, according to an unnamed Republican lobbyist.

• The Axios report includes a note that, “Both House and Senate leadership sources tell us they don’t think the ‘candy’ route is feasible”.

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Something About Getting Stoned … Rogered … Trumped … (Never Mind)

#PutiTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Roger J. Stone Jr. in La Quinta, California, in March, 2017. (Photo: Jenna Schoenefeld/The New York Times)

Via the New York Times:

Roger J. Stone Jr., an informal adviser to President Trump, has been asked by the Senate Intelligence Committee to preserve any records he may have in connection to a broader inquiry into Russian attempts to interfere with United States elections.

The letter sent to Mr. Stone, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, represents the first public indication of the scope of the committee’s inquiry, and possible connections to Mr. Trump’s campaign.

The Senate committee asked Mr. Stone, who is also under scrutiny from other federal investigators, to “preserve and retain all hard copies and electronically stored information as specified below in furtherance of the committee’s ongoing investigation into Russian actions targeting the 2016 U.S. elections and democratic processes globally.”

Mr. Stone confirmed the existence of the letter, which was dated Feb. 17. However, he said he had received it only on Friday, by email. Mr. Stone has acknowledged trading messages over Twitter with Guccifer 2.0, the online persona that officials believe was actually Russian intelligence officers.

Part of the trick is if you squint enough, you can focus on just one aspect of the #PutiTrump scandal and make it stand out just enough to say it’s actually nothing at all. If you stare hard enough, everything else becomes a blur, and then this bit in focus seems the only thing there is, and therefore nothing of any significance at all.

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The Difference ‘Twixt Republicans and Government

#theUnion | #WhatTheyVotedAgainst

It is so easy to miss these little moments amid the cacophony. Steve Benen brought us this episode, eariler this month:

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer attempts to demonstrate the difference between government and the Republican health care agenda during a daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., 7 March 2017. (Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters)Apparently, the point is that the Republicans’ proposal, panned by practically everyone who isn’t an elected GOP official, is better – because it’s shorter. This was Spicer’s exact quote to reporters:

“People who have concerns about this, especially on the right, look at the size. This [puts hand on tall pile of paper] is the Democrats’; this [puts hand on short pile of paper] is us. There is, you can’t get any clearer, in terms of this [puts hand on tall pile of paper] is government; this [puts hand on short pile of paper] is not.”

Please note, this wasn’t a joke. Spicer wasn’t kidding around. In 2017, the chief spokesperson for the president of the world’s dominant superpower argued, in all seriousness, that the merit of a national health care plan can be measured in part by page numbers.

There really is something to the idea that the presidency of Donald Trump marks the arrival proper of internet culture in American society; usually this point takes the form of reflections on trolling, flaming, and people who like lulz. This is different. This has something to do with an idea called Poe’s Law, which pertains to the written word and, for instance, emoticons. The idea is that there arises a threshold at which, without some manner of hint or cue, it becomes impossible to discern ‘twixt satire and genuine representation. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer trying to illustrate the difference between the Republican agenda for government and actual government slouches toward this dark and nebulous quarter.

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Image note: White House Press Secretary attempts to demonstrate the difference between government and the Republican health care agenda during a daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., 7 March 2017. (Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Benen, Steve. “By pointing to piles of paper, Spicer makes the worst argument of all”. msnbc. 7 March 2017.

Sense and Sensibility in #DimensionTrump

#incompetence | #WhatTheyVotedFor

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

This is just another example:

Graham and Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley have both said they will hold up hearings for Rod Rosenstein, Trump’s nominee to serve as deputy attorney general, unless they get more information from the FBI. Given Sessions’ recusal, Rosenstein would take over responsibility for any probes touching the Trump campaign and Russia’s election meddling if he’s confirmed.

“It’s just too bad that we have to go to this length,” Grassley said.

(Pace)

Remember, when a Republican tells you government does not or cannot work, remember this is a warning, a threat, a thesis to be proved; underlying it all is a notion that government should not work.

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A Conservative Fallacy: Dualism (Bust It or Bust)

#ryancare | #trumpcare

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (left) meets with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI01; center) and Vice President-elect Mike Pence on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., 10 November 2016. (Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

This is a basic conservative fallacy:

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan is selling the Republicans’ health care bill the same way he did the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump. But on the health front, his pitch is falling flat with conservatives.

“Binary choice” is the phrase the Wisconsin Republican used during the presidential election to describe his reason for supporting Trump over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Ryan acknowledged throughout the campaign that both candidates were flawed but Trump was the better of two options, the only one who would help Republicans advance their legislative agenda.

“It really comes down to a binary choice,” the speaker said Thursday during his weekly press conference about moving forward with the GOP’s plan or leaving in place the 2010 health care law.

“This is the closest we will ever get to repealing and replacing Obamacare,” Ryan said. “The time is here. The time is now. This is the moment. And this is the closest this will ever happen.”

(McPherson)

The only subtlety about it is Speaker Ryan’s lack of subtlety.

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Mundane Strangeness

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

U.S. President Donald Trump pauses as he talks to members of the travel pool aboard Air Force One during a trip to Palm Beach, Florida, while flying over South Carolina, 3 February 2017. (Reuters/Carlos Barria)

This is one of those thing that … well, okay, so it is easy enough to get lost in the crashing waves of information tumbling across the land, as it is, but this is also the time of President Donald Trump, so we find ourselves suddenly having need for seemingly oxymoronic terms, such as mundane strangeness:

Sonny Perdue, President Donald Trump’s nominee to serve as agriculture secretary, has not yet been confirmed, and nobody knows why.

It’s not that Democrats are obstructing his confirmation—since changes to the Senate’s filibuster rule, they can’t block a Trump nominee unless they recruit three Republican “no” votes. And in the case of Perdue—unlike, say, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos—they aren’t trying to do this. Nor are they resorting to extraordinary measures like the all-night debate that stalled Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s confirmation, or the committee walkouts that dramatized ethical issues hanging over the heads of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin or Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

The reason the Senate hasn’t yet approved his nomination is that he hasn’t actually been officially nominated yet. Paperwork hasn’t yet traveled down from the executive branch to the Senate, so no hearings have been scheduled, even though Perdue does not appear to be a controversial nominee.

(Yglesias)

We should probably take the moment to clarify: If, for instance, we say that nobody knows what the problem is it isn’t so much a matter of political parsing as a matter of practicality. “They don’t seem to have a reason,” explained Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-NE), last week, “as to why his name hasn’t come up.” Perhaps someone in the Trump administration knows why; meanwhile, neither is the speculation absolutely raw.

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#reportweet (The Acosta Sessions)

#PutiTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President Donald Trump addresses the United States Congress, 28 February 2017, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Jim LoScalzo/Pool Image via AP)

Jim Acosta of CNN, via Twitter, yesterday:

[1] Former Trump campaign nat sec adv JD Gordon tells me he and other nat sec adv’s met with Russian Amb in Cleveland during GOP convention.

[2] Gordon says he discussed goal to forge better US relationship with Russia. But there was no conversation about Russians helping Trump camp.

[3] At convention Gordon says he and others advocated for GOP platform to include language against arming Ukrainians against pro-Russian rebels.

[4] Gordon says this was in line with Trump’s views, expressed at March national security meeting at unfinished Trump hotel in March.

[5] Gordon says Trump said at meeting at unfinished Trump hotel in March that he didn’t want to go to “World War Three” over Ukraine.

[6] Then Senator Jeff Sessions presided over the meeting, Gordon added.

[7] Gordon says he briefed WH spox Sarah Huckabee Sanders on conversations he and other Trump advisers had with Russian Amb during convention.

[8] Gordon’s conversation with Sanders was today, I’m told.

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h/t Jen Hayden @ Daily Kos

Image note: President Donald Trump addresses the United States Congress, 28 February 2017, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Jim LoScalzo/Pool Image via AP)

A Brief Sketch (Not Quite Caviar)

#nihil | #WhatTheyVotedFor

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), January, 2014. (AP Photo)

We should probably sketch this detail of the cycle:

• Press Secretary defends Attorney General:

Sessions called the report “false” in a statement last night, saying he “never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign.” He repeated this morning that he would recuse himself wherever it is appropriate to do so.

However, Spicer said that would not apply in this case.

“There’s nothing to recuse himself [from]. He was 100% straight with the committee,” said Spicer, adding that Democrats should be “ashamed of themselves” for playing “partisan politics” on this issue.

(FOX News)

• President defends Attorney General:

President Trump defended Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday night, insisting that the former Alabama senator “did not say anything wrong” amid swirling criticism over his testimony earlier this year about contacts with Russian officials.

Trump appeared to be referring to Sessions’ statements before the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation, when Sessions said he had not spoken to Russian officials. It was revealed this week that Sessions twice spoke with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. last year.

“Jeff Sessions is an honest man. He did not say anything wrong,” Trump said in a statement posted on Facebook. “He could have stated his response more accurately, but it was clearly not intentional.”

(Greenwood)

• The Attorney General runs to FOX News for a friendly interview:

Sessions explained that the question he received from Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) at his January confirmation hearing focused specifically on whether he had spoken with Russia continually about the presidential campaign. While Sessions has now admitted he met twice with the Russian ambassador last year, he said they did not have any such conversations about political campaigns.

Why, though, Carlson wondered, did former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s own Russian scandal not raise any red flags with him? After all, Flynn was eventually pressured to resign.

“It was never a thought,” Sessions insisted. It was “unrelated.”

The Russian officials and any one else in the room at the times of his meetings would corroborate that he “did not say one thing that was improper.”

(O’Brien)

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