• ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, June 29

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     Sex charges against top Vatican official (Fox)

    Cardinal George Pell, head of Vatican finances and the most senior Catholic in Australia, has been charged with sex offenses. He will return to Australia’s state of Victoria and vows to fight the charges. He calls them “relentless character assassination.”

    Comment: This is grim, sad stuff, if the charges can be proven.

     Closing in on the leakers who are giving highly-classified materials to the media to sink the Trump administration and prove the Obama administration was effective in dealing with Russia, Iran, and other problems

    In a very important story, Adam Kredo says the latest wave of leaks is very serious

    A new wave of leaks targeting the Trump administration has actively endangered ongoing intelligence and military operations being conducted by the United States and its allies, sparking anger and concern inside and outside the White House. –Adam Kredo, Washington Free Beacon

    So, who was it?

    The leaks have been traced to a number of former Obama administration officials, including Ben Rhodes—the former National Security Council official responsible for creating an in-house ‘echo chamber’ meant to mislead reporters and the public about the landmark nuclear deal with Iran—and Colin Kahl, former Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser.

    Another source, this one a senior administration official who is also intimately familiar with the situation, confirmed the assessment to the Washington Free Beacon. –Kredo in Washington Free Beacon

    Comment: Kredo has done superb reporting on this story for months. The nation’s most prominent papers have done no investigating because, of course, they are the recipients of these leaks.

    I had always suspected Rhodes was one of the culprits. After all, it was Rhodes who bragged about his ability to manipulate the media, creating “an echo chamber” among journalists who didn’t really know anything about Iran or the nuclear deal.

    Now, the goals are different: undermine Trump and defend the great achievements of the Obama Administration.

    The FBI should be investigating this. Whoever did it should be fitted for prison garb. There are echo chambers there, too: concrete walls.

     Georgetown’s new dean of their Doha campus has written openly of his support for Hezbollah

    The former head of Islamic studies on Georgetown’s Washington campus, Ahmad Dallal

    signed a 2006 petition declaring his “conscious support for the Lebanese national resistance [Hezbollah] as it wages a war” against Israel, adding

     that it is “a war to safeguard the dignity of the Lebanese and Arab people.” The statement declared Hezbollah’s murderous campaign a “heroic operation.”

    In his previous position as provost of American University of Beirut, Dallal slammed one of his colleagues for collaborating with Israeli scholars, declaring that the school would boycott the Jewish state. –Conservative Review, link here

    Comment: His graduate education came at ground zero for the decline and fall of Middle East Studies: Edward Said’s Columbia. Dallal has carried that torch forward and now reaches a very prominent position.

    There is a Yiddish word for what Georgetown has done: Shonda. It means shameful.

    I can only hope Prof. Dallal will pardon me for using such a word. 

     Venezuela is mired in conflict, suffering food shortages, and may be sliding into civil war (Washington Post)

    If Venezuela was plunged into chaos and violence and the Bolivarian Revolution destroyed, we would go to combat,” Maduro said to a crowd of supporters, referring to the socialist, populist platform that transformed Venezuela under his charismatic predecessor, Hugo Chávez. “We would never give up, and what couldn’t be done with votes, we would do with weapons. We would liberate the fatherland with weapons.” –Washington Post

    Comment: There was a saying about East Germany: it takes a really, really bad political structure to get the Germans to build a bad car. But East Germany was up to the task. 

    That applies to Venezuela, which has the world’s largest supply of oil underground, but cannot afford bread.

     Chair of EPA’s outside Board of Scientific Counselors says she was pressed by a Trump EPA official to change her Congressional testimony. The pressure came from the EPA’s chief of staff.

    Swackhamer said she “felt intimidated” but refused to change her testimony.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Dan Pipes and Gregg Roman
     for the Georgetown-Doha story
    ◆ Cheryl Brownstein for the EPA story

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, June 26

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     After indications that Syria’s Assad might use chemical weapons again, Trump warns he will pay “a heavy price” for “mass murder” (New York Times)

    Comment: As with most deterrent threats, it is hard to know whether it will work.

    What we do know is that it is could work because it is credible.

    That is, the target (Syria, in this case) has good reasons to believe we will do what we threaten if he acts.

    After Pres. Obama’s failed “red line” and other missteps, our threats were heavily discounted.

    It is worth noting, then, that Trump has managed to reestablish America’s deterrent threat quickly after 8 years of neglect and decline.

     CNN has made several major errors in reporting the Trump-Russia investigation, all adverse to the Administration.

    After the retractions, three CNN journalists are going to spend more time with their families. Story here (Washington Post)

    Comment: My sense is that CNN’s main viewership is airport passengers delayed in boarding.

    I hope the transportation industry survives this setback.

     Amazing story, if further proof emerges. Circa reports that the FBI investigation of Michael Flynn began after he intervened to help a (purported) victim of FBI sexual discrimination.  Circa’s John Solomon and Sara Carter have done first-rate reporting on scandals, so their coverage should be taken seriously. The key here is that the person accused of discrimination is very high-ranking. Indeed, he was acting head of the agency after Comey stepped down.

    The FBI launched a criminal probe against former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn two years after the retired Army general roiled the bureau’s leadership by intervening on behalf of a decorated counterterrorism agent who accused now-Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe and other top officials of sexual discrimination, according to documents and interviews.

    Flynn’s intervention on behalf of Supervisory Special Agent Robyn Gritz was highly unusual, and included a letter in 2014 on his official Pentagon stationary, a public interview in 2015 supporting Gritz’s case and an offer to testify on her behalf. His offer put him as a hostile witness in a case against McCabe, who was soaring through the bureau’s leadership ranks.

    There is more than simple correlation here, according to Solomon and Carter.

    McCabe eventually became the bureau’s No. 2 executive and emerged as a central player in the FBI’s Russia election tampering investigation, putting him in a position to impact the criminal inquiry against Flynn.

    Three FBI employees told Circa they personally witnessed McCabe make disparaging remarks about Flynn before and during the time the retired Army general emerged as a figure in the Russia case.

    Comment: The report is stunning and looks like corruption, in the form of personal animus. 

    The weak part of the Circa allegation (so far) is that the Russia investigation began fully two years after the contretemps.

    The strong part is that McCabe seemed to have a personal grievance against someone he was investigating. That cannot be acceptable within any neutral investigative agency.

    This alleged corruption must be part of Mueller’s investigation.

     California regulators are moving to require Roundup weed killer to come with a “cancer-causing” label.  They say the main ingredient, glyphosate, is the problem. Monsanto, which makes the product, disputes the claim. Story here (ABC News)

     That attempted mass assassination of Republican lawmakers? The one by the rabid Bernie Sanders supporter?

    Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the No. 2 official in the Democratic National Committee, blames . . . go ahead, guess. You are correct. Trump.

    Story here.

    Comment: Check the man for rabies.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Tom Elia
    for the Circa story on the FBI

    ◆ Sam Stubbs for the CNN story.

    Sam reported it correctly, unlike CNN

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, June 17

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     Sailors missing after US destroyer collides with container ship off Japan  (Washington Post)

    The cause of the collision is not yet know. The US ship is not in danger of sinking but needs to be towed back to port. The container ship is safe, as well.

    Comment: Somebody screwed up big-time.

     Obituary: Helmut Kohl, Chancellor who reunited Germany after fall of Berlin Wall (New York Times)

    Comment: Kohl knew that integrating East Germany would be difficult and costly, but he also knew that the chance for a reunited Germany might not come again. With US support (from George H. W. Bush), he overcame behind-the-scenes objections from France and England. The US brushed aside Soviet objections to integrating all Germany in NATO. Actually, the Soviets were ambivalent because they did not want a rich, powerful, united Germany to have an independent military. In short, Kohl presided over a world-historical change.

     Lawsuit threatened to recover records Comey “unlawfully removed” from the FBI (Fox News)

    Conservative watchdog Judicial Watch is calling on Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe to recover and release federal records and memos it claims were “unlawfully” removed by former Director James Comey, threatening the FBI with a lawsuit should the bureau not comply. –Fox News

    Comment: To me, these records are unambiguously US public documents and ought to be returned and released unless they contain classified materials–in which case the FBI will simply leak them to the New York Times or Washington Post.

     Amazon to buy Whole Foods, which will continue to operate under its name  (Wall Street Journal, subscription)

    Analysts said they expect Amazon eventually to use the stores to promote private-label products, integrate and grow its artificial-intelligence-powered Echo speakers, boost Prime membership and entice more customers into the fold. . . .

    Whole Foods has come under fire as traditional grocers offer more natural and organic items, which are Whole Foods’ mainstay. Its shares had lost nearly half their value since a 2013 peak, and sales at stores open at least a year had slumped. –WSJ

    Comment: I think the key here is going to be home delivery.

    Amazon’s goal is to provide us every good and service without our leaving home.

     Speaker Paul Ryan: Stand back and let Robert Mueller do his job  (Washington Examiner)

    Comment: He’s smart and Donald Trump would do well to follow it unless there is concrete evidence of malfeasance or vast overreach by Mueller’s office. That’s also Rod Rosenstein’s job at the Justice Department

    But there is a problem in the potential scope of Mueller’s inquiry, which blends counter-intelligence (no limits) with possible US criminal violations.

     Miami Herald: Trump’s new Cuba policy is too much for some, not enough for others  (Miami Herald)

    Neither side in the emotional debate — those who favor a more hardline approach and those who favor the former Obama administration approach — got exactly what they wanted from Trump, although those who favor a middle ground that aims at sanctioning the Cuban military while not hampering Cuban Americans’ ability to travel and send money to relatives on the island may be most pleased. –Miami Herald

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • The Sessions hearing in a nutshell

    What did Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee amount to?

    Fairly little except for Sessions’ effective defense of his own reputation and conduct of his office.

    ♦♦♦♦♦

    My take aways

    I watched the entire hearing. Here’s my unvarnished take.

    • There was little new information added, but some misinformation and innuendo was swatted down.
    • Sessions seemed completely credible.
      • He was calm, even when being interrupted frequently
        • California Democrat Kamala Harris was especially aggressive and did not allow Sessions time to answer. She was considerably more interested in her questions. The chair had to intervene several times to let the witness answer
      • The only time Sessions became intense was when he defended his honor and integrity against public slurs, mostly those of James Comey (which were indirect rather than clear and candid)
    • The main news was that Sessions did not recuse himself because of any involvement with the Russians but, he said, because of DOJ policy that he should not be part of any investigation of a political campaign in which he participated.
    • Last week, former FBI Director James Comey slimed Sessions very carefully, saying that Sessions really had to recuse himself from the Russia investigation for reasons that Comey said he couldn’t go into, at least in public session.
    • Comey’s innuendo turned out to be a nothingburger, as we learned from leaks, except for its intended damage to Sessions’ reputation
    • The damaging implication, which Democrats had been pushing for a several weeks, was that Sessions had lied in his confirmation because he had several undisclosed meetings with the Russians.
    • The reality: the only thing that might not have been mentioned was a reception where twenty or so guests were present to say hello before a larger gathering they were attending. There would have been no private time for Sessions and the Russian Ambassador to work on their plot to overthrow the Republic. The whole thing is ridiculous.

      ♦♦♦♦♦

    The Democrats and Sessions

    There are two areas to keep the Democrats, CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, and the Washington Post busy attacking.

    • Sessions did not answer some questions related to his private conversations with Pres. Trump, even though Trump has not (or not yet) invoked Executive Privilege in that area. The Democrats were tenacious on that point. They may be right, but Sessions position was actually much more forthcoming than the Obama appointees, like Susan Rice, who refused to attend hearings at all. (I don’t think they even bothered to give a reason, but I could be wrong.)
    • The Democrats said Sessions recusal on the Russia investigation means he should have had not role in the Comey firing. (He supported the firing in a memo to Trump, who was going to do it anyway.) Their argument: if Comey was fired over Russia, as Trump said on TV, then Sessions should have stayed out. Sessions’ defense: his memo on Comey was not about the Russia investigation but about the Comey’s poor performance as FBI director.
    • Sessions actually showed that he had gone beyond his formal recusal and refused to be involved in the Russia matters at DOJ from Day One, before he submitted his formal statement.

      ♦♦♦♦♦

    The Democrats’ Purpose: Nothing to do with Sessions, Everything to Do with Trump

    So far, the Democrats have found nothing on their main allegation: that Trump won the election unfairly, and is therefore an illegitimate president, because he and the Russians worked together to throw the election. It’s important to remember that the Obama Administration controlled the CIA, NSA, DOJ, and FBI for two and half months after the election and didn’t find anything then.

    There is evidence of attempted Russian interference in the election., but the Democrats on the Intel Committee today showed themselves utterly uninterested in that today, despite major breaking news about Russia’s attempted hacks of US state election systems. Virtually no questions on that because it didn’t lead back to Trump.

    Having failed (so far) to find significant evidence of collusion, the Democrats’ “get Trump” strategy has morphed into vague claims about obstruction of justice.

    Again, no evidence of that so far, either.

    Worse for them, there is no underlying crime whose investigation could be obstructed.

    Today’s hearing was really about political resistance and personal destruction, not serious investigation.

    If there is serious investigation, it is far more likely to come from Robert Mueller’s operation, which is now gearing up.

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, June 13

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     Reports that Trump is considering firing Mueller as Special Counsel  (New York Times)

    The comments came from a Trump friend, Christopher Ruddy, but the White House would not confirm them.

    His comments appeared to take the White House by surprise.

    “Mr. Ruddy never spoke to the president regarding this issue,” Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said in a statement hours later. “With respect to this subject, only the president or his attorneys are authorized to comment.”

    Allies of the president cast doubt on the idea that Mr. Trump would take such a drastic step, and White House officials said Mr. Ruddy had not met directly with the president while he was there.

    Comment: Firing Mueller is within the President’s authority, but it would set off fireworks since they would appear that Trump could not withstand an investigation.

    Mueller, however, has done himself no favors by hiring major Democratic donors for his staff. His friendship with Comey is also a problem and should be reason enough for him to recuse himself from that portion of the investigation.

    Comey got a “steely silence” from Loretta Lynch when he confronted her over political interference in Hillary investigation (Circa)

    Ex-FBI Director James Comey has privately told members of Congress that he had a frosty exchange with Obama Attorney General Loretta Lynch last year when he confronted her about possible political interference in the Hillary Clinton email investigation after showing Lynch a sensitive document she was unaware the FBI possessed, according to sources who were directly briefed on the matter. –Circa

    Comment: Sure looks like Lynch was in the tank for Clinton.

    AG Jeff Sessions will testify publicly before the Senate Intel Committee Tuesday  (Washington Post)

    The Democrats are in attack mode.

    Democrats plan to ask about his contacts during the 2016 campaign with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, which the attorney general failed to disclose fully during his confirmation hearing.

    They also want him to explain his role in the firing of Comey, despite the attorney general’s recusal in March from the Russia investigation after revelations about his meetings with Kislyak. –Washington Post

    Comment: The Democrats have made incendiary assertions about Sessions having improper meetings with the Russians and lying about them.

    But so far, there is simply no evidence of anything wrong. That’s what the hearings will be about.

     North Korea sent drones to spy on US anti-missile system in South Korea  (Reuters)

    The drone crashed on its way home.

    Comment: All this effort to spy, so little effort to feed and clothe the tyrannized population.

     France’s Macron: in a year and a half, he came out of nowhere to win the Presidency and now dominate the National Assembly (New York Times)

    Comment: Parties of the right and left have collapsed. Now, Macron is in a position to move a major reform agenda.

     The Palestinian Authority wants to pressure Hamas, so they have asked Israel to cut back on electricity supplies to Gaza. Israel has agreed.  (Los Angeles Times)

    Israel has approved a request by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to cut by roughly a third the electricity it provides to the Gaza Strip.

    The move is aimed at undermining the Islamic militant group Hamas, which has controlled Gaza for the last decade.

    But the decision reached Sunday by Israel’s security Cabinet is stoking concern that it could trigger a humanitarian crisis among Gaza’s 2 million Palestinians and a new round of fighting between Hamas and Israel.

    In a statement on Monday afternoon responding to news of the Israeli decision, Hamas said that power cuts are “dangerous” and would lead to an “explosion.” –Los Angles Times

    Comment: Hamas is under considerable pressure, given the Muslim Brotherhood loss of power in Egypt, the sanctions on Qatar, and increasing resistance from international donors, who are themselves under pressure for funding terrorism indirectly.

    Although Israel is no friend of the Palestinian Authority, they know Hamas is much worse.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, June 10

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     The aftermath of Comey remains “He said. He said.” One he is Comey, the other is Trump.

    Other than Trump’s foolhardy bravado in offering to testify under oath to Mueller, nothing really happened.

    The newspapers generally covered the testimony honestly. The outlier was the New York Times. Here’s my blog post on that:

    How Five Newspapers Headline Comey’s Testimony: Four are Fair, One is Not

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Comment on Conspiracy Theories: The Comey testimony and its aftermath underscore and reinforce a larger shift in public discourse that is very troubling: the rise of conspiracy theories.

    America’s media in tandem with the Democratic party and progressives are now playing a constant drumbeat of conspiracy theories, mostly about secret collaboration between the Kremlin and Trump to throw the 2016 election.

    We haven’t seen anything like that since Joe McCarthy.

    Trump does not come to this with clean hands. His claims about Barack Obama’s birth certificate were a major conspiracy theory for years.

     Britain’s Tories face a trainwreck. Their call for a snap election has produced a hung Parliament and likely a shaky coalition government

    The headline in The Independent: Theresa May tries to move on after humiliating result as critics begin to circle

    A chastened Theresa May is attempting to move on from her botched election gamble, under intense pressure from members of her own cabinet and Tory backbenchers to dramatically improve her game. . . .

    Ahead of what is promising to be a bruising meeting with Tory backbenchers next week, MPs publicly questioned Ms May’s position and her campaign, with one even branding it “madness”, while others demanded changes to her Brexit strategy and raised concerns about a deal with the Northern Irish DUP [Democratic Unionist Party] . –The Independent

    May met with the Queen and said she intends to form a government. But there is considerable question about her future.

    The Tories could toss her out before the next election, which is likely to come fairly soon.

    Meanwhile, here are the main effects of the British election. It

    • Requires Conservatives to partner with a small party (DUP) from Northern Ireland to form a government
    • Shows the failure of Theresa May’s campaign; she was a bad candidate who ran on her personality, not future policy
    • Rejects the Conservatives positioning themselves as mushy, big-state centrists, far away from Thatcher’s free-market policies.
    • Gives Labour its biggest gains since late 1940s, even though (or perhaps because) the party is headed by a very, very far leftist.
      • Labour’s huge gains under Jeremy Corbyn, an unabashed socialist who supports a number of terrorist regimes, mark a major political shift in the electorate.

     Spain’s Catalonia region (Barcelona and surrounding area) will hold a referendum on leaving Spain (NPR)

    The Spanish central government sees the vote as illegal, so this sets up a confrontation.

    The Washington Post story is here.

    “There is not going to be any illegal referendum that goes against the Constitution,” the government’s spokesman . . . said after a weekly cabinet meeting. “We are facing an increasingly radical strategy that has less and less support.”

    [But Catalonia’s regional president] Carles Puigdemont said the decision to call for the vote was reached after more than 18 months of efforts failed to establish a dialogue with Madrid.

    He also said the vote was nonnegotiable because Catalans backed his plan for secession by voting for his coalition of pro-independence parties at the end of 2015. –Washington Post

    Comment: The region has a long history and its own language, Catalan, that is related to Spanish but different.

     Repealing Obamacare puts the Senate’s centrist Republicans in a bind. An example from Ohio, in his USA Today story:

    Rob Portman’s dilemma: How to repeal Obamacare without undermining opioid fight

    The key problem: any cutbacks in Medicaid, which Ohio expanded as part of the ACA, would harm addicts’ ability to get care.

    Comment: Repealing and Replacing Obamacare depends on solving very hard problems like this. 

     Meanwhile, Politico reports that “Conservatives near revolt on Senate health care negotiations”

    Comment: Staunchest opponents appear to be Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT).

    Skepticism about the bill voiced by Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Tom Cotton (R-AK) 

    Republicans have 52 votes. They would need 50 votes plus the Vice President to pass a bill and send it to a reconciliation committee with the House.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • How Five Newspapers Headline Comey’s Testimony: Four are Fair, One is Not

    I have written a separate post summarizing Comey’s testimony: what he said, what he didn’t, what he implied, and what I think is significant about it.

    Comey’s testimony lacerated the president and laid the basis for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to investigate obstruction of justice. That and self-justification were his main goals, and he succeeded.

    But Comey’s testimony was careful.

    Here are some fair representations of it.

    The best, I think, is the Wall Street Journal’s because it

    • Puts Comey’s accusation against Trump in the headline
    • Gives it the most prominent place on the front page without stretching it to World War III headline size
    • Makes clear that Comey is saying how he “felt.” The WSJ is not taking a hard-news stance that he is correct or incorrect in that interpretation

    The Chicago Tribune is fair, too. It gives the story more prominence (a perfectly reasonable decision) and puts the hard news in the subheader.

    The headline merely says what we all know: he testified.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Here are two more, equally fair and tough.

     

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Now, the New York Times.

    The Times’ headline represents everything that is wrong with mainstream media.

    It is an editorial without saying so.

    Why? Because Comey did not testify that Trump tried to “sink” the inquiry.  He was more careful, more lawyers, more “touchy-feely” about what he “felt” (which, of course, is entirely subjective and so cannot be refuted).

    Comey did not say Trump tried to stop the inquiry.

    He didn’t say Trump ordered him to do anything.

    He didn’t report anything like obstruction of justice at the time, as he would have been required to do.

    What he testified was that he felt pressured.

    Comey may be exactly right–or not. We can make our own judgments, but we don’t know for sure.

    His testimony was a lawyerly self-defense, designed to help himself and get revenge on Trump.

    But he did not testify, under oath, that Trump “tried to sink” the investigation. That’s the NYT’s editorial spin.

    Their interpretation may be exactly right, but it belongs on the editorial pages.

    All the other stories above the fold are designed–and headlined–to reinforce the NYT’s editorial viewpoint.

    Their headline should be hard news, and it should be accurate.

    That would be a refreshing change. 

  • What matters in Comey’s Testimony . . . and what doesn’t

    What was in the brew Comey stirred up and served to the world on Thursday?

    There was some red meat for both Democrats and Republicans. So you can expect them to emphasize different things.

    • In the media world, that means ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times and others will see it one way.
    • Fox News commentators will see it another. Fox News’ flagship program, Special Report with Bret Baier, plays it straight. The other shows feature a lot more conservative, pro-Trump commentary.

    The Washington Post thinks the big news is Comey’s statement that “Trump lied” about the reasons for Comey’s firing since he, Comey was doing a great job and the FBI was not demoralized, as the president said. That was Trump’s lie, said Comey.

    That is a headline grabbing statement. But it is not what’s important.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Remember, there are ultimately two big legal issues:

    1. Did the Trump campaign collude with the Russians to throw the 2016 election?
    2. Did Pres. Trump obstruct justice in the FBI’s investigation of the Russian matter, Michael Flynn, or any other politically-sensitive issue

    There is one big political issue: Can the Democrats damage the Trump Administration? 

    • To do that, they need to find enough material to keep Trump on the defensive.
    • While Trump is on the defensive, he’s have a harder time moving appointments and legislative agenda (a gain for the Democrats)

    A weakened and vulnerable President will increase the Democrats’ chances of winning the House in 2018.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Turning to Comey’s testimony. . . he

     Confirmed that Trump has never been the subject of an FBI investigation and said he told that to Trump several times (as Trump claimed)

    Effectively stirred up the Russia issue again without offering anything substantive

    • Comey simply said what he now thinks 

    “It’s my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation,” Comey said. “I was fired, in some way, to change — or the endeavor was to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.”

    Comey’s testimony threatened to deepen the legal and political crisis engulfing the White House, which has struggled to respond to growing questions about the president’s conduct. -Washington Post (link here)

     Said Trump did not try to slow or stop the FBI’s investigation of Russia’s role in the 2016 US election

    Comey declined to say whether he thought the president had obstructed justice, saying that was a determination to be made by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

    In response to Comey’s testimony, Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, released a statement saying the president “never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone.” –Washington Post

    • Comey offered no evidence of obstruction, which he would have been legally required to report contemporaneously.
    • He tried to square the circle by saying he now thought it might be obstruction
    • And, by raising the issue’s profile, he made set it high on Mueller’s agenda (and gave the Democrats talking points)

    ◆ Reaffirmed the leaks of “people familiar with Comey’s thinking” that Trump had privately told him he “hoped” Comey would be able to conclude the Flynn investigation and clear Flynn. But he did not order him to end the investigation.

    • At the time, he did not think that was obstruction, did not tell the President he was uncomfortable or that the conversation should end, but he did feel some pressure

    Confirmed that, in one disputed conversation, Trump asked AG Sessions to leave the room. 

    • Trump’s desire for secrecy supports those who think he was doing something improper. (Note, however, that improper is not the same as illegal.)

    ◆ But–and this is crucial–Comey changed his mind after being fired: now Trump was “directing” him to end the investigation of Flynn

    • His public statements about this pressure and his carefully chosen term, “directed” will force Special Counsel Mueller to look at the matter as possible obstruction
    • Mueller might have done that anyway
    • It won’t come to anything legally, but Democrats will seize on “possible obstruction” as a political hammer

    ◆ Admitted that he had orchestrated leaks of his private conversations, as FBI director, with the President.  

    • These documents almost certainly did not belong to Comey but to the government (but that is a legal matter)
    • He lacked the courage to leak the documents himself or simply disclose them in a press conference. He gave them to a “cutout,” a friendly law professor at Columbia and had him leak them to the New York Times.
    • Under questioning from Congress, he effectively outed the professor without naming him directly. NBC names the professor as Daniel Richman. (NBC)
    • Comey’s statement that he took the memoranda, which belong to the government, and converted them to private use is potentially a legal violation in its own right.

    Claimed his leaks were done for an explicitly political reason: to get a special counsel appointed. An extraordinary admission

    Admitted that Attorney General Loretta Lynch (in Obama’s final years) ordered him not to call an ongoing criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails what it was: “an investigation.” She told him to call it only a “matter.”

    • Comey said he knew Lynch’s terminology was deliberately false and misleading,
    • Comey acknowledges bowing to this order. Apparently, he did not push back.
    • Comey thinks Lynch’s order was to ensure the DOJ and FBI used the same language the Clinton Campaign was using, even though they knew it was false.
    • This is clear evidence that Lynch was using her office to try and influence the 2016 election.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    The most interesting comment on the Comey-Trump fight

     Matthew Continetti writes a fascinating opinion column in the Washington Free Beacon, entitled:

    This One Tweet May Lead to Donald Trump’s Impeachment

    The logic is this:

    • A Trump tweet after firing Comey further angers the former director; this is the one that said Comey better hope there are no “tapes.”
    • Comey decides to leak his Cover Your Ass memos (via a friend) with the goal of getting a Special Counsel
    • He succeeds
    • The investigation by that Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, could ultimately undermine the Trump administration and even lead to impeachment

    Continetti writes:

    It now looks like the most consequential Tweet of his presidency to date came a few days after he fired James Comey as FBI director. At 8:26 a.m. on Friday, May 12, Trump wrote: “James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

    That tweet, Comey told the Senate, prompted the now-private citizen to instruct a friend, Columbia Law professor Daniel Richman, to share with the New York Times the contents of contemporaneous memos he had written describing his interactions with the president. The article, published a week to the day Comey was fired, revealed that the president had asked the FBI director to end the criminal investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

    Why did Comey have Richman call the Times? Because, he told the Senate, he hoped that the disclosure of the memo would prompt the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and possible collusion with associates of the president’s campaign. That is exactly what happened May 17, the day after the Times piece, when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein named as counsel former FBI director Robert Mueller. –Continetti in the Washington Free Beacon

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, June 8

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     What to expect when you’re expecting Comey: A brief comment 

    Comment: It will be extremely difficult for Comey to drop a bombshell that is not a suicide bomb.

    He was legally obligated to report obstruction and would likely have resigned. He mentioned some concerns to colleagues, but nothing approaching obstruction.

    His prepared remarks do not allege obstruction, either. They simply say Trump demanded “loyalty.”

    That could be interpreted as pressure, or not, but it’s not obstruction. And the intel agency chiefs testified Wednesday they had not been interfered with for political or personal reasons.

    Second, it is hard to question witnesses seriously in the rotating format of public committees. If you really wanted information, you would turn it over to a skilled lawyer for each side, who would question and follow up.

    Third, the two parties are now painted into corners on this. The Republicans, though cautious about Trump, will defend him against Comey unless the evidence is overwhelming. It isn’t. The Democrats are now all obstruction, all the time, and their base loves it.

    Neither side is searching for evidence. They are searching for talking points.

    They will treat the testimony like a Rorschach test, seeing in it whatever preconceived mental images they have.

    Comey is out for revenge, and he’ll do his best to bloody-up Trump (while trying to appear calm, restrained and judicial). He may do some damage, but only Maxine Waters and her ilk will think its enough.

    The biggest damage to Trump always comes from the guy in the mirror.

     Speaking of the FBI: Trump will nominate Christopher Wray as the Bureau’s next Director  (Washington Post)

    He comes with plenty of experience. Currently in private practice, the graduate of Yale and Yale Law headed the DOJ’s Criminal Division during the George W. Bush administration.

    A retired FBI agent, with 28 years service in the Bureau, emailed me to endorse the appointment:

    Although I’ve favored the selection of someone from inside the FBI as a succeeding Director in the past, that was not an option in the current selection process.

    I’ve never been sold on that idea and preferred to open the appointment process to the best man . . . for the job, and in the cases of Judge William Webster and Robert Mueller I think they served the FBI very effectively, respectfully and professionally as “outsiders” during their tenures as Director of the FBI. Both stayed out of the limelight, projected a positive image and never embarrassed the FBI.

    [Turning to the selection of Christopher Wray, who I do not know] I think he will be an excellent fit for the FBI. He appears to be a Director who will be committed to focusing on the primary mission of the FBI and avoiding the kind of issues and faulty judgment that resulted in James Comey’s shortened tenure. –Jack Keller, retired FBI special agent

    Comment: I am grateful to Mr. Keller for his comments and his service.

     Britain votes today. Polls are notoriously bad there, but, as the locals say, “the punters favour Theresa May”

    All 650 Members of Parliament are up for election as well. So, the question is not only whether May wins, but whether she retains a majority big enough to govern.

    Her final appeal was to “patriotic Labour” voters. (Guardian)

    Comment: Here’s hoping. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is everything execrable about the Europe left, cozying up to terrorists, proposing ever-larger governments, and, in Corbyn’s case, even talking about renationalizing some industries. If the Brits vote for him, they will be mostly voting against the status quo. Bad as things are, they could always get worse. And with Corbyn, they would.

     North Korea keeps launching missiles; even the new leftist government of South Korea complains (ABC)

    South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a liberal who has expressed a desire to reach out to Pyongyang, said during a National Security Council meeting he “won’t back off even a single step and make any compromise” on the issue of national security. He warned that North Korea could only face further international isolation and more economic difficulties.

    The North’s missile tests present a difficult challenge to Moon.North Korea, which could have a working nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile in the next several years, may also be the most urgent foreign policy concern for the Trump administration. –ABC

    Comment: South Korea’s Moon has said that the US cannot install new anti-missile systems there (a concession to China), but can keep the ones already there.

     In more amusing news, North Korea has criticized Donald Trump for pulling out of the Paris Climate deal  (Huffington Post)

    Instead of ridiculing the gall of Pyongyang’s statement, the HuffPo headlines it positively, sayings “Even North Korea Thinks Donald Trump’s Decision to Quit Paris Deal ‘Short-Sighted'”

    Comment: Whether Trump’s decision is short-sighted or not, the HuffPo should never dignify any statement by North Korea’s murderous regime with such a headline.

     Amazon offers a discounted version of Prime to attract low-income shoppers  It will be half-price for people with government benefit cards. (Business Insider)

    Amazon doesn’t necessarily need a huge swell of lower-income shoppers to join Prime for the effort to pay off. Even if Amazon were to get a tiny fraction of them hooked on Prime, which offers free two-day shipping on millions of items, it could pay off in the long run because Prime customers are highly loyal. –Business Insider

     

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  • Waiting for Comey: Scott Stantis’ perfect drawing

    Stantis is the Tribune’s superb editorial cartoonist and a member of their editorial board.

    Before coming to Chicago, he worked for many years at the Birmingham News and, for a year, at the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

    Here, he captures the last 48 hours of CNN in one picture.

    Of course, CNN is hoping for the explosion.

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    ⇒ You can follow Scott’s work at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/stantis/