• Important Judicial Ruling: IRS MUST reveal names of all employees involved in targeting the Tea Party

    The IRS has fought this transparency for years, ever since Lois Lerner denied any wrongdoing.

    Eventually, they did admit wrongdoing but still refused to say who was involved.

    That secrecy meant it was impossible to depose the people involved and see how far up the food chain this scandal went.

    Finally, Federal Judge Reggie Walton has ruled that the IRS must release the names of all IRS employees involved in the illegal targeting to the groups suing the agency (Fox News)

    “We’re thrilled the judge has taken this step and it feels good to have it recognized that they need to be held to account,” True the Vote President Catherine Engelbrecht told Fox News on Monday. “What happened to me was very personal—my name was thrown around the IRS, and the names of the people involved need to be known. What they did was criminal.”

    The targeting scandal drew much attention in 2013 when the IRS, headed at the time by Lois Lerner, admitted it was applying extra scrutiny to conservative groups applying for nonprofit status. –Fox News

    The agency has until mid-October to complete its internal search to uncover everyone involved.

    Chris Farrell, director of investigations at Judicial Watch, one of the litigants, praised the judge and attacked the IRS:

    “This [IRS targeting] was creepy, chilling stuff,” Farrell told Fox News. “Judge Walton has accomplished more with one ruling than all of the rest of the federal government—all three branches—over the last six years.” –Fox News

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Comment: It is understandable that the Obama Administration would try to delay this and prevent disclosure. The targeting advanced their policy goals, and the coverup only helped them. We still don’t know if any of their political people were involved in this weaponization of the IRS.

    But it is beyond belief that the Trump/Sessions DOJ was still fighting for the IRS and against the Tea Party groups in this case. WHY?

    Are they just incompetent? Or are they letting lower-level people run this for their own political agenda.

    Since the IRS is under Treasury, why doesn’t Mnuchin’s Treasury Department demand that all these records be produced?

    This scandal began in the Obama Administration. Their coverup is understandable.

    Not understandable: the Trump Administration doing nothing positive, despite its promise to drain the swamp.

  • This is what bias looks like: WaPo version

    0 No tags Permalink 0

    You can think Jeff Sessions did a good job today or not, but this is flatly misleading as a characterization of the hearing.

    Both points are true. He was silent on talks with Trump. He did deny collusion with Russia.

    The first is news. The second is “I don’t beat my wife.” There was zero evidence of collusion, not only in the hearing but in months of Democrats’ frantic efforts to produce it, including several months when Obama controlled all the intel agencies, which were looking for it.

    The main point is that even the Democrats have given up on collusion (the Post didn’t get the memo).

    The story now is somehow “obstruction of justice.”

    The switched the target as quickly as a magician. No evidence on the obstruction charge, either, and no underlying crime to obstruct. (It is quite possible Manafort, Flynn, and others committed violations, but those are personal, not a part of the campaign.)

    ♦♦♦♦♦

    A balanced headline for the hearing would be:

    Sessions defends reputation against “lies”

    Denies other meetings with Russians

    Refuses to comment on talks with President

    Sad to see the Washington Post, which lay comatose during the Holder and Lynch years, finally find an AG they can hate, investigate, and spin.

    For my take on the hearings, see this post: The Sessions hearings in a Nutshell (link here)

  • 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.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • 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

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, June 7

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

     ISIS attack at the heart of Iran’s government is stunning. ISIS, a Sunni group, has been under attack by the Iranian-led Shia forces in Iraq and Syria, and now they’ve struck back.

    The spectacular event is designed to humiliate the Iranians and show that ISIS can strike anywhere, even hard targets in a hostile country.

    Comment: More as it develops. 

     Qatar Qrisis: Trump suggests he led Saudis to act against Qatar’s support of terror (New York Times)

    Comment: True and dumb. True because Trump’s meetings in Saudi Arabia were a key to the new pressure the Arab states are putting on Qatar. Not smart to trumpet the US role when you are relying on others to lead. Makes them look like lap-dogs. 

     Two big stories broken by ABC News:

    1. Attorney General Jeff Sessions offered to resign because Trump was furious Sessions had recused himself in Russian investigation
    2. Former FBI Director Comey will not say Trump tried to obstruct justice

     Sessions offer to resign (ABC) Jonathan Karl reports:

    The relationship between President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has become so tense that Sessions at one point recently even suggested he could resign.

    The friction between the two men stems from the attorney general’s abrupt decision in March to recuse himself from anything related to the Russia investigation — a decision the president only learned about minutes before Sessions announced it publicly. Multiple sources say the recusal is one of the top disappointments of his presidency so far and one the president has remained fixated on. –ABC News

    At a White House press briefing, Sean Spicer would not say whether Trump still supported AG Sessions.

    Comment: First, Sessions was right to recuse himself.

    Second, it’s over; he’s already done it; let it go, Donald.

    Third, if your earliest and strongest supporter from the Senate is not comfortable in the Cabinet, who will be?

    Four, this is still more evidence that, in this ship of state, everybody is rowing in different directions and the captain keeps changing course. What’s missing: self-discipline and a solid staff, given some authority to create order.

     Comey will stop short of saying Trump obstructed justice in Flynn probe (ABC)

    Although Comey has told associates he will not accuse the president of obstructing justice, he will dispute the president’s contention that Comey told him three times he is not under investigation.

    The president allegedly said he hoped Comey would drop the Flynn investigation, a request that concerned Comey enough that he documented the conversation in a memo shortly after speaking with the president. In the memo, according to sources close to Comey who reviewed it, Trump said: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” during a February meeting.

    The request made Comey uncomfortable, but the source tells ABC News that Comey has told associates he will not accuse the president of obstructing justice.

    “He is not going to Congress to make accusations about the president’s intent, instead he’s there to share his concerns,” the source said, and tell the committee “what made him uneasy” and why he felt a need to write the memo documenting the conversation. –ABC

    Comment: Here’s how I read that. Comey cannot say the president tried to obstruct justice without creating big problems for himself. He would be legally required to report it and, if he had any integrity, would have resigned. Also, he subsequently testified to Congress that no one had tried to obstruct his investigation.

    Given those constraints, he will do everything in his power to destroy Trump.

     Comey himself is being sued over an alleged coverup; a whistleblower says he gave Comey evidence of a huge, illegal surveillance operation on Americans by the CIA (using FBI computers) during the Obama administration (Circa)

    A former U.S. intelligence contractor tells Circa he walked away with more than 600 million classified documents on 47 hard drives from the National Security Agency and the CIA, a haul potentially larger than Edward Snowden’s now infamous breach.

    And now he is suing former FBI Director James Comey and other government figures, alleging the bureau has covered up evidence he provided them showing widespread spying on Americans that violated civil liberties.

    The suit, filed late Monday night by Dennis Montgomery, was assigned to the same federal judge who has already ruled that some of the NSA’s collection of data on Americans violates the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, setting up an intriguing legal proceeding in the nation’s capital this summer.

    Comment: Circa’s Sara Carter and John Solomon have done first-rate reporting on potential violations of civil liberties by US intel agencies.

     Why did Trump decline to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as he promised during the campaign?

    Because he thought it would hamper his goal of an “ultimate deal” between the Israelis and Palestinians, says Eytan Gilboa  (Begin-Sadat Center, Bar-Ilan University)

    Trump completely reversed the attitude of Obama, which verged on hostility, towards both the pro-American Arab states and Israel. –Eytan Gilboa

     Excellent news: One of the country’s staunchest, most experienced advocates for free speech, Adam Kissel, has been to head the Dept. of Education’s higher ed programs  (Inside Higher Ed)

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, March 28

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     Democrats want Devin Nunes to recuse himself from the Russia inquiry. (New York Times)

    Comment: The attacks on Nunes are a sideshow, featuring displays of faux outrage by Democrats. Nunes will never recuse himself. The game is to discredit him so they can discredit the information he uncovers.

    The big questions–the show in the center ring–are 

    1. Will the FBI find anything between Trump campaign people and the Russians? and
    2. Did the Obama White House or its political appointees at CIA or DNI unmask names and circulate “collateral” material through the White House?  
      • From the leak of Flynn’s name and phone call, it is clear the intelligence agencies picked up “collateral information” on US citizens as the agencies were spying on foreigners. That happens occasionally, but, when it does,
        • The names of US citizens are supposed to be masked and never disclosed to the public; we know Flynn’s name was, and that disclosure is a felony;
        • The collection of “collateral materials on US citizens” is not supposed to be the purpose of the surveillance; to surveil US citizens, you need a warrant and you cannot use CIA and other intel agencies; you must use the FBI.
      • The Republicans are hinting that the White House and the intel agencies it controlled were playing fast and loose with these hard-and-fast rules and legal constraints, which prohibit domestic spying and the use of information for domestic political purposes. If the Obama White House was doing that, its ultimate disclosure would be a very big deal, legally and politically. If Nunes has a whistleblower with information about this, then the Democrats are right to be scared and to try and discredit him in advance. If not, then it is all smoke but no fire.

     Trump moves aggressively to undo Obama-era environmental regulations  (Washington Post)

    President Trump will take the most significant step yet in obliterating his predecessor’s environmental record Tuesday, instructing federal regulators to rewrite key rules curbing U.S. carbon emissions.

    The sweeping executive order also seeks to lift a moratorium on federal coal leasing and remove the requirement that federal officials consider the impact of climate change when making decisions.

    The order sends an unmistakable signal that just as President Barack Obama sought to weave climate considerations into every aspect of the federal government, Trump is hoping to rip that approach out by its roots. –Washington Post

    Comment: Trump sees the issue primarily as “jobs and excessive regulations.” His Democratic opponents see the issue primarily as “climate change”

     Attorney General Sessions threatens to yank DOJ funding from “Sanctuary Cities”  (Philly.com)

    To receive grants from his agency, [Sessions] said, cities will have to certify they are in compliance with a federal law banning local governments from restricting communication with the feds over their residents’ immigration status.

    And cities and states who fail to do so, Sessions said, could see the DOJ withhold grants, bar them from receiving grants in the future, or even “claw back” grants that had already been handed out. –Philly.com

    Comment: Assuming this threat is not blocked by the courts, it will force cities to make very hard political choices. Cities with greatest financial need will likely opt for the money. A few others will try to hold out.

     Canada will legalize recreational pot in 2018, a senior official in Justin Trudeau’s government says  (CBS News)

     

     

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, March 3

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

     Regarding Attorney General Jeff Sessions:

    Republicans say, “He did nothing wrong. These are purely partisan attacks. He could have phrased his answer better, but he did nothing wrong and, to be on the safe side, has taken himself out of any investigations of Russian interference in the US election.”

    Democrats say, “He is Benedict Arnold. Or at least he might be if we can find any evidence.”

    Comment: He should have corrected his misstatement to Sen. Franken. It’s hard to say if the false statement was deliberate or referred to anything serious. My guess is that you don’t commit treasonous collusion at a public event (at the Heritage Foundation) on your Senate office, meeting with the Russian ambassador, with other people in the room. 

    Still, the whole Russian connection needs a serious investigation and I publicly called for it some time ago.

    My guess is that Putin now realizes that he badly overplayed his hand. After the issue of Russian interference blew up, the chances of more amicable relations between Washington and Moscow were significantly reduced.

    The leaks from US intelligence sources are also very disturbing, not only because they disclose secrets but because they appear partisan. That seriously damages the intel community’s reputation.

     “White House Needs To Curb Iran’s Cruise Missiles” (Breaking Defense) Jonathan Ruhe and Blake Fleisher note that the US and Iran’s opponents in the Middle East focus, understandably, on nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. But, they argue, Iran’s developing cruise missile capabilities are also a major problem.

    Usually, it’s Iran’s ballistic missiles that grab the headlines. The largest such arsenal in the Middle East, they can strike anywhere in the region, and Tehran has transferred thousands to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran also tests new nuclear-capable versions regularly, as they have done in recent weeks.

    [But, the Trump Administration] must ensure the new administration reverses a decades-old pattern of neglecting Iran’s nuclear-capable cruise missile capabilities and their importance to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. . . . The nuclear deal will raise this high ceiling for Iran’s cruise missile program even further. –Ruhe and Fleisher in Breaking Defense

    What to do?

    The United States and its allies must act to halt Iran’s progress. Unlike its predecessor, the Trump Administration should utilize the nuclear deal’s Procurement Working Group to block Tehran’s illicit missile technology acquisition efforts. It is time to demand verification – as authorized by the JCPOA – of the end use of sensitive Iranian imports. Because Resolution 2231 was passed under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, the United States and its partners should consider enforcement actions, including sanctions and use of force, against any material breaches by Iran. –Ruhe and Fleisher in Breaking Defense

    Related Story: “Yemen Has Become Iran’s Testing Ground for New Weapons” (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

    The Houthi rebels are getting ongoing assistance from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), mainly via Hizbullah trainers, in the use of missiles and rockets, drones, explosive devices, and battlefield materiel. –JCPA

     “Paul Ryan’s feeling confident about repeal-and-replace. McConnell not so much” (Washington Post)

    Ryan and his top lieutenants are increasingly optimistic they will have the votes to pass their version of legislation to repeal the health-care law and replace some elements of it. –Washington Post

    The Freedom Caucus is still not on board but Ryan has extra votes to play with. There is hardly any margin for error in the Senate.

    In the Senate, under special budget rules allowing a simple majority for the repeal effort, McConnell can lose just two GOP senators and then use Vice President Pence to cast the tiebreaking vote to get the legislation to President Trump’s desk.

    Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a leading moderate, might oppose the legislation because it would revoke Planned Parenthood funding, and a bloc of conservatives is threatening to vote no because Ryan’s emerging bill relies on new tax credits to help consumers buy health insurance. Some big-state Republicans worry that the House bill would leave millions of their constituents without health care because of its approach to the expansion of Medicaid that took place in their states after the ACA became law.

    “It’s just a very narrow path,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a junior member of McConnell’s leadership team, said Thursday. –Washington Post

     Related story: NPR blames the Republican “hard liners,” not moderates, like Susan Collins, for opposing health-care reform

    Comment: In this case, both NPR and the Washington Post are right. Lots of Senators and some Representatives recognize they have leverage because of the thin margins. 

     How nasty is the opposition to Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch?

    Well, here is a fundraising letter I saw today:

    Comment: When you resort to saying Gorsuch is “clear unqualified,” then your definition of “qualified” is nothing more than “he does not agree with my preferred policy outcomes.”

     Chuck Schumer: Trump’s new immigration crime office is “ridiculous”  (Business Insider)

    The overwhelming majority of immigrants are law abiding, they want to be part of the American dream, and most Americans agree with that. So to put an office like this out there shows how anti-immigrant this president is. –Chuck Schumer

     

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, March 2

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

     Comment on allegations against AG Jeff Sessions: If there is anything substantive in the allegations about Jeff Sessions, that would be a big deal. Brief discussions are not, but knowingly misleading a Senate Committee would be. Obviously, the attacks are part of a broader Democratic effort to deligitimate the Trump Administration, which is on the edge of a Witch Hunt, but the underlying facts and the truthfulness of Sessions’ testimony will determine.

    In any case, it would be wise for Sessions to accede to Democratic demands to remove himself (though perhaps not recuse himself) from any investigation of Russian ties to the Trump campaign.

    Meanwhile, the Democrats are edging up to asking, “Are you now or have you ever been . . .?” They will ask it now of every Trump nominee.

     Stay Classy: Valerie Jarrett has moved into Pres. Obama’s house in DC which “is now the nerve center for their plan to mastermind the insurgency against President Trump,” according to the Daily Mail.

    Comment: As with so much of Jarrett’s activities, this is the opposite of wisdom. Why. First, because it leave fingerprints. Second, because it keeps Obama and his team prominently in the party’s leadership at a time when the Democrats desperately need new leadership . . . after their party was decimated at all levels during the Obama years. Third, because it highlights the Democratic Party’s role as full-frontal obstructionists. Other than that, smart move.

    Sad-but-true footnote: CNN has actually hired Valerie’s daughter as their main reporter on the Department of Justice. Are these CNN executives so clueless or so partisan they don’t understand that you cannot do this and present yourself as a disinterested news organization?

     Excellent economic news: “U.S. jobless claims near 44-year-low as labor market tightens” (Reuters)

    The stronger labor market combined with rising inflation could push the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates this month.

    It was the 104th straight week that claims remained below 300,000, a threshold associated with a healthy labor market. That is the longest stretch since 1970, when the labor market was much smaller. It is now at or close to full employment, with an unemployment rate of 4.8 percent. –Reuters

    The offsetting news this week is that economic growth in 2016 Q4 was still sluggish.

    Comment: For all the criticism of Pres. Obama’s economic management–some deserved, some not–he deserves praise for nearly all of the 104 weeks of low jobless claims.

     North Korea sez: “Heart attack, not nerve agent, killed Kim Jong Nam”  (Washington Post)

    Comment: And if you don’t agree, you, too, will die of a heart attack.

    In other news, Pyongyang is offering going-out-of-business prices on the Brooklyn Bridge.

     Think Baltic tensions with Russia are high? Well, Sweden just brought back the draft  (BBC)

    Non-aligned Sweden is worried about Russia’s Baltic military drills.

    In September, a Swedish garrison was restored to Gotland, a big island lying between the Swedish mainland and the three ex-Soviet Baltic states.

    Why is this happening?

    Ms Nyh Radebo [speaking for the Defense Ministry] said the return to conscription was prompted by “the security change in our neighbourhood”.

    “The Russian illegal annexation of Crimea [in 2014], the conflict in Ukraine and the increased military activity in our neighbourhood are some of the reasons,” she said. –BBC

    Comment: They aren’t drafting very many (only 4,000), but it’s the thought that counts.

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Ed Vidal
     for Valerie Jarrett story