• ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, November 14: All Sleaze Edition

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    Roy Moore abandoned by national Republicans as more women accuse him

    Comment: With such a thin margin in the Senate, Republicans need the Alabama seat to pass legislation (not that they have done so, yet), but individual office holders cannot afford to back him. And they are absolutely right, ethically, to back away from this sleazebag.

    Unfortunately for Republicans, Moore owes them nothing, so they have no leverage to force him out of the race.

    Trump and his Press Secretary will have to answer the question, an awkward prospect.

    A write-in candidacy might win, but it’s a long shot.

    The New York Sun notes the precedent of the Adam Clayton Powell case, where the House refused to seat the long-time congressman in 1966 because of corruption. He took the case to the Supreme Court and won. In other words, Congress can remove people from office after giving them hearings but cannot refuse to seat them.

    That would mean immediate and nasty hearings to unseat Moore, with the prospect of further public humiliation. When he contemplates that, he might decide to back out. If he does, the Governor would probably postpone the election–over strenuous Democratic objections and lawsuits.

     AG Sessions testifies before Congress on Russia, Clintons, Roy Moore (New York Times)

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, showed selective recall on the Trump campaign’s Russia contacts.

    Mr. Sessions said he had “no reason to doubt these women” who have accused the man who wants his old Senate seat, Roy S. Moore, of seeking sexual or romantic favors from them as teenagers. –New York Times

    Sessions floats prospect of a Special Counsel to Investigate Uranium One, Clinton Foundation (Washington Post)

    The New York Times reports the same thing.

    Comment: There seems to be enough smoke here to warrant a serious investigation. If so, then it should be conducted by a Special Counsel, not the DOJ for several reasons. The most important, by far, is this:

    Any investigation of political opponents by law enforcement carries the heavy burden of perceived unfairness. Supporters of the opposing party (or candidate) will fear that the state’s power to investigate and punish is being used to crush opposition. That should never happen in a democracy. Even if the investigation is fair, it must be perceived as fair.

    While Sessions and other political appointees could–and would–say that the task has been delegated to “career professionals,” they would have to sign off on any recommendations to charge. Again, their opponents could not be confident the process was fair and impartial.

    Bottom line: Appoint a Special Counsel to investigate Uranium One, the Clinton Foundation, and the botched FBI investigation of the Clinton email server, including James Comey and Loretta Lynch’s roles.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, November 3

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    Bowe Bergdahl, Army deserter held by Taliban, avoids prison sentence (Washington Post)

    Comment: This outcome is shocking. US soldiers died looking for this creep. Others were injured. Lots of resources devoted to finding a soldier who voluntarily abandoned his post and planned for weeks to do so.

    Pres. Trump immediately weighed in, via Twitter. My guess is that Trump’s position will be very popular on this issue. He’s implicitly daring the Democrats to come out on the other side, as many of them did (to their cost) on the NFL kneeling.

    More good economic news: Unemployment down to 4.1%, the lowest rate since 2000.

    Less good: Wage growth slow (Wall Street Journal, subscription)

    Best news of all: Strong Productivity Growth. (CNBC)

    Comments: Productivity growth is crucial. It is the underlying source of real wage growth.

    The biggest problem for the economy now is the misfit between the skilled jobs available and the unskilled workers who are unemployed.

    Tax Bill, next phase: We will find new details (none good, otherwise they wouldn’t be hidden), and gored oxen will come out to save themselves

    Example of hidden details:

    House Republicans claim the tax plan they introduced Thursday keeps the top individual rate unchanged at 39.6 percent—the level at which it’s been capped for much of the past quarter-century. But a little-noticed provision effectively creates a new band in which income is taxed at over 45 percent.

    Thanks to a quirky proposed surcharge, Americans who earn more than $1 million in taxable income would trigger an extra 6 percent tax on the next $200,000 they earn—a complicated change that effectively creates a new, unannounced tax bracket of 45.6 percent. –Politico

    Example of gored oxen:  Republican Tax Proposal Gets Failing Grade From Higher-Ed Groups (Chronicle of Higher Education)

    The House tax-reform proposal released today would discourage participation in postsecondary education, make college more expensive for those who do enroll, and undermine the financial stability of public and private two-year and four-year colleges and universities,” said Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education and under secretary of education in the Obama administration, in a written statement.

    In broad terms, the bill would eliminate or consolidate a number of tax deductions meant to offset the costs of higher education for individuals and companies, including the Lifetime Learning Credit, which provides a tax deduction of up to $2,000 for tuition, a credit for student-loan interest, and a $5,250 corporate deduction for education-assistance plans. –Chronicle of Higher Education

    Comment: There is also tremendous pushback on the limitations on deducting state and local taxes, led by Republicans in high-tax states.

    These issues will be fought out over the next month, first in House committee, then on the floor in both chambers, then in reconciliation.

     Spain issues arrest warrant for Catalonia’s leader, who has fled the country (BBC)

    ◆ Mainstream media ignore bombshell, documented revelation that Hillary and DNC rigged primaries

    All three major TV news networks completely skip the story (Fox News)

    NYT: nothing

    Comment: It’s not surprising that most Democratic politicians are silent. But the story is a significant one, and it’s omission by mainstream outlets is bias, pure and simple.

     Pressure builds on AG Jeff Sessions, accused of false or misleading statements to Congress. The issue: what he knew Trump campaign officials’ contacts with Russia 

    The Atlantic magazine calls it: “Jeff Sessions’ Selective Memory

     

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Hat Tip to

    ◆ Robert Pahre for the Chronicle of Higher Education story

     

  • Why the Clinton financing of the Fusion GPS Report is so deeply troubling . . . and why they have lied about it

    The revelation that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee paid for the “Russian dossier” from Fusion GPS is a bombshell.

    Fusion fought tenaciously to avoid any disclosures about who paid for the document and which sources they used.

    They are still fighting to prevent any examination of bank records that would show others, besides the Clintons and DNC, who might have paid them for this work.

    (Side note: Democrats say that a “Republican donor” hired Fusion GPS before the Democrats did. Perhaps. But there is no actual evidence so far that any Republican donor actually did hire them. Whether he did or not, the alleged anti-Trump, Republican donor was only seeking ordinary opposition research. He had bowed out once Trump’s nomination was certain, so he was not involved in the Russian dossier scandal. Only the Clintons and DNC were involved in hiring foreign nationals and seeking information from insiders in a hostile foreign power for use in an American political campaign.

    Meanwhile, DNC leaders are invoking the Sgt. Schultz defense, saying they didn’t know about the payments to Fusion GPS.)

    When asked who paid them and other questions last week by Congress, Fusion GPS executives pleaded the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination.  That is their right. But we are not jurors in a courtroom; we can draw our own conclusions. Mine is that the executives believe they have real criminal exposure.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Not only do we know the Clinton Campaign and their allies paid for the dossier, we know they lied about doing so. That includes outright lies from the lawyer who served as the Clintons’ cutout for payments to Fusion GPS. (The Clinton campaign hired a lawyer to commission the dossier so their purchase could be hidden behind attorney-client privilege and so they could hide all the payments to Fusion GPS under the misleading–and possibly illegal–line item FEC disclosure of “legal services.” At the very least, their behavior is sleazy and deceptive. What else is new?)

    Here’s how NYT reporters responded after learning they had been lied to.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Russia’s Role in the Steele Dossier

    But lies are only the beginning.

    What is most troubling is how the Fusion GPS oppo research became a vehicle for Russian interference in US political and judicial processes.

    We know Fusion GPS hired a former British intelligence agent, Christopher Steele, to compile the dossier. Steele, who once headed the Russia desk at MI6, got his information from shadowy sources in Moscow, who gave him information allegedly compiled by Russian police and intel agencies.

    There is a strong possibility those sources and their information were part of the Kremlin’s ongoing disinformation campaign, designed to interfere in the US election. The fact that Steele came a-calling was a golden opportunity to insert this information into the heart of the US political system. As it turned out, it was also inserted into the US criminal justice system when the dossier was shared with the FBI.

    Of course, we know the Kremlin meddled in the US campaign. It is likely (though not certain) that some of the false information in the Steele/Russia dossier was part of that effort.

    After Fusion GPS completed the dossier,  they gave it to the Democrats who paid for it, presumably through the middleman lawyer who served as a cutout. Then, somehow, the dossier makes its way to the CIA and FBI.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Comey’s FBI

    At James Comey’s FBI, the dossier prompts a full-scale investigation. Apparently, the FBI also considered working with Steele–and paying him–to get more information from Moscow. (It’s really too bad the US doesn’t have some sort of government agency to get this kind of secret information in foreign countries.)

    There is still a lot we don’t know. But we can reasonably conclude that opposition research using foreign nationals, secretly financed by a political party, and almost-certainly buttressed with disinformation from a hostile foreign power was introduced into a US election campaign and used as justification for a federal investigation of US citizens.

    It is not clear if any FISA warrants were based on this dossier or if it prompted the Obama administration to do its wholesale unmasking of US citizens. We hardly know anything about the FBI’s role because it has stonewalled Congressional investigators, who have sought key documents for over two months without any response.

    We do know that, after Trump was inaugurated, the intel agencies asked to give him a special briefing on the dossier. Using that briefing as a news hook, one of the agencies then immediately (and illegally) leaked information about the dossier to the press, yet another disturbing development in this saga.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Boomerang

    This whole episode reveals the darkest underbelly of American politics and foreign interference in it. It is potentially a huge scandal–and one that involves the very agencies that normally investigate such scandals.

    It has a rich vein of irony, too. The Clintons and the Democrats have insisted, rightly, that all Russian meddling in our elections be investigated. They have claimed, without proof, that the Russians not only meddled, they collaborated with Donald Trump. Now, it turns out it was the Clinton campaign that was the major conduit for Russian influence–a tale worthy of Wile E. Coyote.

    It is essential that Congress investigate all aspects of this issue, which involves the FBI and CIA as well as the Clintons and the DNC.

    It merits a criminal investigation, too, as does the tsunami of corruption and coverup surrounding the Uranium One deal (which directly involves the Holder DOJ and Mueller FBI, as well Sec. Clinton).

    Attorney General Sessions should appoint a Special Counsel.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, October 25

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ There are three stories today about Russia’s involvement in US politics, and all three are bad for the Democrats

    How big the stories become–how serious the resulting scandals–depends on additional investigation and investigative reporting.

     Story #1: That scandalous, largely-discredited “Russian Dossier,” which led to the federal investigations of the Trump Campaign, was financed by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary’s Campaign 

    The Washington Post broke the story (link here) They report that the Clinton campaign, using a Washington lawyer as a cutout, retained Fusion GPS to do the dirty work. Fusion GPS has fought strenuously to prevent any disclosure of who paid them and invoked their 5th amendment privilege against self-incrimination to avoid testifying before Congress.

    The Clinton campaign, like others, used a lawyer to hire these contractors so their communications would be protected by attorney-client privilege.

    The Clinton people have never acknowledged a connection to Fusion GPS or the dossier.

     Story #2: Mueller’s Russia Probe turns toward key Democratic insiders

    Paul Manafort is also a major target but, according to reports, this top Republican operative worked closely with the Podesta Group, closely aligned with the Clintons.

    The news is here:

    A thus-far-reliable source who used to be involved with Clinton allies John and Tony Podesta told Tucker Carlson that press reports appearing to implicate President Trump in Russian collusion are exaggerated.

    The source, who Carlson said he would not yet name, said he worked for the brothers’ Podesta Group and was privy to some information from Robert Mueller’s special investigation.

    While media reports describe former “Black, Manafort & Stone” principal Paul Manafort as Trump’s main tie to the investigation, the source said it is Manafort’s role as a liaison between Russia and the Podesta Group that is drawing the scrutiny.

    The “vehicle” Manafort worked for was what Carlson called a “sham” company with a headquarters listed in Belgium but whose contact information was linked to Kiev, the Ukrainian capital. –Fox News

    Comment: National news media have not reported this news.

    Story #3: Russian bribery, money-laundering, speaker fees to Bill Clinton, and over $100 million to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary was Sec. of State and the Russians were federal approval to buy US uranium assets 

    Actually House Republicans announced two new investigations (link here):

    In the first of two back-to-back announcements, the top Republicans on the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees said they would formally examine the Obama Justice Department’s investigation of Mrs. Clinton’s emails. Less than an hour later, Republicans from the Intelligence and Oversight Committees said they were opening a separate inquiry into the administration’s approval of a 2010 agreement that left a Russian-backed company in control of much of the United States’ uranium. –New York Times

    Comment: The NYT story downplays the significance and suggests it is all simply partisan squabbling about a now-departed administration.

    I think they underestimate the possible ramifications of both investigations.

    The Uranium One deal is a particularly thorny issue for the Clintons and the Obama Administration because Obama’s FBI and DOJ knew of Russian bribery and other criminal activity before the deal was approved. Congress was not informed, as it should have been. Their objections might have blocked the deal. The public was kept completely in the dark. Mueller was head of the FBI at this time. One of the Russians reportedly involved in this illegal activity was given a US visa twice during this period by Hillary’s State Department. One major question is whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has recused himself from these Russia issues, will appoint a Special Counsel to investigate this and perhaps the Clinton emails, where then FBI-director Comey wrote a memo clearing Hillary long before key witnesses had been interviewed.

    The most important implication: The FBI (under Mueller) looks to be deeply compromised.

    Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) will not run for re-election. He and Sen. Bob Corker (D-TN), who is also retiring, lacerated Pres. Trump in speeches, interviews, and social media. Their rebukes are reported here (Reuters)

    Flake’s attack was on Trump’s conduct and dishonesty. Flake’s actual voting record is very supportive of Trump legislation.

    Flake, who has very high disapproval numbers in his home state, was likely to lose his primary contest.

    The local Arizona paper features this headline: Flake’s retirement opens floodgates to potential GOP candidates (Tucson.com)

    All those candidates are pro-Trump, but some are from more traditional elements of the party, others from the Bannon wing.

    The paper also notes that a divisive primary and an open seat gives the Democrats a chance to win for the first time in years.

    China’s Xi reveals Communist Party leadership, buttresses his own position and refuses to name a successor (BBC)

    All seven members of the Party’s Standing Committee were in their 60s. Rising stars in their 50s were not included.

    Comment: The absence of an heir-apparent, Xi’s cult of personality, and his name’s inclusion in the party constitution all raise speculation he might eventually seek a third-term, which had been ruled out after Mao’s death.

    Today in campus lunacy: Univ of Illinois education prof attacks difficult mathematics courses as evidence of white privilege (Campus Reform)

    “On many levels, mathematics itself operates as Whiteness. Who gets credit for doing and developing mathematics, who is capable in mathematics, and who is seen as part of the mathematical community is generally viewed as White,” [Prof. Rochelle] Gutiérrez argued [in a book aimed at K-12 math teachers].

    Truly, you cannot make this up. Here’s what the professor writes:

    If one is not viewed as mathematical, there will always be a sense of inferiority that can be summoned,” she says, adding that there are so many minorities who “have experienced microaggressions from participating in math classrooms… [where people are] judged by whether they can reason abstractly.”

    To fight this, Gutiérrez encourages aspiring math teachers to develop a sense of “political conocimiento,” a Spanish phrase for “political knowledge for teaching.”

    Comment #1: Please note, Prof. Gutiérrez thinks it is rank racism to judge people in a math class on whether they can reason abstractly. In fact, math is abstract reasoning.

    Comment #2: Why, Professor, does all this whiteness and white privilege in math not seem to hold back Asians and Asian-Americans in US math classes?  This is not a trivial issue or mere debating point. Note, too, that many of the Asian-American students come from lower-income families. Hmmmm.

    Comment #3: Gutiérrez is a professor of education, where this kind of political blather, masquerading as scholarship, is commonplace. Poor scholarship and political propaganda are major problems in Ed Schools across the country. So is the soft curriculum, which leads to adverse selection (namely, compared to other students, those who major in education consistently have some of the lowest SATs and lowest GPAs outside their majors).

    I remember all the justified complaints by feminists when a Barbie doll said, “Math is hard.” They said, rightly, that the comments were demeaning to women and sending the wrong message to girls. Sorry to see Prof. Gutiérrez sending the same message to minorities and dressing up in the costume of social justice.

     

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Hat Tip to

    ◆ Tom Elia for the math-is-whiteness story

     

  • 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

    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.

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    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 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)

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