• ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, November 6

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

    Trump in Asia: What Matters about the Trip (a comment)

    The trip has three main goals, all important but in tension with each other

    • Contain or eliminate North Korean nuclear threat to US and US allies (depends on China’s cooperation)
    • Reduce China’s trade surplus with US, ideally by opening China’s domestic market to US exports
    • Deter an expanding Chinese threat in South China Sea (reinforce America’s partnership with nations surrounding China)

    Trump is also likely to meet with Putin, with North Korea, Syria, and Iran as major topics

     Texas church shooting: A crazed, well-armed guy furious with his former in-laws, who worshipped at the church he attacked

    That’s the report from local news outlets in the San Antonio area (KSAT in San Antonio)

    Comment: Some commentators will stress his beliefs (“he was an atheist”). That is not what drove him. Anger and crazed impulsiveness, not ideology, are the drivers here.

     Mueller Leaking: NBC reports he has enough evidence to charge Mike Flynn, Trump’s former National Security Adviser

    Special ZipDialog commentary here

    Another college attack on free-speech: Vassar students smear Wm. Jacobson (of Legal Insurrection blog) because he supports free speech (USA Today)

    Comment: Vassar, like so many small, elite colleges, is suffused with hard-left ideology.

    They should call these schools “Illiberal Arts Colleges.”

    Chicago nearing 600 homicides, most since 2003 (Chicago Tribune)

    How bad is it? The city has instituted a new program to show people how to stop bleeding from gunshot wounds (Chicago Tribune)

    Comment: N

    Investigators suspect US journalists were paid to spread materials from the Clinton/FusionGPS/Russian Dossier (Washington Times)

    In U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Fusion GPS, the dossier’s financier via the Democratic Party and the Hillary Clinton campaign money, is fighting a House committee chairman’s bid to find out if the opposition research firm paid journalists.

    In U.S. District Court in Florida, a self-described dossier victim wants a judge to order the news website BuzzFeed, which published the dossier in full, to disclose who gave it to them. –Washington Times

    Comment: Fusion GPS is fighting so tenacious to prevent any disclosures of their receipts and expenditures, you can’t help but think they might have something to hide.

    Pleading the 5th Amendment before Congress was also a hint.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Hat Tip to

    ◆ Tim Favero for the Vassar, William Jacobson story

     

  • Leaks from Mueller’s Office: What They Mean

     Mueller Leaking: NBC reports he has enough evidence to charge Mike Flynn, Trump’s former National Security Adviser

    Comment: This leak is informative–mostly about the tactics Mueller’s office is using to gain indictments.

    First, notice that they kept the guilty plea from George Papadopoulos completely secret for a month. That tells us this leak is deliberate and purposeful.

    Second, the purpose is to put pressure on Flynn before the charges. They want him to flip, probably by threatening Flynn’s son with heavier charges.  These are standard, hard-nosed prosecutorial tactics.

    Third, the Mueller office’s strong-arm tactics are now clear. The pre-dawn raid on Manafort was one indication. The Manafort and Gates charges of “conspiracy against the United States” are another. There is no such crime. It is simply “criminal conspiracy.” The point was to con gullible journalists–and they succeeded.

    Fourth, the charges about failure to register as a foreign agent seem both legitimate and illegitimate. Legitimate because we have laws that say you have to register. Illegitimate because the DOJ has failed to enforce this law as a criminal violation for years and years. Under those circumstances, the felony charges against Manafort and Gates seem like selective prosecution.

    Finally, notice that no charges of conspiracy between Russia and the Trump Campaign have been filed as yet. They may be forthcoming, but, so far, none have been made. Those were the central purpose of the appointment of a Special Counsel.

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, October 30

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

    ◆ Today’s legal developments: Separate post at ZipDialog

    • Paul Manafort indicted by Special Counsel Mueller
    • Low-level figure in Trump campaign, George Papadopoulos, pleads guilty to making false statement about Russian contacts

    Tony Podesta, top Democratic lobbyist, resigns from his self-named firm amid Mueller investigations (Politico)

    [Tony] Podesta has long been a larger than life figure on K Street, growing his business from a boutique firm into a massive lobbying and public relations operation. He is well known for his flashy dressing, vast art collection, generous campaign donations across all levels of Democratic politics and, of course, for his brother John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman. –Politico

    Experts say Manafort charges under foreign-agents law could spell trouble for Mike Flynn, Tony Podesta (Washington Examiner)

    The main allegation is that Manafort was working for a Kremlin-backed group in Ukraine.

    Two key points here:

    1. FARA, the Foreign Agents Registration Act, has been used for criminal indictments less than 10 times since 1966
      • I believe there has only been one conviction
    2. So, its use by Mueller against Manafort should frighten Flynn, Podesta, and other lobbyists

     

     

     John Podesta, Debbie Wasserman Schultz told Senate Intel they didn’t know of dossier funding: report (The Hill)

    The interviews took place before it was disclosed that Clinton’s campaign and the DNC had paid for the research. It is against the law to make false statements to Congress. –The Hill

    Comment: They’ve gone full Sgt. Schultz. They know nothing.

    And, of course, Hillary has gone mute.

    By the way, her Democratic Party frenemy, Sen. Elizabeth Warren uses a different test pattern when she goes silent:

    House of Cards collapses: Netflix cancels series after this year’s production is completed amid sex charges against star Kevin Spacey (Daily Mail)

    This comes after ‘Rent’ star Anthony Rapp gave an interview claiming that a then-26-year-old Spacey tried to sexually assault him when he was 14 in 1986

    Spacey responded to that allegation with a rambling statement in which he said he did not recall the incident, apologized to Rapp and then came out as gay.

    ‘I am sorry that Kevin only saw fit to acknowledge his truth when he though it would serve him — just as his denial served him for so many years,’ said Zachary Quinto. –Daily Mail

     

    Comment: There are two separate issues here.

    One is despicable, if Spacey actually did what he is accused of, namely sexual assaults, especially against children.

    The other is openly gay actors attacking Spacey for not coming out earlier as gay. That is a completely distinct issue. They want to build support for open declaration of their sexual orientation. On the other hand, he has a personal right to privacy.

    The privacy versus openness issue is interesting and debatable.

    The sexual assault allegation are not. They should be investigated for criminal activity. Spacey gave a non-denial apology, saying he didn’t remember, might have been drunk, etc. (I would note that, if he did indeed proposition youngsters, there may well be other instances, which can be investigated.)

    Those who say “we all knew” were morally (if not legally) complicit if they knew about assault allegations.

    Coming out as gay at a moment when he is being accused seems like throwing dust in the air, trying to obscure the truly serious allegation.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, August 5

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

    Special Counsel Mueller’s office ask White House for docs on Mike Flynn; doing a full investigation of Flynn’s financial dealings, especially those with Turkey (New York Times)

    Taking money from Turkey or any foreign government is not illegal. But failing to register as a foreign agent is a felony, and trying to hide the source of the money by routing it through a private company or some other entity, and then paying kickbacks to the middleman, could lead to numerous criminal charges, including fraud.

    Prosecutors have also asked during interviews about Mr. Flynn’s speaking engagements for Russian companies, for which he was paid more than $65,000 in 2015, and about his company’s clients — including work it may have done with the Japanese government. –New York Times

    Comment: Besides Flynn’s vulnerability, the thing to note here is that Mueller’s office appears to be illegally leaking confidential investigation materials to the NYT.

    Venezuela’s march toward complete dictatorship continues (New York Times)

    Hugo Chavez’s successors are rewriting the Constitution to give themselves total power.

    Predictably, the economy is collapsing, people are trying to flee, etc.

    Comment: Sean Penn had no comment.

    US proposes even tougher UN sanctions against North Korea (Channel NewsAsia)

    Vote expected Saturday in UN Security Council after a month of negotiations with China. It will be the 7th set of UN sanctions on North Korea.

    The [proposed] measures that include a ban on exports of coal, iron and iron ore, lead and lead ore, as well as seafood by the cash-starved state. . . .

    The draft text would also prevent North Korea from increasing the number of workers it sends abroad, prohibit all new joint ventures and ban new investment in the current joint companies. –Channel NewsAsia

    The proposal would also blacklist the regime’s Foreign Trade Bank but would not prohibit shipments of oil to North Korea.

    Comment: The EU, Japan, and South Korea have supported US efforts.

    My guess: These sanctions will not stop Kim’s pursuit of nuclear-tipped ICBMs.

    House Speaker Paul Ryan “casts doubt on Pres. Trump’s plan to cut legal immigration” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

    To quote Ryan:

    With baby boomers leaving the workforce, we’re still going to have labor shortages in certain areas and that is where a well-reformed legal immigration system should be able to make up the difference. –Paul Ryan interview with Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

    Comment: ZipDialog has noted that the proposal to cut the number of legal immigrants is separable from the proposed new point system, focusing on higher skills and English language. Big business does not want the total numbers cut, and Ryan’s comments suggest those concerns have resonance.

    Nissan workers in Mississippi overwhelmingly reject high-profile unionization bid from United Autoworkers (New York Times)

    In a test of labor’s ability to expand its reach in the South, workers at a Nissan plant in Mississippi have overwhelmingly rejected a bid to unionize.

    Out of roughly 3,500 employees at the Canton-based plant who voted Thursday and Friday, more than 60 percent opposed the union. It was an emphatic coda to a years-long organizing effort underwritten by the United Automobile Workers, which has been repeatedly frustrated in its efforts to organize major auto plants in the region. –New York Times

    Experienced workers make $26 hour there, well above average wages in the state. Detroit wages are a few dollars higher. Nissan’s contributions to employees’ retirement accounts are similar to those of Michigan automakers, according to the NYT.

    Comment: The majority of plant workers are black, and the UAW had contributed heavily to civil-rights organizations as part of the organizing effort.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

  • 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

     

  • 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

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • UPDATE: Who Unmasked Names of American Citizens? Bloomberg News reports Susan Rice repeatedly sought real names that were properly hidden in raw intelligence

    The Trump allegation that he was “wiretapped” is still unproven, but there is increasing evidence that the Obama Administration was using intelligence collected on foreigners to keep tabs on the Trump team.

    In surveilling foreigners, which can be done without court warrants, some US citizens’ names and conversations are inevitably overheard. Since there are no warrants to collect information on these US citizens, these “collaterally-collected” names are supposed to be “masked” (kept secret). Only a small number of senior officials have the authority to find out the names behind those masks.

    We know, too, that one name, Michael Flynn, was not only unmasked but deliberately (and feloniously) leaked to the press, ultimately costing him his job as National Security Adviser.

    Today, the news on this story advanced when Bloomberg’s Eli Lake reported that Susan Rice, Pres. Obama’s National Security Adviser, repeatedly sought names of Trump Associates masked in raw intelligence. That does not prove she leaked the information–someone else may have done so–but it puts her in a difficult spot.

    The pattern of Rice’s requests was discovered in a National Security Council review of the government’s policy on “unmasking” the identities of individuals in the U.S. who are not targets of electronic eavesdropping, but whose communications are collected incidentally. Normally those names are redacted from summaries of monitored conversations and appear in reports as something like “U.S. Person One.” . . .

    One U.S. official familiar with the reports said they contained valuable political information on the Trump transition such as whom the Trump team was meeting, the views of Trump associates on foreign policy matters and plans for the incoming administration.

    Rice did not respond to an email seeking comment on Monday morning. Her role in requesting the identities of Trump transition officials adds an important element to the dueling investigations surrounding the Trump White House since the president’s inauguration. –Eli Lake reporting for Bloomberg.com

    For a summary of this and two other scandals currently being investigated, see my column at Real Clear PoliticsA Quick Guide to the Three-Ring Circus of Scandals