A judge sharply questioned whether Special Counsel Robert Mueller overstepped his authority by charging Paul Manafort with crimes unrelated to Russian election interference while also suggesting that the onetime Trump campaign chairman was indicted to coerce his cooperation against the president.
U.S. District Judge T. S. Ellis III expressed deep skepticism Friday about whether Mueller went too far in signing a bank- and tax-fraud indictment against Manafort. Ellis questioned how Mueller could prosecute financial crimes dating back a decade without charging Manafort for his election activities.
“I don’t see how this indictment has anything to do with anything the special prosecutor is authorized to investigate,” Ellis said at a hearing on a motion by Manafort to dismiss the case. –Reuters
Judge Ellis explicitly said that he thought
The only interest Mueller had in Manafort was to get him to testify about Trump;
An investigation of alleged bank fraud more than a decade old had zero to do with a legitimate investigation into Russian collusion in the 2016;
Mueller’s team had overstepped its legitimate authority and would not tell him the truth about it, so he demanded to read the memo giving them authority in unredacted form (which Mueller’s team does not want to do)
Ellis ordered that prosecutors give him the full memo within two weeks, saying he’ll determine whether the explanation of why Manafort was under investigation is adequate.
Mueller’s office took over an investigation of Manafort that had been conducted by prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia, where Ellis sits. The judge appeared impatient with Dreeben, who has argued more than 100 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Ellis repeatedly interrupted [Justice Department attorney Michael] Dreeben as he pressed for an explanation of Mueller’s authority.
“It covers bank fraud in 2005 and 2007?” Ellis said. “Tell me how. How does that have to do with links or coordination with Russia and Trump?”
“This indictment didn’t arise from your investigation,” Ellis said. “It arose from the pre-existing investigation.” –Reuters
The judge ended his statement to the prosecutors: “I understand your argument, but it kind of invites, ‘C’mon man.’”
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.
[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
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.
◆ Paul Manafort indicted by Special Counsel Mueller
The charges against Manafort and his business associate are that they should have registered as foreign agents for a pro-Russian Ukrainian entity, for which he did work until 2015.
Those dates are well before he worked for the Trump Campaign, and the indictment itself has nothing to do with the 2016 Presidential Campaign.
Comments: If Manafort has any information to implicate Trump or Trump associates, the Special Counsel now has leverage to acquire it.
Second, even if Manafort’s indictment had nothing to do with Democrats’ allegations of “Trump’s Russian collusion,” it is never good when your campaign manager is swept up in such indictments. At the very least, it suggests the Trump Campaign hired him without knowing about these connections.
Third, the indictments show the long-term efforts of the Kremlin and its allies, such as those in Ukraine, to insinuate themselves in the American political process.
Fourth, if other lobbying firms did this kind of work for foreign entities–and I’m sure some well-connected firms did–they must read this indictment with a shudder.
◆Low-level figure in Trump campaign, George Papadopoulos, pleads guilty to making false statement about Russian contacts
The contacts yielded nothing and the Trump campaign wasn’t interested in what he had to offer.
Papadopoulos “falsely described his interactions with a certain foreign contact who discussed ‘dirt’ related to emails” concerning Hillary Clinton. Records also describe an email between Trump campaign officials suggesting they were considering acting on Russian invitations to go to Russia.
Comment: The last sentence is mostly spin. The actual response was that the Trump campaign was not interested in what Papadopoulos was pushing to them.
Comment #2: The White House notes that Papadopoulos was a volunteer with little activity and later said that the Mueller information about Papadopoulos was provided by the White House itself.
Comment #3: This guilty plea came several weeks ago. Why did Mueller’s office wait to release the information? The most plausible explanation (to me) is that they wanted to show that the Manafort, which is unrelated to Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign (so far as we know), was accompanied by investigations that did involve the campaign.
The investigation into Podesta and his firm grew out of investigators’ examination of Manafort’s finances. Manafort organized a PR campaign on behalf of a nonprofit called the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine. Podesta Group was one of several firms that were paid to do work on the PR campaign to promote Ukraine in the U.S.
Podesta Group filed paperwork with the Justice Department in April stating that it had done work for the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine that also benefited the same Ukrainian political party that Manafort once advised. Podesta Group said at the time it believed its client was a European think tank untethered to a political party. –Politico
Comment: The sleazy connections between Democratic and Republican insiders with lobbying firms is exactly why Americans think Washington is a swamp.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple
◆ Pres. Trump’s speech to the UN was blunt and aimed squarely at North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela
It combined two main elements:
A traditional Republican assertion of US military strength and global engagements
Trump’s own nationalist, anti-globalist agenda, praising “strong sovereign nations” (not international institutions) as the basis of global order
The blunt language attracted a lot of attention. Conservatives (including many who don’t support Trump) were positive. Liberals cringed, longing for Obama’s soft tone, soft policies, and strategic patient.
He called the nuclear deal with Iran “an embarrassment” and “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the US has ever entered into.” He spoke of Iran’s aggressive support of terror and expansion in the Middle East. He specifically spoke about the threat from “Radical Islamic Terror,” words his predecessor never used (and that Trump himself has used less often in recent months).
He said nothing about “democracy promotion,” a centerpiece of George W. Bush’s foreign policy.
His comment on Venezuela was equally blunt, saying they had turned a rich country into an impoverished failure and done so not because it misapplied socialist policies but because it applied them exactly as they were intended.
Without using the term “axis of evil,” his speech clearly echoed those themes from Pres. Bush’s War on Terror.
As someone said on Twitter, never before has been there so much murmuring of “holy sh**” in so many different languages.
◆ Two natural disasters:
Cat 5 Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico with 175 mph winds, the second major hurricane within a month
Mexico suffers a 7.1 magnitude quake.
Numerous casualties and fatalities from both, unfortunately.
Comment: The best way to keep up with news about each is with your favorite breaking-news site online. The cable channels will show you the gritty aftermath but take hours to give you the hard news you can get in a few minutes reading.
Senate Republicans, abandoning a key fiscal doctrine, agreed on Tuesday to move forward on a budget that would add to the federal deficit in order to pave the way for a $1.5 trillion tax cut over the next 10 years.
The Republican lawmakers, under mounting pressure to score a legislative win on taxes, say a tax cut of this magnitude will stimulate economic growth enough to offset any deficit impact.
Yet critics say a deficit-financed tax cut is at odds with longstanding Republican calls for fiscal discipline, including that tax cuts not add to the ballooning federal deficit.
Comment: Tax bills must originate in the House, which is dribbling out some information but not the key details. Those should come in the next week or so.
He and his gang of corrupt officers were tripped up in 2001 when they tried one ripoff while the dealer happened to be on the phone with his girlfriend. She mistakenly thought another drug dealer was the robber and called the cops. Honest cops showed up, saw what was happening, and that was the beginning of the end.
◆Turkey increasingly uses its thuggish, dictatorial tactics in Western democracies. It did it again this week
They did it in May, 2017, when Turkish security officers assaulted peaceful demonstrators in Washington, DC. (New York Times report here.)
This week, they tried to stop a speaker at a conference in Philadelphia. The event was hosted by the Middle East Forum (MEF) for the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, known as NATO-PA.
NATO PA organizers asked that MEF remove a speaker, Emre Çelik, from the program in response to a demand issued by the office of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. MEF removed the speaker from the program, but invited him to address the gathering anyway.
When Çelik rose to speak, the Turkish delegation grew visibly agitated and acted quickly to shut down the event. –Middle East Forum
Daniel Pipes, who heads the Middle East Forum, spoke plainly about the incident, which was captured on video:
President Erdoğan’s attempt to stifle free speech at a Middle East Forum event today was despicable. We did not accept it. –Daniel Pipes
“If true, it is a felony to reveal the existence of a FISA warrant, regardless of the fact that no charges ever emerged,” [Manafort’s spokesman said].
“The U.S. Department of Justice’s Inspector General should immediately conduct an investigation into these leaks and to examine the motivations behind a previous administration’s effort to surveil a political opponent,” he said.
The special counsel’s office and the FBI both declined to comment on Maloni’s statement. They also did not comment on CNN’s original report about surveillance of Manafort. –Reuters
Comment: There are several disturbing aspects of this story, all requiring serious investigation. Manafort’s role is obviously one. So is the apparent release of secret information, the presence of a government wiretap on the manager of a political campaign, the possibility President Trump was picked up on the surveillance, and the statements by several Obama administration intelligence officials that they knew of no such surveillance. It is unclear if those officials made false statements under oath.
The president has vowed to speed deportations and cut down on the growing backlog of cases. He issued an executive order in January calling for a national crackdown.
After Trump issued the order, the Justice Department dispatched dozens of immigration judges to detention centers across the country and hired an additional 54 judges. The agency said it has continued to hire more immigration judges each month. –Fox News
Why such an aggressive move against a white-collar suspect who is already cooperating? The NYT offers some ideas:
The search is a sign that the investigation into Mr. Manafort has broadened, and is the most significant public step investigators have taken since the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, was appointed in May. Investigators are expected to deploy a wide array of similar measures — including interviews and subpoenas — in the coming months as they move forward with the intensifying inquiry. . . .
Legal experts said that Mr. Mueller might be trying to send a message to Mr. Manafort about the severity of the investigation, and to pressure him into cooperating. –New York Times
The disease is caused by the body destroying cells in the pancreas that control blood sugar levels. The immunotherapy – tested on 27 people in the UK – also showed signs of slowing the disease, but this needs confirming in larger trials. Experts said the advance could one day free people from daily injections.
Patients given the therapy did not need to increase their dose of insulin during the trial. However, it is too soon to say this therapy stops type 1 diabetes and larger clinical trials will be needed. And further types of immunotherapy that should deliver an even stronger reaction are already underway.–BBC
Comment: Promising but larger studies needed. Note that it slows the progression of the disease; it does not reverse it.
◆ The big story continues to be fallout from Donald Trump, Jr.’s meeting with the Russian lawyer.
Amid the firestorm, it is important to remember what matters and why.
Comment and Analysis:
What matters is less the meeting itself and more the reasons DJT, Jr., himself says he wanted to have it after being told it involved information from the Russian government, which (he was told) wanted to help his father
That help was not given at the meeting.
If it had been given, it probably would not have been illegal
But it is a terrible idea to accept help from a foreign government.
It is even worse when the government is an adversary. And it is still worse when it is part of a multi-pronged attempt by the foreign government to interfere in the US election.
It completely obliterates the Trump White House’s denials for months that they had no contacts with Russian government agents during the campaign.
It is now consuming Washington, damaging the Trump presidency, and making it more difficult for him to move forward on health care, taxes, immigration, and other policy issues
More information will continue to dribble out, such as yesterday’s story about how Loretta Lynch’s DOJ let the lawyer. Natalia Veselnitskaya, into the country and today’s story that one of the lobbyists the lawyer brought to the meeting was an ex-Russian intel officer.
To me, the main questions now about the Trump side are whether
There were more contacts?
This was just chaos and confusion at the Trump campaign or part of a coherent plan and, if so, did the plan bear any fruit?
The Democrats (Hillary, the DNC, their donors) had any hand in this or other dirty tricks?
Manafort, the experienced guy on the Trump side, knew about the extent of the Russian involvement?
This sought-after cooperation with the Russians involved the nominee himself?
Now that this line of inquiry has opened up, it is also important to know what contacts the Clinton campaign had with foreign-government agents, especially those of unfriendly governments. Those would show that this game is played by all sides and show her campaign’s intent. BUT the Clinton campaign’s activities are much less important now because she lost.
Trump is in the Oval Office so his campaign’s integrity, or lack of it, matters more.
Everyone seems to think the Russians are loving this mess. I’m sure they do–but they probably have more mixed opinions since their fingerprints are all over the room and, because of that, are blocked from all but minor, tactical cooperation with the US. Who could doubt they are adversaries and malevolent actors?
Question:Was this meeting a criminal offense, as Trump’s sharpest critics have charged.
Answer:Most experienced attorneys have said that the information made public so far is not a prosecutable crime. But that it hardly the end of the matter.
It is still a nasty business politically. It is either a political “crime,” or at least an attempted one, or else extraordinary incompentence. The presence of an experienced operative like Paul Manafort being part of this is inexplicable and disturbing.
It’s not the end for another reason: further information might still come to light and suggest crimes really were commited. You can be certain that the mainstream media, which loathes Trump and now sees blood in the water, will spare no resources to investigate those possibilities. Plus, there’s Mueller’s investigation. Nobody is getting away with anything here.
It’s like an Agatha Christie movie as we wait to find out which one is left alive.
◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆
Comment on the basic political problem facing Republicans on the healthcare bill
The biggest problem for Republicans who want a smaller central government but still want to be reelected is this:
Obamacare subsidizes health insurance for everyone up to four times the poverty level.
That’s extremely costly, of course, and actually has the perverse effect of lowering the quality of care (to keep costs down) and channeling subsidies away from the most needy (because so much is devoted to others, just above them).
Whatever the problems, people get hooked on “free” benefits, especially if somebody else is paying.
Unwinding those benefits is nearly impossible politically.
The Democrats knew that when they passed the bill.
Indeed, passing out such largess and locking in these big-government social programs has been the basic Democratic strategy since the mid-1960s.
That’s exactly what they did here.
Among the beneficiaries are lots of “working poor,” including the lower-middle-class whites who voted for Trump but won’t vote for Senators who take away their benefits.
What Republicans are coming to recognize, however painfully, is that they may be able to scale back the subsidies a bit and promote market-based solutions, but they cannot undo the basic features of the Obama-Reid-Pelosi subsidy program. It has already metastasized.
Officials were looking into reports that people who knew Mr. Abedi — including an imam at his mosque — had contacted the authorities as early as 2015 with concerns that he may have been recruited by extremists. –New York Times
The report said older people with lower income would disproportionately lose coverage. Over half of those becoming uninsured, 14 million people, would come from the bill’s $834 billion in cuts to Medicaid, which provides health coverage to poor and disabled people, over 10 years. –AP
Comment: These numbers are disturbing but it compares this bill to Obamacare on the assumption that the ACA will survive. It won’t. It’s melting down and to save it would cost trillions.