Saturday Morning Open Laugh: Might As Well Laugh…

According to media reports Friday, Cohen surreptitiously recorded a shady conversation with Trump two months before the 2016 presidential election. The two goons reportedly discussed how to suppress the 1st Amendment rights of Trump’s alleged former extramarital girlfriend Karen McDougal, a darling-looking skin-mag model. Their cunning plan? To trick McDougal into thinking she was signing a contract to write about the affair exclusively for the National Enquirer.

As for so many of us, journalism seemed like a chance for McDougal to make an honest, fully-clothed living. But, according to McDougal, Trump supporter David Pecker, who runs the company that publishes the Enquirer, killed her story. He wouldn’t let her take it elsewhere, she maintains, but he did promise her a bogus fitness-writing deal that never came to pass.

The writer’s life! Karen, I’m here for you….

If no one but a prude like me is feeling scandalized by the president’s ritual humiliation of his wife and infliction of trauma on his young son, maybe all this prurient chatter should stop here.

Instead, you can approach the president’s perfidy through the indictments of Russian military intelligence commanders for undermining American democracy. But then you have to wade through a lot of Russian and hacker names.

It’s more summery to go the farce route and focus on McDougal, Daniels, Bechard and the Republican bribers who loved them. Plus, Cohen forms a bridge between from Russia and with love

There’s a useful app called iHere3, which pairs a small keychain device with an iPhone. It lets you wiretap anyone without anything fishy on your phone’s lock screen. If Cohen can manage that kind of spyware, kudos. Impressive — especially while keeping track of all the nude models and Russian oligarchs.

One way or another: bugging Trump. That’s some cold, cold valet work right there. Cohen reportedly has lifelong ties to the Russian mafia, and he’s showing a KGB-level knack for betrayal. I think I admire it.



Friday News Dump the First: Michael Cohen’s Tapes of Conversations with the President About Karen McDougal

From The New York Times:

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s longtime lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, secretly recorded a conversation with Mr. Trump two months before the presidential election in which they discussed payments to a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Mr. Trump, according to lawyers and others familiar with the recording.

The F.B.I. seized the recording this year during a raid on Mr. Cohen’s office. The Justice Department is investigating Mr. Cohen’s involvement in paying women to tamp down embarrassing news stories about Mr. Trump ahead of the 2016 election. Prosecutors want to know whether that violated federal campaign finance laws, and any conversation with Mr. Trump about those payments would be of keen interest to them.

The recording’s existence further draws Mr. Trump into questions about tactics he and his associates used to keep aspects of his personal and business life a secret. And it highlights the potential legal and political danger that Mr. Cohen represents to Mr. Trump. Once the keeper of many of Mr. Trump’s secrets, Mr. Cohen is now seen as increasingly willing to consider cooperating with prosecutors.

The former model, Karen McDougal, says she began a nearly yearlong affair with Mr. Trump in 2006, shortly after Mr. Trump’s wife, Melania, gave birth to their son Barron. Ms. McDougal sold her story to The National Enquirer for $150,000 during the final months of the presidential campaign, but the tabloid sat on the story, which kept it from becoming public. The practice, known as “catch and kill,” effectively silenced Ms. McDougal for the remainder of the campaign.

David J. Pecker, the chairman of The Enquirer’s parent company, is a friend of Mr. Trump’s, and Ms. McDougal has accused Mr. Cohen of secretly taking part in the deal — an allegation that is now part of the F.B.I. investigation.

When The Wall Street Journal revealed the existence of the paymentdays before the election, Mr. Trump’s campaign spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, said, “We have no knowledge of any of this.” She said Ms. McDougal’s claim of an affair was “totally untrue.”

More at the link.

Some reactions:

I’m guessing that right now Paul Campos over at LGM is reattacking his investigation into Elliott Broidy and another Playboy model Shera Bechard.

But the bigger takeaway here is that Michael Cohen is going to be the gift that keeps on giving for a variety of investigation into the President, his campaign, his businesses, and his personal life.

Given how the week went, it’s going to be a long day, so stay hydrated!

Open thread.

 

 



Friday Morning Open Thread: Ministry of Truthiness

Despite all the criticisms of her performance, Huckabee Sanders is an artist in her own Southern-Gothic niche. She was hired — and she does her job, in this context, brilliantly — to be the grim, dutiful Good Wife who insists that ERRYTHING IS JUST FAAAAHNE THENK YEW in front of the village congregation. Sure, the whole neighborhood knows that (behind the facade) ‘Daddy’ is a mean drunk who knocks her around and sleeps with hookers, the family business is forever teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, her kids are out of control and would be in jail or another institution if the local police weren’t cowed by or complicit in the ‘best families’ oligarchy… but as long as she can slab on enough pancake makeup and wear her ‘family’ pearls, the comforting clan mythology remains unchallenged. It’s not an easy living, but what alternatives does a past-her-prime good Southern girl with no education outside the conservative bubble have? Praise ‘Merican Jeebus for “tradition”, and don’t forget to vote Republican!

It is a well-worn cliché of the Trump presidency—which is also to say, it is a well-worn cliché about the Trump psyche—that, within a White House as vertically integrated as this one, loyalty counts above all. And Sarah Sanders, the press secretary who will have been on the job, this week, for one year—the White House announced her promotion to the role in July of 2017—performs that loyalty every time she meets the press.

This is a White House that prioritizes the scoring of points over the complexities of compromise. Sanders, on behalf of the president she works for—a happy warrior in a culture war that has found a front in the James S. Brady briefing room at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue—takes for granted an assumption that would be shocking were it not so common in the American culture of the early 21st century: There are things that are more important than truth.
Read more



Andrea Mitchell’s Interview with DNI Coats

Andrea Mitchell interviewed Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats this afternoon at the Aspen Institute. Some news was made.

This is very, very important information that the DNI decided to share. Specifically, he is not in the loop, at least in regard to matters pertaining to Russia, in regard to what the President is and is not doing! That’s astounding. And it reinforces Susan Glasser’s reporting in The New Yorker (emphasis mine):

Days after the Helsinki summit, Trump’s advisers have offered no information—literally zero—about any such agreements. His own government apparently remains unaware of any deals that Trump made with Putin, or any plans for a second meeting, and public briefings from the State Department and Pentagon have offered no elaboration except to make clear that they are embarrassingly uninformed days after the summit.

Unlike Putin, Trump did not brief his own diplomats on the Helsinki meeting. The American Secretary of State, national-security adviser, and Ambassador to Moscow, who attended the lunch after Trump and Putin’s private session, have been publicly silent on the substance of the meetings, leaving it to the Russians, for now, to make claims about what was actually said and done behind closed doors between the two Presidents.

The information provided to America’s top diplomats, those whose job it is to deal with Russia, was just as sparse and potentially incomplete. The Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Russia, Wess Mitchell, on Tuesday briefed the State Department group that has been pulled together to discuss Russia policy before and after the summit. There was no mention of any agreements. “There is no word on agreements,” a senior U.S. official told me. “There is no information on the U.S. side about any agreements.” So was Putin lying? Was Trump? Was it possible there was a misunderstanding, and that Trump thinks he made no commitments and Putin thinks he did? “It is terribly disturbing,” the senior official said. “The point is that we don’t know.”

A U.S. Ambassador in Europe, who has extensive experience dealing with Russia, told me that he and other State Department officials who would need to know have received no post-summit briefings, or even talking points about what happened, both of which would be standard practice after such an important encounter. “Nothing,” he told me. “We are completely in the dark. Completely.”

I’ve twice written about how, because the President is considered to be a security risk when it comes to intelligence/information by US, allied, and partnered intelligence officials, the US was going to be at a disadvantage in regard to intelligence matters. What we know from both Andrea Mitchell’s interview with DNI Coats and Susan Glasser’s reporting, is that the President is compounding this problem by not telling his own senior appointees what they need to know to actually do their jobs effectively.

Here’s the video of the interview. Since I wasn’t around to see the whole thing, I’m not sure exactly when this happened, but the parts of the interview I saw were very informative.

We are off the map and through the looking glass!

Open thread.



Russiagate / NRA Open Thread: Mariia Butina, ‘Manliness’ Enhancer…


 
… by any means necessary!

She gave the Repubs what they were looking for: Attention from a ‘hot chick’ who publicly admired their massive weaponry, political astuteness, and general VIRTUE. In the heat of the moment, it didn’t seem important to ask what she might be looking for in return…

It’s hard to tell how much of the story 29-year-old Russian graduate student Maria Butina told Americans about herself for years is real.

What is clear is that in Butina, the Russian government either found or created an irresistible persona for US conservatives. The story she repeated over years of speeches and interviews — of a scrappy girl from Siberia fighting for gun rights in Russia — was carefully calibrated to show a passion for self-defense, a yearning for America’s easy access to guns, and a hint of criticism of Russia’s own laws…

People who spoke to BuzzFeed News about their interactions with her, as well as a review of her interviews, writings, and extensive social media posts, paint a picture of someone who knew how to push all the right conservative buttons.

Hers was a startlingly effective performance.

By the time she appeared on the popular radio show of evangelical author Eric Metaxas, who later endorsed Trump and served on his evangelical advisory council, her life story — or at least what she said was her life story — rolled off her tongue with practiced ease.

“My story is simple — my father is a hunter, I was born in Siberia,” she explained in the July 2015 interview, echoing previous talking points in which she often drew parallels to parts of the US, like South Dakota, where guns are “necessary for survival” to defend lives and property.

“That seems appropriate, somehow,” Metaxas interrupted, sounding delighted, when she described founding her gun rights organization in a “Moscow version of a McDonald’s,” telling her friends “we need to fight for our gun rights.”

“Wow, I just love the idea of this,” he said. “To think…because you know, those of us in America can be very parochial, we forget that the fight for liberty goes on for all around the globe in different guises.”

Butina also seemed to know exactly what a conservative evangelical audience would want to hear, earnestly speaking about the growing number of churches in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the “great history of Christian religion” that she had in common with US evangelicals, her audience.

“When we talk about Russian and American relationships, the main point is Christianity, in both countries,” she told Metaxas…
Read more



Now They’re Just Screwing With Us! High End Russian Prostitution Ring Edition

From The New York Post (emphasis mine):

A flamboyant husband-and-wife pimp team orchestrated a high-end prostitution ring through a website called Russian Dolls, Manhattan authorities said Wednesday.

Yevgen Rizanov and Ksenia Khodukina, both 29, flew women from Russia to New York as part of a “sophisticated long-term operation promoting prostitution,” said Assistant District Attorney James Lynch.

The couple and a third defendant, Arkadiy Bashkatov, housed the sex workers in Brooklyn and dispatched them on jobs throughout New York, booking their hotels and hiring drivers, from June 2015 to June 2018, according to Manhattan prosecutors.

“The defendants split the money with the women but dictated the percentage they could keep,” the ADA said.

The Russian nationals were picked up last week in Miami at their tony beachfront pad inside the Trump Towers III*, where they allegedly ran their illicit enterprise remotely.

They moved from Brighton Beach to Florida a few months earlier, according to their attorney.

I don’t know who thought this script was going to fly, but they need to have their head examined and it needs to be sent back to rewrite.

Never before have the Balloon Juice categories of domestic affairs and foreign affairs been so literally applicable to a post. Yeah us!!!!

Open thread!

* You can find excellent reporting on all of the Russian criminal activities being run out of the President’s properties, both owned and branded, here and here. Surely a series of coincidences…



Our Failed Media Open Thread: Faux News & Friends… But *Also* (Some of) the NYTimes