Friday Afternoon Open Thread

This girl from Texas:

America failed her. It’s shameful.

Speaking of shameful, the low-life piece of shit president and his vice-toady made the usual blah-blah-blah mouth-noises in response to the shooting. They’ll do nothing. It won’t change until we vote the NRA shills out. Simple as that. God gets it:

It’s too bad Twitter God isn’t equipped with smiting powers. If He were, perhaps He could put an end to authoritarian practices such as using Trump using federal power to punish and intimidate critics, as detailed in The Post:

President Trump has personally pushed U.S. Postmaster General Megan Brennan to double the rate the Postal Service charges Amazon.com and other firms to ship packages, according to three people familiar with their conversations, a dramatic move that probably would cost these companies billions of dollars.

Brennan has so far resisted Trump’s demand, explaining in multiple conversations occurring this year and last that these arrangements are bound by contracts and must be reviewed by a regulatory commission, the three people said. She has told the president that the Amazon relationship is beneficial for the Postal Service and gave him a set of slides that showed the variety of companies, in addition to Amazon, that also partner for deliveries.

Despite these presentations, Trump has continued to level criticism at Amazon. And last month, his critiques culminated in the signing of an executive order mandating a government review of the financially strapped Postal Service that could lead to major changes in the way it charges Amazon and others for package delivery.

The remedy for this is the same as the cure for the plague of GOP politicians — from the PEEOTUS on down to the lowliest goddamned councilman — who care more about NRA donations than they do about kids: Vote the fuckers out. Nancy Pelosi gets it:

There are 172 days until the midterm elections. Accountability starts then, or it never does. Let’s make sure it starts then. Open thread.



Rudy Giuliani Needs To Sit Down With Rudy Giuliani So They Can Get Rudy Giuliani’s Story Straight!

The Mayor of 9-11 has some major issues. First among them is his mouth appears to be disconnected from his short and long term memory! Yesterday NBC reported that Rudy Giuliani told them that Special Counsel Mueller told him that the President can’t be indicted because of the 1970s DOJ Office of Legal Counsel guidance.*

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office has told President Donald Trump’s legal team that he won’t indict a sitting president, according to Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump’s lawyers.

“They (the special counsel’s office) acknowledge the fact that they can’t indict us,” Giuliani told NBC News on Wednesday, indicating that the information had been conveyed to Trump’s lawyers. “They know they don’t have that power. So their function is to write a report. We would like it to be the fairest report possible. But even if it isn’t, we’re prepared to rebut it in great detail, so we’d like them to do it.”

He added: “It’s as clear as can be that they don’t have the right to indict under the Justice Department rules. And I know they’re not going to indict.”

Unfortunately for Rudy Giuliani, Rudy Giuliani then told the Washington Post that Rudy Giuliani wasn’t actually at the meeting.

Let’s just emphasize the important news that Rudy Giuliani broke about Rudy Giuliani to Robert Costa in the transcripts that Costa posted in his tweet above – click it to embiggen the top right side of the transcript, which I’ve transcribed below for your convenience (emphasis mine):

The Washington Post: Did Mueller explicitly say he would not charge the President?

Giuliani: “He didn’t say that. One of his – I have to check with Jay, he’s in Israel right now. One of his top people told him that.

So according to Rudy Giuliani, who was clarifying to The Washington Post what Rudy Giuliani told NBC News, one of Mueller’s top people told Jay Sekulow, whose currently in Israel, that Special Counsel Mueller would not charge the President. Rudy Giuliani has now further muddied Rudy Giuliani’s messaging up by explaining that Rudy Giuliani doesn’t actually know what was specifically said because it was said to Jay Sekulow who is in Israel, but whatever it was it wasn’t said by Special Counsel Mueller himself.

Unfortunately, Rudy Giuliani who has now explained that Rudy Giuliani does not actually know what happened at this meeting between the Special Counsel and some of his personnel and Jay Sekulow because Jay Sekulow is in Israel and Rudy Giuliani was not there did not get with Rudy Giuliani who decided to further clarify Rudy Giuliani’s clarification of Rudy Giuliani’s statement that the Special Counsel told Rudy Giuliani directly that he couldn’t prosecute the President. Take it away Talking Points Memo!

He didn’t seem to want to give the answer,” Giuliani told the Post. “It reminded me of that scene in ‘The Godfather,’ with Sonny and the Godfather, where he said, ‘Oh, you’re going to take care of us? We can take care of ourselves.’ One of his assistants broke in and said, ‘Well of course, we’re bound by Justice Department policies.’ Mueller looked at him like, ‘Don’t interrupt me.’”

In case everyone has, like the various Rudy Giulianis, lost the plot here, let me summarize:

  1. Rudy Giuliani told NBC News that Special Counsel Mueller told him directly that he could not prosecute the President because of the 1970s guidance from the Office of Legal Counsel.
  2. Rudy Giuliani, in an attempt to clarify what Rudy Giuliani told NBC News, told The Washington Post that he doesn’t actually know what Special Counsel Mueller or his personnel told Jay Sekulow and he can’t find out because Jay is in Israel.
  3. Rudy Giuliani, in an attempt to sound tough and make Special Counsel Mueller look bad, as well as further clarify Rudy Giuliani’s clarification to The Washington Post of Rudy Giuliani’s (who comes from a family that was mobbed up) statement to NBC News, stated that Bob Mueller (who brought down John Gotti) is like an Italian mafioso from a movie.

According to The Washington Post:

A spokesman for the special counsel declined to comment.

Everybody clear?

Open thread!

* Neal Katyal who wrote the existing guidelines for DOJ Special Counsels had this to say about the 1970s Office of Legal Counsel guidance:

“This old opinion from 20 years ago does preclude, in general, the Justice Department from indicting a sitting president for constitutional reasons,” Katyal said. “But an exception can be given.”

Katyal repeated Wednesday that the rules “permit Mueller to depart from DOJ policy.”

Referring to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosentein, who is acting as attorney general in the context of the Russia investigation because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself, Katyal said on MSNBC’s “All In With Chris Hayes”: “The way to do this is to ask the acting attorney general, so he does have a way forward.”

While I’m sure everyone will have fun with this in the comments, there really is no settled law on this. As a political scientist and criminologist I understand all three of the major legal theories/positions on this, and definitely have my own view on which is right, as well as why the OLC memo was written the way it was written during Watergate. That said, I expect that Special Counsel Mueller will play everything straight based on his career as a Federal prosecutor and Director of the FBI. Regardless, we will just have to wait and see.



The Senate Judiciary Committee Democratic Minority Report

Cheryl assigned me the homework of asked if I’d go through the Senate Judiciary Committee Democratic minority report on Russian active measures interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. The report can be found at this link. I want to highlight this important caveat from the final paragraph on page 1 (emphasis mine):

We still do not know the full story about the June 9 meeting at Trump Tower or, more broadly, the degree to which the campaign cooperated or communicated with Russia. 1 While Senate Judiciary Democrats have sought to conduct a robust and independent investigation, the lack of bipartisan agreement on what to investigate has limited the Committee’s examination of Russian interference in the 2016 election and who was involved. The Committee’s progress has also been hampered by the lack of cooperation from several key witnesses, identified in the Appendix that accompanies these findings. As a result, the Committee has been unable to answer a number of questions regarding contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The Democratic minority on the committee is telling us right up front that the committee has really not been able to conduct a proper investigation up to this point. From the news reporting, my take is that the Senate Judiciary Committee investigation has been better than the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence’s, but not as seemingly good as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s. So Senator Grassley has been better than Congressman Nunes in conducting his duties, but not as good as Senator Burr. While you’d like to see these committees actually doing their jobs, that is not possible right now given the ongoing corruption of congressional Republicans as the President remakes the GOP in his own image. While Senator Burr and Senator Warner seem to be on track, unless or until the Democrats were to retake the majority in either or both chambers, the real action will remain with Special Counsel Mueller and his various investigations.

The first thing that really jumped out at me is just how sloppy the players involved were. Especially in regard to their communications. While a lot of what is in the report, both substantive factual information and about the various individuals involved, has been previously reported, this sloppiness just sort of screams at the reader. For instance (emphasis mine):

On Friday June 3, 2016, at 10:36 a.m., Donald Trump Jr. received an email with the subject line “Russia – Clinton – private and confidential.” The email came from Rob Goldstone, a music publicist who represented Emin Agalarov, and offered assistance from Russia via Trump’s trusted friend Aras Agalarov. Goldstone wrote: Good morning. Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting. The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with [Emin’s] father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary [Clinton] and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump—helped along by Aras and Emin.

This jumped out at me. Emin Agalarov called Goldstone, asked him to get a hold of Donald Trump, Jr., and gave Goldstone enough information so that he could convey the details when reaching out. HE CALLED HIM AND GAVE HIM ENOUGH INFORMATION TO CONVEY THE DETAILS!!!!! The Agalarovs are oligarchs and known to be connected to Putin and Goldstone is a British citizen and was in England at the time of the phone call. While this conversation, and the subsequent emails, took place about two months before the FBI opened their counterintelligence investigation, I would not be surprised at all to find out that Britain’s GCHQ routinely tracked phone calls, emails, and texts from the Agalarovs that came in to British citizens because of Aras Agalarov’s connections to Putin. I would also not be surprised if other of our allied intelligence partners in Europe who are concerned about Russia were also monitoring the Agalarov’s communications. And I would definitely not be surprised that if this SIGINT was captured by our allies, that the Special Counsel’s Office has it and knows exactly what Emin Agalarov told Rob Goldstone.

And this wasn’t a one off in sloppy communication (emphasis mine):

In the days leading up to the meeting, Mr. Trump Jr. exchanged a number of emails and phone calls with Mr. Goldstone and Emin Agalarov. On Monday, June 6, 2016, Mr. Goldstone emailed Mr. Trump Jr. and asked when he would be available to talk with Emin Agalarov “by phone about this Hillary info.”14 Mr. Trump Jr. responded, “Rob could we speak now?”15 Mr. Goldstone then told Mr. Trump Jr. that Emin Agalarov would call in twenty minutes.16

Emin called Mr. Trump Jr. at the designated time.17 Twenty-five minutes after this first call ended, Mr. Trump Jr. called Emin back and then emailed Mr. Goldstone, “Rob thanks for the help.”18 Despite phone records reflecting this exchange of phone calls, Mr. Trump Jr. testified that he did not recall whether he spoke to Emin or what they discussed.

The next day, June 7, Emin called Mr. Trump Jr. again.

While I have no way of knowing if there is SIGINT capture of these calls, if GCHQ or one of our other partner’s intelligence services that routinely monitors and captures the communications of Russian oligarchs, as well as officials, their families, and their employees, then I would expect that the Special Counsel’s Office has all of it and knows exactly what was discussed, what was promised, and what the responses were.

To me, the lack of any attempt to secure communications is what is really interesting. Everything else in the Democratic minority’s preliminary report has been reported at one time or another over the past year or so. But these descriptions of how the approach and the dangle were made by Goldstone and Agalarov to Donald Trump, Jr. on behalf of the Russian government really stand out. And they do so because they provide hints that there may be low hanging SIGINT fruit that has been plucked. If I were Jr, Goldstone, and/or the Agalarovs I would be very, very concerned that GCHQ captured everything. And that if they did, that they would have provided it to the counterintelligence investigation that Special Counsel Mueller inherited when he was appointed. There’s really no way to know, and even if Special Counsel Mueller knows, the rest of us may never know.

Stay frosty!

Open thread.



This week in gaslighting…

Trump three days ago:

Trump this morning:

He’s just flat-out lying about what he said 72 hours ago — without even bothering to delete the tweet. There’s nothing remarkable about this sort of thing now. The president of the United States lies all the time. Ho hum.

In other news, the Senate Intelligence Committee just released thousands of pages of transcripts about the Trump-Russia investigation, mostly about the Trump Tower meeting, where Trump’s grotesque namesake spawn eagerly met with representatives of a hostile foreign power to gather dirt on Hillary Clinton. “If it’s what you say, I love it” should be inscribed on that shit-stain’s tombstone.

Another developing story out of North Carolina: schools are closed as teachers walk out to demand funding for education. Honestly, I’m finding these teacher strikes the most encouraging post-Trump political development since the Women’s March. The teachers are winning too, extracting concessions from skin-flint wingnut legislatures.

It’s almost as if people are realizing that slashing local government funding to lavish tax cuts on rich people hurts communities while failing to produce prosperity for all. Imagine that!



World’s Most Obnoxious Couch-Surfer Faces Eviction

Like a too-trusting soul who allowed the town wastrel to spend the night in the spare room, only to wake up to an empty fridge, raided liquor cabinet, mysteriously stained sofa, cigarette holes in the carpet, pile of dirty dishes in the sink and hacked bank account, Ecuador has been had.

The Guardian reports that Ecuador spent millions on round-the-clock security for Julian Assange, fretted over how to burnish his image (less rapey? fewer fascists?) and concocted plans to spirit him to safety if the Brits showed up at the door to haul him off to the hoosegow for jumping bail.

And how did the pallid creeper repay Ecuador? By hacking into the embassy’s communication system and accessing official and personal communications, plus pirating Ecuador’s internet on the sly.

Well, Ecuador isn’t the only one who was taken in by Assange. The impulse to stand up for the underdog is admirable, but potential saviors should ensure they’re not caping for rapey sleazebags who pal around with white nationalists and authoritarian kleptocrats while conspiring to overthrow democracies on the side.

Lesson now thoroughly learned, the new president of Ecuador is said to be keen to evict the squatter — ironically, to curry favor with the US. Assange’s erstwhile protector, former Ecuador President Rafael Correa, says Assange’s days of mooching off Ecuador are “numbered.” May he get exactly what he deserves.



Totally gonna kill that nonexistent thing…

Today in WTF:

Also, Trump’s wife had surgery this morning and will be hospitalized for the rest of the week. About half an hour ago, Trump tweeted that he was headed over to visit her at Walter Reed.

Can you imagine the media meltdown if any other president had loafed around the White House live-tweeting Fox News all day while his wife went under the knife? Especially if said president was in the middle of a massive sex scandal?

I get that everyone pretty much assumes the Trumps hate each other’s guts and that we all knew he was a gross philanderer from way back. Still, it’s amazing how quickly the Beltway press acclimated themselves to these circumstances, and yet they struggle to adjust to the fact that the president is a mind-blowingly corrupt, incompetent liar.

They are still covering the JOB aspect of Trump’s presidency as if he were a normal president, but the personal life angle — they were able to skippidy-doo-dah right over that. Hmmm. Not sure if I should be grateful or annoyed. (About being spared media hand-wringing about the Trumps’ fucked up family dynamics, I mean.)



Der Spiegel’s Editors Have Sussed Out The Trump Doctrine

Der Spiegel’s editors have sussed out the Trump Doctrine. That the President expects that he, and as an extension of himself the US, will be treated “fairly or else”. From Der Spiegel’s Klaus Brinkbaumer:

The most shocking realization, however, is one that affects us directly: The West as we once knew it no longer exists. Our relationship to the United States cannot currently be called a friendship and can hardly be referred to as a partnership. President Trump has adopted a tone that ignores 70 years of trust. He wants punitive tariffs and demands obedience. It is no longer a question as to whether Germany and Europe will take part in foreign military interventions in Afghanistan or Iraq. It is now about whether trans-Atlantic cooperation on economic, foreign and security policy even exists anymore. The answer: No. It is impossible to overstate what Trump has dismantled in the last 16 months. Europe has lost its protective power. It has lost its guarantor of joint values. And it has lost the global political influence that it was only able to exert because the U.S. stood by its side. And what will happen in the remaining two-and-a-half years (or six-and-a-half years) of Trump’s leadership? There is plenty of time left for further escalation.

Every Wednesday at 11:30 a.m., senior DER SPIEGEL editors gather to discuss the lead editorial of the week and ultimately, the meeting seeks to address the question: “What now?” Simply describing a problem isn’t enough, a good editorial should point to potential solutions. It has rarely been as quiet as during this week’s meeting.

Europe should begin preparing for a post-Trump America and seek to avoid provoking Washington until then. It can demonstrate to Iran that it wishes to hold on to the nuclear deal and it can encourage mid-sized companies without American clients to continue doing business with Iranian partners. Perhaps the EU will be able to find ways to protect larger companies. Europe should try to get the United Nations to take action, even if it would only be symbolic given that the U.S. holds a Security Council veto. For years, Europe has been talking about developing a forceful joint foreign policy, and it has become more necessary than ever. But what happens then?

The difficulty will be finding a balance between determination and tact. Triumphant anti-Americanism is just as dangerous as defiance. But subjugation doesn’t lead anywhere either – because Europe cannot support policies that it finds dangerous. Donald Trump also has nothing but disdain for weakness and doesn’t reward it.

Clever resistance is necessary, as sad and absurd as that may sound. Resistance against America.

Combine this with Chancellor Merkel’s recent statements,

as well her remarks which I wrote about here last May when describing how the President’s preferences had brought the American century to and end after 72 years.

The times in which we could completely depend on others are on the way out. I’ve experienced that in the last few days.

We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands.

and you can begin to see that Chancellor Merkel has fully realized that the US is, at best, an unreliable ally for the foreseeable future.

The outstanding question right now is what is Chancellor Merkel actually going to do. Will she be able to pull in French President Macron and leverage the EU as a counterweight? Does she have the political will, let alone political capital, to increase Germany’s defense sector spending to compensate for the vacuum being created from the President’s longstanding hostilities to America’s allies and partners and his belief that they are taking advantage of us, ripping us off, and laughing at us. Does she have the political capital within the EU to be able to get France and other EU member states to also step up their defense sector spending? And can she do this without making it look like she’s doing it to both oppose the President who doesn’t actually want a strong, unified EU as a counterweight and seem like she’s leading the way to appease the President’s oft stated, but largely inaccurate statements about NATO member spending. Can this be done as Britain lurches its way through Brexit? And can it be done while Putin continues his active measures campaign and cyberwarfare against the US, the EU, and other states?

Chancellor Merkel and President Macron have their work cut out for them. They and their teams have to quickly figure out how to navigate a rebalancing of both the global system and the Western Alliance that has underpinned it since the end of World War II. There is no doubt that the global system needs to be reconceptualized. That is needs to be rebalanced. That the post World War II and post Cold War system are out of date. The complication here, what really makes it a wicked problem, is that because of who the President is and what he beliefs and what his preferences are, this reconceptualization and rebalancing is not being done in a thoughtful and proactive way. It does not include discussions between allies, partners, and even peer competitors to work out the most feasible, acceptable, and suitable – even if it is not the most optimal (perfect) – solution to reconceptualizing and rebalancing the global system to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. Ordinarily everyone would expect the US to take a leading role in this process. Instead, because of the President’s preferences for bilateral relations and unilateral actions, the US has accelerated and precipitated the need for this process while abdicating its role within in it. America first increasingly looks like America alone. And America alone will be costly not just for Americans, but for the rest of the world as well. The price to be paid for Making America great again…

Open thread!

* One final point: I am actually working on, if by working on we mean trying to wrap my head around, a book on the Trump Doctrine. Which will likely be titled The Trump Doctrine. So if any of you who have written and published books have suggestions on how to get this thing published, feel free to shoot me an email. The longest thing I’ve written in over a decade of work for the military is the 60 page or so cultural assessment of the operational environment for the Levant plus Iran.