December 15, 2018

Week 109

Experts in authoritarianism advise to keep a list of things
subtly changing around you, so you’ll remember.

As I’ve been listing, I’ve always suspected things would crescendo as we were moving towards the end of the Trump era. Week 109 is the longest list so far, with 181 not normal items. Up until now, Trump has never been questioned or countered in his authority, other than in rulings by the Judicial branch. Soon he will be facing Democrats as equals — a House that can hold him accountable — as well as the multiple investigations and lawsuits steaming ahead and expanding in scope. Trump is unprepared and understaffed for what is coming his way starting January. He is going to hate 2019.

This week, confronted by presumptive House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, his first check on power in person, Trump cowered and retreated — ill-prepared for how to face a direct challenge to his previously unequivocal power and authority. The Republicans, in small measure, stood up to him on the slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, condemning Saudi crown prince MBS and approving a resolution to end its military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Trump’s small inner circle is in disarray and shrinking — even replacing the chief of staff role became an arduous task.

This week reporting indicates a possible new phase in the Mueller probe relating to Middle East countries, and their attempts to influence the 2016 election to gain access. Meanwhile, cases against Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Maria Butina progressed, bringing the investigations closer to Trump, his campaign, and regime. Also this week there were three bombshell stories on Trump’s inaugural committee, relating to unaccounted monies and pay for play, foreign contributions, and overpaying for the Trump Hotel DC with Ivanka a part of negotiations. As Trump prepares to depart for Mar-a-Lago for a 16 day holiday, new or expanding investigations threaten to engulf every part of his life, including his campaign, regime, family and business — with possible felony charges after his time in office.

  1. WAPO Fact Checker introduced a new category, the “Bottomless Pinocchio.” The category will apply to politicians who “repeat a false claim so many times that they are, in effect, engaging in campaigns of disinformation.”
  2. To be included, a claim must have received three or four Pinocchios, and have been repeated at least 20 times. So far, 14 statements repeatedly made by Trump qualify for the new category.
  3. TIME named “The Guardians,” journalists who have been targeted for their work, as the 2018 Person of the Year, in what the magazine calls “the War on Truth,” citing the “manipulation and abuse of the truth.”
  4. The journalists included Jamal Khashoggi; journalists at the Capital Gazette; Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, Reuters journalists arrested in Myanmar; and Maria Resser, CEO of the Philippine news website Rappler.
  5. On Sunday, WAPO reported Trump’s Republican allies are growing concerned that he and his White House have no real plan for dealing with the Russia crisis, as well as a host of problems foreign and domestic.
  6. GOP senators were shaken by revelations that Michael Flynn met with Mueller’s team 19 times, and the extent of the probe. One senator said a breaking point would be if Mueller finds Trump conspired with Russia.
  7. Trump believes he can outsmart his adversaries. The White House is adopting a “shrugged shoulders” strategy for the Mueller findings, with Trump being of the opinion his voters will believe what he tells them to.
  8. While allies have been pushing Trump to bolster his legal team, hiring remains difficult as potential staffers worry about whether they will need to hire a personal lawyer, and express concern about the constant turmoil.
  9. On Sunday, Yahoo News reported in the spring of 2017, Trump tried asking William Barr, whom he appointed to attorney general in Week 108, to spearhead his defense in the Mueller probe. Barr declined.
  10. On Sunday, incoming House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff told “Face the Nation” that Trump may “face the real prospect of jail time” after he leaves office, over directing payments to silence women.
  11. On Sunday, Nick Ayers, thought likely to be John Kelly’s replacement, tweeted that he will not take the position as Trump’s chief of staff and will depart the White House at the end of the year.
  12. On Sunday, Trump downplayed Ayers’ announcement, tweeting, “I am in the process of interviewing some really great people” adding: “Fake News has been saying with certainty it was Nick Ayers…decision soon!”
  13. Names being floated around on Sunday included Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, and Rep. Mark Meadows.
  14. Trump also tweeted, “the Trump Administration has accomplished more than any other U.S. Administration,” adding, “Fake News Media, which has gone totally out of its mind-truly the Enemy of the People!
  15. A viral video showed police officers ripping a one-year old from his mother’s arms at a welfare office in Brooklyn. Jazmine Headley can be heard yelling, “They’re hurting my son! They’re hurting my son!”
  16. Police were called because Headley, who is a Black woman, was sitting on the floor because no chairs were available. She was arrested for trespassing and other charges, and held without bail on Rikers Island.
  17. A viral video showed Julian von Abele, a white Columbia University student, ranting about the superiority of his race and praising Trump to a group of fellow students, a number of whom are black.
  18. Jonathan Hart, a 21 year-old homeless man, was shot by a Walgreens security guard who falsely assumed he was shoplifting. An attorney for the family said in a lawsuit Hart was targeted because he was black and gay.
  19. New York Post reported Nazi-themed posters containing Hitler and swastikas were found scattered across SUNY Purchase’s campus. Governor Andrew Cuomo directed the state police Hate Crimes Unit to investigate.
  20. The Washington DC headquarters of the American Federation of Teachers was defaced, including an outside wall of the building, with a yellow spray-painted message that said “I want Jexit!”
  21. Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin sought to discredit an investigation of a state government program by Louisville Courier-Journal in partnership with ProPublica, saying the latter is “funded by the likes of George Soros.”
  22. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that from late July through late November ICE arrested 170 potential sponsors coming forward to adopt unaccompanied migrant children — 109 (64%) had no criminal record.
  23. Before Trump, the government typically released unaccompanied migrant children into the custody of a qualified adult without a background check. Migrant children in government custody has surged to 14,700, and rising.
  24. On Monday, about 200 faith leaders gathered at the U.S.-Mexico border on Human Rights Day to send a message to the Trump regime that migrants have a right under international law to seek asylum.
  25. As the faith leaders’ press conference was happening, U.S. officials announced the number of active military troops at the border would go down from 5,400 to about 3,000.
  26. On Tuesday, the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to restore Trump’s order barring asylum for immigrants who enter the U.S. illegally. In Week 108 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the order.
  27. On Thursday, WAPO reported Jakelin Caal Maquin, a 7-year-old girl from Guatemala, died of dehydration and shock after she was taken into Border Patrol custody last week, after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.
  28. Maquin and her father were taken into custody as part of a group of 163 people who turned themselves in to U.S. agents. Eight hours later, she had seizures. She “had not eaten or consumed water for several days.”
  29. On Friday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen blamed the migrant family for the girl’s death, telling Fox News it “is a very sad example of the dangers to migrants,” and “this child’s father made a dangerous journey.”
  30. On Wednesday, The Atlantic reported the Trump regime is resuming its efforts to deport certain protected Vietnamese immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for decades, as announced in Week 96, after backing off months ago.
  31. On Friday, insurance company Pacific Life announced it is pausing and reevaluating its advertising on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show after a segment in which he suggested mass immigration makes the U.S. “dirtier.”
  32. On Friday, luxury fashion brand Prada pulled a display in its Manhattan storefront, after images surfaced of the products depicting monkey-like figures with black faces and large red lips.
  33. On Sunday, Trump lashed out at James Comey, tweeting, without evidence, that on 245 occasions Comey “didn’t know, didn’t recall, or couldn’t remember things when asked” by lawmakers last Friday.
  34. Trump also tweeted, “Leakin’ James Comey must have set a record for who lied the most to Congress in one day,” adding, “this whole deal is a Rigged Fraud headed up by dishonest people,” concluding, “They are now exposed!”
  35. On Sunday, NYT reported that federal prosecutors are wrapping things up with Michael Cohen and are now shifting to the Trump family business — in recent weeks renewing a request for documents and other materials.
  36. On Sunday, conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi sued Mueller, the DOJ, CIA, FBI, and NSA for $350 million, accusing them of blackmailing him to lie as part of a “legal coup d’etat” against Trump.
  37. On Monday, in a pair of tweets, Trump asserted his payments to silence women were a “simple private transaction,” saying the Dems “wrongly call it a campaign contribution, which it was not.”
  38. Trump also tweeted, “it is only a CIVIL CASE,” not criminal, and added, “Cohen just trying to get his sentence reduced,” “WITCH HUNT!” and “there was NO COLLUSION.”
  39. Trump also quoted a commentator on Fox News, tweeting, “Democrats can’t find a Smocking Gun tying the Trump campaign to Russia after James Comey’s testimony. No Smocking Gun…No Collusion.”
  40. Merriam-Webster again mocked Trump’s misspellings, tweeting, “today in Spellcheck Can’t Save You: ‘Smocking’ is a type of embroidery made of many small folds sewn into place.”
  41. On Monday, CNN reported that Maria Butina, an accused Russian spy who infiltrated the NRA ahead of the 2016 election, has been cooperating with federal prosecutors, and that her lawyer has filed a “change of plea.”
  42. The filing revealed that Butina “agreed and conspired, with a Russian government official and at least one other person, for Butina to act in the United States under the direction of Russian Official.”
  43. The filing noted she relied on the assistance of Paul Erickson and took direction from Russian Alexander Torshin to “establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over US politics.”
  44. The filings noted Torshin asked her to provide a note justifying his attendance at the 2016 NRA meeting. Butina did so “partly because of the opportunity to meet political candidates.” The two met Donald Jr. there.
  45. ABC News reported during the FBI raid of Erickson’s home, investigators found his handwritten note saying, “How to respond to FSB offer of employment?,” an apparent reference to the Russian intelligence services.
  46. On Thursday, Butina pleaded guilty to conspiring with Torshin to infiltrate the conservative movement in the U.S. as an agent for the Kremlin from 2015 until her arrest in July 2018 in an effort called “Diplomacy Project.”
  47. Butina became the first Russian national convicted as a foreign agent trying to influence U.S. policy in the run-up and through the 2016 election to agree to cooperate in a plea deal, in exchange for less prison time.
  48. Butina admitted to working with Erickson, under Torshin’s direction, to forge bonds with officials at the National Rifle Association, conservative leaders, and 2016 presidential candidates, including Trump.
  49. The judge also revealed a situation involving Butina’s lawyer Robert Driscoll, and concern by the government that Butina might be serving as a conduit between the press and her lawyer, who is bound by a gag order.
  50. On Tuesday, attorneys for Paul Manafort told the court they may not contest Mueller’s accusations that Manafort breached his plea agreement by lying to federal prosecutors.
  51. On Tuesday, in a memo, Michael Flynn’s attorneys asked a federal judge to spare him prison time, echoing Mueller, and saying Flynn’s cooperation “was not grudging or delayed.”
  52. The memo also criticized the FBI for choosing not to involve the Justice Department, and FBI agents not warning “Flynn that it was a crime to lie during an FBI interview because they wanted Flynn to be relaxed.”
  53. On Wednesday, Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison in a federal court in Manhattan for his role in the scheme to buy the silence of two women ahead of the 2016 election who said they had affairs with Trump.
  54. Cohen’s lawyer had argued that he should serve no prison time. Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York said in their filings that Cohen should serve four years.
  55. On Wednesday, the U.S. attorney general for the SDNY also announced they would not prosecute American Media Inc. (AMI), National Enquirer’s parent, for its role in a scheme to help Trump win the 2016 election.
  56. AMI had signed an agreement in September with the SDNY agreeing to cooperate, and admitted it paid $150,000 to Karen McDougal before the 2016 election to silence her allegations of an affair with Trump.
  57. The agreement stated “AMI further admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election.”
  58. Prosecutors allege David Pecker, CEO of AMI, and AMI also played a key role in the effort to silence Stormy Daniels. The agreement also suggested Pecker is of ongoing use to prosecutors.
  59. Also per the agreement, Pecker met with Cohen “and at least one other member of the campaign” in August 2015 to discuss handling negative stories about Trump’s relationships with women.
  60. On Thursday, NBC News reported Trump was the third person in the room with Pecker and Cohen in August 2015. Experts say this could place Trump in the middle of a conspiracy to commit campaign fraud.
  61. Incoming House committee chairs Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Schiff said they will subpoena for information on Trump’s involvement with the hush payments, which Nadler described as “impeachable offenses.”
  62. On Thursday, in a series of tweets on Cohen, Trump said, “I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law,” adding Cohen is a lawyer and “he is supposed to know the law. It is called ‘advice of counsel.’”
  63. Trump also tweeted, “I did nothing wrong with respect to campaign finance laws,” and “Cohen was guilty on many charges unrelated to me, but he plead to two campaign charges which were not criminal.”
  64. Trump also tweeted about Flynn, saying the FBI gave him “a great deal because they were embarrassed by the way he was treated,” adding, “They want to scare everybody into making up stories that are not true.”
  65. On Thursday, Trump told reporters he was glad the judge is taking a closer look at the case, saying, “The FBI said Michael Flynn, a general and a great person, they said he didn’t lie, and Mueller said, well, maybe he did.”
  66. On Thursday, Trump told Fox News that he bears no responsibility for the campaign finance violations committed by Cohen, saying of the charges, “They put that on to embarrass me…They’re not criminal charges.”
  67. On Friday, in an interview with ABC, Cohen said he “gave loyalty to someone who, truthfully, does not deserve loyalty,” and that he “will not be the villain of [Trump’s] story.”
  68. Cohen said of Trump’s denials, “nothing at the Trump organization was ever done unless it was run through Mr. Trump. He directed me to make the payments, he directed me to become involved in these matters.”
  69. On Friday, in court, Mueller’s team rejected Flynn’s assertion he had been tricked into lying to the FBI, but said they would not change its recommendation that Flynn receive no jail time.
  70. In a filing, prosecutors laid out a pattern of lies by Flynn to Vice President Mike Pence, senior White House aides, federal investigators, and the media about his conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
  71. The filing also states, “A sitting National Security Advisor, former head of an intelligence agency, retired Lieutenant General, and 33 year veteran of the armed forces knows he should not lie to federal agents.”
  72. So far the Mueller probe has issued more than 100 criminal counts against 33 people and three companies. Cohen is the fourth to face prison time, following Alex van der Zwaan, George Papadopoulos, and Paul Manafort.
  73. On Thursday, NBC News reported that Trump has in recent days told close friends that he is alarmed by the prospect of impeachment. Allies believe holding support of establishment Republicans is now critical.
  74. One Trump ally said Trump avoiding impeachment now comes down to the testimony of Pecker and Allen Weisselberg, both cooperating witnesses with the SDNY. Trump maintains a confident posture publicly.
  75. Trump has yet to put together a team to deal with the expected influx of congressional investigations and continued fallout from multiple federal investigations. He has been calling around to allies to get input and vent.
  76. A new CNN poll found just 29% approve of Trump’s handling of the Russia investigation, matching a low previously hit in June of this year. Mueller’s approval is at 43%, down from 48% in early October.
  77. On Monday, protestors at the UN climate talks in Poland disrupted a Trump regime presentation extolling the virtues of fossil fuels with loud roars of laughter and chants of “Shame on you!”
  78. On Monday, the LA Times reported the Trump regime is set to roll back Obama-era Clean Water Act protections on millions of acres of waterways and wetlands, including up to two-thirds of California’s inland streams.
  79. The rollback follows through on a promise to agriculture interests and real estate developers, opening billions of dollars in potential development rights. Quality of drinking water and wildlife habitat will be affected.
  80. France launched a probe into possible Russian interference behind the Yellow Vest protests, after reports that social-media accounts linked to Moscow have increasingly been active in targeting the movement.
  81. On Wednesday, a Ukraine court ruled officials in the country violated the law by revealing, during the 2016 election, details of illegal payments to Manafort. Ukraine is reliant on the U.S. for military and financial aid.
  82. On Wednesday, UK Prime Minister May survived a no-confidence vote by Conservative lawmakers that would have ended her leadership of party and country over her handling of Britain’s exit from the European Union.
  83. On Wednesday, Hungary passed a law to set up courts overseen directly by the government. In September, the EU voted to impose sanctions on Hungary for flouting its rules on democracy, civil rights, and corruption.
  84. On Tuesday, Trump told Reuters he could intervene in the U.S. case against Huawei Technologies if it would serve U.S. national security interests and help close “the largest trade deal ever made” with China.
  85. On Wednesday, Assistant Attorney General John Demers told a Senate panel, “We are not a tool of trade when we bring the cases,” adding, “what we do at the Justice Department is law enforcement. We don’t do trade.”
  86. On Wednesday, Canada’s Foreign Ministry said it has been unable to contact Canadian businessman Michael Spavor. Former diplomat Michael Kovrig, a Canadian, was also detained on Monday.
  87. Trump also told Reuters in the interview that he was not concerned about being impeached because he “hasn’t done anything wrong and who’s created the greatest economy in the history of our country.”
  88. Trump said of the hush payments, “Number one, it wasn’t a campaign contribution. If it were, it’s only civil,” and “there was no violation based on what we did,” adding if he were impeached, “the people would revolt.”
  89. Trump turned the topic to Hillary Clinton, saying “her husband got money, she got money, she paid money, why doesn’t somebody talk about that?” and called the Mueller probe a witch hunt, saying, “There’s no collusion.”
  90. Trump also stood by Saudi Crown Prince MBS on the murder of Khashoggi, saying he “vehemently denies” involvement in the killing, and adding, “He’s the leader of Saudi Arabia. They’ve been a very good ally.”
  91. NYT reported Jared Kushner has become Saudi Crown Prince MBS’s most important defender in the White House. The crown prince has been cultivating Kushner for more than two years.
  92. On Monday, CNN revealed excerpts from the transcript of an audio recording of Khashoggi’s last moments: “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” Then sounds of his body being dismembered by a saw.
  93. On Thursday, in a rebuke of Trump’s defense of the MBS, the Senate voted 56-41 to withdraw American military assistance for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, a four-year conflict that has brought civilian death and famine.
  94. On Thursday, in another rebuke of Trump, the Senate voted to condemn Saudi Crown Prince MBS for the death of Khashoggi. The resolution was sponsored by Sens. Bob Corker and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
  95. AP reported Jared Kushner could benefit from The Opportunity Zone, a program promoted by Ivanka and Jared as White House advisers, which offers tax breaks to developers who invest in downtrodden communities.
  96. Kushner holds a large stake in a real estate investment firm, Cadre, which launched a fund to take advantage of the tax breaks. The Kushner family has properties in New Jersey, New York, and Maryland that could benefit.
  97. On Monday, Politico obtained an unpublished Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report through a FOIA request which revealed Wells Fargo charged college students fees several times higher than average.
  98. The fees charged during the 2016–17 academic year, the first year colleges were required to report information, may violate Education Department rules by being “inconsistent with the best financial interests” of students.
  99. The report was prepared by the office led by Seth Frotman, who resigned in protest in Week 94. The Education Department, which also did not make the report public, refused to comment on whether it took any action.
  100. On Wednesday, Politico reported Trump’s Education Department will forgive $150 million in student debt, after DeVos’ efforts to stop the 2016 Obama-era “borrower defense” were halted in a court battle.
  101. The Daily Beast reported the financial adviser for James Inhofe, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, bought him between $50–100,000 in Raytheon stock Tuesday, days after he pushed for record defense spending.
  102. After The Daily Beast contacted Inhofe about the purchase, his office said the senator contacted his financial adviser to cancel the transaction and instructed him to avoid defense and aerospace purchases going forward.
  103. On Wednesday, his office said he had been unaware of the stock purchase. A spokesperson for Inhofe said in statement, “the transaction was canceled before it was settled; the Senator never took ownership of it.”
  104. Bloomberg reported the Treasury Department delayed imposing sanctions on Russia’s largest aluminum producer, Rusal, for the fifth time amid talks with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska about giving up control.
  105. On Tuesday, WAPO reported after Nick Ayers said no to the chief of staff position, Trump had no Plan B. This left the White House scrambling to find candidates as other top candidates turned Trump down.
  106. On Tuesday, Trump tweeted “Fake News has it purposely wrong” in saying no one wants the chief of staff position, adding “many, over ten, are vying for and wanting the White House Chief of Staff position.”
  107. On Tuesday, Kellyanne Conway announced that Kelly will remain as chief of staff at least through January 2 to ensure “a very peaceful and pragmatic transition” for his successor.
  108. On Wednesday, Rick Santorum bowed out as a possible chief of staff pick, and Trump reportedly turned down Rep. Mark Meadows for the position.
  109. On Thursday, HuffPost reported Trump is considering Jared to be his chief of staff. According to a top Republican, Trump met with Kushner about the job on Wednesday.
  110. Axios reported Chris Christie met with Trump on Thursday evening to discuss the chief of staff role, and is Trump’s top candidate. On Friday, in a statement, Christie said he was withdrawing from consideration.
  111. On Tuesday, Trump met with Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi in an explosive meeting on his border wall and his threat to shut down the government, partly in public with reporters.
  112. Pelosi said, “We must keep the government open. We cannot have a Trump shutdown.” Trump responded, “A what?” Trump also said, “I am proud to shut down the government for border security.”
  113. When Trump told reporters it was hard for Pelosi to talk right now, she responded, “please don’t characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats, who just won a big victory.”
  114. NBC News fact checked Trump’s claims about his border wall at the meeting, and found several to be false, including a lot of the wall has been built, 10 terrorists have been caught, and that migrants bring disease.
  115. In a post meeting huddle with her caucus, Pelosi said of the wall, “It’s like a manhood thing with him — as if manhood can be associated with him,” compared Trump to a skunk, and said she was “trying to be the mom.”
  116. LA Times reported according to one regime official Trump appeared upset after leaving the meeting, and said he flicked “a folder and sending its papers flying out.” Aides went into damage control mode.
  117. On Wednesday, Trump repeated a false claim, tweeting “Democrats and President Obama gave Iran 150 Billion Dollars” but they won’t give $5 billion for his wall. This was Iran’s frozen funds, and closer to $55 billion.
  118. On Thursday, Trump claimed in a tweet that as part of the trade deal, “MEXICO IS PAYING FOR THE WALL!” Mexican officials said there was no discussion in the trade deal negotiations about Mexico paying for the wall.
  119. On Thursday, Pelosi said Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee will “take the first steps,” to begin the process of obtaining Trump’s tax returns in January.
  120. On Thursday, WSJ reported the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office is in the early stages of a criminal probe into whether Trump’s inaugural committee misspent some of the record $107 million it raised from donations.
  121. The probe is also examining whether some of the top donors gave money in exchange for access to the Trump regime, policy concessions, or to influence officials — a violation of federal corruption laws.
  122. The investigation partly arises from materials seized in the April raid on Cohen, including a recording of a conversation between Cohen and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former adviser to Melania Trump.
  123. Wolkoff, who worked on the inaugural events, expressed concern about how the committee was spending money. The inaugural committee has publicly identified vendors accounting for just $61 million of money spent.
  124. The top-paid vendor was an event-production firm led by Wolkoff called WIS Media Partners, paid $25.8 million. The committee was headed by Thomas Barrack Jr., who has not made the outside audit available.
  125. Prosecutors have asked Franklin Haney for documents on his $1 million donation to the committee. Haney hired Cohen in April to help obtain a $5 billion loan from the Energy Department. The application is pending.
  126. On Thursday, NYT reported Mueller is investigating whether foreigners illegally funneled donations to Trump’s inaugural committee and a pro-Trump super PAC in hopes of buying influence over U.S. policy.
  127. The investigation is focused on whether people from Middle Eastern nations, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates disguised donations. Trump ally Barrack raised money for both.
  128. Federal law prohibits foreign contributions to PACs and inaugural funds. The super PAC, Rebuilding America Now, was created at the suggestion of Manafort by Barrack in the summer of 2016 when Trump needed funds.
  129. Although federal election law mandates a period of at least 120 days before campaign staff members can join a PAC, Manafort sent Laurance Gay and Ken McKay from the campaign to run the operation right away.
  130. The PAC raised $23 million. Prosecutors from New York and from Mueller’s team have asked witnesses whether anyone from Qatar or other Middle Eastern countries contributed through an American intermediary.
  131. On Friday, WNYC and ProPublica reported according to receipts, Trump’s inauguration paid the Trump Organization for rooms, meals, and event space at the Trump Hotel DC, possibly overpaying in violation of tax laws.
  132. Ivanka was involved in negotiating the price for venue rentals. Wolkoff emailed her and others to “express my concern” on overcharging for its event space, worrying of what would happen “when this is audited.”
  133. Emails also revealed some vendors for the inauguration expressed concern when Rick Gates, a top inaugural committee official, asked them to take payments outside of the normal committee invoicing process.
  134. On Friday, incoming House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff said his panel plans to investigate possible “illicit foreign funding or involvement in the inauguration” of Trump.
  135. So far there has been one guilty plea in August by political consultant Samuel Patten, who admitted to steering $50,000 from a Ukrainian politician to the inaugural committee, and is cooperating with Mueller.
  136. On Thursday, The Daily Beast reported Mueller is preparing to reveal a second phase of the probe, relating to Middle Eastern countries’ attempts to influence American politics through the Trump regime.
  137. Witnesses associated with the Trump campaign have been interviewed about their conversations with connected individuals from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Israel.
  138. Sources say Mueller’s team is preparing to outline foreigners’ plans to help Trump win the presidency. Notably, Flynn was involved in conversations with influential individuals from UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Israel.
  139. On Thursday, the House and Senate passed a bill to combat sexual harassment in Congress by unanimous consent. The bill comes one year after the #MeToo movement went viral, after several attempts to pass the legislation.
  140. In the past year, several members of Congress were forced to resign over sexual harassment. The bill makes members personally liable for all harassment settlements and retaliation for harassment claims.
  141. On Tuesday, when asked about Trump’s involvement with Cohen’s crimes, Sen. Orrin Hatch told CNN, “The Democrats will do anything to hurt this President,” adding, “all I can say is he’s doing a good job as President.”
  142. Three other Republican senators also went on the record saying they did not care about Trump being implicated in felonies, including Sens. Susan Collins, John Thune, and Bill Cassidy.
  143. On Wednesday, in his farewell speech after serving for four decades, Sen. Hatch said the Senate “is in crisis,” saying “the committee process lies in shambles,” and compromise is “now synonymous with surrender.”
  144. On Friday, Sen. Hatch said he regretted his comments to CNN, saying in a statement that they were “irresponsible and a poor reflection on my lengthy record of dedication to the rule of law.”
  145. On Wednesday, Kansas state senator Barbara Bollier changed party affiliation to Democrat, saying “morally, the party is not going where my compass resides,” and citing LGBTQ issues pushed her over the edge.
  146. On Thursday, the Kansas City Star reported several other moderate Kansas Republicans are considering switching to be Democrats in the wake of Bollier’s defection.
  147. On Thursday, CALmatters reported California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye dropped her registration as a Republican and re-registered with no-party-preference, following the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh.
  148. On Thursday, Fox News reported Trump canceled the White House holiday party for the media, breaking a decades-old tradition. The party was considered a perk for those covering the White House and Washington.
  149. On Monday, Florida officials told a federal judge that 6,670 ballots mailed ahead of the November 6 midterm election were not counted because they were not received by Election Day. The lawsuit on the votes is still pending.
  150. On Tuesday, the North Carolina Republican Party said a new election should be held in the 9th District if Democrat’s allegations that results of early votes were shared improperly before the election is true.
  151. On Friday, outgoing Wisconsin governor Scott Walker signed a sweeping lame-duck Republican bill which restricts early voting and weakens and restricts the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general.
  152. On Thursday, the Palm Beach Post reported according to alert issued by the Federal Aviation Administration, Trump is expected to spend 16 days at Mar-a-Lago over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
  153. The visit at Mar-a-Lago, dubbed the Southern White House, will be Trump’s longest since taking office. Trump is scheduled to remain until January 6, after the new Congress is sworn in on January 3.
  154. On Thursday, a Treasury Department report noted the widest November budget deficit on record as spending doubled revenue, leaving a $205 billion shortfall, compared with a $139 billion gap a year earlier.
  155. The deficit in fiscal 2018 is the largest in six years, reflecting the first full year of Trump and the Republican party enacting a tax-cut package and raising federal spending for the military and other priorities.
  156. On Friday, The Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine which had been critical of Trump, announced it would be closing after 23 years in business.
  157. On Saturday, Trump celebrated the demise of The Weekly Standard, calling it “pathetic and dishonest” and “run by failed prognosticator Bill Kristol,” adding “Too bad. May it rest in peace!”
  158. On Friday, another sell-off drove the Dow Jones Industrial Average down by almost 500 points. The Standard & Poor 500 and Dow are in correction territory (down more than 20%), and are down for the year.
  159. On Friday, on the eve of the deadline for Americans to sign up for healthcare coverage for 2019, a federal judge in Texas ruled the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional because the GOP tax law gutted the individual mandate.
  160. The lawsuit was filed in January by the Texas attorney general in alliance with 18 other states. In June, Sessions’ DOJ took the unusual step of telling the court that it will not defend the ACA against the lawsuit.
  161. Shortly after, Trump tweeted his pleasure: “As I predicted all along, Obamacare has been struck down as an UNCONSTITUTIONAL disaster!” The Supreme Court will now decide the fate of Obamacare.
  162. On Friday, at a DC federal courthouse, reporters staked out to try to gain information on a secret and mysterious argument about a grand jury subpoena challenge that has been under seal in the Mueller probe.
  163. An entire floor of the courthouse was closed to the public and press for more than an hour. CNN reported no recognizable attorneys were spotted coming in and out of the courtroom or even the building.
  164. Politico reported as reporters looked for leads, several were reprimanded for waiting in stairwells, and that additional measures undertaken surprised many people familiar with the federal building’s practices.
  165. On Friday, the New York Daily News reported the New Jersey attorney general launched an investigation into claims of widespread harassment and immigration fraud at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster.
  166. Victorina Morales and Sandra Diaz spoke to NYT in Week 107. Since then, three more undocumented women have come forward to their attorney with allegations of harassment and immigration fraud.
  167. On Friday, Trump named Mick Mulvaney, his budget director, to serve as acting chief of staff. Trump announced the pick on Twitter in the late afternoon, hours after Christie took himself out of consideration.
  168. A senior official told NYT there was no end date to Mulvaney’s role despite his “acting” title. Trump later tweeted, “For the record, there were MANY people who wanted to be the White House Chief of Staff.”
  169. On Friday, according to expenditure data released, the Mueller probe cost $25 million through the end of September, including $8.4 million from April 1, in line with spending for previous special counsels.
  170. In recent weeks, Trump has exaggerated the cost of the probe, tweeting a “a cost of over $30,000,000,” and also, “more than $40,000,000 (is that possible?),” and finding “NO COLLUSION!”
  171. On Saturday, Trump announced in a pair of tweets that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will leave the regime at the end of year, adding he “will be announcing the new Secretary of the Interior next week.”
  172. Trump tweets followed Bloomberg News reporting that Zinke had notified the White House of his intention to resign amid a swirl of federal investigations into his travel, political activity, and conflicts of interest.
  173. The move also comes as Democrats take control of the House in January, and have vowed to grill Zinke over his conduct, raising the prospect of heightened oversight and high legal bills to defend himself.
  174. WAPO reported the White House pushed Zinke to quit for weeks and told him he would be fired if he did not, but he wanted to host his Christmas party Thursday, where he invited activists, lobbyists, donors, and more.
  175. On Thursday, a DOJ watchdog investigation recovered thousands of missing texts from Peter Strzok and Lisa Page on agency issued phones. The report cites the cause was technology failure, not malicious intent.
  176. The report found a more widespread failure than previously known: “The FBI’s collection tool was not only failing to collect any data on certain phones… it also does not appear that it was collecting all text messages.”
  177. On Saturday, at 1:00 a.m., Rudy Giuliani tweeted “How can Mueller’s gang get away with erasing over 19,000 texts” adding, “Mueller’s angry Democrats fall under the Hillary exception” of erasing emails.
  178. On Saturday, Trump tweeted “19,000 Texts between Lisa Page and her lover, Peter S of the FBI, in charge of the Russia Hoax” were “wiped clean,” adding, “Such a big story that will never be covered by the Fake News.”
  179. A new CNN poll found First Lady Melania Trump’s approval has fallen 11 points, from 54% in October to 43%. The biggest drop came from liberals and white college graduates — with approval dropping 17 points for both.
  180. On Saturday, WAPO reported diplomats from Slovenia, in their first official visit with the Trump regime, warned of waning U.S. influence in Europe as China and Russia expand their influence around the world.
  181. The diplomats said that as America is turning inward and looking to cut back aid, China and Russia are increasing aid, and warning countries in the Balkans and Eastern Europe are gravitating to Beijing and Moscow.

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Copyright Amy Siskind, December 15, 2018

Presumptive Speaker, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Trump at a highly contentious meeting in the Oval Office on December 11, 2018