September 02, 2017

Week 42

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

Despite being a summer week heading into Labor Day weekend, Week 42 is the longest list so far, with the most items relating to Trump-Russia. News reports indicate the Mueller probe in moving ahead on many fronts, and uncovering damaging evidence about the Trump regime.

This week Trump was unable to control the narrative. Media accounts paint a disturbing picture of a leader who is stormy, depressed, angry, unsteady and increasingly isolated. Resignations and firings continue en masse, as Trump’s WH continues to be filled with drama and showcase his inability to work with others and hire talent.

Stories less covered continue to detail bigotry towards, and stripping away rights and protections of, marginalized communities and women. Another continuing theme is the dismantling of government programs and initiatives, alongside instituting authoritarian measures.

  1. WAPO reported before Trump pardoned Arpaio, he had asked Sessions to have the Justice Dept drop their case.
  2. Ten days before Hurricane Harvey, Trump revoked Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, an Obama-era set of regulations designed to make federally funded infrastructure less vulnerable to flooding.
  3. On Sunday morning, as Houston was flooding, Trump promoted a book by Sheriff David Clarke on Twitter: “great book by a great guy, highly recommended!
  4. Former Office of Government Ethics director Shaub noted it is a government ethics violation to use public office to endorse any product, service or enterprise.
  5. Clarke, who has been the subject of repeated allegations of mistreating inmates in his jails, abruptly resigned as Sheriff on Thursday. Speculation grew that he would be taking a position in the Trump regime.
  6. On Sunday, when asked by reporter Chris Wallace about Charlottesville, Tillerson said, “I don’t believe anyone doubts the American people’s values,” — and when asked on Trump’s response, “The President speaks for himself.
  7. Also on Sunday, a video emerged on Facebook of Mattis telling troops, “You just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it.”
  8. On Tuesday, again going against Trump, Mattis announced transgender troops will be allowed to remain in the military pending the results of a study by experts.
  9. On Wednesday, shortly after Trump tweeted on N. Korea: “Talking is not the answer!” — Mattis contradicted Trump’s statement and told reporters, “We’re never out of diplomatic solutions.”
  10. BuzzFeed reported ICE left 50 immigrant women and children stranded at a bus station in San Antonio as Hurricane Harvey approached.
  11. On Monday, Trump reversed an Obama-era policy, allowing police to receive surplus military gear.
  12. Buried in a bill that Trump signed into law is a provision which allows police warrantless searches in parts of VA, MD, and DC. Amidst the chaos, there was almost no media coverage.
  13. In Salt Lake City, a nurse was forcibly arrested after she followed hospital protocol and refused to let the police draw blood from an unconscious patient who was not a suspect and faced no charges.
  14. Televangelist Jim Bakker said Christians would start a civil war if Trump is impeached. Roger Stone expressed a similar sentiment in Week 41.
  15. A group of evangelical leaders in Tennessee released the “Nashville Statement,” which denounced gay marriage and condemned acceptance of “homosexual immorality or transgenderism.”
  16. Reuters reported that Confederate flag sales have boomed since Charlottesville. One company said their orders quadrupled.
  17. A federal judge in San Antonio temporarily blocked a Texas ban on sanctuary cities from going into effect on Friday.
  18. Trump’s HHS cut the advertising budget for Obamacare by 90%. Lowering enrollment is a way to compromise the ACA.
  19. The ACLU said it is deeply concerned about reports of abuse and retaliation by ICE of their clients who are participating in a class action suit to stop the immediate deportation of any Iraqi nationals.
  20. A decorated marine, George Ybarra, who served in the Persian Gulf War was transferred to an immigration center in AZ. Although a federal judge ruled Ybarra is a citizen, ICE continues to work to deport him to Mexico.
  21. The Trump regime said women’s rights will not be part of their demands in negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
  22. Mnuchin said the Treasury Dept may scrap plans finalized under Obama to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill to replace Andrew Jackson.
  23. The Trump WH removed a list of 250+ schools under investigation by the Obama administration for violating Title 9 by mishandling campus sexual assault, signaling an end of enforcement and accountability.
  24. Trump ended an Obama-era rule which required companies to collect pay data for workers of different genders, races and ethnic groups.
  25. The Trump regime’s Transportation Dept abandoned an Obama-era plan of local-hiring for public workers. The program was meant to help offset longstanding racial and gender imbalances in the construction industry.
  26. Sessions’ DOJ will retry the woman who prosecutors say disrupted Sessions’ Senate confirmation hearing by laughing.
  27. USA Today reported anti-protester bills are gaining traction in Republican controlled statehouses. So far, twenty states have proposed bills with restrictions on right to assemble and protest, and six have approved bills.
  28. The Interior Dept’s watchdog group dropped its investigation of the threat by Sec. Zinke to Sen. Lisa Murkowski over her vote to repeal Obamacare, after the two senators from Alaska declined to be interviewed.
  29. The GSA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) is undertaking a formal review of how the agency has handled the Trump hotel DC lease.
  30. Trump’s Election Integrity Committee apologized after being chastised by a district judge their failure to disclose documents publicly as required.
  31. In addition to his position as vice chair of Trump’s Election Integrity Commission, Kris Kobach will become a regular columnist at Breitbart.
  32. On Monday, in a press conference with Finnish President Niinistö, Trump defended his decision to pardon Arpaio. When asked the timing, Trump said, “In the middle of a hurricane, even though it was Friday evening, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally.”
  33. Trump confused two Finnish women journalists with dirty-blond hair of being the same person, saying “Again. You’re going to give her — the same one?” Niinistö responded, “No, they are not the same lady,”
  34. Trump also falsely claimed Finland is buying Boeing fighter jets. Niinistö pushed back in a tweet Monday, calling this “ankka,” which translates to a falsehood or fake news.
  35. On Tuesday, Trump visited Austin. He did not tour areas heavily hit by Hurricane Harvey or meet with any victims. By Tuesday, Harvey had dumped more rain than any storm in history in parts of Texas.
  36. Trump praised FEMA administrator Brock Long, saying he “has really become very famous on television over the last couple of days.”
  37. Trump acknowledged the crowd, “What a crowd, what a turnout!” — but failed to mention or acknowledge the 15 casualties, tens of thousands of displaced, or irreversible damage caused by Harvey.
  38. Trump wore a USA hat during the visit with a 45 on the side. This merchandise is for sale on Trump’s website for $40.
  39. Ari Fleischer, press secretary for W. Bush, said of the visit, there was “something missing” and that was “empathy for the people who suffer.
  40. As Hurricane Harvey continued to devastate, AP reported the Republicans are considering cutting $1 billion from disaster accounts to help finance Trump’s wall.
  41. NYT reported on voting irregularities in the 2016 election: voters being told they were ineligible to vote, or turned away from polls, or sent to other polling place in several blue counties in swing states.
  42. Little digital forensic investigation has been done to examine the impact in at least 21 states whose election systems were targeted by Russia.
  43. Academic and private election security experts warn future elections, including next year’s midterms, could be subject to hacking, since nothing has been done to improve or build an effective defense.
  44. Moyers & Company reported pro-Russian bots have been taking up right-wing causes after Charlottesville. A case study was done their impact on the narrative around Berkeley.
  45. Bloomberg reported on the growing sophistication of pro-Russian bots, which are already taking a role in sowing seeds of discord in the US, and taking on Trump critics like Sen. McCain.
  46. Experts say the Russian bots never left after the 2016 election, and are sharpening their attacks for upcoming elections in 2018 and 2020. The bots are learning to mimic human behavior.
  47. WAPO reported during his run for president, in late 2015 to early 2016, Trump was seeking a deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow. Lawyer Michael Cohen took the lead for Trump. The deal was never publicly disclosed.
  48. Felix Sater urged Trump to come to Moscow, and said he could get Putin to say, “great things” about Trump. In late 2015, Trump started to publicly praise Putin. Shortly after, Putin offered praise of Trump in return.
  49. Sater said, at Trump’s request, he traveled to Russia with Ivanka and Donald Jr. A lawyer for the Trump Organization said they happened to be there at the same time.
  50. NYT reported on emails between Cohen and Sater which were turned over Monday to the House Intel Committee. Sater emailed Cohen, “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it.”
  51. Sater said he lined up financing for Trump for the Trump Tower in Moscow through VTB Bank, a bank under US sanctions for its involvement in Russia’s efforts to undermine democracy in Ukraine.
  52. VTB is also majority-owned by the Russian government, as are other banks in The Weekly Lists including VEB, Alfa Bank, and Sberbank — all of which have ties to Trump and his aides.
  53. In an email, Sater bragged about his Russia connections, saying, “I arranged for Ivanka to sit in Putin’s private chair at his desk.”
  54. Ivanka told WAPO she did not recall sitting in Putin’s chair. She also said she was not involved with Cohen’s discussion on the project, except to recommend architects.
  55. ABC reported in October 2015, four months into his presidential campaign, Trump signed a letter of intent for Trump Tower Moscow.
  56. Rachel Maddow noted the day Trump signed the term sheet was the same day as the third Republican primary debate. Trump seemed off and had a poor performance that night.
  57. WAPO reported in mid-January 2016, Cohen emailed Putin lieutenant Dmitry Peskov to ask for his assistance with the stalled Moscow project and to arrange “meetings with the appropriate individuals.”
  58. The email is the first known direct outreach by a senior Trump aide to a senior member of Putin’s government. Cohen told Congressional investigators that he did not receive a response.
  59. Peskov confirmed Wednesday that he received Cohen’s email asking for his help in getting the stalled Trump Tower Moscow project moving again, but said he did not respond or share it with Putin.
  60. In Week 15, Sater and Cohen were involved in a back-channel plan to get US sanctions against Russia lifted. In Week 17, Alex Orono, a Russian working with them on this plan, died suddenly.
  61. Sater has cooperated with US authorities in the past, signing a plea deal with Andrew Weissmann, who is now part of Mueller’s special counsel.
  62. Yahoo reported Swalwell, a Democrat on the House Intel Committee said the panel may call Trump to testify on the Trump Tower Moscow deal to clear up past conflicting statement.
  63. Trump has publicly said of Sater, if he was sitting in the same room, “I really wouldn’t know what he looked like.” It is believed Sater was conducting business for Trump through 2016.
  64. NYT reported on an eight page letter from Cohen’s attorney to the House Intel Committee giving a point-by-point rebuttal to the Steele dossier and “vehemently” denying Russian collusion.
  65. CNN reported the “WV” referenced in Week 41 was Rick Clay of West Virginia, who tried through Trump aide Dearborn to make contact with Russians, allegedly to discuss their “shared Christian values.”
  66. NBC reported Mueller’s team is investigating Trump’s role in crafting Donald Jr.’s response to the June 9 meeting, and whether Trump knew about the meeting and tried to conceal its purposes.
  67. FT reported Akhmetshin gave testimony under oath for several hours on August 11, another sign Mueller is looking closely at the June 9 meeting.
  68. Guardian reported after news that the Senate Judiciary Committee would interview Donald Jr. on the June 9 meeting, Trump called the committee chair Grassley to offer Iowa federal support for the ethanol industry.
  69. Grassley tweeted about Trump’s phone call offering support. Also of note from Week 41, the Senate Judiciary Branch will shortly vote on whether to make the Fusion GPS testimony on the Steele dossier public.
  70. CNN reported Mueller’s special counsel has issued subpoenas for Manafort’s former attorney, Melissa Laurenza of Akin Gump, and to his current spokesperson, Jason Maloni.
  71. Politico reported Mueller is teaming up with NY AG Schneiderman on its investigation into Manafort and his financial transactions. The two teams have shared evidence and talked frequently in recent weeks.
  72. Mueller’s and Schneiderman’s team has pressured Manafort by approaching his family and former business partners. Several people and firms who have worked with Manafort have been subpoenaed.
  73. Trump has privately discussed his pardon powers with aides. State and federal investigators believe potential of a pardon has influenced Manafort’s decision on cooperating. Trump cannot pardon state crimes.
  74. WSJ reported on Manafort’s close relationship with Russian oligarch Deripaska. The two worked together from 2004–2015 in counties with Russian political interests including Ukraine, Georgia and Montenegro.
  75. As per Week 28, Deripaska has offered to give testimony to Congressional investigators in exchange for immunity. That offer is still being rejected, for not wanting to interfere with Mueller’s probe.
  76. NBC reported Manafort turned over notes taken during the June 9 meeting to Congressional investigators and Mueller. The words “donor” and “RNC” appear in close proximity. It is illegal for foreigners to donate to American elections.
  77. Daily Beast reported Mueller enlisted help from the IRS’s Criminal Investigations unit, an elite investigative entity that focus exclusively on financial crime, including tax evasion and money laundering.
  78. One of Mueller’s top deputies, Andy Weissmann, has worked with the CI unit extensively. The CI unit would have access to Trump’s tax returns.
  79. Bloomberg detailed the massive debt Kushner has outstanding against his family’s real estate investment in 666 Fifth Avenue. To pay off looming debt, the family has sold off properties and forgone new deals.
  80. Kushner Cos. bought the building near a market high and has tried to get China and sovereign funds to buy the property or refinance part of the debt. These efforts may be influencing US foreign policy as per Week 35.
  81. Speculation is Kushner’s outreach to VEB and Kislyak could have been related to real estate financing.
  82. WSJ reported lawyers for Trump have met with Mueller and submitted memos arguing Trump didn’t obstruct justice by firing Comey. They also claim Comey is not a reliable witness. Experts say this is highly unusual.
  83. Axios reported Russian diplomats continue to die unexpectedly. Russia’s ambassador to Sudan was the seventh diplomat to die since November.
  84. Rep. Ron DeSantis floated an amendment to end the Mueller probe and stop Mueller from looking into activities prior to June 2015. DeSantis is a Trump loyalist and is considering running for governor of Florida in 2018.
  85. WAPO reported on Trump’s WH during a “summer of crisis,” citing Trump’s “dark mood.” Trump is fighting with Kelly, Tillerson, and Cohn, and friends say, “He’s turning on people that are very close to him.”
  86. WAPO reported Kelly refused to join Trump on stage in Phoenix after Trump prompted, “Where’s General Kelly? Get him out here. He’s great.”
  87. WAPO also reported Trump continues to call friends and outside advisers, including Bannon, from his personal phone when Kelly isn’t around.
  88. Politico reported on the shrinking West Wing, citing three factors: 1) Kelly’s careful review process, 2) five open-ended Russia investigations making it hard to hire, and 3) Trump’s dark mood over the summer.
  89. Eight of the 28 members of the National Infrastructure Advisory Council resigned. In a letter, the cyber-security experts said Trump “threatened the security of the homeland,” citing Charlottesville and withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.
  90. Trump lashed out at, then fired, longtime aide George Gigicos because of the small crowd size at this Phoenix rally last week.
  91. Responding to criticism about unfilled key roles in the executive branch, Trump tweeted to @foxandfriends: “We are not looking to fill all of those positions. Don’t need many of them — reduce size of government.”
  92. ProPublica reported while Trump continues to leave key executive branch positions which require Senate confirmation unfilled, he has quietly installed more than 1k political staffers.
  93. Many of these hires are regulating industries they used to work in. Most names are kept secret. These employees working in the shadows face must less scrutiny, and answer to no one but the WH.
  94. The RNC chief of staff, Sara Armstrong resigned. Armstrong is the sixth RNC staffer to leave in the past month.
  95. FP reported two top State Dept officials resigned in what was called “Black Friday.” One State Dept official said “Dissatisfaction is a big factor” for why diplomats continues to take early retirement or new jobs.
  96. Longtime Trump aide Keith Schiller, best known for hand delivering the letter to Comey about his firing, is leaving the WH.
  97. Indictments were issued for 15 security guards of Turkey’s Erdogan, who in Week 31 had attacked protested outside the Turkish embassy in DC.
  98. The UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein slammed Trump’s attacks on the media, warning Trump’s rhetoric could provoke violence: “ultimately the sequence is a dangerous one.”
  99. Zeid also raised concern about Trump’s “worrying remarks” about women, Mexicans and Muslims, and issue like immigration.
  100. NBC reported on a focus group in Pittsburgh, where voters including those who voted for Trump expressed “abject disappointment” in his tone and leadership. Also noted was Trump’s lack of empathy.
  101. A Pew Research poll found just 16% of Americans like the way Trump conducts himself. The poll also noted a deterioration in Republican support: a third agree with Trump on only a few or no issues.
  102. At Gallup daily tracker, Trump matched his biggest net disapproval of -27 (approve 34, disapprove 61), with the trend continuing lower.
  103. A Fox News poll found voter satisfaction with the direction of the country declined to just 35%, and 56% think Trump is tearing the country apart.
  104. On Friday, NYT reported Mueller has obtained an early draft of a letter giving Trump’s reasons for firing Comey.
  105. WSJ reported an excerpt from the draft. Paraphrasing, Trump wanted to convey: “You’ve told me three times I’m not under investigation but you won’t tell the world, and it’s hampering the country.
  106. Politico reported the decision to fire Comey was made in Bedminster, where Trump huddled with Kushner and Stephen Miller. Don McGahn, Priebus, and Bannon warned Trump against it, saying it would trigger a firestorm.
  107. NYT reported Trump was supposed to golf that weekend, but it rained, so instead he stewed inside about Comey and the Russia investigation. Trump ordered Miller to draft the letter.
  108. After returning from Bedminster Monday, May 8, Trump handed copies of the letter to senior officials including McGahn and Pence in the Oval office. McGahn was alarmed and tried to stop the letter.
  109. On May 8, Rosenstein got a copy of the letter, and agreed to write a separate memo. May 9, the letter was replaced with a simpler rationale for firing Comey: his handling of the Clinton email investigation.
  110. In an op-ed, McCain blasted Trump, saying Congress doesn’t answer to him despite his recent attacks, “We must, where we can, cooperate with him. But we are not his subordinates.”
  111. On Thursday, Sanders said Trump promised to donate $1 million of his “personal money” to Hurricane Harvey victims. On Friday, when pressed on where the money was coming from, Sanders said she wasn’t sure.
  112. At a signing ceremony in the Oval office Friday, religious leaders took turns praising and thanking Trump for his response to Hurricane Harvey.
  113. NYT reported on Kelly’s unhappiness serving under Trump, telling an associate it was “by far the hardest job he had ever had.” Trump likes to surround himself with former military men from “central casting.”
  114. Trump berated Kelly after the Phoenix campaign rally. Kelly told WH staff members “he had never been spoken to like that during 35 years of serving his country,” and he would not let it happen again.
  115. Kelly has not been able to get Trump to stop binge-watching Fox News, Trump’s primary source of information. Trump does not have a web browser on his phone, despite his frequent retweets of story links.
  116. In a radio interview, Eric Trump said the negative media coverage was impacting his father: “It important to keep in context. Otherwise, quite frankly, you’d probably end up killing yourself out of depression.”
  117. On Friday, a day after Trump ordered Russia to close three US outposts, a fire was reported at the DC diplomatic annex, and smoke was coming out of the chimney at the consulate in San Francisco on a 100 degree day.

Copyright Amy Siskind, September 2, 2017

Trump Attorney Michael Cohen was in contact with Russians about a Trump Tower Moscow project before and during Trump’s campaign.