November 04, 2017

Week 51

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

“It’s like Christmas Eve,” said one person on Twitter Sunday night, as the country braced for the first indictments from the Mueller probe on Monday. The indictment of Paul Manafort was expected, of his business associate Rick Gates, less so. But what riveted the country were the court documents and emails of Trump adviser George Papadopoulos, who is cooperating in the Mueller probe. Bedlam in the Trump regime ensued, as one aide put it, “it’s every man for himself!”

This week Trump made his most aggressive statements against the DOJ, FBI, and court systems for not doing what he thinks they should do. Alarm bells of authoritarianism and not normal were ringing, as were warnings from even some Republicans not to interfere with the Mueller investigation.

  1. WAPO reported Donald Jr. and Eric are set to launch two real estate projects in India, despite vows early on that there would be no new foreign deals while Trump was in office to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
  2. NBC reported U.S Attorney Dana Boente, who submitted his resignation in Week 50, did so at the behest of Sessions, who said Boente should clear the way so Trump could name his successor.
  3. In an NBC News/WSJ poll, Trump’s approval dropped to the lowest level yet: 38% approve, 58% disapprove. The drop came from independents (41% in September to 34%) and whites without a college degree (58% to 51%).
  4. On Monday, Trump hit his lowest approval and largest net gap on Gallup Daily: 33% approve, 62% disapprove, net -29.
  5. Politico reported Kushner took an unannounced trip to Saudi Arabia, his third this year. Days later, Forbes reported Kushner’s plans to save his overleveraged 666 Fifth Avenue property were found to be “not feasible.”
  6. On Sunday, ahead of news coming Monday from the Mueller probe, in a series of tweets, Trump assailed Obamacare, Democrats, Hillary, and the “Fake Dossier,” and implored: “DO SOMETHING!
  7. In a seemingly coordinated effort, Murdoch-owned outlets bashed Mueller and called for his firing, including the WSJ Editorial Board and Sunday op-ed, a New York Post op-ed and continuing coverage on Fox News.
  8. CNN reported several Fox News employees said they were embarrassed and humiliated by the network’s coverage of the Mueller investigation. One said, “Fox feels like an extension of the Trump White House.”
  9. Politico reported Obamacare is about to have its worst open-enrollment season ever, citing numerous steps by the Trump regime to create confusion and end public promotions to raise consumer awareness.
  10. In Edison, NJ, an unknown group sent out flyers ahead of the November 7 election which read, ”Make Edison Great Again” and called for the deportation of two Asian school board candidates.
  11. A student at the University of Hartford was charged with criminal mischief and expelled after an Instagram post in which she bragged about harassing her black American roommate: “I can finally say goodbye to Jamaican Barbie.”
  12. A federal judge temporarily blocked parts of Trump’s memo banning transgender people from the military, ruling it was based on “disapproval of transgender people generally.”
  13. The judge also blasted Trump’s abrupt announcement on Twitter “without any of the formality or deliberative processes” to come up with policy. She ruled the status quo should stay in place for now.
  14. On Tuesday, Trump’s lawyer again sought the dismissal of Summer Zervos’ defamation lawsuit against him, arguing Trump’s expression of his political opinion is protected by the First Amendment.
  15. AP reported Betsy DeVos is considering only partially forgiving federal loans for students defrauded by for-profit colleges, reversing an Obama-era policy which entire erased such debt.
  16. Sessions told Fox News Sunday he is “disturbed” that Jane Doe, the 17 year-old undocumented immigrant was able to get a legal abortion in Week 50, saying, “I think it’s a serious problem, it should not have happened.”
  17. On Friday, Sessions’ DOJ took the unusual step of accusing the ACLU of misconduct for helping “Jane Doe,” an undocumented teenager in government custody, get a safe and legal abortion in Week 50.
  18. On Friday, federal officials released Rosa Maria Hernandez, the 10 year-old undocumented immigrant girl with cerebral palsy who was detained in Week 50 after undergoing surgery in Texas.
  19. In an op-ed, Sen. Elizabeth Warren argued the Supreme Court needs to adopt an ethics code, citing the conflict of Neil Gorsuch keynoting an event at the Trump Hotel DC on the same day the Supreme Court took on a related case.
  20. Papa John’s CEO, John Schnatter, blamed the company’s poor third-quarter performance on NFL anthem protests, tell ESPN: “We are disappointed the NFL and its leadership did not resolve this.”
  21. Trump judicial nominee Leonard Steven Grasz, who was nominated in August to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, became the second Trump nominee to be deemed “not qualified” by the American Bar Association.
  22. On Tuesday, at an EPA event with Trump by his side, Scott Pruitt announced a new policy which says scientists receiving EPA grants cannot serve on the agency’s advisory boards. Critics called it a move to silence scientists.
  23. Pruitt also named the chairmen of each of the three most high-profile panels: Michael Honeycutt, Tony Cox, and Paul Gilman — all who disagree with the scientific basis of major Obama administration policies.
  24. On Friday, Pruitt overhauled the EPA’s external advisory boards. Among the new advisers selected are industry players, one who believes air quality is too clean for children, and multiple climate change skeptics.
  25. On Thursday, speaking during an energy policy discussion, Rick Perry linked fossil fuel development to preventing sexual assault, saying “when the lights are on….the righteousness, if you will on those types of acts.”
  26. The Sierra Club called on Perry to resign over his comments. The Department of Energy said Perry’s comments were meant to highlight the way electricity will improve the lives of people in Africa.
  27. On Thursday, the US withdrew as an implementing country from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), an international effort to fight corruption in revenues from oil, gas, and mineral extraction.
  28. USA Today reported Trump has appointed at least five people who are members of his clubs to senior roles in his administration. He has also given donors and allies prized diplomatic postings in European capitals.
  29. This marks the first time in history that a president has awarded government posts to people who pay money to his own companies.
  30. On Monday, Mueller’s office announced Paul Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates were indicted by a federal grand jury on 12 charges, including conspiracy against the United States, over the years 2006–2016.
  31. Other charges include money laundering, failing to register as a foreign agent, and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank accounts.
  32. The indictments say both Manafort and Gates generated tens of millions from their lobbying work in Ukraine from 2006–2016, and hid the payments by laundering money. Manafort laundered more than $18 million.
  33. Manafort was Trump’s campaign manager from AprilAugust 2016. Gates was a top campaign deputy, played a key role in planning Trump’s inauguration, and was in and out of the WH during Trump’s early days.
  34. Both were put under house arrest, and bail was set at $10 million for Manafort and $5 million for Gates. Reports showed Manafort’s wealth fluctuated wildly, and he kept three passports, after submitting 10 passport applications.
  35. Bloomberg reported Gates was fired from Colony NorthStar on Monday, where he had been a consultant to Tom Barrack, a longtime friend of Trump. Barrack also was the chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee.
  36. Also revealed on Monday, former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, pleaded guilty to making a false statement to FBI investigators about his contacts with high-level Russian connections.
  37. Papadopoulos’ plea agreement describes his extensive efforts to broker connections between Russian officials and the Trump campaign. He has also turned over months of emails.
  38. On April 25, he wrote, “The Russian government has an open invitation by Putin for Mr. Trump to meet him when he is ready.” Sam Clovis, Papadopoulos’ supervisor, as well as Corey Lewandowski and Manafort received his emails.
  39. Court documents quote one unidentified campaign “supervisor” emailing Papadopoulos in August 2016 that “I would encourage you” to make a trip to Moscow to arrange such a meeting. Yahoo reported this is Clovis.
  40. On Monday, Daily Beast reported Bannon encouraged Trump to bring in new lawyers and to take a much more aggressive approach, including considering the possibility of defunding the Mueller probe.
  41. WAPO reported on Trump’s Monday, saying he spent the morning upstairs watching TV separated from his WH staff, and the entire day visibly angry. The mood in the WH was described as weariness and fear of the unknown.
  42. Vanity Fair reported the West Wing is on edge, and for the first time impeachment is being considered as a realistic outcome. Dina Powell and Gary Cohn are leaving the room is Russia comes up.
  43. Steve Bannon and Roger Stone are urging Trump to take steps to counter Mueller — Bannon citing Trump’s slipping grasp on power. Stone advised appointing a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary’s role in Uranium One.
  44. Reportedly, Trump blames Kushner for his decision to fire Michael Flynn and James Comey, which led to Mueller’s appointment. Allegedly Trump said “Jared is the worst political adviser in the White House in modern history.
  45. CNN reported Kushner’s team has turned over documents to Mueller in the special counsel’s investigation of Kushner’s role in the firing of Comey. Sources say Kushner is not a target of the investigation.
  46. On Monday night, John Kelly reignited his feud with Rep. Frederica Wilson, telling Fox News of his criticism of her, “I stand by my comments.” In Week 48, a video released by Sun-Sentinel showed Kelly’s accusations were false.
  47. Kelly also sparked controversy with a divisive and factually incorrect claims the Civil War was caused by “the lack of an ability to compromise,” and that Confederate Leader Robert E. Lee “was an honorable man.”
  48. On Tuesday, several Senate Republicans, including Jeff Flake, Roy Blunt, John McCain, Mitch McConnell, Richard Shelby, and John Kennedy, separately said they would not support any moves to crack down on the Mueller investigation.
  49. Bloomberg reported Papadopoulos’ emails show that top Trump campaign officials agreed to a pre-election meeting with representatives of Putin. The email is cited in an FBI agent’s affidavit supporting charges.
  50. The Trump regime tried to distance themselves from Papadopoulos. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said he was a mere volunteer. Mike Caputo said Papadopoulos was just a “coffee boy.” Trump called him a “low level volunteer.
  51. In a March 21 interview with the WAPO editorial board, Trump included Papadopoulos among people advising him on matters of national security, referring to Papadopoulos as “an energy and oil consultant. Excellent guy.”
  52. On Thursday, NYT reported on court documents describing a March 31 meeting between Trump and his foreign policy team. According to campaign adviser J. D. Gordon, Papadopoulos pitched his Russia idea.
  53. Gordon said Trump listened with interest, but Sessions vehemently opposed the idea. Gordon said Sessions also said no one should talk about Papadopoulos’ idea because it might leak.
  54. On Tuesday, NBC reported former top Trump campaign official Sam Clovis, who supervised Papadopoulos, was questioned last week by Mueller’s team.
  55. On Tuesday, Politico reported Clovis has been a cooperating witness in the Senate Intel Committee’s Russia probe. Clovis is Trump’s controversial nominee for the top scientific job at the Department of Agriculture.
  56. On Thursday, Clovis withdrew from consideration for the Department of Agriculture post, citing “the political climate inside Washington.” Speculation grew the cause was related to the Russia probe.
  57. On Thursday, Carter Page told CNN that during more than six hours of closed-door testimony to the House Intel Committee, Page testified he told Sessions he was traveling to Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign.
  58. NBC reported Sessions rejected Papadopoulos’ plan to use his Russian contacts to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin. Congressional investigators want to question Sessions about his new recollection.
  59. In June, Sessions had told his Senate colleagues under oath that he had “no knowledge” of any conversations by anyone on the Trump campaign about “any type of interference with any campaign” by Russians.
  60. On Friday, NBC reported that contrary to the Trump regime’s efforts to downplay Papadopoulos’s role in the campaign, records show he was a prominent figure and frequently acted as a surrogate.
  61. Papadopoulos was at the Republican National Convention, and was invited by the American Jewish Committee to speak on a panel along with two Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Sen. Bob Corker.
  62. Papadopoulos also acted as a surrogate six weeks before the election, giving an interview to the Russian Interfax News Agency, where he said that Trump will “restore the trust” between the US and Russia.
  63. NYT reported Page told the House Intel Committee on Thursday that after his July 2016 trip to Moscow to meet with Russian government officials, he sent an email to at least one Trump campaign aide describing the trip.
  64. Details came out during sharp questioning by Rep. Adam Schiff. Page’s email detailed his meetings with government officials, legislators, and business executives in Moscow. The recipient(s) of the email are not yet known.
  65. On Thursday, Manafort and Gates were back in court. Both will be confined to their homes and are subject to electronic monitoring devices due to flight risk. The judge is also considering a gag order on attorneys.
  66. A WAPO/ABC poll found 58% of Americans approve of Mueller’s handling of the Trump-Russia investigation, just 28% disapprove. Roughly half say it’s likely Trump committed a crime.
  67. The American Psychological Association Stress in America Survey found 59% of Americans say this is the lowest point in US history. Two-thirds say the future of the nation is a very or somewhat significant source of stress.
  68. Business Insider reported a federal judge in NY has denied Veselnitskaya’s request to enter the US to represent her client, Prevezon, which has not paid the $5.9 million settlement it reached with Sessions’ DOJ in May.
  69. The settlement was a fraction of the $230 million amount Preet Bharara had been seeking before he was fired. If Prevezon does not pay the settlement amount, the judge says they will need to go to court without Veselnitskaya.
  70. On Wednesday, in a series of tweets, Trump blamed Sen. Schumer for the NYC terror attack, tweeting “Diversity Visa Lottery Program” is a “Chuck Schumer beauty.”
  71. Trump’s claim is false: the program was passed with bipartisan support in 1990 and signed into law by George H.W. Bush. Trump’s invented claim came from a segment running that morning on Fox News.
  72. On Wednesday, after a terrorist attack in NYC by a Muslim American, Trump bemoaned our justice system, calling it “a joke” and “a laughingstock,” and saying “no wonder so much of this stuff takes place.”
  73. Trump made his comments during a cabinet meeting. Sessions was in the room. Trump also threatened to send the terror suspect to Guantanamo.
  74. On Wednesday night, Trump tweeted the suspect had asked to hang the ISIS flag in his hospital room and he “SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!
  75. On Thursday, in tweets, Trump backed away from his threat to send the suspect to Guantanamo, saying the process there takes longer, and again called for the death penalty: “Should move fast. DEATH PENALTY!
  76. Legal experts say Trump’s tweets and statements will actually hurt the prosecution, citing defense attorneys will claim that the jury pool has been poisoned by the publicity surrounding his expression of opinion.
  77. Trump also told Fox News he was unsure if Rex Tillerson will remain Secretary of State for the balance of his term. Trump said the WH was “not happy” that some State Department staffers were not supporting his agenda.
  78. When pressed about filling vacant high-profile roles in the State Department such as assistant Secretary of State, Trump said, “I’m the only one that matters,” adding, “we don’t need all the people that they want.”
  79. Reuters reported at a recent meeting, former Secretary of State Colin Powell told H.R. McMaster the regime was gutting State. McMaster reportedly replied that there were people who did not support Trump’s agenda.
  80. On Friday, Trump criticized the military court for giving Bowe Bergdahl a dishonorable discharge but no jail time, calling the decision “a complete and total disgrace to our Country and to our Military.”
  81. Ironically, Trump’s speaking out may have, in part, led to the decision. Last week the judge said he would consider Trump’s past comments as evidence for a lighter sentence.
  82. On Thursday, on a radio show, Trump expressed frustration with not being able to direct the DOJ to investigate his former rival Hillary for the dossier, saying he is “very unhappy” with the DOJ and “very frustrated by it.”
  83. On Friday, in a series of tweets, Trump continued, saying “everybody is asking” why the DOJ and FBI isn’t investigating Hillary and the Democrats. Adding, at some point the DOJ and FBI need to do what’s right and proper.
  84. On Friday, Trump also left open — for the fourth time — that he may fire Sessions if the DOJ does not investigate Trump’s political rivals, saying “a lot of people are disappointed in the Justice Department, including me.”
  85. NYT noted in the past four decades, no president has sought to publicly pressure law enforcement as much as Trump.
  86. WSJ reported the FBI is investigating the decision by Puerto Rico’s power authority (“PREPA”) to award a $300 million contract to Whitefish Energy.
  87. On Sunday, Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rosselló petitioned the board of PREPA to invoke the cancellation clause for this island’s contract with Whitefish Energy after FEMA flagged “significant concerns.”
  88. Business Insider reported the USNS Comfort was anchored offshore of Puerto Rico until last Friday. Now that the Comfort has docked, medical staff attended 700 patients over the weekend, up from nine a day prior.
  89. Six weeks after Hurricane Maria, doctor and nurses say Puerto Ricans still face widespread symptoms related to unclean water, including vomiting, diarrhea and asthma, as well as 74 suspected cases of leptospirosis.
  90. Rachel Maddow reported Puerto Rican officials refuse to answer how many of the suspected 74 cases of leptospirosis, a disease transmitted by contact with water contaminated by animal urine, have led to death.
  91. The Atlantic reported as Puerto Rico ended its contract with Whitefish, there are several investigations into PREPA’s $200 million contract with Mammoth Energy Services’ Cobra Acquisitions, which was awarded on October 19.
  92. A letter from the House energy committee said the Cobra contract “would appear to have the effect of preventing government oversight of the agreement.” Questions are also raised about the bidding process.
  93. On Friday, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz told CNN the actual death toll from Maria is closer to 500, not 54.
  94. On Thursday, Trump’s Twitter account was “inadvertently deactivated” by a Twitter employee for 11 minutes at just after 7 p.m. EST. The employee, still unidentified, did this on their last day of work.
  95. As of Tuesday, Tom Steyer’s online petition asking Congress to impeach Trump garnered more than 1.1 million signatures in its first week.
  96. A Public Policy Polling survey found a record level of support for impeaching Trump: 49% support impeachment, while 41% oppose it.
  97. On Tuesday, ahead of Congressional testimony, Facebook admitted Russian influence on their platform had reached 126 million Americans, far greater than what the company had previously disclosed.
  98. Lawmakers released 3K Russian ads spread on Facebook. The ads were highly sophisticated and targeted candidates as well as groups and issues like illegal immigration, gun ownership, Black Lives Matter, and Muslims.
  99. On Tuesday and Wednesday, general counsel for social media companies Facebook, Twitter, and Google testified before the Senate Judiciary subcommittee, and Senate and House intelligence committees.
  100. Sen. Al Franken blasted Facebook for accepting payments in rubles for US election ads. Sen. Diane Feinstein said, “You’ve created these platforms, and now, they’re being misused,” adding “do something about it. Or we will.”
  101. Sen. Mark Warner chastised the companies for being unresponsive and slow to investigate. He asked, “do you believe that any of your companies have identified the full scope of Russian active measures?” Facebook said no.
  102. Warner said the Facebook ads “are just the tip of a very large iceberg,” and the real story is “the amount of misinformation and divisive content” pushed on Russian-back pages.
  103. Sen. Amy Klobuchar pushed executives to weigh in on legislation that would require the companies to report who funds political ads online. In Week 49, Klobuchar and Warner gained bipartisan support of their Honest Ads Act.
  104. Twitter identified 2,752 accounts controlled by Russian operatives and more than 36K bots that tweeted 1.4 million times during the election. Weeks ago, Twitter had said it found just 201 accounts linked to Russia.
  105. Bloomberg reported Twitter was warned in 2015 by Leslie Miley about a vast amount of accounts with IP addresses in Russia and Ukraine. Miley, the only black engineer in leadership, was dismissed later that year.
  106. On Thursday, Robert Mercer resigned as CEO of his giant hedge fund, Renaissance Technologies. In a letter to employees, Mercer said he has “scrutiny from the press” and been unfairly linked to Bannon.
  107. Robert Mercer also sold his stake in Breitbart to his daughter Rebekah. In a statement, Mercer tried to distance himself from Milo Yiannopoulos, who, according to BuzzFeed, had cultivated white nationalists while at Breitbart.
  108. On Friday, three conservative House Republicans — Matt Gaetz, Andy Biggs, and Louis Gohmert — said they plan to file a resolution calling on Mueller to recuse himself from his probe of Russian meddling, over conflicts of interest.
  109. On Wednesday, Georgia’s AG office announced it will no longer represent the state’s top elections official in an elections integrity lawsuit filed days before a crucial computer server was quietly wiped clean, as per Week 50.
  110. Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the main defendant, is running for governor in 2018. The server in question made headlines in June when a security expert disclosed a gaping security hole that wasn’t fixed.
  111. The erased hard drives are central to the lawsuit filed in Week 34 because they could have revealed whether the Ossoff-Handel race was compromised by hackers. It is not clear who ordered the data erased.
  112. AP obtained Russian hackers’ unpublished digital hit list which had targets around the world: in addition to Hillary’s emails, it includes emails of Ukrainian officers, Russian opposition figures and US defense contractors.
  113. The list came from a database of 19K malicious links collected by cybersecurity firm Secureworks, when hacking group Fancy Bear accidentally exposed part of its phishing operation to the internet.
  114. The list also provides the most detailed forensic evidence yet of the close alignment between Russian hackers and the Kremlin.
  115. On Friday, AP reported on how Russia hacked into Hillary’s campaign starting on March 10, 2016. Through a malicious link, hacker group Fancy Bear was able to enter John Podesta’s email account.
  116. On April 26, before the DNC knew, court documents show Papadopoulos says he was told about it by a professor closely connected to the Russian government, “They have dirt on her. They have thousands of emails.”
  117. According to AP, Guccifer 2.0 acted as a kind of master of ceremonies during a summer of leaks. He also coordinated with WikiLeaks and wrote, “Together with Assange we’ll make america great again.”
  118. AP also reported Guccifer 2.0 had airbrushed at least one of Podesta’s emails to get media attention: the word “CONFIDENTIAL” was not in the original document.
  119. CNN reported Trump’s long-time bodyguard and close confidante, Keith Schiller will testify to the House Intel Committee next week, as well as Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS.
  120. WAPO reported Schiller is expected to be questioned about Trump’s 2013 Moscow trip, which is behind some of the most salacious allegations in the dossier, as well as Trump’s firing of Comey.
  121. This week the committee interviewed Carter Page and Ike Kaveladze, one of the people at the June 9 Trump Tower meeting, as well as former assistant AG at the National Security division, Mary McCord, and Sally Yates.
  122. Rachel Maddow noted the sudden rush of witnesses, some of who are central figures and Trump insiders, may indicate the House Intel Committee Republicans are trying to bring its investigation to a close.
  123. On Friday, CBS News reported Trump campaign officials in legal jeopardy may be rushing to offer their cooperation to get a better deal from Mueller. One official who is being examined said, “it’s every man for himself.”
  124. USA Today reported Trump’s Election Integrity Commission may have gone dark. The last public meeting was on September 12, and it’s unclear, even to commission members, when the next meeting will be held.
  125. The commission has held two meetings since it was set up in May, and has been sued by numerous civil rights and voting rights groups for lack of transparency and governance.
  126. With election day coming next Tuesday, Twitter bots swarmed an important governor’s race in Virginia. Similar to the 2016 election, the bots are focused on fanning racial strife.
  127. Joe Ricketts, a Trump supporter, shuttered both DNAinfo and Gothamist, two of NYC’s leading sources of local news which he purchased in March, after employees voted to join a union. Ricketts made no attempt to sell.
  128. ProPublica reported two former CIA employees say Christopher Sharpley, Trump’s nominee for CIA inspector general, “deliberately misled Congress” by saying he didn’t know about a pending complaint filed against him.
  129. Mother Jones reported the Trump Organization experienced a major cyber breach in 2013, likely by Russian hackers. Until the week, the penetration had gone undetected. Information could be compromised.
  130. In Week 47, Kushner and Ivanka’s personal emails accounts used for WH business were redirected to Trump Organization servers.
  131. On Saturday, Trump solicited the Saudi Arabia government, tweeting to ask them to list their IPO of Aramco on the New York Stock Exchange.
  132. On Saturday, en route to his Asia trip on a stop in Hawaii, Trump visited his Trump-branded Hawaii resort. This marks Trump’s 97th trip to a Trump-owned property during his time in office.
  133. As Trump headed on a trip to Asia, there is a sense that Trump has accelerated China’s rise by being and unsteady leader. Media say Beijing is the “new role model,” and Trump needs to prove his can be “constructive.”

Copyright Amy Siskind, November 4, 2017

Former campaign manager for Trump, Paul Manafort, leaves U.S. District Court after pleading not guilty following his indictment on federal charges on October 30, 2017 in Washington, DC.