November 25, 2017

Week 54

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

This week Trump’s manufactured crises returned, as he sought to seize back the narrative and distract from the increasing instability within the regime, and developments relating to his inner-circle in the Trump-Russia probes.

Trump’s deconstructing of the executive branch continues, as agencies go unstaffed or are led by regime members who are revoking regulations and winding down staff. Kleptocracy and insider dealings continue, although Trump’s tarnished name and brand is hurting him financially on several fronts. The judicial branch seems to be the only thing holding the regime in check, though Trump has drastic changes underway there too.

  1. On Sunday, Trump attacked the father of one of the UCLA basketball players released from prison in China, saying LaVar Ball did not appear grateful for his help, adding of the players, “I should have left them in jail.
  2. On Monday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump’s tweet was a “rhetorical response,” and that Trump does not regret helping the UCLA players.
  3. On Sunday, after Sen. Jeff Flake was caught on an open microphone saying “(If we) become the party of Roy Moore and Donald Trump, we are toast,” Trump attacked Flake tweeting, “his political career anyway is “toast.””
  4. On Monday, Trump attacked another black athlete, Marshawn Lynch for standing during the Mexican Anthem and sitting for the National Anthem, tweeting, “next time NFL should suspend him for remainder of season.”
  5. On Monday, Fox News’ Neil Cavuto shredded Trump saying he is president, “why don’t you act like it?” Cavuto also told Trump he is “running out of friends,” and it’s not “fake news media that’s your problem. It’s you.”
  6. Trump continued his attacks on LaVar Ball during the week, calling him a “poor man’s version of Don King, but without the hair,” and an “ungrateful fool.” Ball responded — as separately did Marshawn Lynch’s mother.
  7. Additional remains of Sgt. LaDavid Johnson were found in Niger. In Week 49, Myeshia Johnson was denied seeing her husband’s body and was publicly criticized by Trump. The details of his death are still not known.
  8. Trump responded to a reporter who tweeted that Trump’s “rage-tweets” on Ball were part of a pattern of attacks on high profile African Americans to feed his base, by tweeting “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!
  9. In another historic first in the string of rebukes to Trump, Democrat LaToya Cantrell won her race to become the first female mayor of New Orleans in the city’s 300-year history. Cantrell is also a woman of color.
  10. WAPO reported a sheriff’s deputy in VA was reassigned out of her job in the local school system after attending a Halloween party in blackface as part of her costume to look like Rep. Frederica Wilson.
  11. On Monday, acting DHS director Elaine Duke announced the Trump regime would not extend special deportation protection known as Temporary Protected Status for 59K Haitians here since the 2010 earthquake.
  12. On Monday, Trump’s DOJ asked the Supreme Court to fully reinstate its travel restrictions on six Muslim-majority countries. Trump said he is doing this to protect the US from terrorists and is not targeting Muslims.
  13. The DHS inspector general informed lawmakers that Customs and Border Protection agents violated at least two court orders in their zeal to enforce Trump’s travel ban by banning passengers from boarding a plane.
  14. On Monday, a federal judge permanently blocked Trump’s executive order to cut funding from cities that limit cooperation with U.S. immigration authorities — so-called sanctuary cities.
  15. On Tuesday, a second federal judge ruled against Trump’s transgender military ban, halting the ban and saying active-duty service members are “already suffering harmful consequences.”
  16. On Wednesday, the WSJ reported Trump’s DOJ has opened an investigation into Harvard’s admission practices, citing similar allegations in a 2014 case, and said the university is not cooperating with the probe.
  17. The DOJ is investigating Harvard’s diversity policies under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin for organizations that receive federal funding.
  18. Betsy DeVos’ Education Department is considering limiting the scope of civil right investigations at schools, to only look only at the specific incident and not focus on “systemic” or institutional issues.
  19. Juli Briskman, the cyclist who got fired by her employer in Week 52 for giving Trump the middle finger, has raised $124K from more than 5.5K sponsors on a GoFundMe page set up by one of her friends.
  20. On Monday, during the last press briefing before the Thanksgiving holiday, press secretary Sanders told reporters they would need to say what they were grateful for before asking a question. Most reporters complied.
  21. POLITICO reported Corey Lewandowski has a new base for operations, a row house in DC. Although Lewandowski claims to have cut ties with lobbying firm Turnberry, the firm lists the same address as where he resides.
  22. Daily Beast reported, based on public records, 20 family members have landed jobs in the Trump regime. Also, not since the Kennedy’s have so many blood-relatives occupied so many prominent roles.
  23. On Monday, Reuters reported the DOJ will sue to stop AT&T from buying Time Warner, owner of CNN, which Trump has attacked consistently as fake news. In Week 52, Rupert Murdoch approached AT&T to buy CNN.
  24. On Monday, the attorney for Karen Forsenca said she might pursue a civil rights lawsuit against Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls for violating her First Amendment rights.
  25. On Monday, Sessions’ DOJ announced it will award $100 million to local police departments that notify federal authorities about undocumented immigrants in local custody, and let immigration officers into their jails.
  26. Sessions’ DOJ abruptly announced it is cutting off funding for 16 halfway houses. The cuts come weeks after Sessions’ named Mark Inch to lead the federal prison system as Bureau of Prisons Director.
  27. Trump’s FCC chair Ajit Pai said he has shared his plan and to fully dismantle the Obama-era net neutrality regulations with his fellow commissioners amid public protest, including from one of his fellow commissioners.
  28. CBS News reported the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) under Trump is a ghost town. Staffing is down from 135 under Obama to just 45 under Trump, most of whom do not have a background in science.
  29. This is also the longest the agency, a hub of innovation, has gone in its 41-year history without a leader. When asked, a WH official said there are no personnel announcements planned for the OSTP at this time.
  30. The Senate voted to confirm David Zatezalo, Trump’s pick to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). As a mining executive Zatezalo’s company had with numerous safety complaints from MSHA.
  31. POLITICO reported Trump’s lead pick to run the Census Bureau, Thomas Brunell, a Texas professor who is the author of a book which claims competitive elections are bad for America, is causing alarm.
  32. Slate reported Trump nominee Brett Talley did not reveal his message board posts using a pseudonym in which he said on capital punishment it would be “awesome” to bring back the electric chair and “just shoot them.”
  33. POLITICO reported the FEC is probing discrepancies in the most recent campaign finance report at a PAC previously affiliated with Ryan Zinke, including incomplete donor info, a $200K discrepancy, and other issues.
  34. WAPO reported on Conservatives’ plan for Trump to pack the courts. The plan calls for Trump to add 650 lifetime members to the federal judiciary in the next 12 months. Obama named 325 members in his eight years.
  35. Many positions were open while Obama was in office. The other part of the plan is to dramatically increase the number of judiciary positions, creating 260-447 new positions, a 30-50%, increase under Trump.
  36. As Congress has not extended CHIP, which provides healthcare to 9 million low-income children and 370K pregnant women, 12 states are preparing to notify families they will no longer have care at year-end.
  37. ProPublica reported Property of the People sued the Trump regime under the FOIA for the visitor records of five federal offices working directly with Trump. Records released have 2,169 redactions for 8,807 meetings.
  38. ProPublica reported, according to logs the WH was forced to release under the FOIA, Mick Mulvaney has been meeting with long list of lobbyists, corporate execs and wealthy people with business interests before the government.
  39. Visitors include Koch Industries lobbyists, Trump friend Steve Wynn, health care and Wall Street CEOs, numerous officials from the Heritage Foundation, and a prominent member of the Catholic group Opus Dei.
  40. Reuters reported a group of a dozen State Department officials took the unusual step of formally accusing Rex Tillerson of violating a federal law designed to stop foreign militaries from enlisting child soldiers in a “dissent” memo.
  41. The memo claims Tillerson breached the Child Soldiers Prevention Act by excluding Iraq, Myanmar, and Afghanistan from a list of offenders in order to make it easier to provide the countries with US military assistance.
  42. NYT reported diplomats in the State Department are continuing to sound the alarm as they are pushed out in droves in a series of dismissals and early retirements which have decimated the agency’s senior ranks.
  43. Bill Miller, chief of security, said Tillerson had turned down his requests to brief him on security needs at US embassies his first nine months. Republicans were highly critical of Hillary on lack of security in Benghazi.
  44. Finally Miller, a career Foreign Service officer, cited the requirement that he be allowed to speak to Tillerson. Shortly after, he was fired. This marks a new stage in the contentious relationship between Tillerson and staff.
  45. POLITICO reported the KGB has been interested in Trump for decades, citing his first trip to Moscow in 1987 which was arranged by the top level of the Soviet diplomatic service.
  46. On Monday, WAPO reported on the mood in the WH as the Mueller probe has entered Trump’s inner circle. Ty Cobb has giving assurance the investigation will wrap up quickly and Trump is not under investigation.
  47. Trump is reportedly arrogant and views the Mueller probe as “just an annoyance.” Meanwhile almost all have had to hire attorneys. Junior staffers fear legal bills could run three to four times their annual salaries.
  48. Per Mueller’s charging documents, at least nine people in the Trump orbit had contact with Russians during the campaign or transition period. One staffer kidded the morning greeting is, “Good morning. Are you wired?’
  49. Witnesses questioned by Mueller say investigators are asking about foreign contacts and meetings that are not yet public, and warn to expect a series of new revelations despite Cobb’s assurances that the end is near.
  50. On Monday, Bloomberg reported the Trump campaign said it will stop paying Donald Jr.’s legal fees, and is instead setting up a legal fund to pay costs for him and other campaign staffers relating to the Russia probe.
  51. Former OGE director Walter Shaub noted the concern that “a mysterious “pooled” legal defense fund” could influence witness testimony unless the fund establishes clear criteria for allocating distributions
  52. The yacht of Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, a frequent subject in the lists, docked near Mar-A-Lago, where Trump will spend Thanksgiving. A spokesperson told Palm Beach Post that Abramovich is not aboard.
  53. ABC News reported Mueller has directed the DOJ to turn over a broad array of documents related the Comey firing and Sessions’ decision to recuse himself. Trump has been publicly critical of Sessions’ recusal.
  54. The directive is Mueller’s first record request to the DOJ, the department overseeing his investigation, and signals his team is looking into whether the Trump regime tried to improperly influence an ongoing investigation.
  55. CBS News confirmed Donald Jr. met with Alexander Torshin, a man tied to organized crime and with close ties to the Kremlin, at a NRA in May 2016, three weeks before the June 9 meeting at Trump Tower.
  56. ABC News reports the House Intel Committee is looking into Carter Page’s travel to meet with senior officials in Hungary in September 2016. The Hungarian prime minister was the first foreign leader to endorse Trump.
  57. Page had 45-minute meeting with Jeno Megyesy, a close adviser to Hungarian PM Orban, who has become increasingly aligned with Putin. Experts also consider Budapest a hub for Russian intelligence activity.
  58. CNN reported Mueller will be interviewing three Trump insiders in the coming days: Hope Hicks, Don McGahn and Josh Raffel, a PR specialist who had previously worked for Kushner in the private sector.
  59. Hicks has been one of Trump’s closest confidantes, and joined the campaign in spring 2015. Hicks was always by his side on the campaign trail, and now has a desk just outside the Oval Office.
  60. NYT reported in 2012, the FBI told Rep. Dana Rohrabacher that Russia regarded him as an intelligence source. Mueller is interesting meetings Rohrabacher had with Julian Assange in London in August 2016, and with Michael Flynn last year.
  61. WSJ reported Mueller is investigating Jared Kushner’s interactions with foreign leaders during the transition period, including a dispute at the UN in December 2016, in a sign Mueller’s probe is expanding.
  62. The UN resolution condemning Israel for constructing settlements in disputed territories passed December 23, and the Obama admin declined to block it. Israeli officials then reached out to Kushner and Steve Bannon.
  63. Mueller is scrutinizing Kushner for indicating he had no foreign contacts in his initial security clearance forms, then updating the form at least three times to include more than 100 contacts with more than 20 countries.
  64. Kushner allegedly urged Trump to fire James Comey in a meeting with other top officials. According to sources, Kushner thought Comey was too unpredictable and that Democrats would cheer for his ouster.
  65. Daily Beast reported before the June 9 meeting, Roman Beniaminov, a low-level real estate executive with ties to Russia, let Ike Kaveladze know he heard from Rob Goldstone that “dirt” on Hillary would come up.
  66. Reuters reported the Kremlin chief media regulator said it will take action against Google if Sputnik and RT are placed lower in search results.
  67. Vanity Fair reported before Trump infamously turned over Israeli secrets to Kislyak and Lavrov in the Oval Office, while Obama was still in office, US Intel warned Israel that Putin had “leverages of pressure” over Trump.
  68. Information shared by Trump included the outline of a plot to turn laptop computers into airborne bombs. He shared at least one highly classified op detail not even shared with even Congress or friendly governments.
  69. Although he did not name Israel as the US partner that had detected the threat, Trump told Kislyak and Lavrov the ISIS-held territory where Israel had detected the threat.
  70. McClatchy reported Paul Manafort took at least 18 trips to Moscow and was in frequent contact with Putin allies for nearly a decade as a consultant in Russia and Ukraine for oligarchs and pro-Kremlin parties.
  71. In between 2004–2015, Manafort visited Ukraine at least 138 times. Prosecutors have charged that Manafort and Rick Gates funneled at least $75 million in consulting fees from an array of Kremlin-linked clients.
  72. Manafort’s web of connections included Russian oligarchs Deripaska and Firtash, who helped finance Ukraine’s pro-Moscow President Yanukovych, and Viktor Medvedchuk, thought to be a Russian intelligence agent.
  73. As a consultant in the Ukraine, including when he was chosen as Trump’s campaign manager, Manafort advocated an anti-NATO stance. Trump adopted that stance, and also questioned Obama’s sanctions on Russia.
  74. Manafort met with Andrey Artemenko, a pro-Moscow Ukrainian legislator in 2013. Artemenko’s citizenship was revoked this year after disclosure he and Michael Cohen had pitched a peace plan for Ukraine and Russia.
  75. In the summer of 2016, both presidential candidates were asked for a letter recognizing Ukraine’s independence. Trump refused. As Manafort resigned, he was to receive $12 million more in off-the-books payments.
  76. The New Yorker reported Dimitri Skorobutov, a former editor at Russia’s largest state media company Rossiya, said the Kremlin provided specific pro-Trump, anti-Clinton instructions on how to cover the US election.
  77. On Thursday, NYT reported Flynn’s lawyers notified Trump’s legal team they could no longer discuss the special counsel investigation, indicating either Flynn is cooperating with Mueller or is negotiating to cooperate.
  78. Flynn and his son have significant criminal exposure. The WH has been bracing for charges against Flynn, the closest to Trump of those charged so far, during both the campaign and early days of the regime.
  79. Mueller in investigating a private meeting between Flynn, Kushner and Kislyak, and conversations, in late December as Obama was announcing sanction on Russia. Flynn lied saying these were merely holiday greetings.
  80. Four days after Trump was sworn in, the FBI interviewed Flynn about the meeting. US Intel and law enforcement were so concerned about Flynn’s false statements, Sally Yates notified the WH that Flynn may be compromised.
  81. On Friday, Trump tweeted that he would be speaking to Turkey’s Erdogan, allegedly on the crises in Syria and other issues. As per several weeks’ lists, Flynn has significant ties to Turkey.
  82. On Friday, WSJ reported Mueller’s team is probing Flynn’s work on a documentary financed by Turkish interests targeting Fethullah Gulen. The FBI will be interviewing consultants hired by Flynn to work on the film.
  83. Mr. Flynn’s consulting firm, the Flynn Intel Group, and Flynn’s business partner Bijan Kian, tried to hide their involvement in, and the backers of the film according to consultants.
  84. BuzzFeed reported at a private dinner in July with technology company executives, H.R. McMaster referred to Trump as an “idiot” and a “dope” with the intelligence of a “kindergartner.”
  85. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is offering donors the chance to win a trip to Trump Hotel DC. Donors who contribute $10 or more can automatically qualify for the trip.
  86. Lawmakers called on the Trump regime to provide additional funding for Puerto Rico, saying the initial request is not enough. If Puerto Rico’s federal Medicaid funding runs out, up to 900K people would likely be cut.
  87. A Kaiser Family Foundation found 70% of Americans believe Puerto Rico isn’t getting the help it needs, including a majority of Republicans (52%).
  88. Bloomberg reported Whitefish Energy halted work in Puerto Rico early, saying the island’s utility hasn’t paid it $83 million owed. A contract with Fluor was halted by the Army Corps of Engineers citing safety concerns.
  89. Two months after Hurricane Maria, only half of Puerto Rico has electricity, and many are still displaced or without drinking water. Trump has stopped talking about the recovery and the government is withdrawing.
  90. Telegraph reported room rates have fallen in all but one of Trump’s hotels. The biggest drop is at the Trump Las Vegas where rates have fallen by 63%.
  91. WAPO reported that after 19 out of 25 charities canceled their annual events at Mar-A-Lago over the summer, Trump cronies like Pat Robertson and the Republican Attorneys General Association have filled in.
  92. On Monday, NBC News reported Trump is shuttering his charitable foundation, which last year admitted violating federal rules on “self-dealing” — funneling charity money to their businesses, families or self.
  93. The press secretary for the NY AG said the foundation cannot close yet, citing it “is still under investigation by this office, it cannot legally dissolve until that investigation is complete.”
  94. WAPO reported Trump National Golf Club in Westchester reimbursed Trump’s foundation $158k in March, after the NY AG’s office investigation found the money had been used to settle a lawsuit against the club.
  95. Trump wines are being sold at Shenandoah National Park’s gift shop, posing a conflict of interest and possibly violating the emoluments clause.
  96. On Wednesday, in another sign of Trump’s struggling family businesses, the Trump Organization said it will exit from its struggling SoHo Hotel.
  97. WAPO reported that professional sports teams, once reliable patrons are no longer staying at Trump properties. WAPO reached out to 123 sports team and 106 responded: none are still staying at Trump properties.
  98. Donald Jr. will campaign for Kris Kobach in Kansas at a $200 per ticket event. Kobach is vice chair of the controversial Election Integrity Committee.
  99. Tom Steyer announced Monday that he would run billboards in Times Square as part of his campaign to impeach Trump. Steyer’s online petition has garnered 2.5 million signatures. Steyer has spent $20 million so far.
  100. On Tuesday, after wavering, Trump said he would back Roy Moore, the GOP candidate for senate in AL who has been accused of molesting a 14 year-old girl and eight others, citing Moore’s denial of sexual misconduct.
  101. Moore was banned from Gadsden Mall because of his predatory behavior towards underage girls. He first noticed his current wife when she was 15 or 16 years-old and he was in his 30s.
  102. A retired Alabama police officer said she and her colleagues were told decades ago to keep Moore away from high school cheerleaders.
  103. Former OGE director Shaub filed an ethics complaint against Kellyanne Conway for violating the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from getting involved in elections. Conway advocated for Moore in front of the WH.
  104. WAPO reported Trump’s DOJ is pushing Iran-connected charges from the HBO hack. The push has caused alarm within the DOJ, as some officials say it comes as the Trump regime wants to impose new sanctions on Iran.
  105. The NYT editorial board, in an op-ed titled “Only Morons Pay the Estate Tax,” named after Chief Economic Adviser Gary Cohn’s words in August, cited the hypocrisy and kleptocracy of Trump’s tax plan.
  106. On Wednesday, Sen. Tom Carper said in a meeting with Democratic senators to discuss tax reform this month, Cohn faked a bad connection to get off the phone with Trump. The WH pushed back on the claim Wednesday.
  107. On Tuesday, while granting the typical turkey pardon, Trump joked despite being “very active in overturning” Obama’s executive orders, he would not revoke Obama’s pardon of turkeys Tater and Tot.
  108. On Wednesday, in a flurry of tweets, Trump said the NFL’s idea of keeping players in the locker room during the National Anthem is “almost as bad as kneeling!” Trump added, “this issue is killing your league!”
  109. On Thanksgiving, the WH forced a pool reporter to make a correction: “The president will NOT have a low-key day and has a full schedule of meetings and phone calls.” An hour later, Trump went golfing.
  110. On Thanksgiving, from Mar-A-Lago, Trump addressed the troops, praising them and himself, and suggesting changes since Obama was in office: “We’re not fighting anymore to just walk around, we’re fighting to win,”
  111. Trump also took the opportunity to jab at the media, “surrounding me is a lot of press — better me than you, believe me fellas,” before asking the press to leave, “So I’ll ask the press to get out and I’ll say you’re fired.”
  112. McClatchy reported top Trump aides, including Bannon and Seb Gorka, failed to file legally required financial reports after they were fired this summer. Reince Priebus filed his reports this week, well after the 30-day deadline.
  113. Reports are due for employees for at least six-months. Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Middle East adviser Derek Harvey have also not filed their reports. The reports show if and how employees’ fortunes change while in power.
  114. The reports also show if employees took required steps to clear conflicts of interest. Bannon was supposed to sell his stake in Cambridge Analytica, worth $1-5 million, while in office. It is unclear if he did so.
  115. POLITICO reported despite the DHS banning government agencies from using Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab’s products in September, government contractors continue to use it, creating a huge potential hole for hackers.
  116. On Friday, Trump tweeted from Mar-A-Lago he was “PROBABLY going to be named” TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year, but said he would need to agree to an interview and major photo shoot and so he “took a pass.”
  117. TIME issued a statement in response, tweeting Trump “is incorrect about how we choose Person of the Year,” and Time Inc.’s chief content officer, Alan Murray tweeted, “not a speck of truth here.”
  118. On Friday, Trump named Mulvaney to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, setting up a legal clash. The announcement came hours after departing chief Cordray appointed chief of staff Leandra English to deputy director.
  119. Trump said Mulvaney will serve as Acting Director until a permanent director is confirmed. The Dodd-Frank Act says the deputy director shall “serve as acting Director in the absence or unavailability of the Director.”
  120. Vanity Fair reported the aide who has ceded the most influence since Kelly took charge is Kushner, who after initially having a huge portfolio of responsibility, now is confined to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
  121. Kelly was upset with Kushner’s trip to Saudi Arabia days before the Saudi Crown Prince made arrests, giving an impression Kushner knew and helped orchestrate it. The business councils Kushner dreamed up are gone.
  122. Amid Mueller’s investigation, Trump has also been aggravated with the bad advice Kushner has given, and has advocated for Kushner and Ivanka to return to NY, in part because they are being damaged by the press.
  123. NYT reported Trump is also annoyed with Ivanka for her “special place in hell for people who prey on children” comment on Moore. Speaker Mitch McConnell fears win or lose, Moore could cost the Republicans the Senate in 2018.

Copyright Amy Siskind, November 25, 2017


Tom Steyer stands in front of one of the billboards he has funded in Times Square calling for the impeachment of Trump. Steyer has pledged $20 million for an ad campaign urging for the impeachment of Trump. The billboards will go up in various locations across the United States.