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Earlier today I told you about the curious story of “The White House Gift Shop”. It has a nice built in clientele: US embassies abroad, cabinet departments, other government agencies as well as political committees and campaigns and members of the public all of whom purchase mementos and souvenirs from it. But back to our original question: Is this part of the US government or somehow tied to the US Secret Service or what is it?
Thanks to a number of emailers but particularly TPM Reader JB, I think I now have the answer. There was once an actual ‘White House Gift Shop’ in the basement of the Old Executive Office Building. But the current ‘The White House Gift Shop’ is a private for profit company which has no connection to the White House or the Secret Service or any other government entity, despite that fact that it seems to go to some lengths to give the impression that it does.
We’ve now had reports from The New York Times that Michael Cohen had three meetings with Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg in the weeks just before and after President Trump’s inauguration. This occurred the US investment affiliate of Vekselberg’s holding company, which is run by his cousin, was in the process of hiring Cohen as a $1 million per year consultant. We know all of this, or you do if you’ve read these articles. What I wanted to do is what amounts to a very low-tech visualization which puts this events in what I think is a much starker light. I’ve taken these events and others Cohen was involved in and overlaid them on other events and news reports that were happening in these same days tied to the Russia scandal and the investigation into the 2016 election interference campaign.
When you see the progression arranged in this way it shows how even as revelation upon revelation was emerging and Trump and all of his associates were vociferously denying any ties to Russia let alone collusion Cohen was proceeding along doing things that look very much like the accusations they were so aggressively denying.
Let me share with you some details of my investigation of a truly inconsequential and yet to me somehow fascinating mystery. Yesterday, in the midst of the shock over President Trump’s sudden decision to cancel the North Korea summit in Singapore, I saw an image on Twitter about The White House Gift Shop website selling those summit “challenge coins” with the profiles of President Trump and Kim Jong-un. I went to the White House website to see if this could possibly be true. Does the White House really hawk souvenirs on its website? Even under Trump? I soon realized that everyone was talking about a separate White House Gift Shop website, under its own domain name, which looked pretty rickety to me and left me not at all sure it had anything to do with the White House.
Then a short time later I saw a chyron on MSNBC announcing that the White House was in fact still selling the summit challenge coins even as the summit had been called off. I did a double-take because my initial take made me think that the “White House Gift Shop” wasn’t actually part of the White House or even the U.S. government. But with MSNBC saying this was the White House I decided I needed to figure out what was going on.
When I first looked at the site all the pages but the front page were broken. The products I saw weren’t exactly MAGA caps. But they seemed a bit more partisan and campaigny and cheesy than I’d expect from any U.S. government website. [Scratch that: The Gift Shop actually does sell a MAGA cap.] (In fairness their archived Obama gifts were at least a bit campaigny.)
Yesterday I wondered out loud how it was that so little attention was being paid to the Times report that Michael Cohen had met repeatedly with that Russian oligarch whose US affiliate had hired Cohen as a “consultant”. It turns out, unsurprisingly, they were talking about how to improve ties between the US and Russia.
Rudy Giuliani thinks a summit with Kim Jong-un is more likely than a sit-down with Robert Mueller. “I think it is more inevitable than a Mueller interview. At least they’re not going to try to trap him into Korean perjury.”
Good morning and happy Friday. Here’s what we have our eyes on today.
Earlier this year, we rolled out our Weekly Primers — 500 word briefings for Prime subscribers on the topics TPM covers most closely, published once a week and carefully written to include everything of importance.
So far, we’ve regularly put out Weekly Primers on voting rights, the battle over the future of Obamacare, and the Trump-Russia probe. Today, we’re rolling out a new Primer chronicling corruption and abuse of power in the Trump administration. Every Thursday, Matt Shuham will have the latest on the swamp Trump filled. Here’s the first.
Two days ago the Times published a story about Michael Cohen and his relationship with Columbus Nova, the U.S. investment arm of the behemoth holding company of Viktor Vekselberg, the Russian oligarch close to Vladimir Putin. The article is mainly about Cohen’s dealings with Andrew Intrater, Vekselberg’s cousin who is the CEO of Columbus Nova and a U.S. citizen. There are lots of very interesting details in the piece. But buried down in the 9th paragraph is this eye-popping revelation.
Diplomatic communications are usually worded with great care and precision. They aren’t letters one person writes to another. They are documents which communicate specific realities and goals between states. In this case, I completely believe that Donald Trump himself wrote this letter or dictated it. In fact, I feel almost certain he did. The words resonate with a genuine hurt and anguish, mixed with moments of menace and still hope for the future. It reads needy. It’s like a letter you write to a romantic partner who has abandoned you without saying so. You write, hurt, finalizing what is already clear.
GOP Rep. Diane Black of Tennessee has introduced a bill that would set up a Kickstarter/Gofundme-style crowdfunding site to fund Trump’s wall.
I just finished listening to a CNN segment where “norms” figured heavily in the discussion. It was a good segment. I clipped a couple snippets of video because they were so good. But we need to stop talking so much about “norms”. And it’s not just CNN. The term has come up a number of times in our editorial conversations at TPM just today. I’ve talked about them. But we need to stop talking so much about norms. Because it doesn’t capture what is happening or the situation we’re in. In every kind of communication, clarity is the most important thing. By talking so much about “norms” and the violation of “norms” we’re confusing the situation and even confusing ourselves.