Rudy Giuliani has now canceled his trip to Ukraine in which he planned to pressure the new government to launch investigations into Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. But this is irrelevant. It’s not 1810. Giuliani doesn’t need a personal visit to plot his schemes. We have phones, video conferencing, private jet transnational intermediaries. What’s more, this is a plot that goes back months. Indeed, Giuliani has peppered his cancelation with new threats, suggesting that the new government in Ukraine may be enemies of America. “I’m not going to go because I think I’m walking into a group of people that are enemies of the president, in some cases, enemies of the United States.”
It’s yet more of the same, leveraging the country’s foreign and national security power (which is of course immense and unparalleled in the world) to target political enemies at home, high crimes by any definition.
Last night at our DC event I picked up on a question someone had been asked on the panel: Basically, how bad can it get? To me it’s already gotten that bad and in a way and place that is at once front and center and yet oddly invisible. Virtually everyone closely involved in the origins of the Russia probe has either been fired, had their career ended or in key cases face real threats of imprisonment: Comey, McCabe, Strzok, Page, Baker, Ohr … I could list off at least half a dozen other names. Some of these folks will be fine. And in most cases the criminal jeopardy is probably somewhat notional. But it’s not about the individual people. It’s the warning it sends to everyone else through the federal bureaucracy – law enforcement, intelligence and everywhere else – that the real law is power. This is how autocrats discipline and destroy civil institutions and the rule of law. One of these people, former FBI general counsel Jim Baker spoke out for the first time this afternoon at an event at Brookings. Tierney Sneed was there.
If you’re still worried about the collusion described in the Mueller Report forgot about that because it probably means you’re not focused enough on how President Trump’s top advisors are already, more or less openly, trying to muscle Ukraine into targeting Trump’s political enemies in the US to throw the 2020 election in Trump’s favor.
I really cannot overstate how important this is.
This to me is one of those classic TPM stories. In fact, the man at the center of the story, James Russell Bolton Jr., is an embodiment of the Trump Era. Bolton runs a militia. But on the side he was posing as a Mexican drug cartel allegedly kidnapping his wife in order to extort money from the dorks who had joined his militia.
We’re so thick into constitutional crises today. But you’ve got to read this piece by Josh Kovensky. It’s about how the NRA tried to save itself financially or at least open up a critical new revenue stream by hawking what is not unfairly called “murder insurance.” Basically, if you’re a good guy with a gun and you kill someone, who’s going to cover you expenses? It turns out that even on its own morally dubious terms it wasn’t very good insurance and not necessarily legal. But beyond that, the contractors who created the plans were branching out from old fashioned defending your home style ‘self-defense’ to more like free range out and about waiting for bad guys to show themselves sort of ‘self-defense’. Proactive self-defense. Call it George Zimmerman insurance. Anyway, it’s simultaneously hilarious and really horrifying and on top of all that the NRA seems to have lost some serious cash on it. Read the whole story here.
In another impromptu White House appearance just now, President Trump went off on special counsel Robert Mueller all over again. In an especially bonkers moment, the President lamented the friendship between Mueller and fired FBI Director James Comey, citing a “picture file.”
“They were supposedly best friends,” Trump said. “You look at the picture file and you see hundreds of pictures of him and Comey.”
What is he talking about? A picture file?
Last week I flagged this stunning and egregious story about Rudy Giuliani, the President’s private lawyer, going abroad to use to use the President’s power to enlist other governments to attack President Trump’s enemies. Giuliani has been globe-trotting like this for two years. In most cases, we don’t really know what he’s doing. In most cases he’s likely just collecting money. But in this case he’s using threat or inducement of the President’s power to target the President’s political enemies and then looping the corrupt Attorney General into the process.
This latest Trump/Giuliani gambit managed to get laundered into The New York Times via outlets like the propaganda chop shop at The Hill under John Solomon.
But here are some key new details.
Let’s talk about this eye-popping story from Reuters which claims that back in 2015 Michael Cohen helped early Trump endorser and now-consummate supporter Jerry Falwell, Jr. make some embarrassing photos disappear. This is at least the third story Aram Roston has written on this saga (this one at Reuters, the earlier two when he was at Buzzfeed). Each has reported a series eye-popping or bizarre facts. But each also reads with the clear sense that Roston either knows more than he can write or believes there’s much more to the story than he can prove.
The Times is out with an extensive story based on newly obtained tax documents for President Trump … but they’re for 1985-1994, not more recent years. Still, it’s a key period in the making of the myth of Donald Trump, and far from being the dealmaking whiz of lore, he was declaring staggering losses, more than $1 billion over that stretch:
Below I mentioned this article penned by one of Vladimir Putin’s advisors claiming that the incoming Ukrainian President might cleanse eastern Ukraine of ethnic Russians and repopulate it with Jews. TPM Reporter Josh Kovensky speaks Russian (before coming to TPM he worked at the English language Kyiv Post in Ukraine) and he’s written this piece which goes deeper into what the article says and translates key parts of it. Must read.
Christopher Wray just confirmed, delicately, that in addition to the second Inspector General investigation, Bill Barr is personally looking into how the Russia probe began.
Wray: In addition to ongoing IG investigation "AG is seeking to understand better the circumstances at the department and the FBI relating to how this investigation started. And we're working to help him get that understanding. I think that's part of his job and part of my mine." pic.twitter.com/mrQhHCDuOc
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) May 7, 2019
At the risk of stating the obvious, we should take it as a given that if the 2020 presidential election ends with any plausible, colorable path to the US Supreme Court becoming involved in the outcome, the current majority will intervene and hand the president to President Trump. I don’t believe it is alarmist to say or hyperbolic to believe this. It is only to accurately set expectations. A far more legitimate, less corrupt court did as much in 2000. The current five are entirely different. Indeed, only one – Thomas – remains from the Bush v Gore majority.
After the release of the Mueller Report, we’re now in a welter of bad faith conspiracy theories about Deep State plots against then-candidate and now President Trump. Those smears are being operationalized in the hands of Attorney General Bill Barr who promises a personal investigation into these claims, accusations which have already been the explicit focus of an Inspector General’s report and implicitly the focus of the Special Counsel’s probe itself. There’s also a second Inspector General’s investigation into the same claims from an Inspector General who showed in his last exercise an extreme eagerness to find answers that would please the President. But I want to return to a more basic issue about the beginnings of the Russia probe that gets lost in criticisms both from Trump propagandists but also good faith and not unreasonable criticisms from Trump critics.
I don’t find this terribly surprising. But it is a highly notable, really key part of the broader debate about how the right-wing uses and distorts the debate over anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and religious diversity in the United States. The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding has a new public opinion report out on Islamophobia and Americans’ attitudes toward Muslims. The report covers a lot of ground and includes an easily accessible range of charts that makes it easy to dip into. I recommend it to you. What I want to focus on is one key finding: of all religious or ethnic groups in America, Jews have by far the most positive attitudes toward Muslims. Read More
I had a hard time knowing what to make of this profile of former racist and Breitbart reporter Katie McHugh in Buzzfeed. For a little background, McHugh was one of the countless racist provocateurs working at Breitbart or The Daily Caller in the early Trump years. Her claim to fame is that she got fired from Breitbart at a moment when it was repositioning from supporting journalists being 90% racist to only 70% racist. As the article explains, getting fired from Breitbart put her on the skids to more and more fringe outfits (a short run on holocaust denier Chuck Johnson’s site) and ultimately being out of work altogether. She now presents herself as reformed and no longer part of the alt-right.
I need to return to the fact that the country’s biggest paper reported this week that the President’s personal lawyer is conducting unofficial diplomacy abroad, apparently mixed with his own private business and investments, in which he offers friendly treatment from the President of the United States in exchange for those governments targeting the President’s political enemies. This was reported and it wasn’t the biggest story of the week. This is a far, far bigger deal than any other fears about future tampering in a US presidential election using Facebook ads. The stakes are much higher, the danger much greater, when the colluding candidate is also the President of the United States.
This is a classic case of refighting the last (2016) war, while the President is already on to entirely new kinds of corruption and bad acting made possible by holding the presidential bundle of powers. Read More