So much news emerged overnight that I’m not sure how much attention will get focused on this odd development in the George Papadopoulos case. Let me address it briefly. We knew little about George Papadopoulos until last October when his plea deal with the Special Counsel’s office revealed that he was a key point of contact with Russian operatives during the 2016 campaign. Later we learned that his inebriated discussion with an Australian diplomat was the trigger that launched the Russia probe in July of 2016. He made a deal, has been cooperating and recently the Special Counsel’s office filed court papers signaling he’s likely completed his cooperation and is ready for sentencing. All of this is what you’d expect for a cooperating witness. But last night, Papadopoulos’s wife was on Fox asking President Trump for a pardon and seemingly claiming that George had been set up. Read More
Hard not to notice that within the last 48 hours the President appears to be making a final break with Paul Manafort, now claiming the FBI should have warned him that Manafort was dirty and maybe in league with Russia or pro-Russian forces in Ukraine. (He’s hinted at similar logics before but never been quite this explicit about it.) He is also aggressively claiming an absolute right to pardon himself. Not only are these not the actions of an innocent man. They aren’t the actions of anyone who isn’t seeing their legal jeopardy rapidly increasing. It will be fascinating – in the future – to understand what developments were occurring in the background that made sense of these actions.
President Trump is up this morning with the audacious claim that he has an absolute power to pardon himself and that all legal scholars agree this is so. Needless to say there’s zero consensus on this point. It’s more of a conceptual black box. It’s not immediately clear what specific constitutional or historical fact would preclude a self-pardon. But I think I’m on safe ground asserting that most legal scholars would agree that this is clearly not the intended use of the power. Indeed, it puts the entire constitutional framework on its head. Below I note a column by Douglas Kmiec in which he notes that the same DOJ opinion which says a sitting President shouldn’t be indicted notes that a self-pardon is similarly a contradiction in terms.) But set that aside, because it’s preposterous that such a thing would even be considered. More salient is the question of whether a sitting President can even be indicted – which precedes the question of a pardon. Read More
Very interesting piece by our Investigations Desk reporter Tierney Sneed. The Special Counsel’s office does not leak and they’ve been famously good at keeping major components of their investigation totally under wraps. But in this piece, Tierney pulls together a series of hints and references in different court filings and arguments which seem to point to separate, on-going investigation into Manafort which is not connected to the various money laundering, bank fraud and failure to register charges he’s currently facing. Check it out here.
The issue of presidential pardons raises an important issue with “norms”. I have written many times over the years that Presidents don’t use the pardon power nearly enough. The pardon power is archaic and in some ways hard to reconcile with our modern concepts of justice and judicial process. But mercy is an important element of justice. Indeed, without a role for mercy there can be no justice. There are many people rotting in prison who shouldn’t be there, even if they were guilty of the crimes for which they were convicted. In the past, the pardon was used sometimes for reasons as simple as managing prison over crowding. Sentences do not need to be sacrosanct. The pardon power is a tool to cut through the harsh indifference of criminal law and right wrongs. Read More
There are people who get convicted of campaign finance violations who you can make a decent case got a raw deal, even if you think campaign finance law is an important democratic safeguard. Here at TPM, we covered a case like that closely: the prosecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman, a Democrat who was targeted by Karl Rove and some powerful state Republicans.
Dinesh D’Souza, who President Trump pardoned today, saying he was “treated very unfairly,” definitely doesn’t fall into that category. As Tierney Sneed explains, D’Souza knowingly had his mistress and his assistant make $10,000 contributions to a GOP candidate, with the understanding that he’d pay them back – a clear scheme to get around individual contribution limits. The mistress even told her husband, in a conversation he recorded, that D’Souza had told her that if caught, he planned to eventually plead guilty, though not before first trying to “get his story out there.” That “story,” it seemed, was that he had been targeted by the Justice Department because of his (unhinged and racist) attacks on President Obama – a claim the judge in the case called “nonsense.”
The D’Souza pardon affirms a basic point: the heart of Trumpism is not any policy but performative cruelty, inflicting maximum harm on those outside the tribal fold, and extending the benefits of power and the powers of state for those inside the fold. D’Souza is a loyalist so he gets rewarded with the prerogative power at the President’s discretion. The rationale isn’t legal. It is not in spite of but because of D’Souza’s racism and aggression. It is as simple as that.
TPM’s Cameron Joseph is spending the week in California (mostly in Orange County) where the state’s unusual jungle primary is severely complicating the strategies for both parties as they battle over a handful of seats that are prime Democratic pickup opportunities. Those dicey, cross-cutting strategic calculations are most glaring in Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s district, which has made strange bedfellows of the right-wing Russophile seeking his 16th term and national Democrats, as they both try to keep a second Republican out of the runoff. Great exploration of that race in Cam’s report this morning.
As you could probably tell if you read my morning item on Gene Freidman and Michael Cohen, I was struggling to figure out how the Michael Cohen raids were related to the much sweeter deal New York State prosecutors offered “Taxi King” Gene Freidman after April 9th. I think TPM Reader JO’s explanation makes perfect sense. In fact, it makes so much sense I’m really kicking myself for not figuring it out myself. But you can’t win ’em all.
From TPM Reader JO … Read More
This is a fascinating story from The Forward. Israeli has a new quasi-ministry called The Ministry for Strategic Affairs. It calls itself a “start-up” ministry and seems mainly focused on anti-BDS efforts, with at least some in Israel itself seeing it as a kind of rightist or pro-occupation political operation. But this story is about the fact that the ministry approached a number of top establishment Jewish groups in the US offering to fund anti-BDS efforts. Most or apparently all the groups turned down the money, though fundraising is of course a big deal for all these operations. The most immediate concern was that they would have to register as foreign agents under FARA – the law that’s gotten various Trumpers in hot water. Read More
I’ve gotten a lot of good tips on my question about social media and Internet experts with expertise from the military intelligence and civilian intelligence agency world. Keep them coming. I wanted to give you some information I got which provides some more clarity on the question and helped me better understand the outlines of the story. Read More
Here’s a question I’d like your help with. Some questions are so sprawling and broad there’s no better way to get started than to canvass TPM Readers. So here goes. One of Trump supporters’ zanier pushbacks has been this argument: In 2008 when Barack Obama was way ahead of the curve using the Internet to run a political campaign, it was treated as an example of how smart he was. When Donald Trump did the same thing in 2016, it was treated as an example of him doing something wrong.
That’s silly on a few different levels, since in most cases the discussions are about things the Trump campaign did that were either illegal or unethical. But I wonder if there’s something to it in this particular way. Read More
Okay, brash headline. But in addition to our subscriber-only Weekly Primers on Voting Rights and Democracy, The Battle Over Obamacare and the Trump/Russia Probe, we decided that we needed one just to stay up to date on the constant flow of scandals emanating from the Trump Cabinet, top White House staffers and basically everyone else Trump gets to appoint whether it’s EPA Chief Scott Pruitt, the un-leadered VA, the latest White House staffer fired for attacking someone or even the President himself trying to raise prices on Amazon because he’s upset with The Washington Post. So last Thursday we rolled out our newest Weekly Primer Trump Swamp, your weekly distillation of every key development over the last week in Trump administration corruption that isn’t tied to Russia.
Here’s is an absolutely fascinating piece that I recommend you read. It is one of those stories which is eye-popping in itself but also has a new dangling thread at every turn that just demands tugging. Let me try to summarize as concisely as I can a wild and detailed verging on tangled story.
Bruce Carter was a diehard Bernie supporter and a self-started adjunct of the Sanders campaign with a “Black Men for Bernie” campaign bus making the rounds and the case for Sanders. But the intensity and bitterness of the Democratic primary race followed by the revelations of the DNC/Wikileaks emails drove his enthusiasm for Bernie into a burning enmity toward Hillary Clinton. Enter Dustin Stockton, a Breitbart reporter who struck up a running conversation and courtship which eventually led to Carter rebranding as a pro-Trump advocate in August 2016. He hit key concentrations of African-American voters in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida telling African-Americans either to vote for Trump or not vote at all. How would Carter get the money? Stockton (and Bannon in the background) had well-heeled Trump supporters writing big checks. Read More
I’m not sure what makes this day any different. But I thought I’d begin by linking back to two posts I wrote at the beginning of the Trump Era – one the day after he was elected and the other the day he was inaugurated. I don’t know if you need it. But I think I must need it. In almost everything we do in life we face the constant peril of becoming overwhelmed and blinded by the flurry of contingent events and losing track of the larger story, our true goals, values, what is happening and our place in it. Read More
I’ve told you many times Prime, our subscription program, is critical to the future of TPM. We’re coming up on an important milestone of 27,000 subscribers. We are now just 44 27 members short, down from 89 when I first posted this. I often meet people who tell me “I haven’t gotten around to signing up for Prime yet.” I get it. Good chance I’d be in that camp too if I were a reader. It’s a pain to get out your wallet, type in the numbers. But as we go into the weekend, make today the day. It’s super important to our future. You get lots of great features, dramatically fewer ads and a rapidly growing package of stories and analyses that are only available to subscribers. Make it today: click here. Thanks.
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. Read More