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    • What we know about the potentially explosive letter Sen. Feinstein sent to the FBI about Brett Kavanaugh
      It seems to be about sexual misconduct, back when the Supreme Court nominee was in high school.
      VOX Li Zhouli Sep 13, 2018, 5:00pm EDT

      Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, has told the FBI something about Brett Kavanaugh.

      But she isn’t saying what. Feinstein put out a cryptic statement Thursday. “I have received information from an individual concerning the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court,” she said. “That individual strongly requested confidentiality, declined to come forward or press the matter further, and I have honored that decision. I have, however, referred the matter to federal investigative authorities.”

      The issue seems to be related to sexual misconduct. The Intercept’s Ryan Grim and HuffPost’s Igor Bobic, Amanda Terkel, Jennifer Bendery, Paul Blumenthal, and Ashley Feinberg reported Feinstein had received a letter from a California constituent about an incident that took place between Kavanaugh and a woman while the 53-year-old nominee was in high school. The New York Times’s Catie Edmondson and Nicholas Fandos, citing two officials familiar with the matter, said it was related to “possible sexual misconduct.”

      The White House argued that this was simply a last-ditch Democratic attempt to stymie Kavanaugh’s nomination. “Throughout his confirmation process, Judge Kavanaugh has had 65 meetings with senators — including with Senator Feinstein — sat through over 30 hours of testimony, addressed over 2,000 questions in a public setting and additional questions in a confidential session. Not until the eve of his confirmation has Sen. Feinstein or anyone raised the specter of new ‘information’ about him,” said White House spokesperson Kerri Kupec in a statement.

      The FBI says it has added the letter to Kavanaugh’s file. “Upon receipt of the information on the night of September 12, we included it as part of Judge Kavanaugh’s background file, as per the standard process,” an FBI spokesperson said.

      A representative for Committee Chair Chuck Grassley told CNBC that the panel currently intends to move forward with Kavanaugh’s confirmation process, which includes a committee vote set to take place next Thursday, September 20. “There’s no plan to change the committee’s consideration of Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination,” the spokesperson noted.

      Feinstein’s statement is the latest twist in an increasingly bitter fight over many aspects of Kavanaugh’s record and the handling of his confirmation process. Democrats have argued that Republicans’ efforts to obscure documents from Kavanaugh’s records have prevented them from fully vetting his experience on issues like Bush-era detainee policy and affirmative action. And they’ve questioned Kavanaugh aggressively about whether he knew about sexual misconduct allegations against retired federal judge Alex Kozinski, whom he clerked for.

      But many details are still unclear, including the crucial question of what Kavanaugh is accused of in the constituent’s letter — if he’s accused of anything at all.
      What we know

      So far, there are more questions than answers about what the letter is about. The letter itself is a secondhand account of an incident that hasn’t been described to reporters. Feinstein isn’t saying much: The Intercept reports that the letter had been causing a stir on Capitol Hill because she had refused to disclose it even to fellow Senate Democrats.

      The letter was from someone affiliated with Stanford University who had the incident involving Kavanaugh described to them, according to the Intercept. The letter was first sent to Rep. Anna Eshoo, who represents a major swath of the Bay Area including the area where Stanford is located. Eshoo shared it with Feinstein.

      Feinstein’s office declined to provide any additional comment on the letter, and Eshoo’s office said it has a confidentiality policy when it comes to casework involving constituents.

      The woman involved might have retained a lawyer, but that hasn’t been confirmed: The Intercept is reporting that Debra Katz, a DC-based civil rights attorney who had previously represented one of the women who brought abuse allegations against former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, is representing her.

      Katz was spotted leaving Capitol Hill on Wednesday evening, according to BuzzFeed, though she did not confirm her involvement when asked.
      Kavanaugh has said there should be no tolerance for sexual harassment

      Sexual harassment was brought up several times during Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing. He emphasized that sexual harassment should not be tolerated and made his promotion of female clerks a major cornerstone of his testimony.

      “[Sexual harassment is a] broad national problem that needs to be addressed, including in the judiciary,” Kavanaugh said during the confirmation hearing.

      As part of the panel, he was questioned repeatedly about his knowledge of numerous sexual misconduct allegations against Judge Kozinski, whom he had previously clerked under.

      Kozinski retired from his judgeship in December 2017 after multiple former employees said he showed them pornography, touched them inappropriately, or made inappropriate sexual comments to them. At least 15 women have made sexual misconduct allegations against Kozinski, which span decades.

      Kavanaugh emphasized that he did not witness any sexual misconduct during his time working with Kozinski and said he has no reason not to believe the women who’ve come forward.

      “It was a gut punch for me. It was a gut punch for the judiciary. I was shocked,” Kavanaugh said regarding his reaction to learning of the Kozinski allegations. “Disappointed, angry, swirl of emotions. No woman should be subject to sexual harassment in the workplace.”

      Kavanaugh, for now, is on course for a confirmation vote in the coming weeks. Grassley told BuzzFeed on Thursday that he had not personally seen the constituent letter and only knew of its existence via media reports that had been published. https://www.vox.com/2018/9/13/178559...ugh-fbi-letter

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      • The big question about Manafort’s reported plea deal with Mueller: will he cooperate?
        That is, will he flip on President Trump?
        VOX Andrew Prokop Updated Sep 13, 2018, 6:03pm EDT

        Paul Manafort’s lawyers have reached a tentative plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, ABC News reported Thursday evening. The deal is expected to be announced in court on Friday, and if it holds, it will stave off Manafort’s second trial, which was scheduled to begin later this month, as well as resolving 10 mistrial counts from his Virginia trial last month. CNN’s sources say a deal is “close” but not finalized.

        But there’s an enormously important question that remains unanswered: Will Manafort agree to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference — even if it means flipping on President Trump?

        According to an earlier report from John Santucci and Matthew Mosk of ABC News, this was a sticking point. Their sources claimed Mueller was “seeking cooperation from Manafort for information related to President Trump and the 2016 campaign.” However, they had added, “Manafort is resisting and his team is pushing prosecutors for a plea agreement that does not include cooperation, at least as related to the president.”

        Many have long speculated that the special counsel’s main aim in charging Manafort with financial and lobbying crimes was to pressure him to “flip” — so he’d agree to provide information related to their true concern of whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to interfere with the campaign.

        So far, though, Manafort hasn’t flipped, choosing to fight the charges in court, despite the apparent strength of the evidence against him. This has led to speculation that he’s really just holding out for a pardon from President Trump.

        Yet now Manafort’s Virginia trial has ended in an eight-count conviction, for which he’ll likely get a years-long prison sentence. After that, he still had one and potentially even two more expensive trials ahead. And no pardon has yet materialized. So for the first time, his team began seriously talking about striking a plea deal.

        It’s important to keep in mind, though, that not all plea deals require cooperation. A plea deal in which Manafort agrees to provide incriminating information about the president and Russia could be enormously consequential. A plea deal where Manafort makes no such commitment would be far less earth-shaking.
        Why Manafort may finally be ready for a plea deal

        Paul Manafort was first indicted by Mueller’s team in Washington, DC, last October — but unlike the other three Trump aides the special counsel has charged, who cut deals, he’s steadfastly maintained his innocence.

        In February, Mueller added a new set of charges against Manafort, which entailed a separate trial in Virginia. Around that time, Manafort’s longtime right-hand man Rick Gates, who’d been charged alongside him, flipped and agreed to cooperate with Mueller. Still, Manafort showed no sign of seeking a similar deal.

        Then in June, Mueller slapped Manafort with yet more charges — this time, for attempted witness tampering. Because this violated his conditions of release, Manafort was jailed on June 15. He’s now spent nearly three months incarcerated.

        Still, he tried his luck at fighting the Virginia charges in court in August, likely hoping it would end in a mistrial that could embarrass the Mueller investigation. Instead, he got convicted on eight counts (and a mistrial thanks to a single holdout juror on 10 other counts, which Mueller can still retry). Manafort hasn’t been sentenced yet, but his slim hope of avoiding a lengthy prison sentence now appears to be gone.

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        • Manafort Pt 2

          For months, President Trump has tried, using winks and nods, to signal that he’s open to pardoning Manafort. He’s pardoned some other high-profile conservative figures. He’s praised Manafort for remaining loyal and said he feels sad about what’s happening to him. Politico reported Thursday that Trump’s lawyers and Manafort’s have been part of a joint defense agreement together that lets them share information behind the scenes and keep it confidential. And last year, Trump’s then-lawyer John Dowd even reportedly floated the possibility of a pardon to Manafort’s lawyer.

          So far, however, that pardon is nowhere to be seen. Some believe Trump will offer it after the midterms. But that’s hardly a sure thing — after all, after the midterms are closer to Trump’s own reelection. Also, if Democrats take the House of Representatives, a post-midterm Manafort pardon could well lead to Trump’s impeachment.

          Manafort may also have money concerns — as Marcy Wheeler points out, a conviction in DC could lead to his having to forfeit millions in money or property. A pardon might not help with this.

          It wouldn’t be surprising, then, if Manafort is starting to feel a little lonely — and wondering whether that pardon will materialize after all. His legal fees have piled up. His assets are in danger. And now, the fact that his DC trial is scheduled to start on September 24 seems to have brought him to a decision point. If he’s hoping to get some of the charges dropped and some sentencing leniency, this might be his last chance.
          But the question is whether Mueller can accept what Manafort offers

          Now, it’s possible that Mueller’s team will agree to a plea deal with Manafort that doesn’t require his cooperation. Perhaps they feel they’ve got the conviction they’ve wanted from Manafort and are prepared to move to the next stage of their investigation, rather than spending weeks of their resources on another Manafort trial.

          Yet if the ABC News report is right, Mueller was disinclined to let Manafort off the hook too easily. Specifically, Santucci and Mosk’s sources claimed Mueller was seeking Manafort’s cooperation regarding Trump and the 2016 election.

          The leak could well have been coming from Manafort’s team, since these sources claimed Manafort was “resisting” a cooperation deal and “pushing” for one that wouldn’t require that, “at least as related to the president.”

          As former federal prosecutor Mimi Rocah pointed out on Twitter, the very framing of this was odd. “Prosecutors don’t say cooperate [about] one specific person,” she wrote. “They say cooperate, tell the truth about everything and everyone or no deal.” The idea that Manafort could cut a cooperation deal that wouldn’t require telling the truth about Trump doesn’t really make sense. The real question is whether he’d commit to cooperate, or not.
          What does Manafort know?

          Related to all this is the question of what, if anything, Manafort actually knows regarding collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the 2016 campaign.

          Manafort, of course, has said the answer is nothing. That no collusion happened, so he would naturally have no information on this to provide.

          But though we can’t say for sure, it seems likely that Mueller believes otherwise, given his intense focus on Manafort. And there are two curious happenings during the campaign in particular that Manafort is involved in.

          The Trump Tower meeting: For one, there’s that infamous meeting at Trump Tower that Donald Trump Jr. set up in June 2016 with a Russian lawyer and other Russia-tied figures. The three attendees of that meeting on the Trump side were Don Jr., Jared Kushner, and Manafort. No attendee has become a cooperator for Mueller. Perhaps the special counsel does think more remains to be learned about this meeting and hopes Manafort will tell him about it.

          Oleg Deripaska and Konstantin Kilimnik: Perhaps even more suspicious are Manafort’s surreptitious contacts with two Russian nationals during the campaign. There’s his former client, the oligarch Oleg Deripaska, to whom Manafort was heavily indebted. And there’s Manafort’s longtime business associate Konstantin Kilimnik, who Mueller’s team has said is tied to Russian intelligence.

          Just weeks after joining the Trump campaign, Manafort seemed to see an opportunity. He emailed Kilimnik in early April about his newly high media profile, writing, “How do we use to get whole,” and “Has OVD operation seen?” (Those are Deripaska’s initials.)

          Then in July 2016, Manafort and Kilimnik exchanged emails about Deripaska again, as the Washington Post and the Atlantic reported last year. “I am carefully optimistic on the issue of our biggest interest,” Kilimnik said. “He will be most likely looking for ways to reach out to you pretty soon.” Manafort wrote that if Deripaska “needs private briefings we can accommodate.”

          The pair’s emails on the topic grew vaguer and more cryptic as the summer continued. In late July, Kilimnik wrote to Manafort, “I met today with the guy who gave you your biggest black caviar jar several years ago. We spent about 5 hours talking about his story, and I have several important messages from him to you.” This, again, is believed to be about Deripaska, with “caviar” thought to be code for money.

          Kilimnik and Manafort arranged a meeting in New York City to discuss the matter on August 2 — Kilimnik wrote that he had a “long caviar story” to tell and “several important messages.”

          Days after the meeting, Deripaska took a yacht trip with Sergei Prikhodko, Russia’s deputy prime minister, who is focused on foreign policy. Again, all of this occurred while Manafort was chairing the Trump campaign, before his mid-August 2016 firing.

          Now, this year, Kilimnik seems keenly interested in keeping Manafort out of jail — he was indicted alongside Manafort for obstruction of justice in June, for allegedly trying to get witnesses to give a false story. Yet Kilimnik is unlikely to ever face those charges since he’s currently based in Moscow.

          We still don’t know what happened between Manafort, Kilimnik, and Deripaska during the campaign. Maybe this where the action on Trump campaign/Russia collusion happened. Or maybe Manafort was just freelancing and trying to get himself paid, and it doesn’t involve Trump personally. But it’s one of the biggest loose ends about what happened in 2016.

          In any case, the key thing to watch in reports of Manafort and Mueller’s plea deal is the cooperation aspect. Because if an eventual plea agreement requires cooperation, it could be a very big deal indeed. If a deal is in fact announced in court Friday, that’s when we’ll find out. https://www.vox.com/2018/9/13/178517...n-trump-russia

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          • The Friday Cover
            Trump’s Long War with Justice
            He fought the law—and won. Could he do it again?
            POLITICO MICHAEL KRUSE August 23, 2018

            In the year and seven months Donald Trump has been the president he has pummeled the Department of Justice on a nearly daily basis.

            He has put “Justice” in scare quotes on Twitter. He has called the department “an embarrassment” and its agents and those of the Federal Bureau of Investigation “hating frauds.” He repeatedly has described “discredited” special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe as a “Rigged Witch Hunt” run by “Thugs” and as a “sham” that “should be shut down.” On Thursday, he ratcheted up his sustained humiliation and denunciation of his own attorney general, questioning his manhood, his loyalty and his control over his agency, prompting Jeff Sessions, uncharacteristically, to lash back. This behavior, according to Justice officials, law professors and presidential historians I have spoken with, adds up to an “astonishing” “sledgehammer” attack on the “basic tenets of constitutional government”—unprecedented in the annals of the office he holds.

            It is by no means, however, unprecedented in the long life of Trump. He’s fought Justice before. In fact, the legal pressure exerted on him over the past year-plus by the special counsel constitutes a bookend of sorts to Trump’s career, which began much the same way—with a protracted, bitter battle with the DOJ and the FBI.

            In 1973, the federal government sued Trump and his father, alleging systematic racial discrimination in the rentals at their dozens of New York City apartment buildings. Often interpreted mostly as confirmation of Trump’s deep-seated racial animus, it is at this point perhaps better understood as the origin of his distrust of federal law enforcement. It is where he first learned to view the government not as a potential righter of wrongs but as an impediment to his business interests, not as a protector of less powerful citizens but as a meddlesome obstacle in his pursuit of profit. And it is where he first demonstrated how he would combat it—with the same unapologetic, counterpunching, deny-and-delay, distractions-laced playbook on display today. When Rudy Giuliani earlier this year tagged FBI officials as “storm troopers,” it was not the first time an attorney advocating for Trump had used that term in that way. That was Roy Cohn. In 1974. Long before Michael Cohen worked for Trump, the chief counsel of disgraced Joseph McCarthy’s red-baiting Senate subcommittee of 1950s infamy would become Trump’s most important adviser and most indispensable fixer—and the indelible Cohn-Trump mind meld of a partnership kick-started with this case.

            “For Trump, it’s always about winning and always attacking your enemy, and I think those are both things that were associated with Roy Cohn as well,” said Alan Dershowitz, the retired Harvard law professor and periodic Trump defender who is one of a dwindling number of people who knows Trump and knew Cohn, too.

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            • Trump's war w/DOJ Pt 2
              Louise Sunshine is another. When Sunshine, Trump’s first employee and one of his longest-running associates, went this past spring to a Broadway showing of Angels in America, she watched the Cohn character and couldn’t help but think of the actual man—and his protégé currently residing in the White House. “It took me back to the years when Donald, Roy Cohn and I used to sit at lunches at the 21 Club, time after time after time,” she told me. “And it totally brought back all the memories, and it brought back exactly who tutored Donald in ignoring the law, and not caring about the law—it was Roy Cohn. He had total disregard for the law—a disregard for the law which Donald has.”

              That disdain was evident as well to the people who prosecuted the discrimination case. “They never liked the government, and they had no respect for it,” said Elyse Goldweber, a former DOJ attorney. She recalls vividly Trump’s Cohn-goaded attitude: “Who are these people, the government, to tell me what to do?”

              The accepted narrative of this case is that Trump and his father lost. The DOJ did indeed notch what it considered a victory—a consent decree mandated the company rent to more tenants who weren’t white. But looked at slightly differently, it was every bit a triumph for Trump, too. Typically seen as a not-quite-two-year episode more or less confined to the mid-’70s, the saga actually lasted for almost a decade. The government ascertained quickly that the Trumps had failed to adhere to the terms of the decree and had apparently little

              intention of ever complying. A revolving-door roster of exasperated prosecutors, stymied by Cohn’s shameless, time-buying tactics, found it practically impossible to enforce the specifics of their “win.” And Trump simply waited them out. He emerged in Manhattan, his reputation virtually unscathed, to wrest unparalleled public subsidies to convert the collapsing Commodore Hotel into the glossy Grand Hyatt and then pry additional tax cuts to erect Trump Tower—the one-two punch of projects that constituted rocket propellant for Trump’s entire adult existence. His monetary wealth. His life-force celebrity. His extraordinary presidency.

              ***
              Racist landlords were so common in 1968, the year the Fair Housing Act was passed, there was no way the DOJ could possibly prosecute them all—so the agency frequently picked, according to a high-ranking official from that era, the cases that offered the most overwhelming and egregious evidence. Not everybody agreed with this strategy, said Robert Schwemm, a law professor at the University of Kentucky and an expert on housing discrimination. “Some did criticize DOJ for only bringing ‘sure winners,’” he told me. The United States v. Fred Trump, Donald Trump and Trump Management, Inc., was one such example.

              The details of the government’s allegations, which were covered at length by major national news organizations when Trump was running for president, should be familiar to all American citizens. Trump Management controlled more than 14,000 apartments in Brooklyn, Staten Island and Queens, and employees told investigators they had been instructed to mark with a “No. 9” or a “C” applications of “colored” people in an effort to rent almost entirely to “Jews and executives,” according to the records. The company, they said, “discouraged rental to blacks.” Black people were told apartments weren’t available that were then rented to white people the next day. Black “testers” from the Urban League were denied rentals. White ones were not. “The defendants,” prosecutors wrote, “have discriminated against persons because of race.” One employee told Goldweber he was worried the Trumps would have him “knocked off” for talking.

              Two years before, Samuel LeFrak, a competitor who owned sprawling LeFrak City in Queens, had settled a similar suit quickly and relatively amenably.

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              • Trumps''s war w/DOJ Pt 3
                Not the Trumps.

                “Major Landlord Accused Of Antiblack Bias in City,” read the headline on the front page of the New York Times. The 27-year-old president of Trump Management raged against the charges. “They are absolutely ridiculous,” Donald Trump said.

                He hired Cohn.

                Cohn, who had returned to New York after his work with McCarthy, had established himself as a fearsome fixture in his native city. “A scoundrel,” in the estimation of his biographer, Nicholas von Hoffman. “Pure evil,” thought onetime New York Post Page Six reporter Susan Mulcahy. “One of the most despicable people in American history,” according to former Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank. But also, said Liz Smith, the gossip columnist, Cohn was “the greatest scrapper and fighter who ever lived.” Esquire called him “a legal executioner.” The National Law Journal labeled him an “assault specialist.”

                What, Trump wanted to know when he met him at Le Club, should he do about this DOJ case?

                “Tell them to go to hell,” Cohn told Trump, “and fight the thing in court.”

                ***
                This was not happening in a vacuum. The DOJ announced the suit on October 15, 1973. And the backdrop against which the case started to unspool presents a remarkable and seldom-noted historical concurrence. Five days after the filing came President Richard Nixon’s fateful “Saturday Night Massacre.” He fired special counsel Archibald Cox, triggering the principled resignations of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus and ultimately the impeachment proceedings that precipitated Nixon’s own forced exit from office the following August—literally the last time the country had a president who so brazenly tested the rule of law and the limits of his power. “A government of laws,” Richardson would write, “was on the verge of becoming a government of one man.”

                Nothing in the public record from that time that I could find indicates what Trump thought about Nixon in the context of Watergate—although it’s worth noting he registered as a Republican in the aftermath of the 1968 election, according to the reporting of biographer Wayne Barrett, before being variously a Democrat and unaffiliated and a member of the Independence Party in subsequent years—but Cohn, a registered Democrat and self-described conservative, was a Nixon supporter and friend.

                Cohn, Dershowitz said, “knew everybody”—the possessor of a vast network of contacts spanning politics and sports, the media, the Mafia and more. “Those he didn’t know,” gossip columnist Cindy Adams once wrote, “didn’t matter.” And Cohn knew Nixon. And Nixon knew Cohn. In 1953, when Cohn had shown up in Washington, he was feted at a party by a passel of D.C. somebodies—including 20 U.S. senators, FBI potentate J. Edgar Hoover … and Nixon, then the vice president. In 1971, in his book titled A Fool for a Client, Cohn had channeled Nixon, siding with “the silent majority” of “millions of middle-of-the-road Americans.” And that fall of ’73, at a soiree marking his silver anniversary as an attorney, Cohn received a telegram from Nixon, wishing him “heartiest congratulations and best wishes.”

                Now, entering the thick of Watergate, Cohn came to the defense of the president—by attacking the Department of Justice.

                “Cox was nothing but a Kennedy hatchet man,” he told a Gannett News Service reporter. “I’m delighted Nixon had the guts to get rid of him.”

                He continued: “An even better development was getting rid of Elliot Richardson at the same time. How did Richardson become an overnight hero? This is not a man who rendered a lifetime of distinguished service in the Justice Department.”

                And he called for an end to the investigation of Nixon. Reading comments Cohn made then, it can be uncanny how much they sound like Trump and his allies now. “Despite a year of investigation, the president is yet to be connected with a single crime,” Cohn said. “Watergate has been beaten to death.”

                Cohn’s record of anti-government sentiment was well-established. He had been McCarthy’s “real brain,” in the judgment of Time. And from the mid-1960s to the early ’70s, he had been indicted four times on charges ranging from perjury to fraud to extortion but always was acquitted, plus one mistrial. He complained about a “vendetta” led by the Manhattan district attorney and “that big, wide establishment out there closing in,” as he once put it. He was also an incorrigible tax cheat, in part because he “got tired of supporting our welfare and food stamp programs,” he wrote.

                Fred Trump, too, had had his public-sector run-ins. Slapped twice for looting public coffers to turn a private profit, he had testified in Washington in the 1950s before U.S. senators who were “amazed and aghast” at such business practices and then state investigators in the ’60s who berated his approach as “unconscionable” and “outrageous.”

                The Trump scion, still well short of 30, had none of this history, but he counted his father and his attorney as his two most significant teachers. And now—again—the government was the enemy. Cohn went to work mounting a defense that would double as a tutorial.

                The DOJ had a sense of what was coming. Cohn, department brass believed, was not so much a diligent litigator as an unremitting and contemptuous grandstander. This quick-study scouting report was spot on.

                Cohn denied—with a vengeance.

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                • Trump's war w/DOJ Pt 4
                  The DOJ had targeted Trump Management, Cohn said in his initial affidavit, because of its size—“one of the largest in its field.” He said “the Government” “has damaged the defendants” and was seeking “the capitulation” of his clients. The Trumps, he said, would not submit in “subservience to the Welfare Department.” In his affidavit, Trump was similarly vitriolic, calling the charges “such outrageous lies.” Saying the allegations were “irresponsible and baseless” and the suit itself was “something that goes beyond an abusive process,” they countersued—for an absurd yet headline-generating $100 million. Prosecutors called it “patently frivolous.” The judge agreed. “You’d be wasting time and paper from what I consider the real issues,” he told Cohn in court.

                  Cohn delayed—not by filing motions so much as by doing nothing.

                  The DOJ records in 1974 reflect a growing annoyance with Cohn and the Trumps. “Defendants have wholly ignored two deadlines”; “Defendants’ noncompliance … blithe disregard”; They “were not in the process of answering the interrogatories and were unsure of when they would begin answering them.”

                  And Cohn distracted—injecting into the proceedings politically blistering language, accusing prosecutor Donna Goldstein of conducting a “Gestapo-like investigation” with “undercover agents” from the assisting FBI “marching around,” wiretapping the Trump offices, “storm troopers banging on the doors and demanding to be allowed to swarm haphazardly through all the Trump files.” He tried to get her held in contempt of court.

                  “Roy,” Norman Goldberg, a DOJ prosecutor on the case, told me, “created all kinds of havoc,” doing “all kinds of nasty things.”

                  Forced by Cohn to defend themselves, Goldstein and the DOJ denied “each and every allegation of improper conduct.” Frank Schwelb, Goldstein’s supervisor, was the lead DOJ attorney on the case. His Czech father was a Jewish human rights lawyer in Prague who had been arrested in 1939 by Adolf Hitler’s actual Gestapo—facts he didn’t mention in his rebuttals in a hearing that October. “Unlike the defense counsel,” Schwelb said, “we do not treat this as a minor matter but with the greatest of seriousness.” Read with the knowledge of his past, there are parts of the transcript that feel particularly poignant: “That count about storm troopers and Gestapo raids,” said Schwelb, who was 7 when his father was taken, “recalls the eerie atmosphere of never-never land.”

                  The judge again sided with the plaintiffs, and chided Cohn. “This,” he said, “is the first time it has ever been brought to my attention that anyone has charged an FBI agent or agents in a civil matter with some kind of conduct that could be described as storm trooper or Gestapo-type conduct.”

                  The consent decree finally was signed in June 1975. The DOJ allowed the Trumps to sign it without admitting guilt, which was not out of the ordinary, but it nonetheless codified that the Trumps were “prepared to affirmatively assume and carry out the responsibility for assuring that their employees will comply with the Act.” The Trumps agreed that they would notify the Open Housing Center with preferential vacancies, post fair housing signs in their rental offices, put more and bigger ads in a wider variety of newspapers and bearing the words “Equal Housing Opportunity,” hire and promote more minorities and self-report to the DOJ their progress with regular, detailed accountings of applications and rentals with breakdowns based on race.

                  “Grossly unfair,” Roy Cohn complained. “Burdensome,” Fred Trump groused. “Onerous,” Donald Trump said of the ads. In the next day’s newspapers, though, he declared victory.

                  “This is a landmark settlement,” Trump told the Daily News, “in that it upholds the right of real estate owners who abide by the provisions of the Fair Housing Act from being harassed for alleged discrimination without supporting facts or documentation.”

                  ***

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                  • Trump's war w/DOJ Pt 5
                    This wasn’t just spin or an early iteration of what would become Trump’s definitional practice of claiming wins no matter what the scoreboard said. The consent decrees in these cases were not self-executing, a top DOJ official from the time told me. That meant they relied to some extent on a sense of contrition and a measure of good faith cooperation from those who signed them. The Trumps wouldn’t exhibit much of either. It became apparent almost immediately.

                    The initial compliance report from Trump Management arrived at the DOJ in late September. The agency’s assessment: “the defendant has not fully complied.” The Trumps had not taken “adequate steps to prevent a recurrence,” Schwelb wrote to the judge. He sounded a grim note about their attorney: “Our past history of dealings with Mr. Cohn makes the prospect of negotiations with him an unattractive one.”

                    He wasn’t exaggerating. Post-decree, Cohn’s dithering descended into what might have been slapstick had the underlying matter been less serious.

                    His letters are littered with a kind of smirking, catch-me-if-you-can panache. “I am leaving for the holidays shortly, and probably cannot get back to you”; “Mr. Cohn,” he had an assistant write, “is currently in South America”; “I am deluged with court engagements and I must make a short trip to Europe.” This went on for years.

                    By contrast, constrained by an expectation of civility and a certain shared set of norms, the government’s attorneys seemed always and inevitably at a disadvantage. “We understand and sympathize with the pressures of your schedule,” wrote a pair of new prosecutors, the case now having stretched into its third presidential administration. It was March of 1978. They warned Cohn they were preparing a motion for supplemental relief, based on a belief “that an underlying pattern of discrimination continues to exist in the Trump Management organization.”

                    The DOJ players changed, but Cohn didn’t.

                    “I’m going to the Cape …”

                    “… we have heard nothing from you.”

                    “I am going to think about it over the holidays …”

                    “Despite repeated attempts to contact you …”

                    “I have your letter of June 19, 1979, and am answering it en route from New York to Mexico …”

                    With Cohn running smug interference in the face of the prospect of ramped-up sanctions, what Trump essentially was saying to the government was: Make me.

                    The government was forced to respond over time with what in some sense amounted to a disheartening concession: We can’t.

                    “Ultimately,” a DOJ attorney who worked on the case told me, “it kind of went away without any further action. … It kind of petered out.”

                    “A subsequent attempt to obtain supplemental relief in this case several years ago died a slow death,” a prosecutor wrote in the brief DOJ document closing the case, “because of lack of evidence and the affirmative terms of the original decree have long since expired. We have received no discrimination complaints against Trump for many years.”

                    It was April of 1982—going on nine years since the suit was first filed. The official end was muted to the point of irrelevant.

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                    • Trump's war w/DOJ Pt 6
                      Trump was busy finalizing approvals to open his first Atlantic City casino and preparing for a topping-off ceremony for Trump Tower, which the AIA Guide to New York City proclaimed “flamboyant, exciting and emblematic of the American Dream.” The next year, he posed for Town & Country in front of the looming structure that made him famous. The year after that, GQ put him on its cover and said in a headline, “Donald Trump Gets What He Wants.”

                      And he had.

                      “A spit in the ocean,” Cohn once said of the DOJ race case.

                      Who could say he wasn’t right?

                      “Did Trump get nailed? No. He basically got out of it,” Cohn cousin David Lloyd Marcus told me recently. “The lesson to Trump: … the law doesn’t matter, the government’s mission doesn’t matter—it’s who can be the biggest blusterer and bull****ter.”

                      ***
                      From that point on, up until these past couple of years, Trump had comparatively scant interest in, or interaction with, the Department of Justice. In 1993, the DOJ was forced to refute Trump’s groundless, self-serving comments to a Capitol Hill committee about “rampant” Mafia infiltration of Indian casinos—which he saw as competition for his own. In 2011, in the raw aftermath of his first foray into birtherism, Trump tweeted that Barack Obama “has sold guns to Mexican drug lords while his DOJ erodes our 2nd Amendment rights.” During his presidential campaign, of course, Trump complained mostly not that the DOJ was going too hard on him but that it wasn’t going hard enough on his opponent, Hillary Clinton. “That the leadership of the FBI and the Department of Justice let Clinton off the hook for her crimes against our nation is one of the saddest moments in the history of our country,” he said in a speech in Florida in late October 2016. “The political leadership of the Department of Justice is trying as hard as they can to protect their angel, Hillary,” he said in a speech in Ohio in the first week of November. It was a line he used again and again in the days leading up to his election.

                      Overall, though, the sparseness of his comments about the DOJ over the years—a sharp contrast to his innumerable complaints, for instance, about other countries taking advantage of the U.S. and laughing about it—suggests Trump harbors no long-term ideological beef so much as a stubborn lack of deference.

                      “It’s self-preservation,” said Goldweber, one of the attorneys who started the prosecution of the case against the Trumps.

                      “Transactional, as ever,” Trump biographer Gwenda Blair told me.

                      “I don’t think he’s ideological. I think he’s tactical,” added Peter Zeidenberg, a former DOJ prosecutor during the George W. Bush administration, “and so he attacks whatever system that’s causing him problems.”

                      “Distractions, poking people in the eye rather than dealing in any genteel process designed to get to facts,” said Goldberg, the prosecutor from the Trump case. “It’s Roy’s playbook, the way he deals with any adversity, or any challenge.”

                      Benjamin Wittes, the editor in chief of Lawfare and a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, isn’t sure a distinction between whether Trump is self-preservational or philosophical at this stage is even especially meaningful.

                      “When you take the position … that the rules don’t matter to me,” he said, “… and when you do that in an active, public sort of way, because, say, you’re a major political figure, that comes to have a political valence which you might call ideology of its own.”

                      The better question might be whether Trump in essence can run out the clock in the current situation, too, the way he did in the DOJ case with Cohn’s help more than 30 years ago.

                      Zeidenberg thinks no: “There’s too much public scrutiny. If there is an indictment by Mueller that identifies key people around him for conspiring with Russians, there’s no clock for him to run out.”

                      “At some point, he’s going to complete his investigation, and he’s going to deliver a report,” Lawrence Douglas, an Amherst College professor of law, jurisprudence and social thought, said of Mueller. At which point Trump will do … what? “He will just engage in a scorched-earth campaign in order to preserve himself, and that, I think, is horrifying. He’s willing to really hold an entire democracy hostage to his narcissism and his instincts for self-preservation.”

                      It’s one thing Nixon—at least in the end—wasn’t willing to do.

                      “What Nixon and Trump have in common is an instrumental view of law enforcement, that it should be at their political beck and call and that they should be protected from it. What they don’t have in common is shame about that,” Wittes said. “So Nixon never did any of that stuff in public, you know, and talked about law enforcement in a very conventional fashion. What’s interesting about Trump—and what’s different about Trump—is that he reads the stage directions. He’s subtext-less. And so, if he believes law enforcement should be politicized, he just says it.”

                      “They’re both authoritarian personalities,” John W. Dean, Nixon’s White House counsel, who flipped on him and cooperated with prosecutors, told me. But there’s a key difference: “Trump is an out-front authoritarian. We wouldn’t have known of Nixon’s authoritarianism but for the tapes.”

                      “The broader point is that Nixon’s hypocrisy was itself an acknowledgement of those norms and rules. The fact that he lied and didn’t say certain things, didn’t admit certain things, was because he knew what the rules were. He violated them, but he violated them in ways that acknowledged them,” Wittes added.

                      “Trump,” he said, “is more nihilistic than that.” https://www.politico.com/magazine/st...ent-war-219592

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                      • Paul Manafort’s flip is a major turning point in the Mueller investigation
                        Mueller has been seeking this for nearly a year. Now he’s got it. What’s next?
                        VOX Andrew Prokop Sep 14, 2018, 3:20pm EDT

                        Paul Manafort’s new agreement to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation marks a major, and potentially crucial, turning point for the Russian interference probe.

                        Since Mueller’s appointment in 2017, he has focused more of his office’s public activity on Manafort than any other single person. He indicted the former Trump campaign chair on 25 charges, in three separate batches and across two venues. In the first trial stemming from his probe, his team got Manafort convicted on eight counts.

                        All along there’s been something odd about this focus, because the many charges against Manafort were not directly about Mueller’s central task: investigating Russian interference with the 2016 campaign. Instead, they were mainly about Manafort’s past unregistered foreign lobbying work and his finances.

                        Mueller has not publicly explained his strategy. But it was widely believed that he was using these separate charges to pressure Manafort to cooperate in the Russia investigation — even to flip on President Donald Trump himself. And on Friday, Mueller finally landed that cooperation.

                        The deal resolves all the pending charges against Manafort, effectively clearing the decks for both him and the Mueller investigation, moving the probe into a new phase, and delivering its highest-profile cooperator yet.

                        What, exactly, will come next isn’t yet clear. But who, after all, is a bigger fish than Manafort that he could provide information about — other than President Trump?

                        The Mueller charges so far, explained

                        In May 2017, Mueller was appointed to investigate Russian interference with the 2016 election, including potential connections to the Trump campaign.

                        What’s happened since has been rather complex — indictments of or guilty pleas from 32 people and three companies.

                        In retrospect, though, we can break down the charges so far into two major categories.

                        Pressuring former Trump aides to cooperate: Mueller seems to have started off by trying to “flip” key Trump associates, getting them to agree to plea deals in which they’d cooperate.

                        Four people fall into this category. George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn both struck plea deals after admitting lying to the FBI about their contacts with Russians. Then Paul Manafort and Rick Gates both struck plea deals after being charged in relation to their Ukrainian lobbying work (though it took a while, and a conviction on eight counts, until Manafort did).

                        The results varied a bit. Mueller’s team recently washed their hands of Papadopoulos, claiming he didn’t end up providing any information of use. Flynn and Gates, however, have been cooperating for months now.

                        Now there’s Manafort, whose cooperation has only just begun. This resolves the final loose end from those initial charges Mueller’s team brought last year. And given the amount of resources and hours Mueller’s team poured into the Manafort prosecutions, it certainly seems that they believe he’s quite important to their investigation overall.

                        Charges of overseas Russians for election interference: The second big batch of Mueller charges so far are in his two high-profile of indictments of Russians for allegedly interfering with the campaign.

                        There are two big cases in this category — the “Russian troll farm” indictment (alleging a social media propaganda effort aimed at influencing the election) and the email hacking indictment (alleging that 12 Russian intelligence officers were involved in hacking and leaking Democrats’ emails).

                        Mueller’s strategy here seemed to be to document certain facts about Russian interference in public charging documents.

                        He likely didn’t expect either of these cases to go to trial, since the indicted Russians wouldn’t come to the US to face charges. However, one company involved in the troll farm case has been fighting the charges and could force a trial.

                        In any case, Mueller has handed off both of these Russian cases to others in the Justice Department. He has, it seems, cleared his plate for what comes next.
                        So what comes next?

                        As serious as the above charges are, none of them directly allege that Trump associates criminally conspired with Russians to interfere with the 2016 election.

                        However, many believe that Mueller is using these indictments essentially as building blocks for his larger case on that central matter. He’s lined up his cooperating former Trump aides, and he’s indicted some Russians. It would seem natural for the next step to be connecting those two threads.

                        Indeed, reports sourced to people interviewed by Mueller’s team (and government officials the team has contacted) have made clear the special counsel has been delving deep into Trump and his associates’ ties to Russia.

                        The apparent goal has been to understand whether a conspiracy to interfere with the 2016 election did take place, and if so, what it entailed. The topics they’ve dug into include:

                        The Trump Tower meeting: In June 2016, Donald Trump Jr. eagerly accepted an invitation to meet with a Russian delegation at Trump Tower to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, which was said to be part of the Russian government’s support for Trump. Paul Manafort attended too. So far, all parties have denied that it resulted in much of anything.
                        The Trump Organization: Earlier this year, Mueller’s team subpoenaed Trump’s business for documents, including some related to Russia, the New York Times reported.
                        Russian oligarchs: Mueller’s team surprised two Russian oligarchs at US airports this year, and questioned them about their ties to people in Trump’s orbit. He seized electronic devices from one oligarch. Manafort, too, was trying to get in touch with a Russian oligarch during the campaign.
                        The Trump campaign’s digital operation: Mueller’s team interviewed people involved with Trump’s digital team with an eye toward understanding whether they’d coordinated with Russian online efforts, Yahoo News and ABC News have reported.
                        Trump’s inauguration: The special counsel has also investigated Russia-tied donations to Trump’s inaugural committee, and the “unusual access” that certain Russians got to inaugural events, per ABC News.
                        The Seychelles meeting and Gulf money: Shortly before Trump’s inauguration, a donor of his (Erik Prince) held a mysterious meeting in Seychelles with a Russian fund manager. The meeting was facilitated by the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates and his adviser, George Nader. It has also emerged that after Don Jr.’s Russian meeting at Trump Tower, he held another meeting about election assistance — with Prince and Nader. Mueller’s team served Nader with a subpoena in the US and has brought him before the grand jury. Keep an eye on this one.
                        Roger Stone’s associates: Particularly in the past few months, Mueller has sought to question many people in the orbit of longtime on-and-off Trump adviser Roger Stone. Stone was in contact with WikiLeaks and the Guccifer 2.0 persona (which was run by Russian intelligence) during the campaign, making him a figure of interest in the question of whether Trump associates were involved in the release of those stolen Democratic emails.
                        Obstruction of justice: On top of that, there is Mueller’s investigation into whether President Trump obstructed justice while in office — in pressuring then-FBI Director James Comey to drop an investigation into Michael Flynn, later firing Comey, pressuring Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and a plethora of other actions. The special counsel’s team interviewed many current and former White House and administration officials about these topics last year.

                        Which of these, if any, will result in further charges remain unclear. It’s also not known for sure whether Mueller is preparing some sort of lengthy report on President Trump and Russian interference — perhaps to be sent to Congress for potential impeachment — or whether the next step is more indictments.

                        But Manafort could know a whole lot about any of these avenues of investigation. He chaired the Trump campaign, attended the Trump Tower meeting, was a longtime business partner of Roger Stone, and had worked for a Russian oligarch. Manafort could be very helpful for whatever Mueller has in mind.

                        So now we wait for the special counsel’s next move. https://www.vox.com/2018/9/14/178505...r-trump-russia

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                        • Mueller Investigation
                          Manafort's deal reins in a pardon's impact
                          Several aspects of the Mueller Russia probe's latest bombshell plea deal could stymie any pardon granted by the president. But Trump may not care.
                          POLITICO JOSH GERSTEIN 09/14/2018 09:25 PM EDT

                          The plea deal special counsel Robert Mueller granted to Paul Manafort on Friday appears built to be pardon-proof.

                          That doesn’t mean President Donald Trump won’t try to legally absolve Manafort anyway, a step the president has considered taking for months. But Friday‘s events mean Trump’s ability to contain the legal damage from his former campaign chairman is now severely limited.

                          Two new factors appear to stymie the impact of a potential Trump pardon for Manafort.

                          The first is that Manafort is already talking. One obvious rationale for a pardon would be to reward Manafort for holding out against Mueller’s pressure for cooperation in building a case against the president or those close to him. But Manafort’s lead lawyer said Friday his client has already cooperated with Mueller’s team, and Friday’s plea agreement says that Manafort "shall cooperate fully, truthfully, completely and forthrightly with the Government and other law enforcement authorities identified by the Government in any and all matters to which the Government deems the cooperation relevant.”

                          Even if Trump might have hoped to stop Manafort from singing, Friday’s plea suggests he has already reached the first chorus.

                          The pivotal questions Mueller’s lawyers want to ask — including about a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians attended by Manafort along with Donald Trump Jr. and the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner — have likely already been asked and answered with Manafort’s testimony locked in.

                          "Mueller likely already has all of Manafort's information," former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara tweeted Friday. "You get the information before you offer the agreement."

                          Some attorneys also believe the deal Mueller gave Manafort — accepting a guilty plea to just two of seven charges he was facing — signals that the former Trump campaign chief didn't just agree to answer prosecutors' questions but produced answers Mueller's team found useful to some aspect of a case it is actively pursuing.

                          "It certainly seems like Manafort had to give up something to prosecutors," Fordham law professor Jed Shugerman said. "One way or another, Manafort has given information significant enough to get a deal that would benefit him."

                          Second, Mueller managed to get concessions from Manafort that limit the value of any pardon. Manafort admitted guilt on virtually all of the charges he faced in both Washington, D.C., and Virginia, including a slew of bank fraud charges. Each of those admissions could give state or local prosecutors a potential charge against Manafort that would survive even in the event of a Trump pardon, since he can pardon only federal offenses.

                          "By admitting to all of the facts in both indictments, the conviction is pardon proof in the sense that if Trump ever pardoned Manafort, a state attorney general could take Manafort’s admissions in the plea and use them to indict Manafort for state charges," former Watergate prosecutor Nick Akerman said.

                          The steps Mueller's lawyers have taken mean a pardon won’t likely be a particularly effective way of discouraging Manafort from offering Mueller whatever Manafort has that might be incriminating toward Trump, Trump Jr., Kushner or others.

                          However, if Trump wants to pardon out of mercy or spite, he will still have the power to do so. Such a move could immediately trigger Manafort’s release from jail and relieve him of the duty to turn over tens of millions of dollars in property and bank accounts to the government. State authorities may catch up with Manafort, but precisely how that will play out is uncertain.

                          Even wording a pardon to relieve Manafort of not just any federal prison sentence but also his agreed forfeitures of property and cash could be complicated.

                          "A full and unconditional pardon ought by rights cover any court-imposed penalty, but it would be advisable if it specifically addressed the financial penalties that have been levied. It may not be necessary but it would certainly be prudent," said Margaret Love, who served as the Justice Department's top pardon attorney under President George H.W. Bush and President Bill Clinton. "If this were my client, I would want this all nailed down right in the pardon document."

                          Some observers believe Trump's lawyers may consider a Manafort pardon such a bad idea that they would be unwilling to go to those lengths to craft one, particularly because Mueller and Democrats in Congress could see the move as obstruction of justice.

                          "I don't think Trump has the legal skill to do it himself," said Shugerman. "And if you're [White House lawyers] Don McGahn or Emmett Flood, there's a certain line you don't want to cross."

                          During a 35-minute presentation to U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson as Manafort sat listening nearby, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann seemed to highlight the mundane fact that the former Trump campaign chair had agreed he was guilty of the seven bank fraud charges the jury had deadlocked on in the Virginia case.

                          "There are other parts of the statement of offense that don't relate to a plea of guilty here, but are admissions by the defendant to all of the remaining bank fraud counts on which the jury was hung in the Eastern District of Virginia," Weissmann said. "They are set out in writing."

                          Manafort's agreement on that point could be critical to pursuing state cases against him if Trump grants a federal pardon. Many of the other charges against Manafort, like money laundering, were incorporated in the broad "conspiracy against the United States" charge he pleaded guilty to Friday. Because of laws in some states aimed at preventing state and federal prosecution for the same crimes, that wording might be enough to block some states from prosecuting him over those issues.

                          However, as Weissmann emphasized, Manafort's admission to the bank fraud allegations was not part of any specific charges he pleaded guilty to Friday.

                          "It seems to preserve those charges and create an opportunity for future state prosecution," Shugerman said. "It preserves Illinois, California, New York, Virginia as well as Florida as potential jurisdictions to go after him on state charges."

                          Other uncertainties remain about a potential pardon. It might nullify Manafort's obligation under the deal to cooperate with the feds, but a pardon could also make it easier to force him to testify in front of a grand jury since there would no longer be a threat of federal criminal prosecution. However, the state prosecution threat would likely still be viable. It's unclear whether a federal judge would force Manafort to testify under those circumstances. It seems likely he would be required to testify, with the consequence for any state prosecution to be sorted out later.

                          It could also be tricky for Trump to block any forfeitures of property or money Manafort has agreed to. Experts say the forfeitures don't usually kick in formally until a defendant is sentenced. Manafort's sentencings could be months or years away. Language in Manafort's plea documents seems to leave open the possibility that prosecutors could bring civil litigation to take the funds and property even if the criminal proceedings come to an abrupt end.

                          Some experts say Trump can use executive clemency to block that, too.

                          "The pardon power does in fact extend to any sort of penalty imposed by the government, civil or criminal. A lot of early cases involved pardons to release ships that had been forfeited in what we would now regard as civil process," Love said.

                          But others say Trump's authority to do that through clemency is less clear. He might have to order his Justice Department to abandon such an effort.

                          "Where the assets are subject to civil forfeiture, it's not clear a pardon would immediately expunge that part of the plea," Shugerman said. "We're in uncharted territory. ... There is no precedent for this."

                          Another question is whether it's ethical for prosecutors to try to structure a plea deal in a way that seems intended to frustrate the president's constitutional power to issue pardons.

                          One prominent legal ethicist, New York University law professor Stephen Gillers, called such crafting "entirely appropriate." He noted that the Supreme Court declared more than 80 years ago that prosecutors' duty is to ensure "that guilt shall not escape nor innocence suffer."

                          "I think Mueller can insist on sworn admissions that would establish a violation of state as well as federal law," Gillers said. "It is important that the plea deal include conspiracy to launder money and lots of it, to the point of kleptomania. The charge is supported with abundant factual detail, which I think will make it very hard to suggest that Manafort is an innocent man."
                          https://www.politico.com/story/2018/...-pardon-825751

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                          • Elections
                            The biggest threat to the GOP majority no one’s talking about
                            Forty-four House Republicans are heading for the exits, and almost half of their seats have become top Democratic targets.
                            POLITICO ELENA SCHNEIDER 09/14/2018 05:03 AM EDT

                            ISSAQUAH, Wash. — A glut of GOP retirements has House Republicans defending a record number of open seats this fall — further fueling the odds of a Democratic takeover.

                            Of the 44 districts left open by incumbents who are retiring, resigning or seeking higher office, Democrats are targeting almost half of them. They need to gain 23 seats to win the House majority.

                            The open seats may be an overlooked factor in an election season dominated by GOP angst over a potential voter backlash against President Donald Trump. Recent history explains why Republicans are so concerned: In the past six midterm elections, the president’s party has not retained a single open seat he failed to carry two years prior, according to an analysis by the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman.

                            “Retirements and open seats could be our biggest problem right now,” said Brian Walsh, a Republican consultant who leads the pro-Trump outside group America First, which will spend on a handful of House races in 2018. “New candidates have to fight their way through a primary and don’t have the same fundraising ability and built-in name recognition [as incumbents]. That’s a huge challenge.”

                            The vacant seats run the gamut, from traditionally Republican districts like a pair that have become more competitive since Reps. Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.) and Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) lost their primaries, to the Seattle exurb-based seat of retiring Rep. Dave Reichert, one of eight Republicans heading for the exits in districts that voted for Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016.

                            Republicans poured energy into finding replacements who could replicate the cross-party appeal of departing incumbents like Reichert, the onetime King County sheriff famed for his role in the capture of the notorious Green River Killer in 2001.

                            “We have more retirements than I would have liked, but we have great recruits,” said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers. “There are a few folks that I tried to talk to [to] stay in that didn’t stay in, and that’s just, it’s unfortunate that they didn’t stay.”

                            In Washington, the GOP landed candidate Dino Rossi, a former state senator and candidate for governor and Senate who billed himself in an interview with Politico as a bipartisan deal-maker tired of “all the yelling in Washington.” In three unsuccessful statewide campaigns, Rossi won Washington’s 8th District each time, building his name recognition along the way. He’s also sitting on more than $1.8 million in cash. Democrats, meanwhile, battled through a crowded primary that delivered Kim Schrier, a pediatrician and first-time candidate, to the general election.

                            Rossi’s pedigree has some Republicans believing Reichert’s district could still be a bright spot on the House map, despite the gloomy national historical record. But the August primary results offered a harsh corrective to any budding optimism.

                            Washington’s all-party primary usually serves as a good forecast of November results, since candidates from both major parties appear on the same ballot. Democratic candidates collectively received 50 percent of the vote this August, while Republicans got 47 percent — a sign of the Democratic enthusiasm seen in other elections in 2017 and 2018.

                            Schrier is seeking to push the advantage, arguing that Rossi “paints himself as a moderate, but he’s not,” citing his stances against abortion rights and federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

                            “Dino Rossi is a career politician,” she told more than 50 voters gathered at the Aerospace Machinist Hall in Auburn on a recent Saturday afternoon. “He will be hard-right activist and that’s not a very good fit in this moderate district.”

                            But Rossi says he has unique bipartisan credentials that can win the same ticket-splitters who regularly voted for Clinton or former President Barack Obama while reelecting Reichert. In an interview at his campaign office, Rossi rattled off a list of local Democratic officeholders who have endorsed him, calling them “Dino-crats.”

                            “Obviously, in [the first midterm] year, it can be very volatile, and you can be affected by things that are outside of your control,” Rossi said. “But I’ve been able to separate myself … I’ve always been able to have a brand of my own, so that separates me from some of the chatter that goes on up above.”

                            Rossi added that he’s “never run on social issues,” adding that Schrier is the “most liberal” candidate he’s running against, “and I’ve run against [Sen.] Patty Murray.”

                            That could be an obstacle for Schrier, who has to appeal to voters not just outside Seattle, but “on the other side of the mountains,” where Republicans dominate, said Bonita Migliore, a 61-year-old voter who questioned Schrier about her plan to connect with rural voters at the meeting. “That’s my biggest worry. If you don’t get them, the chances of winning are slimmer … that’s how Reichert held on, getting those rural voters and moderates.”

                            For both parties, running without an incumbent is a perennial problem. Democrats, too, must defend upward of a dozen open, Democrat-controlled seats in 2018. Unlike the GOP, the wind remains at their back.

                            The marquee Republican retirement this year is House Speaker Paul Ryan, who announced last April that he wanted to spend more time with his teenage children. (“How can he make a case to members [to not retire], if he’s not running himself,” said one Republican member who opted for retirement in 2018.)

                            But the NRCC pointed to the history-making potential of several new candidates, like Republican Young Kim, a former state legislator who would be the first Korean-American woman elected to Congress if she successfully defends retiring GOP Rep. Ed Royce’s California district, which Clinton won by 9 points in 2016. Lea Marquez Peterson, the Republican nominee in Arizona’s 2nd District, currently represented by Senate candidate Martha McSally, would be the first Hispanic woman to represent the state in Congress.

                            “The recruits who have stepped forward in the most competitive seats have great backgrounds — in some cases, historic — and that’s a testament to what appeals to voters in these districts,” said Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for the committee. “That will help us hold a lot of these open seats.”

                            But most of those candidates lack the name recognition and well-known personal brands that have helped incumbents from both parties defy wave elections in recent years. Some Republican operatives floated that new candidates might be able to put distance between themselves and the national party, particularly in suburban districts, but the benefit is “marginal, at best,” said Robert Stutzman, a Republican consultant based in California.

                            “Data suggests that you’d rather have the power of incumbency, but sure, there’s an argument that if you’ve got candidates who say they didn’t vote for the tax deal, if that’s a negative in their district, that might help, but not much,” Stutzman said.

                            Back in Washington, local Democrats believe that Reichert, and all the other Republican retirees, “could smell the scent in the wind, the scent of a Democratic wave,” said Trina Doerfler, a 61-year-old volunteer with the Schrier campaign. “It’s coming.” https://www.politico.com/story/2018/...s-house-823327

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                            • The Secret to Cracking Trump’s Base
                              New polls show that some of the most hard-core Trumpsters are starting to get a clue. It might be because he finally crossed a line: He’s now insulting them.
                              NY TIMES Timothy Egan Contributing Opinion Writer Sept. 14, 2018

                              We know that Donald Trump, the first president without a pet since James K. Polk, appears to hate dogs. And the feeling is mutual, according to one of his ex-wives. He also uses pooches as pejoratives when insulting women.

                              Dogs, though known for their loyalty, can take only so much from one abusive human. Alas, the same cannot be said for the aging, white, rural and southern people who make up Trump’s base. He can lie to them, hurt them with tariffs, make a mockery of their values, suck up to freedom-hating dictators they once distrusted, and they’ll stick with him. Cult 45 is thought to be impermeable.

                              But surprise — a raft of new polls show that some of the most hard-core Trumpsters are starting to get a clue. I know, hold your applause. It’s like discovering that climate change is not a hoax when your town is under water, and all your commander in chief can do is throw you a roll of paper towels. And the woke among the true believers is small.

                              The decline could be because Trump’s increasingly moonstruck tweets have lost their power. Or maybe it’s because all of the people around him believe he’s an idiot and they’re going public with the consensus inside the White House (another reason to get a dog). But I think Trump’s base is showing some erosion because his followers feel he finally crossed a line: He’s now insulting them.

                              It didn’t go over well in Alabama that Trump reportedly called his ’Bama-bred attorney general, Jeff Sessions, “a dumb Southerner” and ridiculed his accent. Trump has denied the account from Bob Woodward’s new book, “Fear.”

                              Abraham Lincoln said, “No man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar,” and Trump clearly doesn’t have the bandwidth for the magnitude of his mendacity. I’ll take the word of Woodward, White House stenographer for at least six presidents, over Trump — who just passed the 5,000 mark for false or misleading statements during his presidency.

                              Trump has used the regional dis before, calling the family of another ex-wife, Marla Maples, “dumb Southerners” and “hillbillies,” as one reporter recalled. Last week, the longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone trashed Sessions as an “insubordinate hillbilly” — expressing a double dose of hick hatred.

                              It’s in Trump’s character to deride those without gold-plated bathroom fixtures as inferior. His people, as he said in a North Dakota non sequitur, have the best apartments and the nicest boats. But you don’t need what comes out of his mouth as proof of his class disdain. Look at the two biggest policy initiatives of his presidency.

                              He has tried mightily to destroy Obamacare and all the lives dependent on it. He’s still pushing a repeal plan that would leave upward of 18 million people without health care. And who are those people? His supporters, mostly.

                              Working-class whites, particularly in the old Rust Belt, were the main beneficiaries of the expansion of health care under President Barack Obama. In Midwestern states that flipped from Obama to Trump, far more non-college-educated whites gained health coverage than did whites with degrees or members of ethnic minorities, according to an Urban Institute study. And if the president’s party succeeds in choking the last life out of Obamacare, these Trump voters stand to lose the most.

                              As noted, some of them are catching on. A Quinnipiac poll out this week showed that even among non-college-educated whites — the strongest demographic holdout for Trump — a plurality now say they’d like to see Congress be more of a check on the president. Since his election, he’s down 14 points among the “poorly educated” that Trump once professed to love, a CNN poll found. http://cdn.cnn.com/cnn/2018/images/0...8a.-.trump.pdf

                              In West Virginia, where Trump could shoot the Mountaineer mascot and still walk at the head of a parade, attacks on Obamacare are killing Republican chances of taking down Senator Joe Manchin.

                              The other signature issue is the tax cut. Remember how Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, another plutocrat who has trouble hiding his contempt for flyover country, described it last year? “Not only will this tax cut pay for itself,” he said, “but it will pay down the debt.”

                              We’ll soon be running a trillion-dollar deficit (http://thehill.com/policy/finance/40...ercent-to-895b), up 32 percent this fiscal year, thanks to the tax cut. Wasn’t this the sort of thing that roused Tea Party opposition to President Obama — crippling our children with a legacy of debt?

                              The collapse in revenue will hurt Trump supporters in other ways. One is the paucity of federal dollars for investment — in community colleges, roads, opioid treatment, Pell grants for students, ultimately even Social Security or Medicare. Another is that, by forcing borrowing costs up, the Trump deficit contributes to rising interest rates. That makes it much harder for working families to buy homes.

                              In truth, economics will probably not move Trump supporters. Their vote for him was more about status anxiety in a changing nation than about financial uncertainty. They’ll stay with him only so long as they allow themselves to be easy marks for the insulting con of this presidency. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/14/o...ase-polls.html

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                              • Politics
                                Poll: Midwest Abandons Trump, Fueling Democratic Advantage For Control Of Congress
                                NPR September 12, 20185:48 AM ET

                                https://media.npr.org/assets/img/201...8-s800-c85.jpg
                                President Trump's poll numbers are starting to dip at exactly the wrong time. A new NPR/Marist poll finds Trump's approval rating at 39 percent.
                                Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

                                In a troubling sign for Republicans less than two months before November's elections, Democrats' advantage on the question of which party Americans are more likely to vote for in November is ballooning, according to a new NPR/Marist poll.

                                The gap has widened to 12 percentage points, up from 7 in July — and it is largely because of voters in the Midwest. They have swung 13 points in Democrats' direction since July. That Midwestern shift is consistent with what Marist has found in statewide polls conducted for NBC in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota that showed President Trump's support there starting to erode.

                                "Every way we are looking at the data, the same general pattern is emerging," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the poll. "The Midwest is an area that is getting restless about what they hoped was going to occur and what they feel is not occurring."

                                Trump has waged trade wars with several countries, aiming to renegotiate deals and has instituted tariffs on imports that have been met with retaliatory tariffs on exports. Many of those have taken a toll on Midwestern farmers, for example. And some automakers have come out against Trump's moves on car imports, hitting Trump with some tough headlines.

                                And that appears to be sticking to the GOP now.

                                "Republicans have not only been fairly silent in opposition to the president," Miringoff said, "but they've been driving very hard in the Senate when it comes to his Supreme Court nominee. Congressional Republicans are buying into Trump for November. In terms of brand, they look totally in lockstep with the president — and that has become extremely clear to voters."

                                Overall in the poll, half of voters (50 percent) said they are more likely to vote for the Democrat in their congressional district over the Republican (38 percent). In July, the Democratic edge was 47 percent to 40 percent.

                                It's the largest gap on this question, known as the congressional ballot, since December 2017 when Marist showed Democrats with a 13-point advantage. The lead is also similar to Democrats' advantage on the question in 2006, the last time they took back the House.

                                Trump approval dangerously low

                                Trump's approval rating is below 40 percent in the poll. Just 39 percent said they approve of the job the president is doing.

                                The rating is unchanged from the last Marist poll in July. But it's the third poll this week to show Trump below 40 percent amid the release of an explosive new book from journalist Bob Woodward detailing chaos in the Trump White House and an op-ed in The New York Times from what the paper describes as a senior official who writes that there is a "resistance" within the Trump administration to save the country from the president.

                                The GOP's and the president's weaknesses continue to be in the suburbs and now with Midwestern voters. They retain advantages in rural areas, the South and with white, non-college-educated voters and white evangelicals. But even in rural areas and small towns, there has been some slippage from July.

                                "It's not that Democrats are going to carry rural America," Miringoff stressed, "but [Republicans are] not performing the way the president needs them to."

                                In small towns, for example, there was an 11-point swing toward Democrats, and there was a 6-point drop-off among rural voters on the congressional ballot.

                                The president's approval rating in the suburbs is just 34 percent. And in those same suburbs, Democrats enjoy a whopping advantage (56 percent to 34 percent) over Republicans on whom Americans are more likely to vote for.

                                That is particularly problematic for Republicans, because many of the key races for control of the House run through the suburbs.

                                There is also a massive gender gap. Men approve of the job Trump is doing, a 50 percent to 42 percent margin. But women, who are fueling Democratic hopes in these midterm elections, disapprove of his job, 62 percent to 28 percent.

                                In the 2016 presidential election, Trump won 41 percent of women, according to exit polls.

                                "This is an election about gender," Miringoff said, pointing out that party identification and race are still major factors, but the gender numbers are much bigger than might be expected after 2016.

                                What happens when approval slips

                                The NPR/Marist poll was conducted Sept. 5 through Sunday. It surveyed 777 registered voters and has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

                                The two other polls out this week that showed the president slipping below 40 percent were CNN and Quinnipiac. CNN had Trump at 37 percent and Quinnipiac 38 percent.

                                Slightly earlier polls that meet NPR's polling standards — from Gallup, YouGov (43 percent), Ipsos (42 percent) and Selzer (43 percent) — had Trump at or slightly above 40 percent.

                                For context, let's look at some history to see where that ranks and what it could mean for the GOP's chances in two months. Just one president since polling began was below 40 percent in the last Gallup poll before a president's first midterm: Harry Truman in 1946. (Gallup has comprehensive historical data on presidential approval ratings.)

                                Just 33 percent of Americans approved of the job Truman was doing less than a year after the end of World War II. His party wound up losing 55 House and 12 Senate seats. Truman's 12-seat loss in the Senate remains the worst for a president's first midterm since 1862, according to numbers from Vital Statistics on Congress.

                                It's hard to compare to just one president, however. So widening out the lens, there have been plenty of presidents who were below 50 percent before their first midterm. And on average, their parties lost 44 House seats and five Senate seats.

                                A performance like that for Republicans this year would give Democrats control of both the House and Senate. (Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to gain control of the House and two seats to take the Senate.)

                                Every election, though, has its unique factors. Not every president below 50 percent had as favorable a Senate map as Republicans do. Not every president below 50 percent had structural House district advantages because of redistricting or the fact that the opposition party has holed up in cities. And, arguably, not since the Civil War has the country been as polarized politically as it is today.

                                But, overall, first-term midterms are not kind to the president's party. (On average, they have lost 29 House and three Senate seats dating back to Truman.)

                                And it's even worse when the country thinks the president isn't doing a very good job.

                                "Presidents' approval ratings, when they are low in midterm elections cause havoc for the party in power," Miringoff noted. And Trump's approval rating, he added, is "casting a cloud over the GOP Congress."

                                Performances By A President's Party In His First Midterm
                                Sorted by most to least House losses, based on Gallup approvals, Vital Statistics data

                                2010 — Obama 45% approval – Lost 63 House, Lost 6 Senate
                                1946 — Truman 33% approval — Lost 55 House, Lost 12 Senate
                                1994 — Clinton 46% approval – Lost 54 House, Lost 8 Senate
                                1974 — Ford 54% approval – Lost 48 House, Lost 4 Senate
                                1966 — Johnson 44% approval – Lost 48 House, Lost 4 Senate
                                1982 — Reagan 42% approval – Lost 26 House, Gained 1 Senate
                                1954 — Eisenhower 61% approval – Lost 18 House, Lost 1 Senate
                                1978 – Carter 49% approval – Lost 15 House, Lost 3 Senate
                                1970 — Nixon 58% approval – Lost 12 House, Gained 1 Senate
                                1990 — HW Bush 58% approval – Lost 8 House, Lost 1 Senate
                                1962 — Kennedy 61% approval – Lost 4 House, Gained 2 Senate
                                2002 — Bush 63% approval – Gained 8 House, Gained 1 Senate
                                Correction Sept. 12, 2018

                                An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Harry Truman's Democrats lost 45 seats in the House in 1946. The party lost 55 seats in that midterm. In addition, the earlier version said when a president's approval rating is below 50 percent ahead of his first midterm, on average, his party loses 41 House seats and six Senate seats. Using numbers from Vital Statistics on Congress, the president's party lost 44 House seats and five Senate seats. Likewise, the story initially said first-term midterms on average end with the president's party losing 28 House and three Senate seats. Using Vital Statistics data, it is 29 House and three Senate seats. https://www.npr.org/2018/09/12/64681...ol-of-congress

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