In which all I can say is, “This interview is nuts.”

On the ongoing Trump-Russia scandal:

  • The President vs. Federal Law Enforcement: Trump Attacks Everyone (Lawfare)
    As for the convoluted rationale he uses to get to this corruption, well, suffice it to say that Trump’s suggestion that the FBI voluntarily began reporting to the Justice Department around the Nixon era betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the wave of critical Bureau reforms during that time. These were implemented shortly after Watergate and other scandals brought to light the FBI’s abusive and unlawful activities during the 48-year reign of Director J. Edgar Hoover. Those reforms were, of course, designed to preclude exactly the kind of power relationship to which Trump now lays claim. In a foundational 1978 speech that has shaped subsequent Department policy, Jimmy Carter’s attorney general, Griffin Bell, affirmed the independence of the Justice Department and its constituent entities, including the FBI. Bell declared, “it is improper for any Member of Congress, any member of the White House staff, or anyone else, to attempt to influence anyone in the Justice Department with respect to a particular litigation decision, except by legal argument or the provision of relevant facts.”
    The astonishing implication of Trump’s view is that he believes the president may shut down an FBI investigation that displeases him. Indeed, Trump went so far as to say that too: when explaining why it would not be a problem even if he had told Comey to drop the Flynn investigation, he stated, “other people go a step further. I could have ended that whole thing just by saying—they say it can’t be obstruction because you can say: ‘It’s ended. It’s over. Period.’”
    …The result is an environment in which the President can say these things without obvious consequence, at least for now. Rosenstein or Sessions could change that today. If they were willing to be touched by greatness even for a moment, they would resign together with a strong statement in defense of the integrity of federal law enforcement, the men and women who carry it out, and the processes under which they work. That’s what people with honor would do in this situation.
    Don’t hold your breath.

    • [counterpoint here, by another Lawfare contributer: “I think one or both men would be justified in resigning here. But I do not think that is what honor requires. Why do Sessions or Rosenstein need to resign to make a strong statement of DOJ independence? Why not just make the statement? When the President publicly expresses a lack of confidence in you, that is grounds for resignation. But in this context the resignation of the top two officials in DOJ would throw DOJ into more of a crisis than it already is in. I can easily imagine Sessions and Rosenstein thinking that the honorable thing to do is to hang tough and maintain the independence of the Department—as they have done, at least, in the Sessions recusal and the Mueller appointment—until Trump fires them.”]
      • [the blogger would note here that Jeff Sessions in fact failed to follow his own recusal from the investigation, as conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin discusses here, back on May 11: “Sessions consulted with the president and coordinated the firing of James Comey. Recall that Comey had testified on March 20 that he was heading the Russia investigation…
        …Refusing to recuse oneself from a conflict or breaking the promise to recuse from a conflict is a serious breach of legal ethics. “Someone could file a bar complaint, and/or one with DOJ’s office of professional responsibility, if Sessions had a conflict of interest when it came to the firing decision, and if he did not follow the ethics rules, including those of DOJ by acting when he had a conflict of interest,” legal ethics expert Norman Eisen tells me. “The fact that he broke his recusal commitment, if he did, would be relevant context, and violating an agreement can sometimes in itself be an ethics violation.” In sum, Sessions has risked his law license, whether he realized it or not.” (Washington Post)]

  • Citing Recusal, Trump Says He Wouldn’t Have Hired Sessions
    • This interview is nuts, yo.
      I mean that quite seriously.

      TRUMP: Well, Napoleon finished a little bit bad. But I asked that. So I asked the president, so what about Napoleon? He said: “No, no, no. What he did was incredible. He designed Paris.” [garbled] The street grid, the way they work, you know, the spokes. He did so many things even beyond. And his one problem is he didn’t go to Russia that night because he had extracurricular activities, and they froze to death. How many times has Russia been saved by the weather? [garbled]

  •  U.S. Officials probing Russian lobbyist who met Trump team (Politico)
    One U.S. official referred to Akhmetshin as a known “IO,” or intelligence operative. In a March letter to the Justice Department, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) described him as having “ties to Russian intelligence” and “alleged to have conducted political disinformation campaigns.”

    • The blogger would also like to specifically highlight this paragraph from the above article: “The existence of the controversial June meeting was rumored for months, but neither the Senate Intelligence Committee nor, according to CNN, the FBI — both of whom are probing potential ties between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government — knew the details before the Times published its stories,” given this facebook conversation she had back in May:
      face_sca.png
      …The truth generally comes out, but it can take a long time.
  • Mueller expands probe to Trump business transactions (Bloomberg)
    FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the person said.
    …Agents are also interested in dealings with the Bank of Cyprus, where Wilbur Ross served as vice chairman before he became commerce secretary. They are also examining the efforts of Jared Kushner, the President’s son-in-law and White House aide, to secure financing for some of his family’s real estate properties. The information was provided by someone familiar with the developing inquiry but not authorized to speak publicly.
    The roots of Mueller’s follow-the-money investigation lie in a wide-ranging money laundering probe launched by then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara last year, according to the person.
    FBI agents had already been gathering information about Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, according to two people with knowledge of that probe. Prosecutors hadn’t yet begun presenting evidence to a grand jury. Trump fired Bharara in March.
  • Big German Bank, Key to Trump’s Finances, Faces New Scrutiny

    Soon after Mr. Trump took office, the bank settled allegations that it helped Russian investors launder as much as $10 billion through its branches in Moscow, London and New York. In May, the Federal Reserve reached its own settlement with the bank over the money laundering violations.
    Deutsche Bank also had a “cooperation agreement” with the Russian state-owned development bank, Vnesheconombank, which has been swept up in the investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election. And it had ties to VTB Bank, a far larger Russian bank facing sanctions in the United States and the European Union. The Russian firm’s investment banking arm, VTB Capital, was created by hiring dozens of bankers from Deutsche Bank’s Moscow office.
    Some ties are less direct. Josef Ackermann, Deutsche Bank’s former chief executive, is now chairman of the board at the Bank of Cyprus. A large shareholder of that bank was Dmitry Rybolovlev, the Russian oligarch who purchased Mr. Trump’s estate in Florida.
    And in May, federal prosecutors settled a case with a Cyprus investment vehicle owned by a Russian businessman with close family connections to the Kremlin.
    The firm, Prevezon Holdings, was represented by Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who was among the people who met during the presidential campaign with Donald Trump Jr. about Hillary Clinton.
    Federal prosecutors in the United States claimed Prevezon, which admitted no wrongdoing, laundered the proceeds of an alleged Russian tax fraud through real estate. Prevezon and its partner relied in part on $90 million in financing from a big European financial institution, court records show.
    It was Deutsche Bank.

  • Could Trump Jr., Kushner, or Manafort be charged under the Espionage Act? (Foreign Policy)
    But all of these legal theories, even if they prove to have merit, seem to miss the intuitive point that those who levy treason allegations seem to be making. When considered in terms of what the Russia scandal might actually involve — Americans courting an adversarial foreign power for the purpose of influencing the outcome of a presidential election — these crimes, though felonies, seem like technicalities. What makes things like the meeting at Trump Tower troubling is not simply that members of the president’s inner circle violated federal laws in order to compromise the integrity of the electoral process. It is that they appear to have compromised the integrity of the electoral process in a way that was disloyal to the country. They made themselves fellow travelers of a foreign power that is openly hostile to America and its liberal values, even if not an enemy of the United States in the technical, constitutional sense.
    At the risk of resurrecting yet another obscure part of the U.S. code, I would argue that the national security concerns that prompt right-thinking people to reach for the word treason in these circumstances have a place. But that place is not the crime of treason. It is the admittedly problematic Espionage Act of 1917. And as innocuous as it may have seemed in the moment, Veselnitskaya’s plastic folder may have led Trump Jr. across a serious legal line.
  • A New Front Opens in L’Affaire Russe (Lawfare)The pleading is rich—very rich and intentionally so, I suspect—with allegations that will provide for plausible discovery requests against all kinds of actors and on all kinds of subjects. It makes reference to the President’s tax returns, for example. It names a large number of individuals, whose depositions plaintiffs might plausibly seek. One of the defendants is the campaign itself, meaning that the campaign’s agents, actors, employees, and documents, are all potentially subject to discovery. So if I’m right that the suit eventually survives that initial motion to dismiss, it will immediately become a gold mine for journalists and investigators. And it will present an intense set of headaches for the Trump forces both inside and outside of government. Think Paula Jones, but not about a single act of alleged harassment. Think Paula Jones—only about everything.
    So watch this one closely. It’ll be a sleeper for a while, but if I were the Trump forces, I’d be very worried about it.

On impeachment:

The impeachable offence (Lawfare)
[Editor’s Note: In 1974, a law professor named Charles L. Black published an extraordinary brief volume, entitled, Impeachment: A HandbookIt is the finest text on the subject I have ever read. With the subject of impeachment on many people’s minds these days, we received permission from Yale University Press to republish the portion of Black’s book that discusses the parameters of the impeachable offense. I also asked Jane Chong to write an essay applying the lessons of Black’s book to our time. I recommend that readers take the time to read Black’s book in its entirety, along with Jane’s exceedingly thoughtful treatment of its importance in the age of Donald Trump. —Benjamin Wittes]

Now this has been a long pull, but we have our hands on a good first approximation to a rational definition of an impeachable “high Crime or Misdemeanor.” Omitting qualifications, and recognizing that the definition is only an approximation, I think we can say that “high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” in the constitutional sense, ought to be held to be those offenses which are rather obviously wrong, whether or not “criminal,” and which so seriously threaten the order of political society as to make pestilent and dangerous the continuance in power of their perpetrator. The fact that such an act is also criminal helps, even if it is not essential, because a general societal view of wrongness, and sometimes of seriousness, is, in such a case, publicly and authoritatively recorded.
The phrase “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” carries another connotationthat of distinctness of offense. It seems that a charge of high crime or high misdemeanor ought to be a charge of a definite act or acts, each of which in itself satisfies the above requirements. General lowness and shabbiness ought not to be enough. The people take some chances when they elect a man to the presidency, and I think this is one of them.

To Impeach a President: Applying the Authoritative Guide from Charles Black (Lawfare)

With an eye to these larger principles, let’s walk through the four major sections of Black’s guide, reshuffled to reflect the order of our concerns. My purpose here is to zero in on the key points worth understanding under any presidency and to flesh out some of their implications for this one.

As I see it, this is a walk with a view: impeachment is the ripping of a compromised sail from the mast of our ship, on an infinite sea. It is nothing to celebrate and no better than a crime against our collective vessel, an act of barratry, when pursued for the wrong reasons. In the rare case, presidential impeachment is a necessary effort at course-correction—but it also involves a measure of violence from which our constitutional democracy can only slowly and by no means inevitably recover.

On the general murky Swamp and the state of American democracy:

 

  • Here’s How We’re Tracking President Trump’s Conflicts of Interest (Sunlight Foundation) Dig into the 563 active concerns we’ve catalogued so far, the 62 potential conflicts, and the 46 we’ve marked as “resolved.”
  • DOD’s paying $2.4 million to lease space in Trump Tower, where Trump has not slept once (Slate)
  • Trump personally pockets club membership fees, breaking with industry norms (McClatchy)
  • American Democracy is Now Under Siege By Both Cyber-Espionage and GOP Voter Suppression (The Nation) Five states in their entirety, and some counties in nine others, vote using electronic machines with no paper trail, which could make such a hack almost impossible to detect. And even though 36 states use paper ballots or electronic machines with paper backups, that paper is rarely checked thoroughly enough to ensure the results are accurate (only a little more than half the states require even basic post-election audits). Moreover, 42 states are using machines that are at least a decade old and run primitive software like Windows 2000. This is an election meltdown waiting to happen. …Republicans have accelerated their voter-suppression efforts at the state and federal levels in 2017. According to the Brennan Center, 99 bills to limit access to the ballot have been introduced in 31 states this year, and more states have enacted new voting restrictions in 2017 than in 2016 and 2015 combined. Arkansas, Iowa, North Dakota, and Texas passed new voter-ID laws; Georgia made voter registration more difficult; and Montana is in the process of limiting the use of absentee ballots.
    • See also: How To Rig An Election [Harper’s, 2012]
    • See also: Court: North Carolina Voter ID Law Targeted Black Voters (PBS)
      A day after the Shelby decision, Republican lawmakers in North Carolina announced plans for an election law that, the federal appeals court has since found, restricted voting and registration in several ways, “all of which disproportionately affected African Americans.”
      The court said that in crafting the law, the Republican-controlled general assembly requested and received data on voters’ use of various voting practices by race. It found that African American voters in North Carolina are more likely to vote early, use same-day voter registration and straight-ticket voting. They were also disproportionately less likely to have an ID, more likely to cast a provisional ballot and take advantage of pre-registration.
      Then, the court, said, lawmakers restricted all of these voting options, and further narrowed the list of acceptable voter IDs. “… [W]ith race data in hand, the legislature amended the bill to exclude many of the alternative photo IDs used by African Americans. As amended, the bill retained only the kinds of IDs that white North Carolinians were more likely to possess.”
      The state offered little justification for the law, the court said. Those who defended the law said they were doing so to prevent voter fraud. “Although the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision, they constitute inapt remedies for the problems assertedly justifying them and, in fact, impose cures for problems that did not exist,” the court said.
      It added: “We can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent.”
    • See also: Russian Cyber Hacks on U.S. Electoral System Far Wider than Previously Known (Bloomberg)
    • See also: Debunking The Voter Fraud Myth (Brennan Center)
    • See also: There are 868 fewer places to vote in 2016 because the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act (The Nation)
      The Leadership Conference for Civil Rights surveyed 381 of the 800 counties previously covered by Section 5 where polling place information was available in 2012 or 2014 and found there are 868 fewer places to cast a ballot in 2016 in these areas. “Out of the 381 counties in our study, 165 of them—43 percent—have reduced voting locations,” says the important new report.

On policy:

Trump Crafting Plan to Slash Legal Immigration (Politico)

Are immigrants taking farm jobs from American workers? In NC, farmers say no. (News & Observer)

immigrant stats.png

Jeff Sessions’s defense of civil asset forfeiture, annotated (Washington Post)

And, as always, a few just plain interesting articles:

You’re not crazy, Susan. The whole world is.

 

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