U.S. Politics

The mind-boggling past 24 hours in politics, explained

Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty


Russia revelations. Health bill woes. Wiretap wars. And that Supreme Court seat.

Donald Trump’s presidency has reached a new level of chaos, somehow.

Last night, CNN reported that the FBI “has information that indicates” Trump’s associates communicated with Russian operatives, “possibly” to coordinate the release of information damaging to his opponent’s campaign.

That’s just days after the FBI director revealed, in congressional testimony, that he was investigating whether the president’s associates colluded with Russia to interfere with last year’s election — publicly confirming something we knew of only from anonymously sourced news reports.

Meanwhile, House Republicans are continuing to barrel toward a Thursday vote on a comprehensive health reform bill that was crafted in secret and released just weeks ago. They don’t yet have the votes, but are desperately trying to win over enough wavering conservatives and moderates to ram this bill through — which could have immense consequences for millions of Americans.

As all this continues to unfold, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee is claiming that US intelligence agencies in the previous administration intercepted some communications of people involved in the president-elect’s transition.

And somehow, the president’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, continues to sail toward confirmation, with some Senate Democrats reportedly weighing some sort of deal with Republicans to let him through. Gorsuch is young enough that he could conceivably sit on the Court for decades and be one of Trump’s most important legacies.

So there’s a lot going on. Here’s the context you need to understand what’s new and important on each of these topics.

The FBI investigation revelation

The background: Before this week, the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election was a shadowy thing. There had been many anonymously sourced news reports asserting that such an investigation existed and that it may be looking at some of Trump’s associates. But some of those reports conflicted on the question of how serious the investigation was. There was no public confirmation. It was hard to tell whether all this really amounted to anything.

Then on Monday, FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress that the bureau was in fact “investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts” to interfere with the 2016 election. This confirmed that the investigation was a) real, and b) looking squarely at the Trump campaign and its associates.

The news: On Wednesday night, we learned more on just what, exactly, has caught the FBI’s interest. According to a bombshell CNN report, the bureau “has information that indicates” Trump associates “communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.”

This information “includes human intelligence, travel, business and phone records and accounts of in-person meetings,” per anonymous US officials interviewed by CNN.

Why it matters: This is a step beyond any claim we’ve seen before about the investigation. Previous reports suggested the FBI was looking at the general topic of Trump associate contacts with Russia, but it wasn’t really clear whether they had found much of substance. But this story claims they do have at least some information suggesting there was shady communication and coordination afoot (though the story cautions this information isn’t “conclusive”).

Furthermore, when the story discusses “information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign,” it’s almost surely referring to the hacked email dumps that dogged Democrats last year — most prominently, the public releases of internal Democratic National Committee emails in July and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s emails in October by WikiLeaks. (US intelligence agencies have attributed these hacks to Russian-aligned actors.)

Though these email dumps likely didn’t swing the outcome of the election (there’s a better case that Comey’s letter on Clinton emails did), they did seem extremely well-timed for Trump. The DNC emails were released just in time to cause tension between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders at the Democratic National Convention. Podesta’s emails came out as an “October surprise” when Trump was trailing badly in the polls. Did Trump’s campaign or his associates have a role in this timing? That is, apparently, what the FBI is looking into.

The health care fight in the House

Speaker Paul Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Group/Getty

The background: House Republican leaders are struggling to come up with the votes to pass the American Health Care Act, their bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.

The bill’s final form still appears to be in flux, but among other things it would replace Obamacare’s income-adjusted subsidies to buy insurance on individual marketplaces with a flat and overall less generous tax credit. It would overhaul and dramatically cut Medicaid. And it would slash some taxes that only hit the wealthy. The Congressional Budget Office estimated its enactment would lead to 24 million more people becoming uninsured by 2026.

Republicans have had a tough time coming up with the votes, because they’re trying to appease two groups with very different demands.

  • Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus have long and loudly condemned the bill for keeping too much of Obamacare in place. They’re backed by anti-government-spending groups including Heritage Action, the Club for Growth, and the Koch brothers’ Freedom Partners.
  • Other Republicans (I call them the Coverage Caucus) have more gradually come out against the bill because they fear it would negatively impact their constituents. They’re backed by the AARP, the American Hospital Association, and other groups.

Since no Democrats are expected to back the effort in the House, Paul Ryan can only afford to lose 22 Republicans — or else the bill would fail.

The news: In an attempt to win over enough Freedom Caucus members, Republican leaders are considering major changes to the health bill. These changes reportedly include dropping the “essential health benefits” requirement which lays out 10 benefits insurance plans for the individual markets or offered by small businesses must cover. As Dylan Matthews explains:

These provisions set a baseline, mandating that all offered plans meet a certain threshold. They can’t skimp out and not cover big things like emergency room visits or pregnancy or mental health. Particularly for previously undercovered areas like mental health and addiction services, which plans didn’t have to cover before the ACA, this provision was a huge deal.

But many free market conservatives hate this provision, because it runs counter to the goal of having wide consumer choice among different kinds of health plans offering different types of procedures. They note that this drives up the cost of insurance, and insist that people should have the chance to buy less protective plans that are cheaper.

President Trump will meet with Freedom Caucus members Thursday morning to try to cut this deal, but it’s unclear whether this will prove so controversial that it drives away many more members of the Coverage Caucus.

Why it matters: Well, in addition to potentially affecting (or ending) millions of people’s health coverage, the outcome of these negotiations could determine whether this bill passes the House or fails — though it should be noted that the AHCA will face towering difficulties getting through the Senate, considering it’s been trashed by so many Republican senators.

The wiretapping drama

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA).
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty

The background: Back on March 3, President Trump sent out a series of early-morning tweets claiming, with no evidence, that Barack Obama wiretapped his phones at Trump Tower back during the presidential campaign. It eventually emerged that Trump’s apparent source was a sketchily sourced article from a right-wing news site that had been read out on television.

The claims, it now seems clear, were false. Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers both bluntly rebutted them in their congressional testimony Monday, saying they’d seen no information to back up Trump’s tweets. Leading Republicans in Congress briefed by the intelligence agencies also said they’d heard nothing to back up Trump’s accusations.

But while the Obama-ordered tap of Donald Trump at Trump Tower clearly seems not to exist, it is quite plausible that some of Trump’s aides or associates were being monitored — perhaps because of that pesky FBI investigation into their contacts with Russia — or that their communications were picked up because foreigners communicating with them were themselves being tapped.

The news: On Wednesday, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, held a surprise press conference in which he claimed to have new wiretapping news.

“On numerous occasions, the intelligence community incidentally collected information about US citizens involved in the Trump transition,” Nunes said.

Shortly afterward, President Trump claimed that he had been “somewhat” vindicated by Nunes’s announcement. “So that means I’m right,” he proclaimed in a Time interview with Michael Scherer.

What it means: It does not mean Trump was right. Looking at the specific words Nunes used, what seems to have happened is that “the US intelligence community, during legally authorized surveillance of foreign nationals, picked up communications between members of Trump’s campaign” and some foreign nationals, as Zack Beauchamp writes.

That is, the foreigners talking to Trump’s people were tapped, not Trump’s people themselves.

Now, Nunes also raised questions about whether the information picked up in those taps was too “widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting” considering its actual value, which is a separate matter.

But there are questions about Nunes’s conduct too. He’s tasked with leading the House’s investigation on this matter, so it’s unclear why, when informed of this, he went public so quickly, why he didn’t tell his House Democratic counterpart, and why he went off to the White House to talk to Trump about an investigation that may implicate his associates. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) called this “very disturbing” behavior that compromised Nunes’s “credibility.”

Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing

Neil Gorsuch.

The background: Rather than going outside the box for his Supreme Court choice, Trump picked Neil Gorsuch, a circuit judge well respected in the conservative legal community. Gorsuch appears to have support from a majority of senators, so the main political drama with his hearing is whether Democrats try to filibuster his nomination. If they do so, Republicans are expected to change Senate rules to ram him through.

The news: Gorsuch finished 20 hours of Senate testimony yesterday, and the New York Times has a rundown of what Gorsuch said here — essentially, he was really vague, and nothing stood out as a major gaffe or revelation.

The real news was that, per Politico’s Burgess Everett, some Democratic senators are considering trying to cut some kind of deal with Republicans to let Gorsuch through without a Senate rules change. What they’d hope to get in exchange is a commitment that Republicans wouldn’t change the rules to ram through any other Supreme Court nominations in Trump’s term.

Why it matters: Though important, Gorsuch’s nomination would restore the Supreme Court to its status quo as it existed before Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016. That’s something many Democrats feel they can live with.

But if Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or Stephen Breyer were to step down or die during Trump’s presidency, the next justice could move the Court sharply to the right if confirmed — putting liberal precedents like Roe v. Wade at stake. So some Democrats are hoping to do whatever they can to try to ensure a more mainstream nominee gets picked for the next vacancy, even if it means letting Gorsuch through.

Still, the idea of letting Trump’s Supreme Court nominee through may prove too much for the liberal base to bear, particularly after Republicans refused to even consider President Obama’s nominee for this very seat, Merrick Garland. So this could get messy.

U.S. Politics

The White House may have skirted federal law to try and save its failing health care bill

Dan Scavino Jr. (left) and Sean Spicer in the White House press briefing room. CREDIT: AP Photo


Several official Twitter accounts lobbied Congress in support of the AHCA bill.

On Thursday morning, as the Trump administration frantically tried to save its deeply unpopular Affordable Care Act replacement bill, White House social media director Dan Scavino Jr. tweeted out a message to Trump’s dwindling pool of supporters urging them to call their congressperson in support of the American Health Care Act.

Hours later, similarly worded tweets were sent from the official @POTUS account and Donald Trump’s personal account.

But as some people were quick to note, directly lobbying Congress in support of (or opposition to) a bill using federal dollars—including White House staff who earn federal salaries—is strictly forbidden under 18 U.S.C. § 1913.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer addressed the accusation during his daily press briefing Thursday afternoon, dismissing any notion of wrongdoing by the President but stopping short of defending Scavino’s original tweet.

“It is not…the president…it doesn’t…that is not applicable to the president, no,” said Spicer, when asked if the White House was concerned about violating anti-lobbying laws.

Scott Amey, general counsel at the Project for Government Oversight, disagrees. “Based on the letter of the law, the lobying provision would apply to the White House and any White House official,” he told ThinkProgress. “Any lobbying for the health care bill violates that ban.”

Amey pointed to a 2005 case in which the Government Accountability Office (GAO) was asked to review a document sent to millions of Americans by the Social Security Administration that contained language seemingly in support of a bill before Congress. In that instance, the GAO concluded there was no violation of the anti-lobbying provision.

“Under our established case law, we have required evidence of a clear appeal by the agency to the public to contact congressional members and to urge them to support the agency’s position,” wrote Anthony H. Gamboa, then the general counsel for the GAO, in a letter to Congress.

But in Thursday’s case, there was a clear appeal to the public to contact their representatives and express their support for Trump’s health care bill.

Of course, the Trump administration has shown little to no regard for federal law during their two months in office thus far. From the moment the clock struck noon on Inauguration Day, Donald Trump was in violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, and has yet to take any action to extricate himself and his personal fortune from his vast business empire. The White House continues to take a Nixonian approach to federal law, arguing over and over again—falsely—that if the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.

Amey noted that the White House could make an argument that the anti-lobbying law strictly applies to agencies, therefore exempting individual government officials. It’s a similar argument they have made to excuse past ethical transgressions by Kellyanne Conway, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and others.

“Once again, we see the White House crossing ethics lines that should alarm the public,” said Amey. “This administration just keeps making missteps, which might have been okay in the private sector, but not when we’re talking about the integrity of the federal government.”

The rollout of the AHCA has been an unmitigated disaster for the Trump administration, with virtually no support from health policy organizations and only marginally more support from Republicans in Congress. After scheduling a vote on the bill for March 23—the seven year anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Care Act—House Republicans backtracked and delayed the vote after it became clear they wouldn’t have enough votes to pass it.

Adam Peck

U.S. Politics

‘There’s a Smell of Treason in the Air’

FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers appear in front of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on Monday, March 20, 2017  (Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)


FBI and NSA chiefs verify a Russia probe and refute the president’s claims as Republicans scramble to pretend the “drip, drip, drip” hasn’t started.

Monday’s hearing of the House Intelligence Committee was proof positive of the absolute need for both a special prosecutor and an independent, bipartisan commission with subpoena power to conduct a full investigation of the Trump campaign’s connections with Russian intelligence — as well as Russia’s multi-pronged attack on our elections and Trump’s business connections with that country’s oligarchs.

(Note that there was agreement that leaks are illegal but no one mentioned that it’s the media’s complete and constitutionally guaranteed right to report on them. Nor was anyone asked how many times GOP members of the committee have done their own leaking.)

Trump did what he could to distract as well, firing a volley of five heated early-morning tweets just before testimony began, reiterating claims that disgruntled Democrats manufactured charges about Russia’s involvement in the election and contact with Trump aides. There were more during the hearing itself — from Trump or someone at the White House tweeting in his name — twisting the day’s testimony by Comey and National

Security Agency chief Mike Rogers. Bizarrely, the two men then were placed in the position of having to rebut Trump’s allegations while they still were in the witness seats, correcting and putting the president in his place — virtually in real time.

Not only did Comey verify that the FBI was actively investigating Trump and his associates, he also flatly denied on behalf of his agency and the Justice Department that prior to January’s inauguration now-former President Obama had ordered eavesdropping on Trump Tower. Under normal circumstances this would seem to neutralize yet another of Trump’s wacky tweet storms, this one from two weeks ago, but as we’ve learned so well, the truth has never been a barrier to the social media madness of King Donald I.

And yet, as presidential historian Douglas Brinkley told The Washington Post, “There’s a smell of treason in the air. Imagine if J. Edgar Hoover or any other FBI director would have testified against a sitting president? It would have been a mindboggling event.”

But here we are, adrift in a Cloud Cuckoo Land of prevarication and incompetence in which little seems capable of boggling or driving our minds agog these days and where the truth shall not set you free but subject you to ridicule from the rabid trolls of the right.

And still there is hope. Even though neither Comey nor Rogers would reveal much of what they are discovering — continually citing the confidentiality they said was necessary to an ongoing investigation — the questions asked, despite the “no comment” answers, suggested ongoing areas of inquiry not only for investigating committees but also for the press.

For it is the free and independent media that continue to provide our clearest window into the extent of the investigation and the possible interface among the Trump campaign, Russia and the right. Late Monday, for example, McClatchy News reported:

“Federal investigators are examining whether far-right news sites played any role last year in a Russian cyber operation that dramatically widened the reach of news stories — some fictional — that favored Donald Trump’s presidential bid, two people familiar with the inquiry say.

“Operatives for Russia appear to have strategically timed the computer commands, known as ‘bots,’ to blitz social media with links to the pro-Trump stories at times when the billionaire businessman was on the defensive in his race against Democrat Hillary Clinton, these sources said.”

McClatchy reports that most of the stories were linked from social media posts and many of them connected to stories at Breitbart and Alex Jones’ InfoWars, as well as Russia Today and Sputnik News:

“Investigators examining the bot attacks are exploring whether the far-right news operations took any actions to assist Russia’s operatives. Their participation, however, wasn’t necessary for the bots to amplify their news through Twitter and Facebook.”

The spin machines are twirling at cyclonic speeds as the White House and the Republican Party counterattack or try to act as if none of this is happening. Like the refugee couple in Casablanca, they pretend to hear very little and understand even less. At the end of Monday’s testimony, intelligence committee chair Nunes actually told David Corn of Mother Jones that he had never heard of Roger Stone or Carter Page, two of the Trump/Russia story’s most prominent and tawdry players. Ingenuous or ignorant? You be the judge.

“Is it possible that all of these events and reports are completely unrelated and nothing more than an entirely unhappy coincidence?” Adam Schiff asked at Monday’s hearing.

“Yes, it is possible. But it is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected and not unrelated, and that the Russians use the same techniques to corrupt US persons that they employed in Europe and elsewhere. We simply don’t know. Not yet. And we owe it to the country to find out.”

During Schiff’s questioning on Monday, Comey seemed to nod toward agreeing that Russia’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee was not unlike the 1972 physical break-in at the DNC. You know, the one that precipitated the revelations, resignations and prison convictions of Watergate. Drip, drip, drip…


U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: March 23, 2017


Daniel Sorabji/Getty Images


1. Terror attack kills three in London
A man killed at least three people and injured 40 more in an attack with a vehicle and a knife at Britain’s Parliament on Wednesday, sending lawmakers and tourists dashing for safety. Two of the people killed were among pedestrians the attacker plowed through on Westminster Bridge near the Parliament building. The other was a police officer stabbed at the House of Commons. Police then fatally shot the alleged assailant. Investigators are treating the attack as terrorism, and believe the assailant acted alone but was inspired by international terrorists. The alleged attacker was British-born and had been investigated by British spies, but was not “part of the current intelligence picture,” according to Prime Minister Theresa May. Some of the wounded pedestrians had what were described as “catastrophic” injuries, and one woman was pulled, alive but badly hurt, from the River Thames. Police arrested seven people in connection with the attack in overnight raids.

Source: NBC News, The Associated Press

2. Report: FBI may have evidence of Russia-Trump team coordination
The FBI is reviewing information suggesting that people linked to President Trump’s campaign might have communicated with suspected Russian operatives about coordinating the release of information harmful to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign last year, U.S. officials told CNN on Wednesday. FBI Director James Comey on Monday confirmed to lawmakers that his agency was investigating alleged Russian efforts to influence the election, including possible cooperation between Trump associates and Moscow. The officials said the information included human intelligence, business and phone records, as well as accounts of face-to-face meetings, but that it was not considered to be conclusive.

Source: CNN

3. Conservative resistance threatens health bill
President Trump continued pressuring wavering Republican lawmakers to support the House leadership’s proposal to repeal and replace ObamaCare ahead of a planned Thursday vote. Conservatives are vowing to oppose the plan because they say it doesn’t go far enough in rolling back the Affordable Care Act’s provisions, and some moderates are balking because of expectations that millions more Americans will wind up uninsured. Mark Meadows, leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said his group has more than enough votes to defeat the bill. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said enough fence-sitters were getting behind the legislation to pass it. “The count keeps getting stronger for us,” Spicer said. “There is no Plan B. There is Plan A and Plan A. We’re going to get this done.”

Source: Reuters

4. House intelligence chair: Trump aides possibly intercepted in normal foreign surveillance
House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said Wednesday that it was possible that communications involving President Trump or members of his transition team were picked up inadvertently in normal surveillance of foreign nationals. “What I’ve read seems to me to be some level of surveillance activity, perhaps legal. I don’t know that it’s right,” Nunes said. “I don’t know that the American people would be comfortable with what I’ve read.” Nunes went to the White House to brief Trump on the reports, which were unrelated to Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that former President Barack Obama had him wiretapped. Trump said he felt “somewhat” vindicated by what Nunes told him. “I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found,” he said.

Source: The Washington Post

5. Democrats step up Gorsuch questioning ahead of confirmation hearing’s final day
Democratic senators grew more aggressive in their questioning of President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, on Wednesday, the third day of his confirmation hearing. Gorsuch deflected questions from Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) about the Constitution’s “emoluments clause” prohibiting a president from accepting gifts from foreign agents, part of a grilling on Trump’s foreign business interests. Gorsuch said that due to “ongoing litigation” he had to be “very careful about expressing any views.” Some Democrats pressed a new strategy to delay Gorsuch’s confirmation, arguing that the vote shouldn’t take place until the FBI’s investigation into communication between the Trump campaign and Russia is completed. Republicans praised Gorsuch and expressed confidence that his confirmation was assured ahead of the final day of his hearing.

Source: The Washington Post, The Hill

6. 30 Syrian civilians reportedly killed in U.S.-led coalition airstrike
At least 30 Syrian civilians were killed this week in an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State, witnesses, activists, and Syrian state TV said Wednesday. The attack occurred Tuesday in Raqqa province, where the coalition is supporting forces advancing toward the city of Raqqa, ISIS’ de facto capital. The strike reportedly hit a school where civilians took shelter Tuesday night in the town of Mansoura. The U.S. military is investigating the report, which came after a strike by U.S. warplanes last week reportedly killed 49 people in western Aleppo province.

Source: The New York Times

7. Trump Jr. faces backlash over tweet following London attack
Britons harshly criticized Donald Trump Jr. for tweeting criticism of London’s mayor in the wake of yesterday’s attack. “You have to be kidding me?!” President Trump’s eldest son tweeted. “Terror attacks are part of living in big city, says London Mayor Sadiq Khan.” The comment referred to a September article in a British newspaper in which Khan reacted to a bombing in New York City, but Trump misrepresented the quote. Khan did not say that terror attacks were part of city life. He said that supporting police in terrorism preparedness was “part and parcel of living in a great global city.” Ciaran Jenkins, a correspondent for Britain’s Channel 4, asked Trump via Twitter whether he thought “goading” Khan was “helpful.” Trump declined to discuss the matter, saying, “I’m not going to comment on every tweet I send.”

Source: The Telegraph, The Washington Post

8. Acosta vows to avoid partisanship in Labor Department if confirmed
Alexander Acosta, President Trump’s second labor secretary nominee, said in his confirmation hearing Wednesday that he would not let partisanship influence his department. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said Acosta did not do enough as assistant attorney general to prevent an official under him from “inappropriately” hiring mostly conservative lawyers in DOJ’s civil rights division during the George W. Bush administration. Acosta said he would not allow partisan hiring at the Labor Department if confirmed. He also defended a controversial plea deal he struck with wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein. Acosta, now a law school dean, declined to say how he would handle Obama administration rules, such as one expanding the number of workers eligible for overtime pay.

Source: The New York Times, The Washington Post

9. Police say suspect in fatal Manhattan stabbing wanted to kill a black person
New York City police said Wednesday that a white suspect who turned himself in for the fatal Monday stabbing of a 66-year-old African-American man, Timothy Caughman, said he came to New York from Maryland because he want to kill a black person. The suspect, James Harris Jackson, surrendered to police at the Times Square substation after surveillance images showing him running down a street after the stabbing was widely publicized. “His intentions were to come here to harm male blacks,” NYPD Chief of Manhattan Detectives William Aubry said. “The reason why he picked New York is because it’s the media capital of the world, and he wanted to make a statement.”

Source: CBS News, The Associated Press

10. U.S. trounces Puerto Rico to win its first World Baseball Classic title
The U.S. beat Puerto Rico 8-0 on Wednesday to win its first World Baseball Classic title. Pitcher Marcus Stroman helped shut out the Puerto Rican team, which entered the finals unbeaten in two weeks of play, by throwing six no-hit innings. The U.S. offense was propelled by Ian Kinsler’s two-run home run, a single, and two runs scored in a rout before 51,565 people at Dodger Stadium. “We wanted to put USA on top of the baseball world, where it belongs,” Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said.

Source: Los Angeles Times, The New York Times

U.S. Politics

CNN reports FBI may have proof of collusion between Russia and Trump campaign

GettyImages-577706376attribution: GETTY IMAGES


And here’s why Republicans really spent the day in a high state of panic.

The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, US officials told CNN.

On Monday, many Republicans were behaving as if they expected FBI Director Comey to vindicate Donald Trump, if not on the wiretapping tweets, then at least on the idea that there was an active investigation of connections between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence. Instead Comey confirmed that there was such an investigation. Since then, we’ve learned that there may be multiple investigations that link into the Trump campaign, as well as criminal investigations of activity going on in Trump Tower.

And just two days later, we’re near the point of something absolutely massive.

The FBI is now reviewing that information, which includes human intelligence, travel, business and phone records and accounts of in-person meetings, according to those U.S. officials. The information is raising the suspicions of FBI counterintelligence investigators that the coordination may have taken place, though officials cautioned that the information was not conclusive and that the investigation is ongoing.

What’s in question here isn’t Trump’s ties to Russian oligarchs—we already know those are true. It’s not Paul Manafort’s schemes in Ukraine, or Michael Flynn chatting with the Russian ambassador over sanctions. This is the possibility of collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russian agencies working to subvert the US election. Treason is not too big a word.

One law enforcement official said the information in hand suggests “people connected to the campaign were in contact and it appeared they were giving the thumbs up to release information when it was ready.”
U.S. Politics

Top Republican runs to White House to share leaked intelligence; it’s time for a special prosecutor


attribution: Getty Images


The state of the so-called House investigation into state-sponsored Russian attacks on the 2016 elections—and possible collusion from the Republican presidential campaign—just took a hell of a turn, as the House Republican who supposedly is leading that investigation just announced he was headed to the White House to brief the targets of that investigation on incendiary new details about the state of the investigation against them.

Members of the Donald Trump transition team, possibly including Trump himself, were under U.S. government surveillance following November’s presidential election, House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) told reporters Wednesday.

To sum up, Rep. Devin Nunes—who was himself an executive member of Trump’s transition team during the period in question—says he was tipped off that the U.S. counterintelligence investigation had resulted in “incidental” collection of conversations of Trump staffers during the transition, possibly including Trump himself. This was, Nunes himself asserted, apparently legal; under FISA rules, this would generally have occurred if those staffers were in communication, “incidental” or otherwise, with foreign targets of an investigation.

Nunes did not share this information with Democratic members of his committee, but instead announced that he will be heading to the White House to brief the administration directly on these new details about … the investigation against them.

He appears to believe that the news that U.S. investigations meant to gather information on foreign intelligence efforts have discovered links to multiple members of the campaign, possibly including Trump himself, is somehow good news for Trump. Or perhaps he’s just publicly announcing those details and briefing Trump’s team on them for other reasons.


Again, Rep. Nunes is allegedly the person leading the House investigation on Russian acts during the election and, as confirmed by FBI Director James Comey during a recent hearing, possible Republican campaign collusion with those acts. And immediately after being tipped off to new information about potential ties to foreign agents and the Trump campaign, he’s meeting at the White House to let them know the information leaked to him.

Simply calling for an independent, non-partisan investigation into the election at this point seems almost beside the point. Trump transition member Nunes continues to work to sabotage the work of the investigators; he may be at this point a target of the investigation himself.

U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: March 22, 2017


Justin Sullivan/Getty Images


1. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch weathers grilling by Democrats
President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, sought to put himself above politics and assert his independence as he faced sharply partisan questioning as his confirmation hearing continued on Tuesday. Democrats grilled Gorsuch on everything from abortion rights to President Trump’s travel ban. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) asked Gorsuch whether a president’s decisions on national security were reviewable by the courts, and Gorsuch replied, “Nobody is above the law in this country.” Gorsuch also said that Trump had not asked him to say whether he would vote to overturn the Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision. “I would have walked out the door,” Gorsuch said. “That’s not what judges do.” The hearing continues on Wednesday and Thursday.

Source: The Associated Press, The New York Times

2. Trump pressures Republicans to get behind ObamaCare replacement plan
President Trump on Tuesday warned Republicans to get behind the House GOP’s proposal to replace ObamaCare or face defeat in next year’s midterm elections. “I’m gonna come after you, but I know I won’t have to, because I know you’ll vote ‘yes,'” Trump said, according to several meeting participants in a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill. “Honestly, a loss is not acceptable, folks.” The GOP bill would reduce future federal financing for Medicaid and replace income-based premium subsidies with age-based tax credits. It would also repeal ObamaCare tax hikes. Some conservatives oppose the plan because they say it doesn’t go far enough, leaving doubts about whether Republicans have the votes to pass the legislation. Democrats are fighting it because it is projected to leave millions more Americans without insurance.

Source: The Washington Post, The Associated Press

3. Labor nominee Alexander Acosta heads into confirmation hearing
Labor secretary nominee Alexander Acosta heads into his confirmation hearing on Wednesday with support from Big Labor, suggesting a relatively smooth path ahead. Acosta was President Trump’s second choice for the job, stepping in after fast-food CEO Andrew Puzder dropped out. Acosta is likely to face tough questions over a plea deal he approved as U.S. attorney for a billionaire in a child sex case, but Republican senators said his three previous confirmations for federal positions suggest he won’t face too much opposition. In prepared remarks, Acosta, who will be the first Hispanic member of Trump’s Cabinet if confirmed, vowed to work with Congress to help Americans get the training they need to get good, safe jobs.

Source: McClatchy, The Associated Press

4. New details emerge on ex-Trump campaign chief’s alleged Russia ties
A Ukrainian lawmaker on Tuesday released financial documents that he said showed that Paul Manafort, a former campaign manager for President Trump, laundered $750,000 in payments from the party of Ukraine’s pro-Russia former president, Viktor Yanukovych. The revelations came soon after FBI Director James Comey told the House Intelligence Committee that his agency was investigating allegations of Russian meddling in last year’s election, and possible coordination between Moscow and members of the Trump campaign. The Associated Press reported early Wednesday that Manafort also secretly worked for a Russian billionaire close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, promoting Putin’s interests and countering Kremlin opposition in former Soviet republics more than a decade ago.

Source: CNN, The Associated Press

5. North Korean missile test fails
A North Korean missile exploded just after launch on Wednesday, U.S. and South Korean military officials said. “It may have exploded right after it took off from a launch pad,” a South Korean military official said. The failure came in the latest in a series of weapons tests by the isolated, unpredictable communist nation that have escalated tensions in the region. Just last week Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said during a trip that took him to Japan, South Korea, and China that the U.S. was ending its policy of strategic patience with North Korea, and that all options, including military action, were on the table.

Source: Reuters

6. Trump to attend May NATO summit
The White House announced Tuesday that President Trump will attend a summit with leaders of NATO nations on May 25 in Brussels. Trump has chafed NATO allies by calling for them to increase their defense spending, and by proposing an alliance with Russia to fight the Islamic State. “The president looks forward to meeting with his NATO counterparts to reaffirm our strong commitment to NATO, and to discuss issues critical to the alliance, especially allied responsibility-sharing and NATO’s role in the fight against terrorism,” the White House said in a statement. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg visits Washington, D.C., on April 12.

Source: Reuters

7. Retailer files unfairness lawsuit against Ivanka Trump’s brand
An upscale San Francisco clothing boutique, Modern Appealing Clothing, has lodged a class action suit against Ivanka Trump’s brand, accusing it of leveraging her father’s presidency to gain an unfair advantage over rivals. Modern Appealing Clothing filed the claim last week in California arguing that sales for Ivanka Trump’s clothing and accessories brand “have surged since the election” by exploiting “the power and prestige of the White House for personal gain.” The lawsuit comes as Ivanka Trump is seeking security clearance and getting an office in the West Wing, where she reportedly will offer President Trump “her candid advice.” Ivanka Trump’s company declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Source: The Washington Post

8. Judge sentences friend of Dylann Roof to 27 months
A federal judge on Tuesday sentenced Joseph C. Meek Jr., a friend of convicted murderer Dylann Roof, to 27 months in prison for misleading authorities who were investigating Roof’s racist massacre at a black church. Meek, 22, pleaded guilty last April to misleading FBI agents in interviews shortly after the 2015 shooting at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church that left nine churchgoers dead. In a night of drinking and drug use a week before the attack, Roof had told Meek of his plan to kill black people at a church to start a race war. Meek did not report the threat, although he considered it serious enough that he hid Roof’s handgun. A tearful Meek had asked for leniency and apologized to the victims’ families, saying he was “really sorry a lot of innocent lives were taken.”

Source: The New York Times

9. Gong Show host Chuck Barris dies at 87
Game-show creator Chuck Barris died Tuesday at his home in Palisades, New York. He was 87. Barris cranked out a string of iconic shows starting in 1966 with The Dating Game, hosted by Jim Lange. In that show, young people questioned three members of the opposite sex who were hidden from view to determine who would be the best date. Barris followed that up with The Newlywed Game and The Gong Show, an unpredictable talent show that Barris hosted.

Source: The Associated Press

10. Disney sued over Oscar-winning animated film Zootopia
Production company Esplanade Productions on Tuesday filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Walt Disney Pictures over its Oscar-winning animated film Zootopia. The suit alleges screenwriter and producer Gary Goldman, who has worked on projects including Total Recall and Minority Report, has twice pitched a similar concept to Disney on behalf of Esplanade Productions, and that Disney used Goldman’s ideas for Zootopia. Goldman said his vision was to “explore life in America through a civilized society of animals”; Disney’s film “explores prejudice through a bunny’s quest to become a respected police officer.” Disney said Goldman’s lawsuit is “riddled with patently false allegations” and vowed to “vigorously defend against it in court.”

Source: The Hollywood Reporter