Week 45: Experts in authoritarianism advise to keep a list of things subtly changing around you, so you’ll remember.
September 23, 2017
Week 45 is the week of Paul Manafort — who now in retrospect, seems an even more odd choice by Trump for campaign manager. As Mueller zeroes in on Manafort and Flynn, almost every Trump campaign and WH staffers, past and present, is being drawn into the expanding Russia probe. This week several regime members drew heat for unrepentant kleptocracy.
This week DHS informed 21 states they were targeted by Russia, strangely a year later and on a late afternoon on Friday. Trump, who benefitted from a slight approval rating reprieve courtesy of positive media coverage, continues to deny Russian involvement and to act erratically and unbefitting of the office on both foreign policy and domestic issues. Trump also continues to ignore what is shaping up to be a humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico.
- In a series of bizarre Sunday morning tweets, Trump referred to Kim Jong Un as the “Rocket Man,” retweeted a criticism of a NYT story, and retweeted two of his own tweets.
- Trump also retweeted a GIF of him hitting Hillary with a golf ball in the head, sparking criticism for the violent imagery against a female political opponent. Elected Republicans remained silent.
- The original account of the golf GIF was @Fuctupmind, whose Twitter feed is full of racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-LGBTQ tweets.
- Trump began his first UN remarks by mentioning Trump World Tower, “I actually saw great potential right across the street to be honest with you.”
- Trump threatened to “totally destroy” N. Korea, and using his new nickname for Kim Jong Un, said, “Rocket man is on a suicide mission.” N. Korea’s ambassador walked out before Trump’s speech started.
- Trump also said, “I will always put America first,” and urged other leaders to do the same. Several analysts compared Trump’s speech to the rhetoric of the 1920’s when traditionalists reacted to changing times by stoking hate of others.
- WAPO’s Asia Pacific reporter noted Kim Jong Un’s regime tells N. Korean people every day that the US “wants to destroy them and their country. Now, they will hear it from another source” — Trump.
- On Wednesday, in an escalating war of words, N. Korea’s foreign minister likened Trump to a “dog barking.”
- On Thursday, while threatening escalation, Kim Jong Un called Trump a “mentally deranged US dotard.” N. Korea analysts noted it is unprecedented to have Kim Jong Un himself directly attack a US leader.
- On Friday, the LA Times reported aides repeatedly warned Trump not to deliver a personal attack on Kim Jong Un at his UN speech, saying insults could irreparably escalate tensions.
- Pew Research reported America’s image has suffered since Trump took office. In a survey spanning 37 nations, just 22% have confidence Trump is doing the right thing in international affairs, versus 64% for Obama.
- As tensions rise with N. Korea, 76% of S. Koreans and 72% of Japanese say they have no confidence in Trump to do the right thing in world affairs.
- Trump also blasted Iranian leaders as a “corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy,” and said “the Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions,” and an “embarrassment” to the US.
- On Friday, Iran showed off its new ballistic missile at a military parade in Tehran. President Rouhani said, “when it comes to defending our country, we will ask nobody for their permission.”
- At a bilateral meeting, Trump praised Turkey’s authoritarian leader Erdogan, saying: “We have a great friendship.” Erdogan is the subject of international condemnation for his brutal crackdown on dissidents.
- State authorities in NH are investigating the wounding of an 8 year-old biracial boy as a possible hate crime. The boy was pushed off a picnic table with a rope around his neck by teenagers.
- US Army recruiters are canceling contracts with hundreds of immigrant recruits, exposing some to deportation. Recruiters claim the move is to eliminate onerous background investigations from the enlistment process.
- Newsweek reported white supremacists are recruiting on college campuses. At The University of Houston, flyers reading “Beware the International Jew” and “Imagine a Muslim-Free America” were hung around campus.
- McClatchy reported the Trump regime is considering a policy which would fast-track the deportation of thousands of unaccompanied Central American teenagers who arrived at the southern border.
- More than 150k children who arrived at the southern border, escaping violence and poverty in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, would be sent back when they turn 18, without seeing an immigration judge first.
- NPR reported parents traveling within Texas to a hospital to get their two-month old a lifesaving operation were arrested and put into deportation proceedings. A hospital nurse may have tipped border patrol off.
- Under Obama, immigration agents avoided enforcement actions at hospitals, schools and churches. The Trump regime rounds up people in the country illegally at those places, even if they have no criminal record.
- Guardian reported Trump has assembled the most male-dominated government in decades, with 80% of nominations for top jobs in the Trump regime going to men.
- On Friday, DeVos formally rescinded Obama-era policies campus sexual assault meant to protect victims, instead siding with men’s rights advocates. No formal policy was put in place, just a higher burden of proof.
- WSJ reported as Trump’s temporary travel ban expired Friday, DHS may replace it with a targeted approach that will impact nine countries, only one of which is not majority Muslim. Trump has no business interests in the six already on the list, it is uncertain about the additional three.
- A triathlon scheduled to take place at Trump National golf course in NC, originally named “Tri at the Trump” then rebranded “Tri for Good,” was canceled amid controversy. This would have been the race’s fourth year.
- WJAR-TV, one of RI’s most watched television stations, said it is being forced by its owner Sinclair Broadcast Group to broadcast multiple programs favorable to Trump.
- AP reported the Republican Governors Associations quietly set up a media outlet, “The Free Telegraph.” Critics called the website, which makes no mention of a being a product of an official party committee, propaganda.
- On Monday, Trump said he was looking into staging a military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue for July 4th.
- On Wednesday, in a speech at a lunch with African leaders, Trump praised the health care of Nambia, a nonexistent African country.
- Nicaragua announced it will sign on to the Paris climate accord — leaving only Syria and the US outside it.
- Trump blocked a woman with stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma on Twitter. Laura Packard had tweeted Graham-Cassidy would jeopardize the lives of people like her who rely on Obamacare exchanges for coverage.
- AP reported lawmakers across the country introduced dozens of bills this year which would close or limit public access to a wide range of government records and meetings.
- The Trump regime has removed links to taxpayer-funded climate data on the U.S. Geological Survey website. A search for “Effects of Climate Change” had 2,825 items in December and today has zero items.
- WAPO reported that in a memo to Trump, Interior Sec. Zinke is recommending modifying 10 national monuments created by Obama, including shrinking the boundaries of at least four.
- Justice Gorsuch campaigned for McConnell in a speech in McConnell’s hometown on Thursday. In Week 21, McConnell passed the filibuster-ending “nuclear option” that allowed Gorsuch to get confirmed.
- WAPO reported Democrats are introducing The Hotel Act, legislation which would ban federal officials from using taxpayer fund for travel expenses at Trump-owned properties or locales.
- Politico reported HHS Sec. Tom Price used a private-jet for travel, breaking precedent. Price has been an outspoken critic of federal spending, and has developed a plan for department-wide savings at HHS.
- Politico also reported Price traveled by private by private plane at least 24 times since early May, costing taxpayers more than $300k. Many flights were to conferences, so dates were known well in advance.
- The most frequent justification for chartered flights is lack of comparable options. Politico found several commercial flight options at comparable times for five chartered flights Price took last week.
- WAPO reported according to a senior administration official, the WH did not approve Price’s travel on chartered planes.
- On Friday, WAPO reported the HHS Inspector General is investigating Price’s use of two dozen chartered flights in recent months.
- ABC reported Treasury Dept investigators are also looking into a charter flight Steven Mnuchin took from NY to DC on August 15 at a cost to taxpayers of $25k. There are ample flight and rail alternatives available for this route.
- For a third time, Republicans in the Senate tried to pass healthcare without using regular order or trying for any bipartisan support. McCain’s vote against these tactics will likely cause Graham-Cassidy to fail.
- The Trump regime continued to sabotage Obamacare: HHS announced it will shut down the @HHSgov website for 12 hours during all but one Sunday in the remaining six weeks of open enrollment season.
- Jeff Mateer, Trump’s nominee for a federal judgeship in Texas, in two 2015 speeches, described transgender children are evidence of “Satan’s plan,” and lamented that states were banning conversion therapy.
- WAPO reported the EPA has spent $833k on Scott Pruitt’s round-the-clock personal security detail over the past three months, doubling what was spent by his predecessors, and amid massive cost cutting for the agency.
- According to a copy of his schedule obtained by WAPO, Pruitt met regularly with executives from the auto, mining, and fossil fuel industries — in some cases shortly before making decisions favorable to them.
- Politico reported a review of Trump’s pick for USDA hires reveals the agency is full of campaign staff and volunteers, many of whom have little or no federal policy experience or knowledge about agriculture.
- Trump’s picks are also being paid above their pay scale. One former truck driver is being paid the highest levels on the federal government’s pay scale, a GS-12, earning $80k annually, although he has no college degree.
- Former Trump campaign adviser Michael Caputo said he will need to liquidate part of his children’s college fund to pay for specialized legal representation in the Mueller Russia probe.
- Flynn’s siblings launched a legal-defense fund to help defray the costs of the Russia probe. The family will not disclose the identity of donors, raising concerns from ethics experts.
- Reuters reported Trump is using money donated to his re-election campaign and the RNC to pay for his legal fees related to the Russia probe.
- CNN reported the RNC spent $231k in August to cover Trump’s legal fees, paying personal attorneys Jay Sekulow $131k and John Dowd $100k.
- The RNC has also payed nearly $200k of Donald Jr.’s legal fees for the Russia probe in August.
- WSJ reported the Republican Party is funding Trump’s legal defense in the Russia probe with help from a handful of wealthy individuals, including a Ukrainian-born American with close business ties to Russian oligarchs.
- NYT reported Donald Jr. has decided to forego his Secret Service protection, citing he wants more privacy.
- Jody Hunt, Sessions’ chief-of-staff and Trump’s pick to be assistant AG of the DOJ’s Civil Division, was present at a key meeting between Sessions, Comey and Trump, at which Trump asked all but Comey to leave.
- Sessions’ new chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, said Mueller’s Russia probe is turning into a “witch hunt,” and said Rosenstein should “order Mueller to limit the scope of his investigation.”
- On Tuesday, Senate investigators canceled a meeting with Michael Cohen, saying he broke an agreement by releasing a statement and speaking to the media. NBC reports the committee will subpoena Cohen instead.
- Guardian reported on the eighth person at the June 9 Trump Tower meeting: Ikray “Ike” Kaveladze, saying he is an associate of some of Russia’s richest and most powerful people.
- Kaveladze was involved in the 2013 takeover of Stillwater Mining by Norilsk Nickel, a Russian mining firm owned by an associate of Putin — the first Russian company to take a majority stake in a US company. Kaveladze served on the new company’s board.
- NYT reported on two Trump lawyers, Cobb and Dowd, overheard by NYT reporters while discussing over lunch a clash within Trump’s legal team over how much to cooperate with Mueller.
- Per the overheard conversation, WH officials fear that colleagues are wearing wires for Mueller. NYT reported in the aftermath McGahn erupted at Cobb, and Kelly reprimanded him.
- CBS reported FBI surveillance of Manafort during 2016 picked up conversations between Manafort and Russians about the campaign, and may also include conversations between Manafort and Trump.
- WSJ reported Mueller’s team interviewed deputy AG Rosenstein about Trump’s firing of Comey in June or July. Mueller has independence on his investigation, but ultimately answers to Rosenstein.
- Rosenstein said Trump shrugged off any potential consequences for firing Comey. Rosenstein also turned over the May 8 memo from Trump which outlined his rationale for firing Comey, to Mueller’s team.
- CNN reported Manafort was wiretapped by the US government. The wiretap was first authorized by the special court that handles FISA warrants in 2014 when Manafort was the subject of a FBI investigation.
- The surveillance was discontinued late last year for lack of evidence, then restarted by the FBI under a new FISA warrant for ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, which extended into early 2017.
- NYT reported on aggressive tactics being employed by Mueller’s investigator against Manafort, including prosecutors telling him they planned to indict him as they searched his Virginia home.
- To get the search warrant, Mueller’s team had to show probable cause that Manafort’s home contained evidence of a crime. To pick the lock, prosecutors had to persuade a judge Manafort would destroy evidence.
- Also of note: Mueller’s team first learned of the emails between Donald Jr. and Russians to set up the June 9 meeting through NYT reporting.
- WAPO reported Mueller has requested extensive records and email correspondence from the WH for 13 categories which investigators for the special counsel have identified as critical to their probe.
- Mueller’s agents have zeroed in on Manafort and Flynn. Their past associates are being questioned on whether they tried to conceal consulting work that could have benefited foreign governments.
- NYT reported requests relate to the areas of Flynn’s hiring and firing, the Comey firing, and Trump’s Oval Office meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak at which he said the Comey firing has relieved “great pressure” on him.
- Documents are also sought for communications with Manafort, as well as Trump’s campaign foreign policy team: Carter Page, J. D. Gordon, Keith Kellogg, George Papadopoulos, Walid Phares and Joseph E. Schmitz.
- Other areas include Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak, Spicer’s statements on Comey’s firing, and the June 9 Trump Tower meeting and the WH response to that meeting.
- Axios reported Spicer’s colleagues say he filled “notebook after notebook” at meetings during the campaign and then at the WH. Spicer was known for keeping copious notes.
- When Axios’ Mike Allen texted Spicer for a comment, Spicer responded, “From a legal standpoint I want to be clear: Do not email or text me again. Should you do again I will report to the appropriate authorities.”
- WAPO reported that less than two weeks before the RNC Convention, Manafort made an offer in an email through an intermediary to give Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska a private briefing.
- Manafort and Deripaska had a business relationship in which Manafort was paid as an investment consultant. Deripaska is one of Russia’s richest men, and someone Putin turns to on a regular basis.
- Manafort emails indicate he may have been looking to get paid money owed by past clients using his role and influence as Trump’s campaign manager. An email in April asked, “How do we use to get whole?”
- Also of note, Deripaska claimed Manafort siphoned off $19 million of funds intended for investments — for which Deripaska sued in US court. It is possible Manafort was looking to wipe that debt away.
- Also in email, Manafort communicated with Konstantin Kilimnik, his long-time man in Kiev who attended Soviet military school, using code terms like “OVD” for Deripaska and “black caviar” for possible payments.
- NYT reported in order to help defray his legal expenses, Manafort is working for allies of the leader of Iraq’s Kurdish region on a referendum on Kurdish independence from Iraq. The US opposes the referendum.
- As part of that work, Manafort may leave the country and return to the region in the coming days for the vote.
- NYT reported New York-based law firm Skadden, Arps has been asked by the DOJ for documentation related to work arranged by Manafort for Viktor Yanukovych, the Russia-aligned former PM of Ukraine.
- The work was part of an effort to shield Yanukovych from international condemnation for his government prosecuting and convicting the former Ukrainian PM Tymoshenko without evidence and for political reasons.
- Skadden, Arps has returned half the $1.1 million in fees the firm received. It is unclear if the document request relates to Mueller’s Russia probe, and its focus on Manafort.
- Former Trump campaign manager Lewandowski, while defending Trump, said he hopes Manafort, Stone, or any others on the campaign who colluded with Russia in 2016, “go to jail for the rest of their lives.”
- Mueller brought in Stephen Kelly, former congressional affairs chief for the FBI, to act as a liaison to Capitol Hill. Kelly will be a point of contact and keep congressional investigators up to date on the special counsel’s probe.
- Twitter will meet with the Senate Intel Committee next week relating to the committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the US election.
- Bowing to pressure from lawmakers and the public, Facebook will release 3k ads bought by a Russian agency to congressional investigators. Facebook also vowed to be more “transparent.”
- Daily Beast reported Russians used Facebook to organize more than a dozen pro-Trump rallies in Florida during the 2016 election. The page for one such group, “Being Patriotic,” was closed by Facebook in August 2017.
- On Friday morning, Trump defended Russia from Facebook ads as being a “Russia hoax,” while attacking Hillary, tweeting the greatest influence was “the Fake News Media “screaming” for Crooked Hillary Clinton.”
- USA Today reported, according to the FBI, as many as 39 states had their election systems scanned or targeted by Russia. Several states are now considering switching back to paper ballots.
- On Friday, DHS contacted election officials in 21 states to notify them they had been targeted by Russian government hackers during the 2016 election. This was the first time government officials contacted the states.
- DHS did not make names of the 21 states public, citing privacy. BuzzFeed reported state officials are outraged, and wanting to know why it took DHS a year to inform them. Sen. Warner called the delay “unacceptable.”
- PA and WI, states with odd voting patterns which were the subject of recounts, were among the 21 disclosed as of Friday night. Officials in FL, another surprise on election night, said they were also a target of Russia.
- On Friday night, former DNI Clapper said US Intel’s findings on Russia’s election interference “did serve to cast doubt on the legitimacy” of Trump’s victory, and expressed concern that Russian interference will continue.
- On Friday night in Alabama, at what was supposed to be a campaign rally for Sen. Luther Strange, Trump said of his support of Strange, “I’ll be honest, I might have made a mistake.”
- The campaign rally turned out to be a 90 minute rant, including Trump again deriding Kim Jong Un, calling him “little Rocket Man.”
- Trump also said of Colin Kaepernick, who took a knee in protest, NFL owners should respond by saying, “Get that son of a bitch off the field.”
- The next morning, Trump tweeted about Stephen Curry, a member of the NBA Champion Warriors who had expressed reservations about going to the WH: “Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!”
- A WAPO opinion writer described how Trump is making Americans sick: including rising blood pressure, a surge in mouth-guards for night-time teeth clenching and grinding, and unusually busy psychotherapists.
- Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, decimating the island and leaving 3.5 million without electricity for months. On Friday, 70k were evacuated over concern of a failing dam. Trump did little to mention or address this crisis.
- The Trump regime plans to roll back Obama-era limitations on drone strikes and commando raids outside conventional battlefields.
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