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The Weekly Arc: August 4, 2017

Welcome to Arc’s newsletter, sent out once per week, highlighting the best and most interesting stories from around the web. The Weekly Arc is curated by Berny Belvedere. Past editions can be accessed here.

Mueller Using Grand Jury

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III began using a grand jury in federal court in Washington several weeks ago as part of his investigation of possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign, according to two people familiar with the inquiry.

The development is a sign that investigators continue to aggressively gather evidence in the case, and that Mueller is taking full control of a probe that predated him. …

Mueller’s investigation now includes a look at whether President Trump obstructed justice by firing FBI Director James B. Comey, as well as deep dives into financial and other dealings of former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. The Washington Post

With Mueller issuing subpoenas for grand jury testimony, this just got more serious. If I had to wager, I’d say this won’t lead to impeachment. But it very well might.

Stay tuned.

Kelly Tries To Establish Order

In his six months as Homeland Security secretary, John F. Kelly often described the White House as one of the most dysfunctional organizations he had ever seen, complained to colleagues and allies about its meddling, incompetence and recklessness, and was once so angry he briefly considered quitting.

Now as President Trump’s chief of staff, he is doing something about it — with a suddenness and force that have upended the West Wing.

Mr. Kelly cuts off rambling advisers midsentence. He listens in on conversations between cabinet secretaries and the president. He has booted lingering staff members out of high-level meetings, and ordered the doors of the Oval Office closed to discourage strays. He fired Anthony Scaramucci, the bombastic New Yorker who was briefly the communications director, and has demanded that even Mr. Trump’s family, including his daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, check with him if they want face time with the president.

n Wednesday, his third day on the job, he delivered a message about respecting chains of command, backing the decision of Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser, to dismiss Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a Kushner ally and staff member on the National Security Council. It was a move Mr. Kushner and Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, had long opposed, according to two administration officials.

Whether Mr. Kelly, a retired Marine general, will succeed in imposing military discipline on the faction-ridden White House remains in doubt; Mr. Trump has never been known to follow anybody’s direction, in Trump Tower or the White House. But Mr. Trump has never encountered anyone quite like Mr. Kelly, a combat veteran whose forceful management style and volatile temper are a match for the president’s. The New York Times

Senate Confirms New FBI Director

On Tuesday, the Senate voted overwhelmingly — 92–5 — to confirm Christopher Wray as FBI director. Wray previously served as Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Criminal Division under George W. Bush.

According to The Wall Street Journal’s write-up:

Mr. Wray is known as a hard worker who avoids drama, and current and former FBI agents have said they hope he can help the agency stay out of the political spotlight, enabling it to focus on its traditional investigations into everything from terrorist plots to transnational gangs to cyber crimes.

The important takeaways are “avoids drama” and “help the agency stay out of the political spotlight.” James Comey, whom Wray is replacing, infamously inserted himself into last year’s presidential election, and the feeling on all sides is that it would be nice to shift back to a more depoliticized conception of the role.

Venezuela On The Brink

The Venezuelan government’s determination to uproot the country’s democratic institutions looks almost certain to raise the already serious level of violence in the country. Is it less clear whether that violence will ignite a civil war, trigger a coup, or simply drive Venezuela further down the road towards an impoverished failed state and chaos.

The abrupt removal of the independently minded chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega, whose office was surrounded by soldiers on Saturday as a precursor to her replacement by a more compliant official, is the latest in a series of steps taken by president Nicolás Maduro to get rid of checks on his government’s power.

If the newly formed constituent assembly, boycotted by the opposition and packed with Maduro supporters, delivers on a threat to dissolve parliament, where the opposition Democratic Unity coalition (MUD) has had a majority since 2016, it will end the already threadbare democratic order established under Venezuela’s 1999 constitution.

Two prominent opposition leaders were taken from their homes by intelligence agents last week. Others could now face the choice of going into exile or into hiding.

The opposition has kept up daily and largely peaceful protests since April, but that may be hard to sustain in the face of increasingly brutal suppression by the security forces.

More than 120 people have been killed so far, and a militant opposition fringe has taken to responding violently with molotov cocktails and improvised weapons. In recent days a home-made bomb went off in Caracas, injuring several policemen.

“Should such events recur, Venezuela’s political conflict could morph into a low-intensity civil war,” said Phil Gunson, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group.— The Guardian

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This Week In History

August 5

1962 — Marilyn Monroe (b. 1926), American actress and sex symbol, takes her own life.

August 6

1945 — The U.S. drops an atomic bomb on Hiroshima during World War 2.

August 7

1990 — The U.S. begins deploying troops to Saudi Arabia to soon initiate Operation Desert Storm, a U.S.-led offensive against Iraq for the latter’s invasion of Kuwait.

August 8

1945 — The Soviet Union establishes a communist government in North Korea.

August 9

1962 — Hermann Hesse (b. 1877), German author and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, passes away.

August 10

1874 — Herbert Hoover, the 31st president of the United States, is born.


And all the voices, all the goals, all the yearnings, all the sorrows, all the pleasures, all the good and evil, all of them together was the world. All of them together was the stream of events, the music of life.

— Hermann Hesse, “Siddhartha”



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