The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Barr's press conference, re-imagined

The always-incisive Alexandra Petri provides a more honest view of AG William Barr's press conference yesterday:

Hello, everyone. I am here to repeat the words “no collusion” as many times as I can without sounding suspicious, but first, I would like to thank Rod Rosenstein. He is here standing behind me. He had plans to step back from public service before I came along and asked him to assist me. Then again, some would argue that by assisting me, he did not perform a public service. Anyway, he is here.

I would also like to thank Robert Mueller for making this report for me to redact. I feel like it is a joint creation between the two of us. He is not standing here with me today. Instead, there is a bearded man who, no doubt, is familiar to you all. I will certainly not introduce him at any point. I will leave his identity to your imagination! Worst-case scenario, this will just accustom you to seeing strange facts without context, something that will help you as you consume the report!

The good news is that, although the Russian government did interfere in the 2016 election with hacking and disinformation campaigns, it did not do so literally at the behest of the Trump campaign, in my opinion. Was that the opinion of the Mueller team? Who can say? But if it wasn’t, it should have been, I think. Make no mistake, Russia did interfere to help him, but this effort was just sort of a fun lagniappe. Nobody asked for it.

The Post has the full (redacted) Mueller report online. I'll be reading it on a plane today.

Stuff I didn't read because I was having lunch in the sun

We have actual spring weather today, so instead of reading things while eating lunch I was watching things, like this corgi:

I do have a few things to read while coordinating a rehearsal later tonight. To wit:

  • New York City declared a public health emergency because of measles. Measles. A childhood disease we almost eradicated before people started believing falsehoods about vaccination.
  • White House senior troll Stephen Miller has the president's ear, with predictable consequences.
  • Where did all of Chicago's taverns go? We used to have two to a block.
  • Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin admitted that the White House and the IRS have discussed releasing the president's tax forms, contrary to the statute meant to keep the White House from influencing the IRS.
  • Why is Canadian PM Justin Trudeau imploding so fast?
  • The UK Government has started preparing for EU elections next month, a sign that they expect to get an extension on the Brexit timeline from the EU. If not, then they will crash out of the union at 5pm Chicago time Thursday, scoring one of the worst own-goals in the history of world politics. (It's worth noting that losing the American colonies was another one.) I can't wait for PMQs tomorrow.

Today's weather, of course, is just a teaser. We even have snow flurries in the forecast for Friday. Welcome to Chicago.

Climate science panel reforms independently

After President Trump disbanded the Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment  in August 2017, the group got back together on its own:

The panel is now known as the Science to Climate Action Network (Scan) and has now completed work it would have finished for the federal government, releasing a report on Thursday warning that Americans are being put at risk from the impacts of a warming planet due to a muddled response to climate science.

“We were concerned that the federal government is missing an opportunity to get better information into the hands of those who prepare for what we have already unleashed,” said Richard Moss, a member of Scan and a visiting scientist at Columbia University, who previously chaired the federal panel.

“We’re only just starting to see the effects of climate change, it’s only going to get much worse. But we haven’t yet rearranged our daily affairs to adapt to science we have,” he added.

The fourth National Climate Assessment, released on the day after Thanksgiving last year, detailed how climate change is already harming Americans, with sobering findings on future impacts. At the time, Trump said he didn’t believe the report.

Columbia University and the American Meteorological Association are funding the reconstituted panel.

Too funny, except it's not

I had planned to talk about this thoughtful article on congestion pricing and how free roads aren't really free, but just a few minutes ago I saw a headline that made me laugh out loud:

President Trump is planning to nominate former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain to the Federal Reserve’s board of governors, two people familiar with the push said, a move that would significantly escalate the White House’s effort to exert political pressure on the U.S. central bank.

A Senate GOP leadership aide, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the nominee’s prospects, predicted that Cain would ultimately not have the support to be confirmed.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), the ranking Democrat on the Banking Committee, suggested Cain and Moore were both underqualified for the Fed board.

"I thought it was a joke at first when I heard that, but I guess it's at least as serious as Stephen Moore," he said. "I'll just leave it at that for now."

"Underqualified." No, I'm underqualified for the Fed. The administration's proposed nominees are so unqualified laughter is the only option at this point. Remember, Cain is the guy who ran for president in 2012 without the slightest guess about the location (or names) of several strategically-important countries, making Rex Tillerson look like a Rhodes scholar.

Remember, these guys hate competence, especially in government. But wow, I didn't think they'd go this far. It's hard to believe Trump filed for bankruptcy all those times, with his giant brain.

The UK and US governments continue to make crises worse

First, in the UK this week, while people can feel slightly relieved the country won't crash out of the European Union in three days, things haven't gotten any less chaotic:

Downing Street aides directly asked hard-Brexit Conservatives at Chequers on Sunday whether Theresa May’s resignation as prime minister would be enough to get them to endorse finally the exit deal struck with the European Union, it has emerged.

A source said that in those private conversations several aides to the prime minister present asked whether it would help them vote for the controversial Brexit deal if May were to quit. “It didn’t look like a coincidence; aides like this are not meant to think for themselves,” they added.

And let's not forget:

Brexit would inflict immediate and profound economic shocks on Ireland, hitting households, businesses and government finances, according to a study.

Britain’s departure from the European Union, with or without a deal, would cause significant damage to jobs and economic growth, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) said in a comprehensive report published on Tuesday.

A decade after Brexit, Ireland’s output would be 2.6%, 4.8% or 5% lower than if Britain had stayed in the EU, it said, painting a stark picture as policymakers in Dublin try to grapple with a possibly imminent blow.

A disorderly no-deal Brexit would mean 80,000 fewer jobs being created in Ireland over a decade, derailing the government’s budget planning, said the thinktank, which works closely with the Department of Finance.

Meanwhile, back home, the GOP has whipped up their spin machine to whip up a Benghazi-style counter-offensive in the wake of the Mueller Report:

The strategy — currently loose and informal — is still in its infancy. But all signs indicate a Trump operation seeking vengeance and accountability from critics it says maligned the president over the investigation into whether his campaign or associates conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. An adviser who talked to the president said Trump has an appetite to see his critics investigated. The adviser spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private conversation.

While Trump and his allies have portrayed Attorney General William P. Barr’s summary of Mueller’s findings as a complete vindication of the president, Barr made it clear that the special counsel was not exonerating the president on the question of obstruction of justice. And details of the report, if made public, could prove troublesome for Trump. Mueller’s work led to criminal charges against 34 people, including six former Trump associates and advisers, and showed that Russia sought to influence the election and help Trump.

Still, the president’s aides and allies have shown little desire to turn the page, preferring to write a new book detailing what they say is a rush to judgment from a Washington establishment unwilling to ever give Trump an unbiased assessment.

The over-arching strategy, remember, is to whip up the base enough to get the president re-elected in 2020. 

In both the UK's Brexit catastrophe and the destructive tribal politics driven by the GOP for the last 10 years, we see people desperately trying to cling to power even if it takes the whole system down.

These things happen every so often, as right-leaning groups, driven by fear, blow things up so that they personally don't lose anything. Unfortunately for the rest of us, the most prominent historical examples of this behavior (1930s Europe, 1860s US, 1770s UK, 1690s Europe, 1630s England...) do not inspire confidence.

Not out of the woods yet, Britain

Even though the EU has agreed to extend the UK's Article 50 exit date to mid-May, Parliament still has to pass the enabling legislation to accept the deal. After that, Brexit Minister and England's Most Unhappy Frontbencher Kwasi Kwarteng spent half an hour yesterday getting to the phrase "next week," partly because the Government still haven't fully sorted what they will present to Commons then:

Almost half an hour into Kwarteng’s response to an urgent question following the EU’s imposition of an extended Brexit timetable at a summit in Brussels, the Labour MP David Hanson told the minister there was “a world outside this chamber who would like to know what day we are voting on any meaningful vote”.

Kwarteng responded: “The government fully intends to have a meaningful vote next week.”

The secondary legislation needed to change the departure date would also be tabled next week, he said, but declined to give any further details on timings, adding: “On this Friday I’m not going to say the exact hour and time of when the meaningful vote will take place.”

Separately, No 10 said the EU’s agreement to extend article 50 was contingent on holding the vote next week. The exact date has not been set, but it is likely to be on Tuesday or Wednesday, to give MPs and peers time to pass legislation to change the exit date before 29 March.

“The consideration is to hold it when we believe we have a realistic prospect of success,” May’s spokesman said. “My understanding of last night is that the extension to 22 May was contingent on winning the vote next week.”

May will meet cabinet ministers in Downing Street and spend the weekend working at Chequers, her country retreat.

Holy Brinksmanship, Batman. Vladimir Putin has to be sitting in the Kremlin with the Soviet equivalent of popcorn watching this farce, laughing out loud. Of course, he could be laughing at President Trump's announcement yesterday that the US will recognize Israel's conquest of the Golan Heights, which makes Putin's conquest of Crimea almost legitimate:

Trump’s push to assert Israel’s ownership of the strategic heights along the Syrian-Israeli border, conveyed in a tweet on Thursday, marked a major shift in U.S. policy and has been welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But it also raised concerns that confrontations along the cease-fire line could escalate.

Israel seized two-thirds of the Golan during the 1967 war, and since 1973 Syria has made no military effort to regain it. Its army is no match for Israel’s superior military capabilities.

The U.S. assertion of Israeli claims will give Iran a propaganda boost at a time when the Trump administration is pressing allies in the region to join efforts to roll back Iranian influence. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Beirut on Friday morning on a visit aimed at urging Lebanese leaders to take action to limit Hezbollah’s growing prominence in the Lebanese government.

This, the day before our Secretary of State visits the region. I'd call it unbelievable but it really isn't.

White House stonewalls Congress

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, would like the White House to provide documents. Any documents:

I have sent 12 letters to the White House on a half-dozen topics — some routine and some relating to our core national security interests. In response, the White House has refused to hand over any documents or produce any witnesses for interviews.

Let me underscore that point: The White House has not turned over a single piece of paper to our committee or made a single official available for testimony during the 116th Congress.

As a reminder of what used to be “normal,” previous presidential administrations turned over tens of thousands of pages of documents in response to Oversight Committee investigations under both parties just a few years ago. The George W. Bush White House gave us more than 20,000 pages relating to Hurricane Katrina; numerous documents and witnesses relating to the leak of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity; and nearly 1,500 pages of emails between senior White House officials about the death of Pat Tillman. Similarly, the Obama White House produced many documents and emails relating to the Solyndra controversy, as well as witnesses and documents regarding the Benghazi, Libya, attacks, including communication between top White House officials and National Security Council staff.

By contrast, the complete refusal by the Trump White House to produce any documents or witnesses to the primary investigative committee in the House reflects a decision at the highest levels to deny congressional oversight altogether. The president dictated this approach the day after the election when he threatened a “warlike posture” against Democrats and then vowed that, at the end of two years, “I’m just going to blame them.”

President Trump’s actions violate our Constitution’s fundamental principle of checks and balances. If our committee must resort to issuing subpoenas, there should be no doubt about why. This has nothing to do with presidential harassment and everything to do with unprecedented obstruction.

You don't want Congress to issue subpoenas if you're the president, because then you've lost control over what they'll see. My guess is that Rep. Cummings fired this shot across the White House's bow to let them know subpoenas are coming soon.

Oops, pardon me!

This morning two bad things happened to convicted felon and all-around slimy guy Paul Manafort. First, he got sentenced to another 47 months in jail as a result of his second conviction:

In [Federal] court Wednesday, Judge Amy Berman Jackson criticized Manafort and his defense attorneys for repeatedly blaming his hard fall from power on his decision to work for Trump, which attracted the attention of the special counsel investigating Russian interference in that campaign.

“This defendant is not public enemy number one, but he’s also not a victim either,” Jackson said. “There’s no question this defendant knew better, and he knew exactly what he was doing.”

The question of whether anyone in Donald Trump’s campaign “conspired or colluded with” the Russian government “was not presented in this case,” she said, so for Manafort’s attorneys to emphasize that no such collusion was proved, she said, is “a non-sequitur.”

Just minutes later, a state grand jury in New York indicted Manafort on 16 felony counts that could keep him in prison for the rest of his life:

The new state charges against Mr. Manafort are contained in a 16-count indictment that alleges a yearlong scheme in which he falsified business records to obtain millions of dollars in loans, [Manhattan district attorney Cyrus] Vance said in a news release after the federal sentencing.

“No one is beyond the law in New York,” he said, adding that the investigation by the prosecutors in his office had “yielded serious criminal charges for which the defendant has not been held accountable.”

The indictment grew out of an investigation that began in 2017, when the Manhattan prosecutors began examining loans Mr. Manafort received from two banks.

Remember, whatever clemency Manafort could get under the President's pardon power, that power does not extend to state crimes. The same goes with related state-level investigations into the Trump Organization and the president himself that appear to have started within multiple New York law-enforcement agencies.

Josh Marshall has written often that the Trump Organization's business "would never survive first contact with law enforcement." As anyone who has followed Donald Trump's career over the year knows, this is axiom. And it is happening.

Gosh, who do you root for?

The Times is reporting that Michael Cohen has sued the Trump Organization for $1.9m in unpaid legal fees:

The lawsuit, filed in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan, said that the Trump Organization had agreed to pay Mr. Cohen attorney’s fees or related costs connected to his work with the Trump Organization but had failed to live up to that promise.

Mr. Cohen is also seeking reimbursment for an additional $1.9 million he was ordered to pay in fines, forfeitures and restitution after he pleaded guilty to breaking campaign finance laws, tax evasion and lying to Congress, the lawsuit said.

The complaint said that around July 2017, Mr. Cohen and the Trump Organization entered an agreement under which the company would pay for Mr. Cohen’s legal fees and costs connected to investigations being conducted by Congress and Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

This should be interesting. I wonder if Trump will plead that the contract was unlawful because it served a corrupt purpose?

More winning by the administration! Well, the Putin administration, anyway

Paul Krugman points out how President Trump's alternating bluster and surrender over trade has left us "less trusted, less respected, and weaker than we were before:"

On U.S. unreliability, consider the way the current administration has treated Canada, probably the friendliest neighbor and firmest ally any nation has ever had. Despite generations of good relations and a free-trade agreement, Trump imposed large tariffs on Canadian aluminum and steel, invoking national security as a justification. This was obviously specious — in fact, Trump himself basically conceded this point, justifying the tariffs instead as retaliation for Canadian dairy policy (which was also specious).

The lesson for the world is that America can’t be trusted. Why bother making deals with a country that’s willing to slap sanctions on the best of allies, and clearly lie about the reasons, whenever it feels like it?

Meanwhile, the sudden retreat in the confrontation with China shows that we talk loud but carry a small stick. It would be one thing if the U.S. had changed course on the merits. But backing down so easily, after all the posturing, tells the world that the way to deal with America is not to bargain in good faith, but simply to threaten the president’s political base, and maybe offer some payoffs, political and otherwise. (I’m still wondering about those floors China’s largest bank rents at Trump Tower.)

Meanwhile, Michelle Goldberg looks forward to the multiple congressional inquiries launched this week as "Trump's TV Trial."

As America and the West get weaker, Russia gets stronger. So much winning. Just not ours.