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Episode Notes (Trump Scandals):

For a primer on what a special counsel actually does, the New York Times has this explainer.

I mentioned that I hadn’t quite yet popped over to Lawfare blog to see their reaction to the Mueller appointment. What they had to say might be the most encouraging information yet.

Earlier this evening, David Kris—who worked closely with him—described Mueller as “experienced, knowledgeable, capable. He is utterly incorruptible. He cannot be intimidated. At this stage in his career, he has nothing to prove, no reputation to burnish, no axe to grind. He is ramrod straight in his integrity.” The description is one from which few who have worked with Mueller will dissent.

Here’s that amazing Politico piece we mentioned on the podcast on Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor assigned to investigate alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Comey knew that Card would have Secret Service protection with him, and he was worried about being forcibly ejected by agents from Ashcroft’s hospital room. Ashcroft . . . was in no condition to sign off on STELLAR WIND—he’d legally turned the reins over to Comey while he was incapacitated—but, Comey feared, if the White House could isolate Ashcroft, who knew what it would do? Comey thought fast: Ashcroft had his own FBI security detail, and so he asked Mueller to call ahead and tell them not to allow the attorney general to be left alone. It was, in an extraordinary showdown between the White House and Justice Department, perhaps the single most extraordinary moment of the tumultuous Bush years: The FBI director ordering his agents to resist the Secret Service if they tried to remove the deputy attorney general from the attorney general’s bedside.

Politico has other good pieces on Mueller that tell us about the type of management style and investigation he should run.

During his 12-year tenure at the FBI, which included a special two-year extension sought by Obama and approved by Congress, Mueller displayed the same penchant for discipline, independence and support of his staff. In 2004, he reportedly threatened to quit over the Bush administration’s efforts to renew a top-secret warrantless wiretapping program.

. . .

But Mueller’s abrupt and merciless approach to reform also won him a lot of critics, and some enemies. “He shook things up, and did things his own way,” one Justice Department colleague said. “Did he have detractors? Sure. But I’ve worked long enough with the bureau to know that any time a new guy comes in, I don’t care who it is, there is always grousing.”

They also have a piece on Trump’s reaction to the Mueller news, which was initially level-headed before he exploded on Twitter. There is some concern that the White House was going to try and use ethics rulings to bar Mueller from investigating, but he’s been cleared by the DOJ department of ethics. The concern was this his law firm had represented Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort in the past.

Trump added to his apparent admissions of guilt by releasing transcripts of his meeting with Sergei Lavrov. Those transcripts contain some alarming concessions, including one from Trump on Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Most significant to the investigation itself is Trump’s statement that firing Comey relieved pressure on the Russia front.

The investigation has proceeded apace without Comey, and a person of interest in the case happens to be someone senior within the White House. That’s enormous news, and Yashar Ali of New York Magazine reports that it’s Jared Kushner.

The Kevin McCarthy “Putin pays Trump” bit is interesting if only because the lead reporter on the story is the only one whose heard the audio, and argues that it is “difficult to tell” if McCarthy is in fact joking. The full transcript of the conversation is here. This is the original Washington Post story.

The Trump campaign had 18 undisclosed contacts with Russia, an unusual number, even for a transition team into government. A good number of those contacts were directly through Michael Flynn.

Speaking of Flynn, here’s the McClatchy report that Michael Flynn altered U.S. military plans to engage ISIS as the result of influence from a foreign power.

Mike Pence could prove disastrous for Republicans for a number of reasons. He exited office with a 40 percent approval rating (in Indiana) after alienating moderates with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and a number of Republicans from his home state dislike him quite a bit. Pence is fractious in a different way that Trump is, but it’s still a divisive split in the party. Only six in ten in-state Republicans approved of the job he did, and his net approval rating of -2 will likely be expanded nationally when he’s forced to take stances on issues outside of a conservative state like Indiana.

All of that aside, the Jeet Heer piece that Ben mentioned in the podcast is worth reading because Pence on his own can be bad enough for Republicans but the process of his presidency will be even worse for them. The headline isn’t great, but the article is pretty good.

Trump’s impeachment would indeed create a new faction in the party: the disaffected Trumpists. . . How would they feel about a Republican Party that impeaches Trump and gives them Pence instead? They’d think, quite rightly, that they’ve been betrayed . . .

Meanwhile, those in the right-wing media who have championed Trump or Trumpism—figures like Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson, and Ann Coulter—would accuse the Republicans of stabbing Trump in the back. With their ample access to the right-wing base, they’d lambast the party and sow division, and an extended civil war would erupt in the GOP.

They’d have a powerful ally in the form of Trump himself. He has never held his fire against his own party. . . Lest you think Trump’s political voice would weaken outside the White House, remember that he would still have his 30 million Twitter followers and his choice of TV networks eager for an interview. And unlike Nixon, Trump has a formidable personality cult, so his followers will believe his tales of betrayal by the Republican elite.

Here’s that New York Times piece indicating that Mike Pence is in much more trouble than others seem to think.

“It’s time to talk about Mike Pence,” Emily Aden, the rapid response director of American Bridge, a liberal political group, said in a memo circulated on Thursday. “Pence is just as complicit in this scandal as every other Republican in Washington, and despite his best efforts to fly under the radar, he should expect the country to hold him accountable.”

Once again this week, Mr. Pence emerged as a crucial player — either as a willful participant or an uninformed bystander — in the allegations that followed the revelation that Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser, had informed the White House weeks before the inauguration that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign.

It was the Wall Street Journal who reported that the source that Donald Trump compromised in his meeting with Russia was perhaps the most valuable source of information about ISIS that Israel or the United States has.

One official said now that the Russians are aware of the source, there is greater risk the source could be compromised in some way. That makes it less likely that the intelligence community will trust future information, the official said.

If you don’t want to get behind the paywall, DailyKos has quoted quite a few parts of the story with their own, fairly far-left spin added to it.

Given that the United States just leaked the name of a suspect involved with the Manchester bombing, there’s a real developing problem with intelligence and intelligence sharing.

The disclosures renewed concerns over leaks from Donald Trump’s administration two weeks after the US president revealed classified information, apparently from Israel, to Russia’s foreign minister in a White House meeting. Critics warn that US allies may be less willing to share intelligence in the future.

. . .

Sanderson warned of ill judgment and lack of discipline in the White House. “This is a leaky administration. What does that mean for sharing information we need to going forward? The UK and Israel are probably our two biggest sources of intelligence. Now they’re thinking, ‘Is this going to cause us damage every time we share?’ Then you have to calculate every piece of information.”

Episode Notes (Middle East Visit):

This tweet thread is pretty good with regards to Trump’s Israel/Middle East gaffe:

Also, for some more context about arms sales to Saudi Arabia, listen to our episode on civilian deaths.

There’s a Hill piece on how the Congress is approaching this potential trade deal with Saudi Arabia. Rand Paul is pretty opposed to it. On the other hand, former general Andrew Exum thinks selling arms to a famine-inducing dictatorship is a great way to pay for housing. The New Yorker has a piece that goes further into the Yemen angle here.

the deal means that the United States is stepping up its support for Saudi Arabia’s proxy war against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, in which more than ten thousand civilians have already been killed, an unknown number of whom were blown to pieces by American-supplied bombs. In a piece published at the Hill, Kristine Beckerle, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, said her organization had documented eighty-one attacks by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen over the last two years, many of which were “possible war crimes. In almost two dozen of these cases . . . we were able to identify the U.S. weapons that were used.”

Oh, and to bring everything back full circle, Israel isn’t very happy with the arms deal.

The facepalm from the Israeli official comes from these comments, and he says the phrase at 0:55.

I mentioned a piece in Al Jazeera that argued that Abbas’ meeting with Trump a month ago was useless, and here is that piece.

Episode Notes (Jeff Sessions):

Jeff Sessions is reworking the Department of Justice, and one of those ways is to pursue the harshest possible sentences for drug offenders. There’s a good piece by a former federal prosecutor and federal judge in the Santa Fe New Mexican opposing that move.

roughly 80 percent of the sentences she was obliged to impose were unjust, unfair and disproportionate. Mandatory penalties meant that she couldn’t individualize punishment for the first-time drug offender, or the addict, or the woman whose boyfriend coerced her into the drug trade

At the very least, Congress is upset enough about this that Rand Paul and Patrick Leahy have co-sponsored a bill to rein in mandatory sentencing for federal crimes. They reference some well-known cases, including a father of three serving 25 years because he sold some of his painkillers to a friend, or another person who is serving 55 years for selling weed. They are optimistic that a passed bill would not be vetoed because Sessions isn’t the sole player in the White House on this.

PrisonPolicy.org has a good fact sheet produced by Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

Sessions may also be ending the Bureau of Prisons education reform.

“The thing that really drove all of these education reforms was not ‘Let’s all provide warm and fuzzy services to prisoners.’ It was hard recidivism data which shows that education ― specifically high school diplomas ― has enormous impact on recidivism,” said the former senior DOJ  official.

Episode Notes (David Clarke):

Here’s the twitter account for VoteVets and the tweet thread about David Clarke’s absurd uniform starts here:

The CNN article that broke the plagiarism story is here, and Clarke has yet to respond directly to those who wrote the article, though he certainly seems willing to talk around it. The Naval Postgraduate School’s guidelines are here, incidentally.

The ACLU’s graphic on Clarke is extensive. Here it is:

The Milwaukee press hasn’t been too kind with David Clarke. This article has a good rundown of how journalists, including conservative talk show hosts, have been resoundingly critical of Clarke’s tenure. We cited a 31 percent approval rating in the podcast, and that comes from this. This is the PolitiFact link about David Clarke’s largely false public history of public statements. If you’re looking for a citation for David Clarke’s absurd quote about how black people are immoral, that comes from a Glenn Beck interview that was recounted in this Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel piece.

I mentioned a great piece in the Washington Post written by someone who had held the position Clarke is going to hold, and I encourage you to read it.

The homeland is beautifully, challengingly complicated. In our system, DHS offers its limited tools to help jurisdictions guide safety and security planning, but a good deal of the work of my former office requires dialogue, empathy, patience and outside-the-box thinking to harness the capacity of these governmental entities, which have priorities that often, but not always, match with federal priorities. When communities face the worst, they expect local, state and federal efforts to combine to help provide homeland security for their citizens, whether it’s from the Coast Guard, TSA, FEMA, Secret Service, border enforcement or coordination with state and local police and sheriffs — all of which falls within Homeland Security’s charge.

With this as its undertaking, the department, and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, would be ill-served by a political antagonist such as Clarke. Going out of his way to inflame tensions between law enforcement and activists, stoking partisan fights and suggesting that the government and the people it serves are at odds all run directly counter to the approach this job requires. After the BP oil spill, when I was dispatched by a Democratic president to bring together five Republican governors to direct relief to the devasted gulf region, I knew that the citizens impacted didn’t care about ideology or party affiliation. I’m not sure Clarke does.

Also, here’s evidence that sanctuary cities are protected through federalism and the Constitution.

Episode Notes (Trade):

The Washington Post substantiates the distinction that Lighthizer makes between multilateral and bilateral trade and why Donald Trump might hold that particular philosophy.

This piece in Foreign Policy magazine does a good job going into Robert Lighthizer’s history with trade and his preference for bilateral arrangements.

The New York Times covers the bare bones of the trade agreement with China. Hopefully I didn’t quote them verbatim in the show, but it should be acknowledged that much of the information on that trade deal came from this piece.

Robert Lighthizer sent a letter to Congress indicating that they are beginning the process to renegotiate NAFTA. A good summary of the letter, as well as a copy of it, can be found here. I agree with many of the conclusions of the piece that argue that not much will get done.

Episode Notes (Education):

Trump’s education budget was leaked and the broad strokes are here. That NPR story also covers the College Transparency Act of 2017, introduced by political rivals Orrin Hatch and Elizabeth Warren.

[the College Transparency Act of 2017] directs the National Center For Education Statistics to create a privacy-protected, postsecondary data system to track students no matter where they enroll. Researchers argue that such a system would provide insight into the life outcomes of the many college students who transfer, drop out and re-enroll later, or who don’t take federal student aid. It could also make it easier to compare the performance of different colleges.

Betsy Devos’ changes in the student loan policy to centralize collection to one company can be found here.

Politico covered the dollar-for-dollar tax credit policy back in February.

Public school advocates say such a tax credit is a voucher program in disguise and would divert tax dollars from struggling public schools.

“The end result is the same — federal tax dollars going to private schools,” said Sasha Pudelski, assistant director for policy and advocacy at AASA, The School Superintendents Association, who called the program “a backdoor voucher.”

“It’s just done through a more complex and less direct mechanism,” she said.

Episode Notes (Health Care):

Donald Trump is holding subsidies hostage to support for the AHCA. Those subsidies have been critical to controlling costs for poorer families under the ACA. Known as Cost-Sharing Reductions, these have an incredible impact on coverage. We mentioned it briefly on a previous episode, but you can grab all of that information at the Kaiser Family Foundation’s primer on CSRs.

Health insurers across the country are making plans to dramatically raise Obamacare premiums or exit marketplaces amid growing exasperation with the Trump administration’s erratic management, inconsistent guidance and seeming lack of understanding of basic healthcare issues

“Instead, according to many officials, it is the Trump administration that is driving much of the current instability by refusing to commit to steps to keep markets running, such as funding aid for low-income consumers or enforcing penalties for people who go without insurance.”

“It’s hard to know who’s home,” said one chief executive. “We don’t know who is making decisions.”

Another chief executive said: “There seems to be no coordination or coherent planning.… It’s a mess.”

A third official observed: “There is a sense that there are no hands on the wheel and they are just letting the bus careen down the road.”

Whew.

It is important to note that any enormous spike in health care premiums will likely be attributed to Trump, not Obama, per this Politico piece and a lot of Trump’s advisors.

Be sure to check out our most recent episode on Health Care for a more thorough look. We go a lot deeper into the block grant/subsidy reduction dynamic, for example.

Episode Notes: Errata

Fox News has retracted their Seth Rich story, but Sean Hannity has kept it up. The Washington Post has an excellent summary of the entire conspiracy here and here’s Vox’s piece on how the Rich story plays into the entirety of the right wing narrative. Carlos Maza’s video on the strategy is well worth watching.

Here’s John Oliver’s video updating us on Net Neutrality.

Free speech will be something worth monitoring. The latest incident regarding a reporter being bodied for doing his job is John M. Donnelly, a reporter for Roll Call reporting on the FCC.

“Commissioner, I have a question,” Mr. Donnelly said he began to say, but that was as far as he got before two security officials in plain clothes turned their backs on him, stood together and in a vise move pressed him into a wall for about 10 seconds as the commissioner walked by.

There’s a somewhat complicated legacy with regards to the status of access to internet as a human right. Of course, Wikipedia has you covered.