Sunday, July 15, 2018

Russia Scandal Timeline: A Compelling Blueprint Of Where Maximum Bob Is Headed

Believe it or not, there still are people in addition to the president of the United States who claim to not believe Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.  And there are a larger number of people who claim to still not believe that the Trump campaign -- and possibly Donald Trump himself -- colluded with Vladimir Putin in his successful scheme to cybersabotage the Hillary Clinton campaign. 
This brings us to the Russia scandal timeline I have been piecing together over the last 18 months -- an event-by-event account with sidelights added to help put those events into a larger historical context -- of the most explosive scandal since Soviet spies stole atomic bomb secrets over 70 years ago.   
Although this timeline now bursts with more than 1,200 entries, an extraordinary number that continues to grow, a Trump apologist might see it as very big pile of circumstantial evidence.  To an extent, that is true.  But for those seeking the truth (and justice), there is overwhelming evidence of interference and collusion that is far from being circumstantial even with some key pieces (although probably not too many) of this massive jigsaw puzzle still missing. 
This evidence includes some 20 instances in 2016 alone where there were face-to-face meetings between members of the Trump campaign team and Russians intent on insinuating the Kremlin into the campaign apparatus.  (How many times did campaign team members meet with the Brits, French, Germans, Japanese and reps from other allied nations?  Zip.  Zero.  Nada.) 
These interactions followed years of efforts by Russian oligarchs, mobsters, spies and Putin himself to soften up Trump.  Not because it was understood well before Trump announced his improbable run for president that he might do so, but because the ailing business empire of the desperately needy entrepreneur and celebrity television star was a convenient conduit for money laundering and propagandizing the Russian government brand, things of which Trump was well aware and, in some instances, for which he may be criminally culpable.   
And when Trump did decide to run for president, he became a witting partner in Putin's quest to return Russia to the glory of the Cold War Soviet Union and knock the U.S. from its perch as the only superpower in return for help that was invaluable not so much in directly bolstering the Trump campaign, but undermining Clinton's because Trump as president was a sure bet to cozy up to Moscow as president, although the extent to which he has been in conflict with the U.S. intelligence community, his own Justice Department and West Wing advisors, not to mention reality, is jarring even by Trumpian standards. 
Nowhere is this disconnect more profound than in Trump's disinterest in acknowledging, let alone preparing for, the probability Russia will meddle in the midterm elections.   
Putin, of course, has cashed in handsomely on his bet and will be rewarded further still when he sits down with Trump in Helsinki on Monday for the kind of one-on-one meeting that never occurred in the course of the eight years of the Barack Obama presidency.  Long story short, Putin knew he couldn't get over on Obama while Trump, of course, will be putty in his hands. 
A big takeaway from the indictment on Friday last of 12 Russian intelligence officers by Special Counsel Robert Mueller is that there is substantially more going on than meets the eye, and much of it is hiding in plain view in the timeline.   
In this sense, the timeline is not merely a highly detailed examination of where we've been, but a blueprint of where Mueller is going.   

Friday, July 13, 2018

(UPDATED) 12 Russian Intel Officers Indicted On Eve Of Trump-Putin Summit

Three days before Donald Trump is scheduled to meet one-on-one with Vladimir Putin amidst mounting pressure on him to hold Russia accountable for interfering in the election that improbably landed him in the presidency, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has charged 12 Russian intelligence officers with conspiring to hack Democrats. 
The 12 were members of the GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate), a powerful and secretive military intelligence organization, and are accused in an indictment returned Friday morning with engaging in a sustained effort to hack the computer networks of the Democratic National Committee, other Democratic organizations and especially the Hillary Clinton campaign, which it did with lethal efficiency through the summer and fall of 2016, often surreptitiously using computer infrastructure within the U.S. 
Mueller's 14-month investigation, which has come under sustained attack from right-wing Republicans, has now resulted in over 100 criminal charges against 32 individuals and three companies.   
But to the chagrin of Trump's impatient foes, the special counsel has yet to charge any member of the Trump campaign with colluding with Russia or the president himself -- whether by indictment or an impeachment referral -- for what is widely viewed as Trump's efforts to obstruct justice and impede Mueller's investigation, which was authorized by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein after the president fired then-FBI Director James Comey. 
Those Trump foes will have to wait longer -- perhaps only a little longer -- because it is my belief that the special counsel has the goods, and Republican complicity is writ large in the day's events.  
In February, Mueller netted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian organizations, including the Internet Research Agency, for illegally using social media to sow political discord in the election.  These included actions that supported Trump's candidacy and disparaged Clinton. 
Like those Russians, it is highly unlikely that the GRU officers would be immediately arrested, let alone put on trial, but because they are now wanted by the U.S. government, it will make it difficult for them to travel outside of Russia.  
Rosenstein, who has been repeatedly attacked and threatened with censure and more recently impeachment by congressional Republicans loyal to Trump, detailed the new charges at a mid-day press conference in Washington as Trump was meeting with Queen Elizabeth amidst his stormy, protest-filled visit to Britain.  Mueller, as has been his practice, did not to attend the press conference.  
The 11-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury spells out in great detail a carefully planned and executed attack beginning in or around March 2016 by the GRU officers on the information security of Democrats, implanting hundreds of malware files on Democrats' computer systems, stealing information and then laundering the material through fake personas to influence voters’ opinions. 
The online personas, known as DC Leaks and Guccifer 2.0 (with whom longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone has bragged he was in contact with) were used to try to disguise the Russian origins of their work, Rosenstein said. 
The indictment recounts spearphishing attacks on Clinton campaign director John Podesta, who was not mentioned by name, and other Clinton campaign officials down to the account name the hacker used to mask the link that delivered the phishing attack to the victims' email inboxes.  
Their operation included researching the hacking victims on social media, and they even created an email account that was one letter off from the name of a Clinton campaign staffer.  
The spearphishing campaign continued through the summer as the hackers also targeted campaign emails hosted on a third party domain provider used by Clinton's personal office, as well as 76 email addresses hosted by the campaign’s domain. 
For the record, the indictment names  defendants Viktor Borisovich Netyksho, Boris Alekseyevich Antonov, Dmitriy Sergeyevich Badin, Ivan Sergeyevich Yermakov, Aleksey Viktorovich Lukashev, Sergey Aleksandrovich Morgachev, Nikolay Yuryevich Kozachek, Pavel Vyacheslavovich Yershov, Artem Andreyevich Malyshev, Aleksandr Vladimirovich Osadchuk, Aleksey Aleksandrovich Potemkin, and Anatoliy Sergeyevich Kovalev. 
The GRU officers "also conspired to hack into the computers of state boards of elections, secretaries of state, and U.S. companies that supplied software and other technology related to the administration of elections to steal voter data stored on those computers," according to the indictment.  The officers also were charged with money laundering with cryptocurrency being the coin of their nefarious realm.  
Rosenstein said the hackers did interact with some Americans in the course of their efforts, but noted those people had not been charged with a crime. 
"There's no allegation in this indictment that any American citizen committed a crime. There’s no allegation that the conspiracy changed the vote count or affected any election result," Rosenstein said.  "The goal of the conspirators was to have an impact on the election.  What impact they may have had . . . is a matter of speculation, that's not our responsibility." 
Putin has repeatedly denied that Russia had any role in the hacks although there is an enormous body of evidence, including the two sets of indictments, to the contrary. 
The new indictment begs a huge question that Trump certainly would never answer.  
At a July 27, 2016 news conference, Trump made a direct appeal to Russia to hack Clinton's emails and make them public. 
"Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing," candidate Trump said, referring to emails Clinton had deleted from the private account she had used when she was secretary of state. 
Were the Russians listening?  
Possibly, because later that same day, the GRU made its first effort to break into the servers used by Clinton's personal office, according to the indictment.  Meanwhile, Mueller reportedly has a witness who can corroborate that connection, which would bring to an even dozen the number of known instances of collusion between the campaign and Russia.
Meanwhile, Rosenstein's statement will be seized on by Trump and his sycophancy to bolster their claim that the Trump campaign did not collude with Russia to throw the election despite a mountain of suspicious actions, lies and unexplained meetings with Putin's cyberwarriors during the campaign, as well as the three decades prior to the campaign when Trump tapped into an extensive network of corrupt businessmen, mobsters and money launderers from the former Soviet Union, Russia and their satellite states to make deals  to bail out his frequently ailing enterprises. 
"I want to caution you, the people who speculate about federal investigations usually do not know all of the relevant facts," Rosenstein said.  "We do not try cases on television or in congressional hearings." 
He also said he briefed Trump on the allegations earlier this week, and that the "president is fully aware of the department's actions today." 
Asked by reporters for more information about Trump's view of the allegations, Rosenstein said he would let the president speak for himself.  
Trump has faced mounting pressure, including from a small but growing number of Republicans, to confront Putin when they meet in Helsinki on Monday, but appears determined to yet again give the Russian president the benefit of the doubt.
"I mean, look, he may [yet again deny election interference]," Trump replied of Putin at the end of a NATO ministers meeting in Brussels on Thursday.  "You know, what am I going to do if -- he may deny it.  I mean, it's one of those things.  So all I can do is say, 'Did you?' and 'Don’t do it again.' " 
The enormity of the indictment was, of course, lost on Trump. 
Just hours before Rosenstein's announcement, the president said at a news conference in Ellesborough, England, that Mueller's investigation was impeding his efforts to get closer to Putin, on whom he has lavished unconditional praise since long before he became a presidential candidate. 
"I think that we're being hurt very badly by the, I would call it the witch hunt; I would call it the rigged witch hunt," Trump said after meetings with Prime Minister Theresa May.  "I think that really hurts our country and it really hurts our relationship with Russia." 
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, and other Democrats had a different take, calling on Trump to cancel his meeting with Putin.   
That, of course, will not happen. 

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments. 

Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Of Russians & Refugees: Donald Trump's 'The Emperor Has No Clothes' Moment

As revealing moments go, Donald Trump's comments about Vladimir Putin and Russian interference in elections past and future at the ass end of the NATO meeting in Brussels on Thursday was not surprising if nevertheless surreal.  And a reminder -- as if we need one -- of how utterly fucked America and our once sacred values are if we don't fight back. 
Asked how he would respond if Putin again denied Russia’s beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt interference in the 2016 presidential election and the likelihood it will meddle in the midterms when they meet one-on-one in Helsinki on July 16, Trump waved the question away as he metamorphosed from the schoolyard bully who only moments before had been tongue-lashing his putative NATO friends to the schoolyard coward who gives his lunch money to the bully without so much as a whimper of protest.
"I mean, look, he may [yet again deny election interference]," Trump replied of Putin. "You know, what am I going to do if -- he may deny it.  I mean, it's one of those things.  So all I can do is say, 'Did you?' and 'Don’t do it again.' " 
Through the magic of the blogosphere, let's overlay Trump's weasel words into a different but no less important context. 
Asked how he would respond if confronted by a family of Latin American refugees at the Mexican border who previously had been apprehended trying to enter the U.S., Trump waved the question away.  
"I mean, look, they may [yet again try to escape poverty and gang violence at home and cross the border to the U.S.]," Trump replied of the barefooted father, mother and three small children standing before him in rags.  "You know, what am I going to do if --  they may deny it.  I mean, it's one of those things.  So all I can do is say, 'Did you?' and 'Don’t do it again.' " 
Russia kidnapped an election.  The Trump administration kidnapped migrant children.
And while Trump will never hold Putin responsible — after all, he owes his job to him — only voters can hold Trump responsible. 
Do it.

Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour

Review: 'This World Or Any Other World," Onward & Wayward With Arnold Schnabel

Much has happened in the temporal world in the 18 months since publication of Dan Leo's other wordly Railroad Train to Heaven, but it's still a Saturday night in August 1963 in the quaint seaside town of Cape May, New Jersey in This World or Any Other World: Volume Two of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel. 
For those of you trapped in the rudeness of the here and now, Arnold is a self-effacing poet from Northeast Philadelphia who, as I gushed in my glowing review of the first
volume, is the tragicomic exemplar of "a simpler time when both culture and soda were pop," rock 'n' roll was here to stay and there was a song "about what someone would do if they had a hammer."  
Arnold is on indefinite leave from the Reading Railroad and recovering from a mental breakdown in the Cape May guest house of his three maiden aunts. Home is the rowhouse neighborhood of Olney in Philadelphia's Near Northeast where he lives with his widowed mother and has worked as a brakeman for the Reading all his adult life.   At 42, he is familiarly if obscurely known as the Rhyming Brakeman and a guilt-burdened Catholic on the verge of a binge of mortal sinning.  
Socially inept in the extreme, Arnold enjoys drinking manhattan cocktails and Schaefer's beer.  (Or Ortlieb's if they're out of Schaefer's.)  But ensconced in the Victorian drear of Cape May, where the liberating ocean seems more than a few short blocks away, he falls in lust and then love with the exotic Elektra, a Bohemian jeweler with whom he (repeatedly) mortally sins and careens into a series of sometimes hallucinatory and fantastical experiences involving the people ordinary and famous -- and an unusual number of townies with special powers -- who parade through This World or Any Other World with an insouciance of which Thomas Boswell, that most astute of observers, would heartily approve.   
These characters include Jesus, the Son of God guy, who appears at inopportune moments in a rumpled tropical suit, stained fedora, loosened tie and sandals, like Arnold smokes Pall Malls and is always in need of a light.  Jesus possibly excepted, they see Arnold's waltz with lunacy as brilliance.
How often I had stood hanging onto the end of a railroad car, smoking a cigarette and looking at men and women and children getting on or off the train, their faces for the most part serious, each face the center of a universe, and there was I, the center of my own universe, a steel handrail under one hand and a Pall Mall in the other, and in my brain a lifetime of moments culminating in this moment already receding into all the rest.  No wonder I went to daily mass for many years.  I needed something to assure me that all these mysterious universes were not in aid of only their own brief continuance. No wonder I wound up going insane. 
I suppose that depends upon how you define insane, because some pretty crazy stuff happens.  Such as Arnold opening the pages of a dusty tome proffered by a kindly curio shop owner and going back in time and then having to save the known universe from destruction at the claws of the shop owner's cat, stepping outside his body and flying high above himself, visiting God's house in Heaven, having manhattans (natch) with Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack aboard an enormous spaceship, and meeting Clarissa, a 73-year-old baby doll with a sweet porcelain face and a sour attitude. 
What makes all of this work, elevating Arnold's seaside hejira from the merely madcap, is that his adventures reliably impart deeper meanings, especially his interactions with that Son of God guy. 
As in when Arnold realizes that he can fly.
It occurred to me that perhaps just because I was able to do something did not mean I should do it. . . . But then again, how should I know what I should or shouldn't do, except by trying? 
I felt the earth turning beneath me, with me on it, and pulsing among the oak leaves above I saw what looked like an enormous radioactive centipede squashed against the night sky, but it was probably only the Milky Way.
Volume One concluded with Arnold ascending the guest house stairs to the second-floor loo, and This World or Any Other World begins as he comes back downstairs.   
Only Jesus knows what will happen next.  
In less deft hands, more of more or less the same might have made this sequel lest interesting, and there is indeed a danger of too much of the same in future volumes.  After all, even mortal sinning can become humdrum after a while. 
But Leo writes with the descriptive richness of Marcel Proust (whom Arnold met in Volume One), the open-tap consciousness of Jack Kerouac and whimsy of Terry Pratchett with a dollop of Philip K. Dick.  Then there is the seductive pulpiness of L. Sprague de Camp, hence the . . . uh, campy book cover illustrations.  (As Arnold himself notes, "I would probably never read [a book if it] didn't look like it was about a guy caught in a deadly spiral of violence and forbidden passion.")
And so This World or Any Other World already has me looking forward to Volume Three.

This World or Any Other World is available at Amazon. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Monstrous Backstory Trump Is Desperate To Keep Secret As He Meets Putin

When Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin meet in Helsinki on July 16 for their first summit meeting, the American president will have much to hide and the Russian autocrat much to gain.  Because as is glaringly obvious, Putin has the goods on Trump, has been using him to Russia's advantage for many years and is now playing the U.S. for a global chump despite a president who likes to pound his chest in public but in reality is a fear-stricken coward beholden to Putin for whom eventual impeachment as a result of their unholy union is never far from his mind. 
Beyond the headline hogging drumbeat of deep-state accusations against Special Counsel Robert Mueller and Trump's own Justice Department from his traitorous enablers, chiefly those Vichy House Republicans, the president has simply run out of excuses for the innumerable links between his business interests, his close associates and family, his presidential campaign and, of course, himself with Russia.   
This is because each seemingly exculpatory explanation (we were disorganized, we were dumb, we were naïve, we were played) collapses in the face of the mountain of suspicious actions, lies and unexplained meetings with Putin's cyberwarriors during the campaign, as well as the three decades prior to the campaign when Trump tapped into an extensive network of corrupt businessmen, mobsters and money launderers from the former Soviet Union, Russia and their satellite states to make deals ranging from real-estate sales to beauty pageants sponsorships to bailing out his frequently ailing enterprises.  
All of this points to the conclusion that Trump has much to hide and even more to fear as he continues to deny the indisputable reality that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, handing him the presidency while undermining a bedrock of American democracy, and all the while he continues to rub Putin's tummy and coo sweet Russophile nothings in the Kremlin's direction. 
Jonathan Chait is pitch perfect in "Will Trump Be Meeting His Counterpart -- Or His Handler?" a lengthy new must-read piece in New York magazine that is accompanied by the crazy quilt of Trump-Putin connections graphic atop this post. 
Chait exhaustively and compellingly makes the case that Trump has been a Russian asset since 1987, albeit unwittingly at first: 
The unfolding of the Russia scandal has been like walking into a dark cavern. Every step reveals that the cave runs deeper than we thought, and after each one, as we wonder how far it goes, our imaginations are circumscribed by the steps we have already taken.  The cavern might go just a little farther, we presume, but probably not much farther.  And since trying to discern the size and shape of the scandal is an exercise in uncertainty, we focus our attention on the most likely outcome, which is that the story goes a little deeper than what we have already discovered. . . .  
But what if that's wrong? What if we're still standing closer to the mouth of the cave than the end?
That, of course, is exactly where we are, which is why Trump is so fear stricken and his enablers are so desperate to neuter Mueller that they keep coming up with one implausible accusation after another, hoping that something -- anything -- sticks before the midterm election. 
Chait writes with the authority of a journalist-analyst in full command of what we do know and a pretty damned good idea of what we don't.  And as bold and far-reaching as his conclusions are, nothing I have read in my own extensive research leads me away from his sobering observation that:
What is missing from our imagination is the unlikely but possible outcome on the other end: that this is all much worse than we suspect.  After all, treating a small probability as if it were nonexistent is the very error much of the news media made in covering the presidential horse race. And while the body of publicly available information about the Russia scandal is already extensive, the way it has been delivered — scoop after scoop of discrete nuggets of information — has been disorienting and difficult to follow. What would it look like if it were reassembled into a single narrative, one that distinguished between fact and speculation but didn’t myopically focus on the most certain conclusions?
What it would look like is that his particular ball got rolling long before the 2016 campaign.
Suppose we are currently making the same mistake we made at the outset of this drama — suppose the dark crevices of the Russia scandal run not just a little deeper but a lot deeper.  If that’s true, we are in the midst of a scandal unprecedented in American history, a subversion of the integrity of the presidency.  It would mean the Cold War that Americans had long considered won has dissolved into the bizarre spectacle of Reagan's party's abetting the hijacking of American government by a former KGB agent.  It would mean that when Special Counsel Robert Mueller closes in on the president and his inner circle, possibly beginning this summer, Trump may not merely rail on Twitter but provoke a constitutional crisis. 
And it would mean the Russia scandal began far earlier than conventionally understood and ended later — indeed, is still happening.  As Trump arranges to meet face-to-face and privately with Vladimir Putin later this month, the collusion between the two men metastasizing from a dark accusation into an open alliance, it would be dangerous not to consider the possibility that the summit is less a negotiation between two heads of state than a meeting between a Russian-intelligence asset and his handler. 
It should not be forgotten as Trump and Putin prepare for their coveted summit that the Russian leader never had a formal one-on-one meeting with Barack Obama in the course of his eight-year presidency.   The Obama administration proposed sitdowns at the highest level several times and each time Putin turned the proposal down cold knowing he couldn't get over on Obama.  Trump, of course, will be putty in his hands. 
When Obama and Putin did meet, typically at conferences involving multiple world leaders, back home Trump would reliably skewer Obama, declare that Putin had no respect for Obama and then inevitably brag about the "incredible" relationship he had with an autocratic thug after whom he has modeled aspects of his own presidency in deeply disconcerting ways, most notably his utter disregard for human rights.
And it must not be forgotten that most Republicans would rather win an election with Putin’s help than lose one without it.  That goes for the midterms, as well, whether it involves Russia hacking into voting machines or some other method we know Trump has made no effort to protect us against. 
As Chait notes, why stop now?

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Immigrant Military Recruits Booted In Yet Another Obscene New Low For Trump

Beyond the lies and distortions, threats, cover-ups, rank corruption and endless stream of firings and forced resignations, there is another constant in the Donald Trump autocracy: Reaching an obscene new low in desecrating American values and traditions and then exceeding that new low.  But it will take some effort to surpass a secret order to discharge or question the legal status of immigrants in the armed forces suddenly deemed security risks before they have served long enough to qualify for expedited naturalization, an exemplary program that has turned out hundreds of thousands of men and women who earned their citizenship by serving their adopted country that traces its origins to the Revolutionary War.   
Many of the soldiers who fought America's battles have been immigrants and more than 700 of them have been awarded the Medal of Honor, but immigration attorneys tell The Associated Press and New York Times that they know of more than 40 Army recruits who have been discharged or whose status has become questionable because of Trump's nativist agenda, thereby jeopardizing their futures. 
Some of these immigrants will now carry discharge documents that unjustly and incorrectly label them a security risk, delaying or precluding their path to citizenship.   
Thousands more recruits are stuck in limbo -- enlisted but unable to serve -- even as the Army is unable to meet its 2018 recruiting goals.  Some of the recruits enlisted under the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program because they have valuable language and medical skills.  
After the 9/11 attacks through 2017, a time when the U.S. armed forces have been stretched to the breaking point because of lengthy wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 125,452 service members were naturalized.  
The last Republican president, George W. Bush, accelerated the enlistments in 2002 when he put about 15,000 immigrant troops on a fast track to citizenship, while the MAVNI program, which has attracted about 10,000 immigrants, was created in 2008.   
In the case of Marine Lance Corporal José Gutiérrez, who was killed in Iraq after growing up as an orphan in Guatemala, Bush granted him postumous citizenship. But Trump has used the military as a cudgel to weed out immigrants and has further used it to segregate citizens from immigrants who happen to lack citizenship, going so far as to detain immigrants and their children -- sometimes separately -- at military installations. 
Some of the service members say they were not told why they were being discharged, while others said the Army informed them they had been labeled as security risks because they have relatives abroad or because the Defense Department had not completed background checks on them.   
The layers of clearance have grown so complex that a backlog of several thousand cases has piled up, and a Defense Department official testified in a recent deposition that it would take 10 years to clear those currently waiting to serve. 
A Pakistani immigrant who fears he would be harmed if he is forced to return home is among the thousands caught in limbo. 
He was able to get his security report in May through a Freedom of Information Act request.  The report noted the immigrant, an electrical engineering student recruited to repair generators, had dreamed of moving to the U.S. since he was 5 and "has such a deep and longstanding loyalty to the U.S., that he can be expected to resolve any conflict of interest in favor of the U.S." 
In June, he was told he had failed his security background check and was being discharged. 
An unreleased 2017 RAND Corporation report that found MAVNI recruits have not posed an undue security threat, were generally better educated and better performing than average enlisted soldiers, and noted that there had been no instances of terrorism or espionage connected to an immigrant recruit.   
"It was my dream to serve in the military,” said reservist Lucas Calixto, an immigrant from the terrorist hotbed of Brazil who has filed a lawsuit against the Army because he got the boot.  "Since this country has been so good to me, I thought it was the least I could do to give back to my adopted country and serve in the United States military."  
Pentagon and the Army spokespeople say that due to pending litigation, they are unable to explain the discharges or respond to questions about whether there have been policy changes.  
Eligible recruits are required to have legal status in the U.S. such as a student visa before enlisting and an estimated 10,000 are currently serving.  Most serve in the Army, but some also go to the other military branches.  To become citizens, these service members need an honorable service designation, which can come after even just a few days at boot camp in order to accelerate the naturalization process, but the service members recently discharged under questionable circumstances have had their basic training delayed, so they can’t be naturalized.   
Trump's anti-immigrant agenda is, of course, built on xenophobia.  And a big lie. 
"They're taking our jobs . . . They're taking our money.  They're killing us," he said early and often as a candidate and since as president.  The reality is that immigrants typically take the entry-level jobs most Americans don't want, including being cooks, waiters and waitresses at Mar-a-Lago, Trump's so-called Winter White House, where the management last week petitioned the feds to hire 61 foreign workers.  And it should be noted that Trump outsourced two-thirds of his wives from Eastern Europe. 
Margaret Stock, an immigration attorney and a retired Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who helped create MAVNI, says she has been inundated over the past several days by recruits who have been abruptly discharged.  All had signed enlistment contracts and taken an Army oath.  Many were reservists who had been attending unit drills, receiving pay and undergoing training.  
It is certain that neither Secretary of Defense James Mattis nor Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen will stop Trump from poisoning the military with his anti-immigrant policies.
Some members of Congress have tried to help immigrants who have served in the military, and in 2008 Gutiérrez's name was used to title a bipartisan bill that could have offered additional protections for noncitizen veterans of the armed forces had it not died in the House.  Mike Pence, then a representative from Indiana, was a co-sponsor. 
"Immigrants have been serving in the Army since 1775," Stock said.  "We wouldn't have won the revolution without immigrants.  And we're not going to win the global war on terrorism today without immigrants." 
Lizamara Bedolla and Maria Daume epitomize this spirit. 
Army First Lieutenant Bedolla came of age during the Nicaraguan revolution and subsequent Contra War that wracked the country during the 1980s.  Her family finally fled to Houston when Bedolla was 4.  Today she would have been incarcerated and possibly separated from her parents before being deported, but in 2001 she was able to enlist and is now an experienced combat nurse who was deployed to Iraq during the initial invasion in 2003. 
"Nursing has helped me gain much more empathy and sympathy than I thought was possible," she says.  "Whatever my idea of empathy was 16 years ago, has completely grown while serving . . . The Army has taught me a lot about tolerance, self-awareness, patience and has opened my eyes to the different people that are all over this country and abroad."
Marine Private Daume and her twin brother were born in a prison in Siberia, where their mother was imprisoned.  They lived there for two years until their mother’s death, then landed in a Russian orphanage before their adoption by a Long Island family.   In March 2017, Duame became the first female Marine to join the infantry through its traditional training pipeline at the age of 18, joining the Fleet Marine Force as a mortarman. 
"I want to fight ISIS," Daume explains.  "Even though everybody in the military fights, I want to be a grunt.  I think everything about it is for me, and I want to prove that females can do it." 

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

A Bizarro Update On The Story Of Donald Trump As A Playboy Model's Baby Daddy

When fat-cat Republican donor Elliott Broidy failed on Monday to make the third of eight quarterly payments in a $1.6 million deal with Shera BéchardPlayboy's Miss November 2010 centerfold, to buy her silence after he allegedly got her pregnant, the red flags surrounding the deal started flapping furiously.  This is because the reason Broidy gives for backing out of the nondisclosure agreement is nonsensical and adds ammunition to the view that the baby daddy actually is Donald Trump, who among other things is the president of the United States. 
The long-story-short version of what may be the Mother of All Sex Scandals is that Broidy, a billionaire venture capitalist and former Republican National Committee co-chair, entered into the NDA to silence Béchard as a favor to Trump, who repaid Broidy by agreeing to at least two Oval Office meetings at which Broidy lobbied for the interests of the United Arab Emirates against its gulf state rival Qatar.  The UAE then rewarded Broidy's firm with a $600 million defense security contract.   
Broidy claims that the NDA is now "null and void" because Béchard's former lawyer, Keith Davidson (who also represented objects of Trump's desire Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal and was fired by all three women because they concluded that he was colluding with Michael Cohen, Trump's notorious lawyer and fixer) improperly disclosed aspects of the NDA to Daniels' current lawyer, Michael Avenatti. 
But that makes zero sense because even if it was true, and Davidson says it is not, such a disclosure would not be legal grounds for voiding the agreement because it was between Broidy and Béchard.  
(Meanwhile, Béchard sued Broidy on Friday in Los Angeles over his decision to end the hush-money agreement.  The complaint also names Davidson and Avenatti.  Cohen is not a defendant.  And HuffPost reported that two sources familiar with the matter say that Béchard never met Trump.) 
Broidy's remedy, as law professor Paul Campos explains in New York magazine, would be to sue Davidson for damages, not to unilaterally cancel his agreement with Béchard since there not only is no allegation that she violated the agreement, Davidson was no longer her lawyer when he allegedly did so. 
What can we conclude from this turn of events? 
By claiming that their agreement is void, Broidy is now allowing Béchard to tell her story. 
And as Campos suggests, Broidy may have concluded, as so many others have, that Trump is a bad business partner. 

Click HERE for my earlier story on Broidy, Béchard and Trump. 

Sunday, July 01, 2018

We're Headed From Really Bad To Truly Awful If Mueller Doesn't Move On Trump

If you believe that timing is everything, which it so often is in politics and life, then wrap your mind around this: Robert Mueller has about two months to bring charges against Donald Trump before the last vestiges of the rule of law in the once greatest country on earth -- that former beacon of freedom -- are ground to dust under the president's tyrannical heel.  When that window closes, the special prosecutor's outsized role as the only person able to stop Trump will be seriously if not fatally compromised.  Yes, things are that bad. 
Before I explain why July and August are crucial to turning back the tsunami of unlawful awfulness, let's review where we've been and where we find ourselves: 
Trump was "elected" in 2016 by an anachronism known as the Electoral College although he fell almost three million popular votes short of Hillary Clinton.  This is because over 60 million Americans were so stupid that they preferred a reality TV star with a profound case of malignant narcissism, a long history of blatant racism, business failures, repeated sexual predations and inability to tell the truth over an eminently decent if flawed woman who had devoted her life to public service as opposed to Trump's ceaseless self aggrandizement.  And because Russia, with the help of the Trump campaign, undermined the bedrock of American democracy by sabotaging the campaign of that woman.  
(Just to give your blood pressure another jolt, note that the Republican Party has lost the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections, but Electoral College models show it could plausibly continue to win the White House by controlling the judiciary even if the Democrats have substantial popular vote majorities.  It's called minority rule, sports fans.)
In the 17 months that Trump has been president, he has run true to form, only much worse than even the most pessimistic observers dared fear.   
Trump has undermined health care, further abridged womens' rights, started phony trade wars and negotiated empty treaties, repeatedly attacked the justice system when his cronies were indicted and retaliated against whistleblowers when they called him out, turned his back on our biggest allies, lip locked with white supremacists, paid off a porn star and repeatedly kissed Vladimir Putin's ass, all while babbling incoherently about draining the Washington swamp but appointing a billionaire Cabinet and making America great again but methodically destroying or tampering with every core value that made it great, declaring with autocratic certitude that he is above the law and lying with a mind-exploding incessance about anything and everything.   
And now is on the verge of nominating another Supreme Court justice who not only will assure that the top court becomes a right-wing safe house for making the president's myriad disasters "legal," but possibly protect him from Mueller since Congress, led by the Vichy Republicans in the House, has shirked its constitutional duty to be a check on a rogue president. 
Mueller's investigation of the Russia scandal, a direct consequence of Trump firing FBI Director James Comey under false pretenses, has been conducted with scrupulous care and in 13 months already has netted indictments of 18 individuals, including 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies that used social media to undermine Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign.  Among the perps are Trump's former campaign chairman and national security adviser, while the long list of additional potential indictees include other campaign officials, White House insiders, Trump's longtime lawyer and fixer, and the president's own son, daughter and son-in-law, the latter two having been appointed by him to senior administration positions despite their utter lack of experience. 
The special counsel's investigation has been unusual in that it has been leakproof at a time when the outrages emanating from the West Wing are routinely whispered to reporters who then run with the "fake news" Trump rails and tweets against with numbing regularity.   
But we do know that the Mueller has made the case that there are grounds for several articles of impeachment against Trump, including multiple counts of obstruction of justice, lying and repeatedly violating the Constitution's emoluments provision to enrich his own businesses.  The public record speaks loudly and unambiguously of those violations of the presidential oath.   
Still, Mueller is mindful of the approaching mid-term election (and unlike Comey, who did great damage to Clinton because of his extralegal pronouncements in late October 2016 while remaining silent about Russian meddling) understands his ethical obligation to not overtly influence the election by waiting too long to move on Trump, most likely in the form of a letter to the Justice Department recommending an impeachment referral to Congress that must be submitted by the end of August at the latest to give him that necessary ethical distance.    
The timing is doubly important: Trump's conduct, specifically an impeachment recommendation, must be an election issue for the good of the Republic.  And that recommendation has to have gone forward before the Supreme Court is further locked down with another far-right justice who observes the Constitution in the breach, possibly giving Trump the majority he needs to neutralize Mueller or get away with firing him. 
Despite all the grim news, it is my sense that the power balance has begun to shift with Trump's Theater of Cruelty, that runaway hit show starring weeping toddlers clinging to chain-link fences at border detention camps.  With co-direction from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who helpfully cited a passage from the Scriptures in defending the separation of children from parents that had been used by his forebears to justify slavery.
A voter backlash -- that is, people newly exercising their will as the extent of the damage Trump and their silence have done dawns on them -- is long overdue.   
A recommendation of impeachment can be the nucleus of a Democratic takeback of the House and perhaps the Senate, as well, if the Dems are able to extinguish their intra-party dumpster fire and craft a compelling message that it is time to recommit to affordable education for all, to restore access to reasonable health care and to work toward universal health care, to resume the task of cleaning up the environment and protecting our public lands, to recommit to our allies and rejoin the world community, reject phony, ego-driven  alliances with our enemies and confront real global threats, to end fractious, ego-driven trade wars that destroy jobs, to provide decent wages and pay parity.  And restore civility to our national discourse. 
Only then can the process of taking back America begin.  And like those toddlers crying out for their parents, we can be reunited with our country.

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.