Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The End Game Comes Into Sight In The Brett Kavanaugh Nomination Melodrama

THE HILL
Can the stakes get any higher in the Brett Kavanaugh nomination melodrama? 
Christine Blasey Ford, who credibly says that a drunken Kavanaugh tried to rape her at a suburban Washington high school pool party in 1983, is insisting that the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee do what it should have done in the first place when it learned of her allegation -- stop stonewalling and ask President Trump to order the FBI to investigate it.  Otherwise she probably will not appear before the committee. 
And so, as the end game comes into sight, Kavanaugh's catagorical denials have become the second biggest lie in Washington after Trump's protestations of innocence in the Russia scandal. 
This is the end game:
Republicans refuse to order an FBI investigation, Kavanaugh slithers onto the high court and the GOP suffers the consequences in a midterm elections in which Kavanaugh is a lightning rod issue. 
Or, Republicans accede to Ford, the FBI investigates her allegation and confirms it, Kavanaugh is outted as the practice liar we know him to be, and he withdraws his nomination.
Events have moved at breakneck speed since The Washington Post identified Ford on Sunday and detailed her story.   
On Monday, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley refused to postpone a scheduled Thursday confirmation vote but then suddenly reversed field in the face of mounting protests from Democrats and women's groups, stating that Ford and Kavanaugh will give televised testimony under oath next Monday.   
Grassley made this announcement after conferring with Kavanaugh but not Ford, in effect presenting her with a fait accompli.  Translation: If this thing gets fucked up, it's the broad's fault, not ours. 
There also was a big condition: No other witnesses would be allowed to speak, in contrast to the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill debacle in 1971 when 21 witnesses in addition to Thomas's accuser testified. 
On Tuesday, Ford's delay in accepting the Grassley invitation was gleefully seen by Republicans as the broad getting cold feet and the Sexual Predator in Chief rallied to the defense of his embattled nominee.  But Ford was merely working out what the necessary "first step" should be, as she put it in a letter to the committee from the clinical psychology professor's lawyers.  She would not submit to a grilling "on national television to relive this traumatic and harrowing incident" until the FBI investigated.   
Democrats and women's groups demanded that other witnesses be called, in particular Matt Judge, who was Kavanaugh's accomplice, quoted Noel Coward as saying "Women should be struck, regularly, like gongs" in his high school yearbook, and is seen by Kavanaugh's allies as a "wingman from hell," in the words of one pundit, who could blow up the nomination. 
Judge, who has said he doesn't remember the incident and is refusing to testify even if called, seems to be a very confused recovering alcoholic whose numerous public writings include a 2012 screed entitled "I Am a Catholic Bikini Paparazzo." 
Over at the White House, officials engaged in a two-hour practice session, known colloquially as a murder board, with Kavanaugh in which he answered questions on his past, his partying, his dating and his accuser's account as the Ford defamation machine shifted into high gear.
"In the 36 hours since her name became public, Dr. Ford has received a stunning amount of support from her community and from fellow citizens across our country," the letter to the committee said.  "At the same time, however, her worst fears have materialized.  She has been the target of vicious harassment and even death threats.  As a result of these kind of threats, her family was forced to relocate out of their home.  Her email has been hacked, and she has been impersonated online." 
It is important to review Ford's account of the incident, the gravity of which is receding as political machinations hog the headlines. 
According to the detailed, compelling and truthful account (according to a polygraph test), a stumbling drunk Kavanaugh, then 17, attempted to rape Ford, then 15, by turning up music in an upstairs bedroom to drown out her protests, pinned her on a bed, clumsily attempted to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she wore over it as he groped her with one hand while covering her mouth with the other hand to silence her after she screamed in the hope that someone downstairs would hear her. 
Judge, a friend and classmate of Kavanaugh's, stood across the room laughing "maniacally" before he jumped on top of them, Ford tried unsuccessfully to wriggle free and then Judge jumped on them again, sending all three of them tumbling and enabling Ford to flee downstairs to safety.   
Trump could order an FBI investigation with a single phone call, but as Wednesday dawned on the Potomac, the president said that it is "very hard for me to imagine anything happened" between Kavanaugh and Ford.  "If she shows up, that would be wonderful. If she doesn't show up, that would be unfortunate."   
Meanwhile, Republicans dug in, or perhaps dug themselves a deeper hole as the Party of Misogyny sends an unmistakable message to women, who not coincidentally support a Democratic takeover of Congress by landslide margins.Grassley put an exclamation point on all this, declaring later on Wednesday that "It is not the FBI's role to investigate a matter such as this."  
There will be no FBI investigation.  There will be no additional witnesses.  The Monday hearing will go on with or without Ford.  No alternative date will be negotiated.  A  confirmation vote will be taken later next week.   But even if Grassley does not again relent, that confirmation vote is no longer a sure thing. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Thank You, Women of America, For Putting Republican Politicians In Their Place

In the 24 hours since I went out on a limb and predicted that Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court was dead, events have moved quickly and dramatically. 
That does not necessarily mean that my position has been validated, but we have gone from a sure thing to a televised showdown next Monday between a practiced liar and the woman he tried to rape with powerful echoes of the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill debacle 28 years ago, yet dramatically different.  The difference is that women are fighting back against sexual harassment and "routine" societal degradations and the mostly Republican politicians who have routinely downpressed them, to use Bob Marley's divine term, are now in abject fear of losing their hold on power because of them. 
Doubt not that those men (and all 11 Republicans are men, while four of the 10 Democrats are women) are approaching the appearance of Christine Blasey Ford before the Senate Judiciary Committee with torches and pitchforks disguised as bouquets of roses and boxes of chocolates.   
Still, do not expect a repeat of the 1991 Thomas confirmation hearings when Hill accused her then-supervisor at a government agency in graphic detail of incidents of sexual harassment and it was Thomas and not she who was treated as the victim by Republican and Democratic pols alike.  Thomas was confirmed and, of course, has gone on to be a profoundly reactionary and not particularly bright justice who has given new meaning to the term Uncle Tom.         
The #MeToo movement has been a huge force in bringing down Roy Moore and some nine members of Congress with zipper problems in recent months, as well as celebrity beasts like Harvey Weinstein and Leslie Moonves.   
But the change in climate in 2018 and record number of women running for office in the November 6 midterm elections has even more to do with a Republican Party that has worked tirelessly to deny women their reproductive rights, access to health care for their children and themselves, job and wage equity, and didn't merely enable a sexual predator to become president, but looked the other way when accuser after accuser (some 15 in all) came forward and the hush money payoffs to his porn star and Playmate lays in the run-up to the 2016 election became known. 
Let's quickly reprise what happened during that summertime prep school pool party in suburban Washington the early 1980s. 
According to Ford's detailed, compelling and truthful account (according to a polygraph test), a stumbling drunk Kavanaugh, then 17, attempted to rape Ford, then 15, by turning up music in an upstairs bedroom to drown out her protests, pinned her on a bed, clumsily attempted to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she wore over it as he groped her with one hand while covering her mouth with the other hand to silence her after she screamed in the hope that someone downstairs would hear her. 
Mark Judge, a friend and classmate of Kavanaugh's, stood across the room laughing "maniacally" before he jumped on top of them, Ford tried unsuccessfully to wriggle free and then Judge jumped on them again, sending all three of them tumbling and enabling Ford to flee downstairs to safety. 
"I thought he might inadvertently kill me," The Washington Post quoted Ford as saying. "He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing." 
Yes, teenagers are sometimes held to impossibly high standards.  But this not only is a textbook example of attempted rape, but Kavanaugh's denial is right out of the Donald Trump playbook.   
That is, it is a denial utterly devoid of specifics.  No "Yes, I recall that party but I was never upstairs, let alone with Ms. Ford, whose name I only learned the other day."  Maybe,  just maybe, this is because he was so raving drunk (was there myself a couple of times as a teenager) that he doesn't remember anything other than having to hide his semen-stained underpants from his mother the next day.  
Meanwhile, at midday yesterday, Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley was resisting calls, including some from Republicans, to postpone a slam-dunk confirmation vote on Kavanaugh on Thursday. 
By late afternoon, after hurried consultations with the White House and GOP leadership, Grassley hastily announced that Ford had been invited to testify on Monday, as well as Kavanaugh, which should be interesting because he will be testifying about something he continues to oh-so-indignantly claim never happened.   
Ford, for her part, raised the stakes by wisely saying she won't testify until the FBI first looks into what happened, throwing the Monday circus and her appearance into doubt.   
An investigation should be "the first step," she explained, before she is put "on national television to relive this traumatic and harrowing incident," although Republicans have said there will be no FBI investigation and a Monday hearing will not be rescheduled. 
There were several reasons for Grassley's hasty reversal of field:
A tacit acknowledgement of the rising Democratic tide, which threatens to engulf the House and now even the Senate in the midterms with that record number of woman candidates. 
More specifically, the threat of energized woman voters motivated less by Republican degradations than sending a message to Trump by voting his proxies out of Congress.  
An effort to keep Republicans supportive of an appearance by Ford and chary of Kavanaugh, who is widely regarded as a deeply flawed nominee, from leaving the reservation.  
The bottom line, as New York magazine's Eric Levitz put it, is that "Brett Kavanaugh needs the Republican Party to save his Supreme Court bid — but the Republican Party doesn’t need Brett Kavanaugh," and the prspect of a show trial of a sort in which Republicans represent a man accused of attempted rape and Democrats stand behind his accuser has upset the GOP's electoral applecart. 
Senator Dianne Feinstein noted on Tuesday that 22 witnesses appeared at the Thomas confirmation hearing. 
"What about other witnesses like Kavanaugh's friend Mark Judge?" Feinstein asked, cutting to the chase.  "What about individuals who were previously told about this incident? What about experts who can speak to the effects of this kind of trauma on a victim?" 
Committee Republicans will, of course, try to block Democratic efforts to call additional witnesses as a way of sidestepping testimony from Judge, a self-confessed blackout drunk back in the day who could cause the nominee great harm.
The Sexual Predator in Chief is, of course, is the wild card in all of this. 
Trump won’t let go.  Trump won't admit he's wrong.  Trump won't abandon a fellow sexual predator and characterize Kavanaugh as the victim as he does himself at every inopportune shuffling of the deck.  But an explosion from Trump about Ford, and he has called all sorts of women vile names over years of temper tantrums, could blow up the nomination. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour

Hold Onto Your Hat, America: The Kavanaugh Supreme Court Nomination Is Dead

THE HINDU
It may take days or even weeks, but Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court is dead, a welcome casualty of converging political and social trends. 
The nomination of the man who would be the pivotal fifth conservative high court justice suddenly went on life support on Sunday morning when The Washington Post identified Christine Blasey Ford, a 51-year-old research psychologist at Palo Alto University in Northern California, as the woman who had anonymously revealed that during a high school party in the early 1980s, a stumbling drunk Kavanaugh attempted to rape her, pinning her on a bed, groping her and covering her mouth to silence her after she screamed in the hope that someone downstairs would hear her. 
Ford further states that Mark Judge, a friend and classmate of Kavanaugh's, stood across the room laughing "maniacally" before he jumped on top of them, she tried unsuccessfully to wriggle free and then Judge jumped on them again, sending all three of them tumbling.
"I thought he might inadvertently kill me," The WaPo quoted Ford as saying. "He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing." 
Ford's account is detailed, compelling and truthful, according to a polygraph test, and all the more so as the White House rushes to try to prop up a nomination that has quickly descended into turmoil with a Senate Judiciary Committee vote to approve Kavanaugh scheduled for Thursday delayed until after Kavanaugh and his accuser appear before the committee next Monday.
The political and social trends that have become Kavanaugh nomination lightning rods are powerful:
The apparent culmination of a determined four-decade-long quest by conservatives to turn the Supreme Court into a reliably conservative tool. 
The increasingly potent #MeToo movement, which has claimed numerous casualties as victims of sexual harassment and assault have come foreward. 
The rising Democratic tide, which threatens to engulf the House and now even the Senate in the November 6 midterm elections in which a record number of women are running.
In the short term, the most powerful of those trends is the possibility that Republicans may lose control of the Senate if they allow Kavanaugh to become an election issue with the Russia scandal and repeated Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare weighing down their candidates in close races in which independent woman voters may play an outsized role. 
So it should come as no surprise in a year when nine members of Congress have lost their jobs to sexual harassment, most of them Republicans, that Republicans will not hesititate to throw Kavanaugh under the bus in the service of hanging onto the Senate and the increasingly faint hope that another conservative nominee can be pushed through and confirmed. 
The alternative would be catastrophic to Trump, the GOP and conservatives in general:  
A stunning setback as defeat is plucked from the jaws of victory.  Democrats take the Senate and nominate a man or woman who tips the high court balance back to where it belongs -- the good old center.  In the process, Roe v. Wade is saved from certain death and there even is a shot at repealing draconian extralegal decisions like Citizens United. 
Trump, meanwhile, broke his silence Monday afternoon, saying Kavanaugh has "never even had a little blemish on his record" and called it "ridiculous" when asked whether he should withdraw his nomination. 
Following the trajectory of the Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore and Leslie Moonves scandals, the Kavanaugh nomination will further fray and finally fall apart in stages. 
First will be doubling down on denials. 
Kavanaugh, who revealed himself to be a seriously flawed nominee, made a huge tactical error in not telling the FBI when it undertook a background check of him of an incident in his youth that he now regrets, or something.  It is probable that had he not lied when asked if he ever sexually harassed a woman, he would have gotten a pass even in the #MeToo era. 
Next will be attacks on the victim and Democrats. 
Ford's life already has been effectively destroyed by her decision to come forward.   But the worst is yet to come as Kavanaugh's defenders defame her, claim Kavanaugh is the real victim, as well as question Senator Dianne Feinstein's 11th-hour decision to make public the allegation, which they will declare to be part of a conspiracy to deny Kavanaugh his rightful place on the high court.  
Next will be revelations that Ford may not be the only victim.   
Mark Judge is now a writer for conservative publications.  Not surprisingly, he has denied the incident occurred, but inconveniently as a reformed alcoholic, he has written extensively of his drunken high school exploits, and it seems unlikely an incident he claims never happened was a one-time occurrence.  
Next will be a decision to put the nomination on hold. 
White House aides and Republicans will scramble to find a way forward as they pray that Trump keeps his pie hole shut before Ford and Kavanaugh testify and doesn't make a precarious situation worse as he has in the Moore and Rob Porter scandals, as well as his flimsy denials of his own serial sexual predations.  
Next will be the end game. 
A semi-tearful Kavanaugh will acknowledge in the face of compelling evidence and behind-the-scenes pressure from the White House, that he has decided to withdraw from consideration for the good of his family and the country. 
Whew! 
Finally, how horrifying that Kavanaugh, who sought to portray himself as a champion of women during his nomination hearings, is in reality their worst enemy, as well as an originalist poseur who claims he wouldn't impose his own political views from the bench. And by his perverted moral calculus, would have denied his victim the right to an abortion if she had become pregnant.           

Why One Little Piece Of Paper Is The Most Important Russia Scandal Document

GABRIELLA DEMCZUK / THE NEW YORK TIMES
It was another rainy late summer day in Washington.  Tuesday, September 11, to be exact.  Donald Trump was obscenely fist-bumping his way to a 9/11 attack commemoration in southwestern Pennsylvania and a smug Brett Kavanaugh was gliding to confirmation as the pivotal ninth Supreme Court justice when unnoticed to either or the wider world, Paul Manafort sat down with prosecutors for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to finalize an agreement detailing what he would provide them in return for a guilty plea to two of the charges he faced at a second criminal trial. 
The agreement, known in legal parlance as a proffer, is the single most important document in Mueller's quest to get to the bottom of the Russia scandal. 
Within the typewritten lines of the document lies the answer to the question that may well determine the fate of the Trump presidency and when or whether America can end its long national nightmare: Can Manafort, Trump's onetime campaign manager and now Mueller's harpooned white whale, provide incontrovertible proof that the campaign colluded with cut-outs for Vladimir Putin in Russia's wildly successful effort to cybersabotage Hillary Clinton?  Or failing that, can he be the missing link that, along with the mountains of evidence Mueller's team has assembled, will send Trump back to his gilded Fifth Avenue penthouse? 
Three days later, an ashen Manafort pleaded guilty to two of the seven charges to be heard at a trial scheduled on begin on September 24 in the hopes of receiving a reduced sentence and avoiding the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison.  He also acceded to turning over most of his assets, including a $3 million condo in Trump Tower.   
The proffer agreement remains shrouded in secrecy, but Andrew Weissman, a dogged Mueller prosecutor who had pressed Manafort to flip for months, did say that the "proffer session and cooperation . . . led us to today." 
Weissman also said Manafort's cooperation would be "broad" and include participation in "interviews, briefings, producing documents, [and] testifying in other matters." 
What makes the proffer so compelling beyond what Manafort may know is that Mueller almost certainly has had a very clear idea of what he knows for some time, and that to Trump's chagrin, this is the biggest victory for the special counsel, who was appointed 16 months ago today, following many other victories, including turning several other allies of the president into cooperating witnesses. 
That the proffer pretty much rules out a presidential pardon.  And if Manafort is Mueller's golden goose, then Kavanaugh is a cooked goose.  Just you wait. 
GETTY IMAGES
There is yet another document, this one very much a work in progress, that could become hugely important -- the report of Mueller's investigative grand jury. 
Why shouldn't Mueller release this report when he wraps up his investigation rather than write a report for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, his supervisor at the Justice Department, that almost inevitably would lead to a new fight when Trump's lawyers invoke executive privilege and order Justice to keep the juicy -- which is to say incriminating -- portions of the report confidential from Congress, and specifically the House Judiciary Committee, where impeachment proceedings would be initiated? 
There is a precedent for doing such an end-run.  It was called Watergate. 
In March 1974, Watergate prosecutor Leon Jaworski (photo above), who more or less played the same role as Mueller, sent to Congress a 55-page index known as the "Road Map" containing information his grand jury had gathered about President Nixon's misconduct.   The Road Map included evidence gathered by and underlying testimony given to the grand jury, but did not state whether Nixon had committed any impeachable offenses. 
On Friday, three prominent legal scholars urged in a petition that the Road Map, which was examined by the House Judiciary Committee of that era but otherwise remained secret, be unsealed by court order and made public.
Wrote the scholars, who note that most Watergate players are dead and much of the evidence already is public:
This petition presents an extraordinarily compelling interest in disclosure arrayed against a vanishingly small countervailing interest.  Not only does the Road Map carry immense historical significance in understanding the Watergate investigation, it provides a key precedent for assessing the appropriate framework for Special Counsel Mueller to report to Congress any findings of potentially unlawful conduct by President Trump.
The scholars, who are represented by the government watchdog group Protect Democracy, are Benjamin Wittes, a Brookings Institute senior fellow and editor in chief of Lawfare, an estimable online publication that specializes in national security legal policy issues; Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor and senior Justice official in the George W. Bush administration; and Stephen Bates, a University of Nevada-Las Vegas, law professor who, as a federal prosecutor working for Ken Starr, the independent counsel who investigated President Clinton, co-wrote the report to Congress recommending that Bubba be impeached.  
The petition was accompanied by three declarations from Watergate-era figures who argued that it was time to make the Road Map public: two Watergate prosecutors, Richard Ben-Veniste and Philip A. Lacovara, and John Dean, Nixon's White House counsel, who became a key witness for Jaworski.
Is this a big deal? 
Yes.  Although Justice Department rules permit Rosenstein to veto any unwarranted "investigative or prosecutorial step," asking a grand jury to send a report to Congress that would include Manafort's post-plea bargain testimony does not necessarily qualify as such and could be an insurance policy of a sort if Trump tries to shut down Mueller's investigation. 
Jaworski, in a memoir, called the Road Map an unprecedented but legally proper solution to a difficult problem: Harnessing a grand jury's power to issue a report as a way to get around his apparent lack of power to send information directly to Congress, which also applies to Mueller.  A federal judge overseeing the grand jury and a federal appeals court approved the move.  In any event, Trump's options are increasingly limited because the rule of law is prevailing over his disdain for the law.  And he's guilty as sin.   
Intriguingly, if Trump fires Mueller and Attorney General Jeff "Mr. Recusal" Sessions, which he has threatened to do, Rosenstein becomes the acting attorney general.   
But if Trump also fires Rosenstein . . . Well, stay tuned

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

Friday, September 14, 2018

In A Stunning Russia Scandal Development, Manafort Will Cooperate With Mueller

YURI GRIPAS / REUTERS
News that lawyers for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had entered into plea-deal discussions with prosecutors for the special counsel was intriguing for less the stated reason -- to avoid a second costly criminal trial -- than the possibility of a huge unstated reason.  Manafort knows where the campaign collusion bodies are buried and if he decides to flip it would give Robert Mueller a potent ace in the hole as he wraps up his Russia scandal investigation with a recommendation that the president be impeached. 
Well, in a stunning development that will shake the Trump presidency to its rotten core, the man that Trump called "such a brave man" for not cooperating, has flipped and will plead guilty to two of the seven charges he faced at that now short-circuited second trial in hopes of being treated leniently at sentencing, and forfeit a staggering $46 million in ill-gotten goods.  The deadlocked charges from his first trial also will be dismissed.  
"I plead guilty," Manafort told U.S. District  Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who accepted Manafort's pleas after it took prosecutor Andrew Weissman 40 minutes to spell out his crimes.   
Manafort had been stripped of his house arrest status in June while awaiting his first trial and has been jailed since June when Mueller's prosecutors charged him with witness tampering.  
Kevin Downing, one of Manafort's attorneys later said, "He wanted to make sure his family remained safe and live a good life.  He has accepted responsibility."
The entire purpose of the Manafort prosecution had been to get him to talk. 
Through squeezing Manafort on the bank and tax fraud charges for which he was (mostly) found guilty after his first trial last month and the money laundering charges he faced at his second trial, scheduled to begin on September 24, prosecutors sought to wear down his sorry 69-year-old ass and eventually succeeded.

Defenders of Manafort the sleazebag lobbyist, influence peddler and convicted felon have long insisted that he would not cooperate with Mueller because he didn't know any incriminating information involving Trump.  White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Saunders dismissed the news as expected, saying "This had absolutely nothing to do with the President or his victorious 2016 Presidential campaign.  It is totally unrelated." 
Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, said "Once again an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign.  The reason: The president did nothing wrong.  Manafort will tell the truth."  Minutes later, a new statement was released that simply said "The president did nothing wrong." 
As of Saturday morning, the president himself -- who seldom misses an opportunity to savage his perceived enemies -- was conspicuous in his silence. 
Few observers have expected Trump to not pardon Manafort, but knowledgeable observers like Marcy Wheeler believe the plea deal is "pardon proof." 
Indeed, Trump may change his mind now that Manafort has become a "snitch" in the parlance of a president who believes that it should be illegal for people facing prosecution to co-operate with the government in exchange for a reduced sentence.   
Manafort is, in the words of one pundit, Mueller's "golden goose" because he is the key to unlocking the collusion puzzle for the special prosecutor as Trump's primary conduit to Russia:
Trump was one of the first clients retained by Manafort, Roger Stone and Charlie Black when they founded a lobbying business in 1980.  Spy magazine was to name the firm the "sleaziest of all in the Beltway" in 1992.   
In 2005, Manafort began a long business relationship with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Ukrainian with extensive Russian intelligence connections, who has been indicted by Mueller. 
In 2006, Manafort bought a condo on an upper floor of Trump Tower for $3.6 million and subsequently bought a brownstone in Brooklyn and a Trump SoHo condo using shell companies and paying with cash for the properties.    
By 2016, Manafort had taken at least 14 trips to Moscow and his ties to the Kremlin through his Vladimir Putin-allied clients in Ukraine were extensive. 
In February 2016, Stone (who is likely to be indicted) recommended to Trump that he hire Manafort, who curiously offered to work for Trump's campaign for free although he was in dire financial straits, suggesting the possibility he already was working for Moscow in its nascent effort to interfere in the presidential election. 
On June 6, 2016, Manafort attended the infamous Trump Tower meeting with a Russian cut-out promising "dirt" on Hillary Clinton and took contemporaneous notes later seized by FBI agents working for Mueller.   
On June 20, 2016, Manafort, who had been under FBI surveillance approved by the FISA Court, became Trump's campaign manager. 
Working behind the scenes in mid-July 2016, Manafort helps to dramatically water down the Republican National Convention  platform on Ukraine, ostensibly in a nod to Putin.  Kilimnik later brags to friends in Kiev that he was involved in the effort.     
In late July 2016, former British spy Christopher Steele stated in one of the memos that were to make up his dossier that one of his Russian sources had determined that Manafort "managed" the campaign side of a Russian-campaign collaboration to interfere in the election by cybersabotaging Clinton.    
On August 19, 2016, Manafort was dismissed by Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner on Trump's orders after The Washington Post reported that he had been paid millions of dollars by a pro-Moscow Ukrainian political party.  
The FISA Court warrant was renewed a few days before Trump took office on January 20, 2017, and includes a subsequent period when he was known to still talk to then-President Trump.   
This may seem like a convincing case for collusion, but it's largely circumstantial and is larded with hypotheticals.   
Moving that case from circumstantial to provable in a court of law may not have required Manafort.  After all, seven other people associated with the campaign or players who sought to influence the election on Trump's behalf have entered guilty pleas to charges and are cooperating -- Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos, W. Samuel Patten, Alex van der Zwann and Richard Pinedo. 
But Manafort, a man once called "The American Hustler" by a news magazine, was haunted by the looming possibility he will spend the rest of his life in orange prison jumpsuits and not garb like the $15,000 silk-lined ostrich leather bomber jacket to which he had become accustomed while strolling around his four luxurious homes, and so he will talk. 
Mueller has caught an awful lot of witches in his "witch hunt," some 35 in all with the end not yet in sight.  But bagging Manafort and then flipping him is the biggest catch of all. 

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

John DiGiovanni (June 19, 1952 ~ September 14, 2018)

If you're going to do something incredibly stupid, do it with a good friend, okay?   
That might seem to be an inapt way to remember my dear friend John DiGiovanni, who left this mortal coil early on the morning of September 14, but that's what happened a few minutes after I snapped this photograph of him in the Badlands of South Dakota in August of 1974.  Actually, a few minutes before I snapped this photograph, we had ingested a mind altering substance, all the better to enjoy exploring the labyrinth of layered rock formations, buttes and soaring pinnacles that give the Badlands their intimidating name.  
What we had not done was check the weather, a requisite when trekking off the beaten track, which we did repeatedly that summer on our westward-ho odyssey (which included scaling a 12,400 foot mountain in Colorado) and would have been easy to do from our sun-drenched vantage point at the edge of the Badlands, a breathtaking view of hundreds of miles of prairie grasslands stretching south and well into Nebraska.  Had we done so, we would have noticed a line of ominously dark gray cumulonimbus thunderstorm clouds barreling our way.   
Going into the endless maze of box canyons in the face of an impending storm was . . . well, incredibly stupid.  
Our incredibly stupid selves had hiked a good distance off the road and into a dry wash.  I recall wondering in my altered state if we'd turn a corner and stumble upon a stegosaurus with her young.  Or a Tyrannosaurus rex or one of the other dinosaurs that roamed the Badlands tens of millions of years ago.  That thought -- and the sunlight -- evaporated with the first crack of thunder, which was followed within seconds by raindrops.  Which was followed within a few more seconds by a torrential downpour that left us proverbially dazed and confused and the formerly red-orange sky a putrid purple.   
We were soon up to our ankles and then some in churning rainwater as the dry wash in which we found ourselves became a raging torrent.  How we found our way back to my VW bus, muddy, soaked and chastened, is a never-to-be-solved mystery, but the skies did soon clear and we were rewarded with a gorgeous double rainbow.   
SNAKEGRINDER (1974) (JONATHAN TAYLOR PHOTO)
I had known John for about a year at that point and was greatly admiring of his chops as the drummer and percussionist for Snakegrinder and the Shredded Field Mice. 
Snakegrinder, for whom I designed a poster or two and occasionally helped lug their equipment to and from gigs (damn you, Dave Bennett, your Kustom organ and Leslie cabinet!) practiced in the basement of Steve and Kathy Roberts' apartment in the house of video pioneer Ed "Stretch" Wesolowski.  This was catty corner to my rowhouse on Wilbur Street, which was working on its image as a Newark, Delaware hippie enclave as Snakegrinder was working on its image as a cult band.  (Translation: Great music but few paying gigs, although 40 years on they have becoming wildly popular among collectors of obscure vinyl psychedelia in far flung places like Norway and Japan.  Go figure.) 
John needed a place to stay and I had a spare room, and so commenced my 45-year friendship with this self effacing and enormously talented man with a 1,000-watt smile. We ended up lining my basement walls with sound absorbent egg crates and John would practice for hours -- day in and day out.  While being in the same house with a drummer with a serious woodshed ethic would seem to be as crazy as hiking into that box canyon with a storm bearing down on us, I loved hearing John run through his practice drills and freer form explorations as he broadened his palette from rock to include jazz (Weather Report and Mahavishnu Orchestra were influences) and Eastern drumming and percussion (ditto Mickey Hart's Diga Rhythm Devils and Ravi Shankar's ensembles). 
There was life after Snakegrinder, which dissolved in 1975. 
John and Dave joined a Mexican circus, John on drums and Dave on tuba.  There followed extensive gigging with, among other bands and innumerable guest appearances, the Sin City Band, Gary Cogdell and the Complainers, Old Soul, Bluestone, Live at the Fillmore, the Dinkendo Family Band, Stackabones, his own jazz band Kombu Combo, and most recently the mashup cover band Steal Your Peach. 
He also was a drum and percussion teacher and recording engineer and producer at Marsh Road Studios. 
George Wolkind, former Snakegrinder lead singer and co-founder and president of the Delaware Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame, presented John with a Rock Hall induction medal last month.   
COURTESY OF JEFFREY F. QUATTRO
While "Johnny Digs" spread his wings far beyond jazz, it remained his great love, and we shared and he exemplified the view that too much jazz is played for musicians and not the rest of us.  
Even though jazz is more popular than ever (the late great John Coltrane had a chart-topping record earlier this summer, an album I gifted John and he loved) and there are jazz venues, there also are a lot of empty seats. 
Very few musicians of any kind, and especially jazzos, are able to make the leap from having to work day jobs to being able to devote themselves to playing full time.  That has less to do with talent, which John had in spades, than luck.  John was no exception, and he became a master electrician -- and a damned good one -- to supplement his meager musical income. 
John had the qualities that make a great drummer and percussionist.  (Listen to his solo on "Sweet Clifford" at the 2008 Clifford Brown Jazz Festival in Wilmington, Delaware. And with Kombu Combo doing Horace Silver's "Filthy McNasty" in 2009.)   
First of all, as obvious as this may seem, John knew how to listen.  He could be athletic on the kit, but "felt" the music and had a great touch.  His sense of time and meter was impeccable, his technical vocabulary rich and deep, and he could set up wonderful rhythmic dialogues with the rest of a band.  (This helps explain why we had the same favorite Grateful Dead song -- "Eyes of the World" -- which I and many of John's friends are playing in tribute to him.)   
Most importantly to me, the spaces between the beats were as important to John as the beats themselves.  Or as Miles Davis famously put it, "It's not the notes you play, it's the notes you don't play."   
John DiGiovanni's life informed his drumming and his drumming informed his life.  He touched so many people in life and was so extraordinarily courageous as he faced the end of his own life.   
He will be missed.