Thursday, March 30, 2017

(UPDATED) Senators Vow Major Scandal Probe As Trump Lies, Bobs & Weaves

We have come to expect rabid partisanship from Republicans, who have spent the last eight years trying to undermine one president and the last 10 weeks trying to prop up another.  But partisanship does not begin to explain, let alone excuse, why these selfsame Republicans, who for decades portrayed Moscow as the great global Satan have now gone soft as Donald Trump doggy paddles in the filth of Vladimir Putin's efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 election by commandeering the foundation stone of American democracy.  
These Republicans are, of course, lapel pin patriots whose dedication to flag and country, and now even their historic jingoism, evaporates when the political stakes are high.  And those stakes could not be higher for a president and party reeling from the Obamacare debacle, a dawning realization that the next item on their Make America Great Again agenda -- taxes cuts for corporations and the rich -- may suffer the same fate, that non-existent Democratic votes will be necessary to build the border wall and avoid a government shutdown next month, and that the 2018 elections could be as unkind to them as the 2016 elections were to the Democrats.   
But all of this is so much small beer compared to whether the president's campaign provided aid and comfort to the most hostile of foreign powers in trying to influence the election, and that kept getting lost in the borscht until there was a promising breakthrough on Wednesday. 
The ranking Republican and Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee have now promised an aggressive  investigation that they say will focus on whether Trump was involved in the now indisputable Russian election meddling, while any attempts by the White House to interfere as it has in the House probe will be rebuffed.   
We shall see. 
This stands in bold contrast to the House Intelligence Committee chaired by Devin Nunes, a seven-term congressman from California's San Joaquin Valley, a Republican hotbed that has not voted for a Democrat for president in many years but now has a narrow Hispanic majority, which begs the question of when or whether Nunes, who is of Portuguese descent, will put an accent and tilde n his surname although that is something that might get him deported to Mexico.
It can be assumed that Nunes or Núñes or whatever was pretty much phoning it in as chairman of the House committee, but his stroll in the mists of relative obscurity bumped into the inconvenience of the Russia scandal and has now suffered a far more jarring collision because of demands that he recuse himself from the panel's investigation. 
This is because Nunes is now viewed as being too close to Trump to be impartial, which may have something to do with revelations that, after switching cars and ditching aides as any sneaky sleuth would, someone had secretly admitted him to the White House grounds where he met secretly with a "source," who turn out to be three White House staffers with national security credentials, who showed him a secret report that U.S. spies, in the course of doing their secret jobs, may have incidentally swept up Trump or his associates as they engaged in legal foreign surveillance during the post-election transition period.    
There is no indication that Nunes, as a member of the transition team, was incidentally surveilled himself, although that would be a hoot given that he's been doing a pretty fair imitation of being a goofball and obviously is deep in the tank for The Donald.
It has not helped that Nunes, armed with a non-story obtained as the result of an egregious two-way security violation, first briefed the news media, then the president, and then the news media again before getting around to letting committee Democrats know, which almost certainly means he was acting on the instructions of the man he is supposed to be investigating.    
The amazing shrinking Paul Ryan took time out from licking his wounds to say he has "full confidence" in the Inspector Clouseau of the House, which may end up being a kiss of death, as three other scandal-related stories percolate up from Putin's pot brimming with filth:
* Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is going to have a chat with the Senate Intelligence Committee about privately meeting during that wild and crazy transition period with the chief executive of Vnesheconombank, a Russian bank with ties to state intelligence services, and former spy himself.  
Vnesheconombank was targeted by Obama-administration imposed sanctions in 2014 in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, while a U.S.-based bank employee was arrested in 2015 and accused of being a spy.  He pleaded guilty in 2016 to conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government.   
* An appearance Tuesday by former acting attorney general Sally Q. Yates before Nunes's committee regarding links between Trump's campaign and Russian officials was cancelled after the White House sought to block testimony that was likely to be damaging by invoking executive privilege.   
Yates, who was fired by Trump for refusing to enforce his first Muslim Ban, played a key role in the investigation of then-campaign aide Michael Flynn, who secretly discussed sanctions with Russian ambassador Serge Kislyak, which later led to his unceremonious ouster as national security advisor. 
* Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is being investigated by bank officials in Cyprus on money laundering allegations because of his ties to mob-tied Putin pal Oleg Deripaska.  Manafort closed the accounts after the probe was launched, something he now says he cannot recall doing. 
This juicy follow-the-money revelation fits hand in glove with Manafort's $10 million-a-year deal with Deripaska "to influence politics, business dealings and news coverage" outside Russia to help rehabilitate Putin's battered image.
This recusal stuff is becoming habit forming. 
Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself from involvement in the scandal after it was revealed he was part of it and had failed to come clean about two meetings on behalf of Trump with that Kislyak, who is widely believed to be a spy in ambassador's clothing.   
For those of you keeping score at home, this means that the House Intelligence Committee and AG's office, two of the three security entities constitutionally mandated to investigate stuff like this, are now hopelessly tainted, although probes by the third entity -- the Senate Intelligence Committee, which will hold its first public hearing on Thursday -- and FBI's counterintelligence office appear to be on track.  Nunes, of course, has refused to resign as  committee char, but has conveniently cancelled his committee's next public hearing.   
This makes it all but certain that the seemingly nonpartisan Senate panel will be taking the lead in Congress's Russia investigation, which is good news for everyone except the president and his allies.  The Thursday hearing will focus on cybersecurity experts speaking to Russia's election meddling efforts, and no major intelligence figures will appear, while the investigation itself is nothing less than a credibility test for congressional Republicans because it's outcome could further weaken if not cripple Trump.
Meanwhile, the president has interjected himself into the scandal yet again by tweeting that the House committee should be investigating Hillary Clinton's ties to Russia and then, for good measure, called the scandal engulfing his administration "a hoax."  To which White House press secretary Sean Spicer helpfully added: "If the president puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight, somehow that's a Russian connection." 
The Nunes, Kushner, Yates and Manafort developments are of part of a pattern.   
The White House, which wants you to believe it has nothing to hide, continues to reliably fail to be forthcoming about Trump campaign contacts with Russians it claims were innocuous, let alone the cloak-and-dagger intrigues of its Capitol Hill allies.  This is genetic, to be sure, because this gang not only can't shoot straight, it can't be straight about anything and inevitably defaults to deflections and subterfuges. 
"You know things are looking grim for President Trump when he starts tweeting about Hillary Clinton again," noted one pundit. 
This, combined with polls showing that voters favor a special prosecutor by a 2 to 1 margin who could get to the bottom of the scandal, Trump's foaming-at-the-mouth outbursts have all the earmarks of someone who fears that reporters and investigators may be closing in on the truth.   
It was 10 days ago that FBI Director James Comey turned up the heat on that pot brimming with Putin's filth with his explosive testimony.  Since then, and despite the president's own rantings and the orchestrated obstructionism that has sunk the House probe, the pot is belatedly coming to a boil.


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