Digby

The Real Threat to Trump's Presidency Will Unfold In a Courtroom

The weekend started off with a bang and ended with a whimper. In concert with U.S. allies, President Trump ordered a missile strike against Syria on Friday night, in retaliation for the apparent chemical attack on civilians in Douma earlier in the week. The precision strike was limited to some weapons facilities and so far there are no reports of deaths on the ground, which is likely because the U.S. warned Russia and the Syrians in advance. Trump had tweeted to the world that he was planning to launch missile strikes so it's not as if anyone was surprised. (This is a good thing, although it certainly calls his "Pearl Harbor doctrine" into question.)

By Saturday night, Trump was tweeting out "Mission Accomplished," with no apparent sense of irony whatsoever.

The White House made sure that it was widely reported that Trump really wanted to teach Russia a lesson and had pushed hard for a major bombing campaign but was talked out of it by his Pentagon chief. Everyone is now supposed to believe that Trump is chomping at the bit to be tougher on Russia than even Jim "Mad Dog" Mattis, but in the end Trump bowed to the defense secretary's advice because he's always restrained when he needs to be. (If you believe any of that I've got some Trump steaks to sell you.)

Despite the Syrian strike, with all its Pentagon-provided, video-game footage of fire and fury, the White House couldn't black out the news of the forthcoming book by James Comey or the astonishing story unfolding around Trump's personal lawyer and former Trump Organization executive Michael Cohen. When I say the weekend ended with a whimper, I'm referring to Trump's petulant, puerile Twitter rant on Sunday:

Unbelievably, James Comey states that Polls, where Crooked Hillary was leading, were a factor in the handling (stupidly) of the Clinton Email probe. In other words, he was making decisions based on the fact that he thought she was going to win, and he wanted a job. Slimeball!

I never asked Comey for Personal Loyalty. I hardly even knew this guy. Just another of his many lies. His “memos” are self serving and FAKE!

Slippery James Comey, a man who always ends up badly and out of whack (he is not smart!), will go down as the WORST FBI Director in history, by far!

Trump is obviously sincerely agitated about James Comey's book, but his unhinged tweets are also part of a coordinated response by the Republican Party and are therefore to be expected. What's more interesting is the fact that he tweeted about the FBI raid on Cohen's office, commenting for only the second time since his overwrought TV appearance with the joint chiefs on the day it happened. He was obviously watching his unofficial adviser Alan Dershowitz opine on television when he tweeted this:

Attorney Client privilege is now a thing of the past. I have many (too many!) lawyers and they are probably wondering when their offices, and even homes, are going to be raided with everything, including their phones and computers, taken. All lawyers are deflated and concerned!

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that only the lawyers who have engaged in criminal conspiracies with him are nervous.

While Trump was ordering airstrikes on Syria last Friday it's fair to assume he had one eye peeled on TV. There were reports from the federal courtroom where Cohen's lawyers were protesting the searches and to everyone's surprise, Trump had his own lawyers in the courtroom arguing -- you guessed it! -- that the warrants served on Cohen by federal prosecutors violated attorney-client privilege. Judge Kimba Wood was reportedly miffed that Cohen was not available in the courtroom to answer questions that his lawyers couldn't.

Where was Cohen, anyway? Well, he was hanging around with his pals on the street, smoking cigars. I'm not kidding. This brilliant satire about Cohen's day by Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo says it all:

At any rate, Judge Wood has ordered Cohen to appear in court Monday.

In one of the three hearings held on Friday, prosecutors revealed that they've been investigating Cohen for months. Their filing added that the searches were meant to “seek evidence of crimes, many of which have nothing to do with his work as an attorney, but rather relate to Cohen’s own business dealings.” Those business dealings include suspected money laundering, bank fraud, wire fraud and nefarious criminal partnerships in the New York taxi industry. How all this fits into Trump's business in the U.S. and overseas or with the Russia probe, if it does at all, remains to be seen. We do know that Cohen was in the middle of all of it.

What is becoming clearer every day is that Cohen seems to have made a lot of money, and I do mean a lot, in schemes arranging payoffs to women to keep them quiet. It appears to be a kind of side service he has provides to other clients, not just his patron the president. It was also reported this week that Cohen had arranged for another woman who had an affair with a high-ranking Republican official to be paid more than a million dollars in hush money. The man, a wealthy Trump donor and confidant named Elliott Broidy, paid Cohen another quarter of a million on top of that. (Broidy is also entangled in the Russia probe, having participated in that mysterious meeting in the Seychelles, just before Trump's inauguration.)

Furthermore, the woman involved in the Broidy case was represented by Keith Davidson, the same lawyer who represented Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, two women who allegedly had affairs with Trump and were paid to keep their mouths shut about it. There is some kind of remarkable racket going on here. On Sunday the Wall Street Journal reported that Cohen also managed to shut down a story in US Magazine in 2013 about Donald Trump Jr.'s rumored affair with singer Aubrey O'Day, who had appeared with Don Jr. on "The Apprentice." It's all in the family.

If there's one person in America who prepared the ground for this scandal, that would be Stormy Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti. He is as smart and clever as Michael Cohen is -- or rather, as Cohen evidently isn't. Avenatti's TV appearances and legal strategy in Daniels' civil case have been perfectly calibrated for the Trump era of reality TV and gangster series. He tweets, he talks and he doles out information for maximum impact. He was in court on Friday and stood outside giving interviews while Cohen was being filmed hanging with his goombahs on the sidewalk. Trump evidently realizes that taking Avenatti's bait would do him no good, but you can bet it's driving him crazy.

Monday's hearing promises to be quite a circus. Trump's lawyers are demanding to see everything the feds seized before prosecutors can review it, to determine if any of the material violates attorney-client privilege. Cohen will be there, presumably in a more subdued, lawyerly suit than he wore on Friday.

Oh, and did I mention that Avenatti is bringing Stormy Daniels to court today?  The only one missing will be Donald Trump himself but you can be sure that he'll be glued to the screen watching every move, even if he has to put Jim Comey on the DVR. This case goes straight to the heart of the Trump con -- and maybe even his marriage.

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Louisiana Tortured Albert Woodfox for 40 Years

"We tortured some folks"

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NSA Document Says NSA Needs More Power

This latest NSA revelation from James Risen and Laura Poitras inthe New York Times is one of the creepiest yet. It's a mission statement that forthrightly asserts that if the laws might interfere with the NSA's ability to function to its full, Orwellian, Big Brother capabilities those laws need to be eliminated. (I guess the Constitution would need an overhaul as well.  Talk about out of date ...)

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Why Dianne Feinstein Is Suddenly Upset About the NSA

There are lots of people wondering just what got into Dianne Feinstein that has her suddenly all hot and bothered over the NSA revelations (which, up until now, she's defended to the hilt.) 

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Williamsburg Accord: The GOP Pledge to Generate Crises to Get Their Way

I think one of the major misunderstandings (willful, in many cases) of this budget mess is that it's about Republicans just running around willy-nilly screaming "nonononono" like toddlers having a temper tantrum. I know it looks that way, but that's not what's happening. This is a strategy. And it's one they've even written down.

Jonathan Chait wrote about this in a widely read piece yesterday in which he explains what  they've been up to:

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NSA Launches Charm Offensive

For the first time since 1975, the NSA invited in a bunch of academics to flatter them brief them about the secret programs and this interview with one of the participants gives us some idea of what their charm offensive is supposed to accomplish. I'll let you read the whole thing but these answers from the NSA struck me as being so vacuous as to demand some kind of response:

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Republican Pushes Food Stamp Cuts, Has 0 Problem With Massive Giveaways to Big Food Industry

You've got to hand it to these misanthropic wingnuts.  They don't suffer from a surfeit of self-awareness, that's for sure:

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Food Stamp Recipients Forced to Work 20 Hours a Week in Exchange for $132 a Month in Food Stamps

Ohio is apparently overrun with lazy bums needing food and whatnot. This'll teach them:

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Why Climate Change May Be Responsible for the Horrors in Syria

If you want to understand what's happening in Syria ... 

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Are Hackers the Next Bogeyman Used to Scare Americans Into Giving Up More Rights?

Marcy Wheeler has been speculating for a very long time that the real purpose of all this NSA collection isn't terrorism, it's hacking.These comments last week from Michael Hayden lend a lot of credence to that theory in my eyes:

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Weaponized Drones Coming to America?

I'm afraid only traitors wouldn't want armed unmanned dronesflying around over their heads

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Did You Know that NSA Spymasters Are Involved in the War on Drugs?

Yesterday I posted a little tid-bit about the NSA proposing some years back to "re-think the 4th Amendment" in a once secret (now de-classified) document.  I was reading it over again this morning and happened upon this little tid-bit:

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Police Tase Foreclosed Upon Homeowners Protesting Criminal Bankers, Criminal Bankers Continue Facing No Repercussions

You may have heard about the protests at the DOJ by foreclosed upon homeowners demanding that Eric Holder prosecute some bankers for their criminal activity. If you haven't, you can read all about it here. 

Unfortunately, I received reports last night that citizens exercising their right to peacefully protest were being casually tasered by the authorities. 

This came from my friend Jason Rosenbaum, who was there:

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3 Pictures That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Guantanamo

Mother Jones featured a series of pictures released by the military of the equipment used in the Guanatanamo hunger strike the other day. I've shown similar ones before here --- the tubes, the shackles and the torture chairs. 

But the military was clearly trying to show how good the prisoners have it down there so they also showed a picture of the "luxuries" they're allowed, like "fresh olives."   Here a picture of all the belongings these lucky duckies have:

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Liberty Loving Rand Paul Wets Pants Over Boston, Demands More Surveillance, Tougher Immigration Laws

For anyone who ever expects the allegedly principled libertarian Rand Paul to be anything more than an ephemeral civil liberties ally to be used for your own purposes and nothing else, here he is in all his glory, letting his little white slip show once again:

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It's Official: A Democratic President Proposes to Cut Social Security

Mark this day. For the first time in history, a Democratic president has officially proposed to cut the Democratic Party's signature New Deal program, Social Security:

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6 Charts That Show How Conservative Politics Are Destroying America

Working people’s share of the benefits from increased productivity took a sudden turn down:

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This resulted in intense concentration of wealth at the top:

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And forced working people to spend down savings to get by:
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Which forced working people to go into debt: (total household debt as percentage of GDP )

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None of which has helped economic growth much: (12-quarter rolling average nominal GDP growth.)

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There are, of course, many reasons for all this. But there is no doubt that we've been in the clutches of conservative economic orthodoxy since 1980 and this is the result. Whether it's the cause or whether it's because it has no capacity to react to external events properly doesn't matter. It has failed. And is still failing. #Austerity

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Fun Facts About Rich People: Walmart Heirs Own More Wealth Than Bottom 40% of Americans; the Wealthy Give Less to Charity Than the Poor

I was watching Bill Maher and his guests last Friday calling the American people morons because they don't want the government to cut programs they value. All the wealthy people on the panel went on and on and on about how those idiotic Americans refuse to make sacrifices for the greater good because they're just sooooo stupid. 

Ok, I'll agree to live in penury in my old age but I think these people should be forced to join me:

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House Dems Attack President Obama's Extrajudicial Assassination Powers

Since the participation of Rand Paul in the civil liberties debate seems to make it doubly controversial and more difficult than it already is, perhaps the liberal base, at least, will be persuaded by the stalwart progressive House Democrats who sent this letter to President Obama today

Here's the crux of their issue:



Unlike everyone else they seem to have managed to see the forest for the trees on this and aren't obsessing of the use of drones, as if that's the real problem* with all this. They are asking about the authorities under which the president has granted himself the power to secretly target Americans for assassination. 

It's signed by Lee, Ellison, Conyers, Grijalva, Edwards and Honda. Not a libertarian or right winger anywhere to be found. And as Emptywheel points out there are others as well, like Dianne Feinstein and Susan Collins, Jerry Nadler and Pat Leahy among others. This is beyond ideology or partisanship. Or at least it should be.

*Yes, drones present problems for modern warfare for a number of reasons, which we've discussed before. But this is about something more than the technological capability. It's about whether the president has the constitutional or statutory authority to carry out a covert assassination program against American citizens on the new "global battlefield." (And again, that's not to say that carrying out such a program against non-citizens is moral or legal either, but it's a different set of rules and norms.)

The Right-Wingers Who Said Hillary Clinton Was Faking Her Concussion

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Rush Limbaugh's Vile Rants Are So Bad They're Screwing Other Radio Programs

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6 Restaurants You Should Avoid If You Don't Want Your Food Cooked By Sick People

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Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Trouble

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Ninth Circuit Court Delivers Landmark Taser Ruling

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Who Should Take Credit For Thwarting the Christmas Terror Attempt?

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The Demise of the Medicare Buy-In

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Why Do Conservatives Doubt Global Warming? Because They Like to Piss Off Liberals

Yesterday, I asked why conservatives are so crazed about global warming and was pleased to see so many fine explanations. Amanda Marcotte delved into the subject in depth and I think she nailed it. The reason was obvious, and right under my nose: it pisses off the liberals.

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