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Weekly News Wrap-Up “So Help You God”

Week of 6/2 “So Help You God”

This week Comey finally got to share his side of the story after being fired in mid-May. His testimony in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee was widely anticipated. Thursday he confirmed many things we’ve heard about in the press: Trump asked him to pledge his loyalty, Trump directed him to stop the Flynn investigation, Comey was uncomfortable with the direct communication that he deemed inappropriate and asked Trump, and AG Sessions and Deputy Rosenstein to make it stop.

He’s not the only one this week who testified before Senate that there was inappropriate direct communication from Trump. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo also revealed that Trump asked them to do things that were inappropriate, unethical, maybe illegal through private communication.

First, to understand why this is significant, you must understand protocol. The Office of the President is kept separate from investigative officers in order to shield the offices from any illusions of obstruction. The Attorney General’s office is a conduit that communications is supposed to run through. I believe this became standard practice after Nixon asked the FBI director to stop an investigation into his involvement in Watergate. Private conversations between intelligence leaders and the President are more or less unheard of. Comey had two such conversations with Obama in 8 years, one to discuss race and law enforcement (not an investigation) and another where Obama said goodbye. Comey counted at least seven such interactions with Trump in three months.

A narrative I’ve heard before is that Trump is just doing what worked in business as our chief executive. And I believe that is at least partially true. He thinks if he talks to people, he can steer them into doing things differently, or helping him out. I believe he also sees all of these people as subordinates who should follow orders. I do not think this is the full story. If it were, I don’t believe that Trump would have been so careful in the selection of his words.

Based on Comey’s testimony, it is clear that he prodded the FBI chief during the private dinner to see if he could hint to him to resign. Additionally, by saying “I hope you can let it go” instead of “you need to let it go” in regards to Flynn, he injected enough ambiguity that people could read his comments to mean different things. He also ensured there were no witnesses who could corroborate what he said. I believe Trump knows what he is doing and is trying to push the boundaries of what he can legally do. With so many questions left unanswered this week, the unknown that remains is: did he overstep that boundary?

Russian Investigation:

  1. Comey stopped short of saying that Trump broke any laws while he testified on the hill this week, but he made it very clear that he is not a fan of the President. He accused the President of defaming him and in no uncertain way said that Trump was a liar who could not be trusted to tell the truth. Comey also said that Trump seemed completely uninterested in the investigation into Russia’s undermining of our election and far more concerned about whether he himself was being investigated. (5)
  2. Paul Ryan defended the President and his inappropriate conversations with Comey by saying “he’s new at government.” A few thoughts here. First, yes he is, and this is just one example of why outsiders may not be the best people to lead. Hell, I wouldn’t ask a mechanic to do my surgery because I wanted a fresh perspective. Secondly, well gee, maybe if Trump didn’t cancel ethics training he would have known that he wasn’t supposed to do that. And three, I actually think that Trump did know that he wasn’t supposed to do that and that he could get away with it by playing the “I’m new” card. How long will we let his lack of experience be an excuse? (12)
  3. In response to the testimony on Friday morning, Trump said he was vindicated, said Comey gave false statements and lied, then called Comey a leaker. This is from the guy who gave top secret information to Russians and wanted a back channel to Moscow. (24)
  4. James Clapper went on the record this week to discuss the ongoing Russian investigation and to make a popular comparison. The former Director of National Intelligence told a group of reporters on Wednesday that Watergate pales in comparison to the current situation within the Trump administration. (1)
  5. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo both told associates that Trump asked them not only to deny the FBI’s probe into the Trump campaign, but to try and dissuade Comey from continuing the investigation. Since we are already drawing parallels between 2017 and 1974, Nixon did the exact same thing and it was one of the nails in the coffin of his administration. It is obstruction of justice. (2)
  6. Director Coats and National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers were both on the stand Wednesday to discuss their conversations with Trump. While both said they did not feel pressured by the president to intervene in the ongoing probe, neither would answer specific questions about their conversations with Trump. Coats did say he would discuss the conversation in closed session. This will obviously play into the hands of people on both sides of the aisle. Trump’s allies will point to how they said they didn’t feel pressured, whereas those who feel something nefarious is being covered up will point to their unwillingness to go on the public record about the matter. (3)
  7. The Intercept received an NSA document detailing a cyber attack by Russian Military Intelligence on US voting software suppliers. The attack happened a few days before the election and apparently was a probe to see how far they could get. Experts believe that this was Russia setting up their “Plan B” in case they felt they had to actually tamper with machines to get their desired results, or, it was simply another move to make Americans feel less secure. (4)

Administration:

  1. Forbes published an explosive investigative piece this week that detailed how Donald Trump used donations from other people to enrich himself. People donated to the Donald J. Trump Foundation expecting the money to help charitable causes. One of the causes this money went to was  his son’s charity, The Eric Trump Foundation, which raised money for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. However, the money was used to pay for incredibly steep fees Trump golf courses charged the Eric Trump Foundation to host charity golf tournaments at his father’s clubs. The article calls this money laundering, it is not technically so. However, the mechanism is exactly the same. (7)
  2. It appears that a number of law firms turned down representing President Trump before he was able to secure Mark Kasowitz. Among normal excuses like having a full caseload and conflicts of interest with current clients, sources also said that a belief that the President would not listen to their advice, as well as his Twitter use, lead to them wanting to stay away from the case. (8)
  3. A lot of what Donald Trump does has more to do with perception than reality. When a development project was stalled, he would pay people to drive around in construction equipment and move dirt to make it look like progress was being made. He is doing the legislative equivalent of moving dirt as president. On Monday, Trump made a speech about privatizing air traffic control, then sat down for a formal signing. Only he had nothing to sign. Not even an executive order. People stood around and reporters snapped photos as the President signed a letter to congress outlining legislative principals and a decision memo. (9)
  4. Trump has announced his pick to replace Comey as head of the FBI. Christopher Wray served the Bus Administration’s Justice Department. He also represented the Trump Family, Chris Christie in the “bridgegate” trial and his law firm has two Russian state-controlled oil companies and its client roster.  (13)
  5. Following the recent terrorist attacks in London, Trump first attacked the Mayor of London for “not caring enough.” (19) He then used the attack to segway into support of his travel ban, which the Justice Department has asked the Supreme Court to consider. Trump assaulted the Justice Department for “watering down” the travel ban and said they should go back to the original one and take that to the SC instead. (20)  As a reminder, Trump signed the second travel ban after the first one was struck down by courts. As for the London terror attacks, while those responsible were immigrants, they were also citizens who had been in Europe for a long time. In response to his comments, the Mayor of London called for the Prime Minister to cancel Mr. Trump’s planned visit later this year. (21)
  6. After being the punching bag for a number of Trump’s tweets this week, and with mounting questions as to whether or not the President had confidence in him, Attorney General Jeff Sessions offered to resign, telling Trump he needed freedom to do his job. Trump turned down the offer, but the White House will not say whether or not Trump still has confidence in the AG. (14)
  7. Trying to take attention away from Comey, Trump declared this week “Infrastructure Week” and made speeches about his infrastructure plan. Oh, you weren’t aware? The plan didn’t work. No one paid attention to his plan, which calls for private companies to be used to complete the projects. There’s still a lot unknown about the plan. (23)

Congress:

  1. Senator John McCain’s questioning of Comey left a lot of people confused, and even asking if McCain is of abel mind. His bewildering series of questions seemed to try and connect Hillary Clinton with Russia’s tampering with the election. He also said things like “President Comey.”  Comey was unable to follow McCain’s illegible line of questioning, which seemed to frustrate McCain. (6)
  2. Republicans in the House this week passed a bill that would gut financial regulations and reforms that were put in place after the financial crisis. Republicans have argued that these regulations have slowed the U.S.’s growth. The bill’s main focus is on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) which does exactly what the name suggests. The CFPB is completely independent and funded through the treasury. This bill, euphemistically called the “Financial Choice Act” as if consumers are going around actively looking for predatory products, would give Congress the ability to defund the organization, the President the ability to fire and appoint its president, and bar the Feds from requiring banks write up plans for how to unwind if they collapse. (10)
  3. The Senate continues to work on a healthcare bill that has an uncertain path forward in terms of passage. GOP Senators received a presentation on the direction of the bill this week, but no one is talking about what is included. It appears that the Senate is attempting to do what the House did: write a bill in secret, give the public/Democrats very little time to view it, vote on it before the CBO can grade it. Mind you, many of these same Senators lamented how awful the Democrats were for how they passed the Affordable Care Act. The ACA took about a year to write and pass, with input from experts, committee hearings that were aired on CSPAN, and conversations with Republicans and Democrats. (11)
  4. When Turkish President was in town a few weeks ago, his security detail was recorded savagely beating peaceful protesters. This was not the first time Erdogan’s detail has attacked American citizens exercising their rights to free speech. But hopefully it will be the last. The house voted 397-0 to condemn the attack and called for members of Erdogan’s security detail to be tried. The Senate has passed a similar resolution. (18)

Arizona/Other:

  1. This week, Gulf nations announced a diplomatic black out against Qatar, accusing the nation of backing terrorist organizations.Trump was quick to support Saudi Arabia’s move, going as far as to take credit for the decision, which happened just weeks after he spoke of area unity in Saudi Arabia. (16) It appears that he moved too quickly as 24 hours later he reversed his statements and called Qatar trying to smooth over the fracture with its neighbors. Why the change of heart? Well, Qatar is home to 11,000 U.S. soldiers and a base that is where most of our ISIS operations launch from. This base was just expanded and soldiers removed from Saudi Arabia in response to Saudi Arabia’s unpopular actions in Yemen. (17)  U.S. intelligence also announced that they believe the split was based off of “fake news” planted by Russian operatives. (15)
  2. UK Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election to try and strengthen the majority of her party, the Conservatives, in order to have a stronger mandate for negotiating Brexit. She failed and lost her majority. She will now form only the second coalition government since WWII in the UK. (22)

Sources:

  1. http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/07/politics/james-clapper-watergate-russia/index.html
  2. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/top-intelligence-official-told-associates-trump-asked-him-if-he-could-intervene-with-comey-to-get-fbi-to-back-off-flynn/2017/06/06/cc879f14-4ace-11e7-9669-250d0b15f83b_story.html?utm_term=.ff403a1a34be
  3. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/nsa-director-rogers-and-intelligence-director-coats-said-they-wont-discuss-specifics-of-private-conversations-with-trump/2017/06/07/e74f7fbe-4b88-11e7-a186-60c031eab644_story.html?utm_term=.2d345de5ee43
  4. https://theintercept.com/2017/06/05/top-secret-nsa-report-details-russian-hacking-effort-days-before-2016-election/
  5. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/comey-testimony-trump-senate-hearing/2017/06/07/afadf87c-4bd0-11e7-bc1b-fddbd8359dee_story.html?utm_term=.fa37053a5ebd
  6. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/06/08/sen-john-mccains-bizarre-questioning-of-comey/?nid&utm_term=.f2ebe596e9e5
  7. https://www.forbes.com/sites/danalexander/2017/06/06/how-donald-trump-shifted-kids-cancer-charity-money-into-his-business/#3d3a6fde6b4a
  8. https://www.yahoo.com/news/four-top-law-firms-turned-requests-represent-trump-122423972.html
  9. http://time.com/4805726/donald-trump-air-traffic-privatization-document-signing/
  10. http://www.npr.org/2017/06/08/532036374/house-passes-bill-aimed-at-reversing-dodd-frank-financial-regulations
  11. http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/senate-gop-pushes-forward-uncertain-health-care-bill-n769001
  12. http://www.businessinsider.com/paul-ryan-trump-comey-testimony2017-6
  13. https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2017/06/08/trump-new-fbi-director-chris-wray-russian-ties-rosneft-gazprom-column/102603214/
  14. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/06/us/politics/jeff-sessions-donald-trump.html
  15. http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/06/politics/russian-hackers-planted-fake-news-qatar-crisis/index.html
  16. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/06/world/middleeast/trump-qatar-saudi-arabia.html
  17. http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/07/politics/trump-qatar-call/index.html
  18. https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2017/06/06/us/politics/ap-us-congress-turkey.html
  19. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jun/07/donald-trump-attack-london-mayor-indefensible-former-cia-chief
  20. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/05/us/politics/trump-travel-ban.html
  21. http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/05/politics/trump-criticizes-london-mayor-sadiq-khan-again/index.html
  22. http://www.bbc.com/news/election-2017-40219030
  23. http://www.npr.org/2017/06/09/532078366/trumps-infrastructure-plan-still-could-use-more-planning
  24. http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/06/09/532207152/trump-breaks-silence-on-comey-wow-comey-is-a-leaker