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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Former Defense Chief Mattis Issues Devastating Rebuke To Trump

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis wrote a stern takedown of President Donald Trump's recent actions published on Wednesday, saying he is "angry and appalled" and that the commander in chief isn't even trying to bring the country together.

"Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try," Mattis said in a statement published by The Atlantic. "Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children."

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GOP Sen. Cotton Demands Authoritarian Military Sweep In Times Op-Ed

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

It's a simple headline: "Send in the troops." But its meaning is clear, and it's deeply disturbing.

That's the title the New York Times gave to a new op-ed written by Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton, one of the most militaristic and hawkish members of Congress. He had previously caused a stir this week by calling for the military to be unleashed on protesters with a "no quarter" order — meaning that they would take no prisoners and simply kill at will. Cotton later said he had been speaking metaphorically.

But his op-ed isn't about symbolism. He painted a grim picture of the violence that has accompanied some of the peaceful protests calling for justice in the name of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man who was recently heinously killed by police.

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Peaceful Protesters Gassed At White House For Trump Photo Op

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

President Donald Trump on Monday evening called for law enforcement across the country to dominate the ongoing protests and riots in response to the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police. The dark and authoritarian message delivered from the Rose Garden was sharply juxtaposed on cable news with images of peaceful protesters just outside the White House gates who were fired on by police with tear gas.

The president threatened to send the military into the streets if the unrest could not be quelled by other means.

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At Weird Press Conference, Trump Omits Virus And Violence, Attacks China

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

When the White House announced President Donald Trump would hold a press conference in the Rose Garden on Friday, many political reporters held on to their seats. Trump's performances are often unpredictable whirlwind displays, filled with lies, distractions, and attacks.

Already this week, Trump had tweeted a video in which a supporter of his said: "The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat." And Twitter decided to obscure one of his tweets on Friday morning because he had written "When the looting starts, the shooting starts" — a clear threat of violence toward the protesters in Minneapolis.

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Trump Threw A Giant Tantrum Over Twitter’s Fact Check

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

While President Donald Trump's signing of an executive order on Thursday supposedly trying to rein in overly partisan social media companies is being covered by many outlets as a policy story, this framing is deeply misleading. Though the policy details are relevant, this isn't about policy. This is about the president throwing a fit.

Twitter took the unprecedented move on Wednesday of appending a mild fact-check to Trump's lies about California's initiative to let people access vote-by-mail options. All of his other lies were allowed to stand with no additional information, of course. Many critics of the president weren't even impressed with Twitter's rebuke, pointing out that the note inserted by the company could misleadingly suggest that it was providing additional warnings about the supposed risks of mail-in voting, rather than contradicting Trump's lies.

Nevertheless, with this mild and equivocal admonishment from Twitter, Trump exploded. Many attributed his outburst to anger, though it may be at least as plausible that he was embarrassed to be called out so directly for his lies — and on Twitter, where he has spent so much time establishing his brand, of all places:

It was after this move that the White House announced a forthcoming executive order supposedly addressing bias at social media companies.

Now, conservatives have been complaining for years — with little evidence but many anecdotes — that they were being treated unfairly by social media companies, particularly Facebook and Twitter. Some GOP officials, such as Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, have seriously raised the prospect of taking significant actions to regulate these companies, even as the right-wing has been on a decades-long quest against business regulation.

But clearly, the new step taken Thursday wasn't about these simmering right-wing populist ideas. It grew from them, and it exploited conservative anger and generalized outrage about treatment on social media. But the impetus for launching this effort now was that Trump's feelings were hurt. He specifically felt victimized, so he decided to push immediately for an executive order. He wants to paint himself as the victim of censorship, even though he has a bigger platform to make his voice heard than anyone else on the planet, and it's his actions that genuinely threaten to undermine the First Amendment.

So what did he actually do?

As the Daily Beast's Asawin Suebsaeng explained, the White House dug up ideas that it had previously tossed around.

"Trump's social media EO signing today had been in the works for many months. About a year ago, the WH was holding meetings on crafting the precise language, and had to be reminded by agency envoys that early draft sounded… not lawful," he said.

Essentially, the idea behind the order was to reverse the section of federal law that allows social media platforms to avoid liability for the claims made by their users. Trump and other conservatives like to say that if a social media platform makes any content moderation decisions, it is, therefore, acting as a publisher rather than a platform, and so it should be held responsible for whatever it prints the way a news outlet is.

But this isn't what the law actually says, so any effort to enforce the order will likely be challenged in court.

Mike Masnick of Techdirt explained:

To be clear: the executive order is nonsense. You can't overrule the law by executive order, nor can you ignore the Constitution. This executive order attempts to do both. It's also blatantly anti-free speech, anti-private property, pro-big government — which is only mildly amusing, given that Trump and his sycophantic followers like to insist they're the opposite of all of those things. But also, because the executive order only has limited power, there's a lot of huffing and puffing in there for very little actual things that the administration can do. It's very much written in a way to make Trump's fans think he's done something to attack social media companies, but the deeper you dig, the more nothingness you find.

The actual executive order is, in all likelihood, largely toothless. If the Trump administration actually did try to take the steps the president seems to be envisioning, its actions would almost certainly be struck down even by the judges appointed by the president himself. Though they may have an allegiance to the conservative movement and the GOP broadly, they're unlikely to abandon their dislike of regulation to support the president's anti-Twitter whims.

Despite the fact that the order is in many ways antithetical to traditional conservative thought, and despite the fact that it is clearly motivated by his own sense of personal grievance, it's unlikely to lose him much support in Congress or among voters. Sure, there are many more important things he could be doing — continuing the fight against the ongoing, deadly, and devastating pandemic, for one — but those who are still bough in on the president accept his relentless egotism and self-absorption. The GOP truly does operate as a personality cult now, because any insult toward the leader is taken as an insult to the whole.

And insulted is exactly how Trump feels.

Asked on Thursday if he would leave Twitter, the president just whined about the media: "If we had fair press in this country, I would do this in a heartbeat. There's nothing I'd rather do than get rid of my whole Twitter account. But I'm able to get to I guess 186 million people when you add up all the different accounts, and add Facebook and Instagram."

The president would actually likely improve his public standing if he backed away from his Twitter account. He often creates unnecessary controversies with his posting habits, and his instinct to always play to his base likely turns off more voters than it wins him; anyone who appreciates his tweets is already a solid Trump voter.

None of which is to say Trump's tantrum doesn't have real consequences. If nothing else, his retaliation and outbursts are undoubtedly causing a lot of headaches at Twitter headquarters. And any regulatory uncertainty can make large companies very wary. Trump likely hopes to discourage Twitter from doing anything that would challenge him again. The goal seems to be to impose enough of a burden on any social media company that tries to counter his and the Republican Party's active disinformation campaigns, thus discouraging the companies from even trying.

"This is simply setting the wheels of law enforcement and regulation in motion against a private company for questioning the president," Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, told the Washington Post.

In the case of Facebook, it seems to be working. Mark Zuckerberg has made clear he intends to let Trump lie on his platform with very few limits, and the president appears to be quite happy with that. Companies like Facebook know they're better off if they can keep those in power happy, so it won't let a little thing like truth get in the way of the bottom line. (To be fair, though, there are serious practical, logistical, and philosophical quandaries that emerge when platforms get into the business of fact-checking.)

This may make it easier for prolific right-wing liars to win power. The saving grace, at this point, is that the public is getting weary of Trump's shtick, and voters may not be willing to swallow four more years of his lies.

Video: McEnany Defends Trump's 'Morning Joe' Conspiracy Tweets

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was forced to defend President Donald Trump's recent attacks on MSNBC host Joe Scarborough on Tuesday, an unenviable task she nevertheless intentionally signed up for. She desperately tried to divert the attention back to Scarborough — without engaging in the president's conspiracy theorizing — but offered no credible defense of the president's conduct.

Trump has been spreading the debunked theory that Scarborough killed a staffer in 2001 while he was in Congress, even though it was determined she died of natural causes. The staffer's widower wrote a released a letter on Tuesday pleading with Twitter to take down the president's offensive tweets promoting the thoery. He said he was "angry," "frustrated," and "grieved" by the president's promotion of the harmful allegations. Trump is perverting his late wife's memory, he said, and he fears her niece and nephews will encounter these attacks.When asked about the letter, McEnany said she wasn't sure if the president had seen it. But she said their "hearts" are with the woman's family "at this time." It was a deeply ironic comment because the only particularly traumatizing thing about "this time" for the family is the president's attacks, which come nearly two decades after the woman's death.

McEnany refused to offer any explanation of Trump's comments and instead redirected reporters to a clip of Scarborough on Don Imus's radio show in 2003. In that show, Imus made a tasteless joke obliquely referring to the death, and Scarborough laughed at it briefly.

"Why is the president making these unfounded allegations?" asked ABC News' Jonathan Karl. "I mean, this is pretty nuts, isn't it? The president is accusing someone of possible murder. The family is pleading with the president to please stop unfounded conspiracy theories. Why is he doing it?""The president said this morning, this is not an original Trump thought. And it is not," she said, bringing up the Imus clip. But she made no mention of why the president is bringing up the issue 17 years later and with a much larger platform.

When pressed further on the president's conduct, she again diverted blame to Scarborough, saying his morning show unfairly criticizes the president. But again, she offered no substantive defense of Trump.

After McEnany had moved on, PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor brought it up again: "Why won't the president give this widower peace and stop tweeting about the conspiracy theory involving his wife?"

McEnany said she had already answered the question, which she hadn't, and said the onus is on Scarborough to explain the Imus clip."The widower is talking specifically about the president!" Alcindor shot back. But McEnany called on Chanel Rion, with the aggressively pro-Trump outlet OAN, who changed the subject to conspiracy theories about the origins of the Russia investigation.

"Are you not going to answer that?" Alcindor called out, still trying to get a substantive response to her question, but Rion spoke over her.

At the end of the briefing, another reporter asked whether Trump was looking for any actual law enforcement steps be taken in response to his conspiracy theory. But McEnany had nothing to add, and simply told people to listen to the Imus clip again. As she hurried out of the briefing room, a reporter asked if Trump would stop promoting the theory — but she left without answering.

Watch the exchange about Klausutis, which begins at 48:45.

Obamagate Is Fake — The Real Scandal Is What The FBI Did To Clinton

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Politicized investigations, interference in elections, and abusive targeting by law enforcement are all the makings of a juicy political scandal. And President Donald Trump would like us to believe that such a scandal, with each of these components, is real and — even if he can't name any crime that might have been committed — directed at him. That's why he has promoted the lazy moniker "Obamagate," an all-encompassing term for the vague allegations of wrongdoing surrounding the conduct of the previous administration and the investigators probing the ties between his campaign and the Kremlin's interference in the 2016 election.

On Friday, another arm of the Trump administration revealed yet another inquiry into the "Obamagate" haze. FBI Director Christopher Wray, apparently under pressure from the president himself, has opened an internal review of the handling of the case of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

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Local Leaders Urge ‘Petulant Child’ President To Stay Away

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

As many across the country continue to social distance for fear of COVID-19, there's one cross-country traveler in particular that many wish would stay away.

On Thursday, President Donald Trump was rebuked by at least two local leaders who would rather he keep his distance.

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Pompeo Defends Shady Ouster Of Inspector General Probing Him

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

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Instant Vaccine, Obama Slurs: Trump Really Will Say Anything To Win

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Everyone who covers President Donald Trump with even the slighted bit of integrity will tell you he's prone to lie and distort the facts with little compunction. But the media is still struggling to cope with this fact.

And as we head into the crucial stretch of the 2020 campaign, reporters and the voting public need to prepare themselves. Because the fact is, not only does Trump lie prolifically — but he is clearly prepared to say literally anything if it thinks it will help him get re-elected.

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McConnell Admits He Was ‘Wrong’ On Obama’s Pandemic Planning

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

In an online discussion on Monday with the Trump campaign, Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell launched a peculiar and factually challenged attack at former President Barack Obama.

"They claim pandemics only happen once every hundred years, but what if that's no longer true?" McConnell said to Lara Trump. "We want to be early, ready for the next one, because clearly the Obama administration did not leave to this administration any kind of game plan for something like this."

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Judge Orders New Hearing On Justice Department’s Favor To Flynn

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Judge Emmet Sullivan is clearly not happy with Attorney General Bill Barr's handling of the Michael Flynn case.

In a new order on Wednesday, Sullivan appointed retired Judge John Gleeson to step into the case and argue against the Justice Department's motion to dismiss the charges. Barr has directed the department to withdraw its criminal charge against Flynn, the former national security adviser to President Donald Trump. But many legal analysts have argued that the arguments for dropping the charges of lying to the FBI, in the face of Flynn's guilty plea, are completely inconsistent with the department's practices. It's clear that Barr is carrying out his and Trump's mission to tear down the work of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who first brought the charges against Flynn.

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Federal Judge Warns Justice Dept On Flynn Case: It’s Not Over

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

In a surprising move in an unprecedented case, Judge Emmett Sullivan issued a new order Tuesday night in the case against Michael Flynn. Although the Justice Department has moved to withdraw its charges against former national security adviser to President Donald Trump, the judge said he wants to present an opportunity that may allow for other parties to weigh in on the matter.

"Given the current posture of this case, the court anticipates that individuals and organizations will seek leave of the Court to file amicus curiae briefs," the judge said in his order. These so-called "friend of the court" briefs can come from third parties not affected by the case but who are participating "only for the benefit of the Court."

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Trump Accuses Obama Of ‘Biggest Political Crime’ — But Can’t Say What That Was

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

While the United States is still struggling to cope with the COVID-19 crisis, President Donald Trump and his right-wing media allies have been distracting themselves by whipping up hazy and dubious allegations about the origins of the Russia investigation. They've targeted members of the Obama administration and former President Barack Obama himself with strained accusations.

In a weekend Twitter rant, Trump himself declared the previous administration carried out the "biggest political crime in American history, by far!" But he was extremely vague about what he meant. (Trump has previously alleged that treason was carried out against him, but there's no sign he actually knows what that would entail.)

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‘Very Very Ugly Ending’ As Trump Storms Out Of Press Briefing

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

CNN's Wolf Blitzer was stunned at the end of White House's press briefing on Thursday, which concluded when President Donald Trump had a petty tiff with two female reporters.

"A very, very ugly ending to that one-hour appearance by the president," Blitzer commented as Trump stormed out.

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Barr Takes Cheap Shot At Mueller In CBS Interview

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Attorney General Bill Barr took a shot at former Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Thursday in an interview with CBS discussing his controversial decision to withdraw charges against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

In the interview, Barr asserted without explanation that the counterintelligence investigation into Flynn, which led to criminal charges and became a part of Mueller's Russia investigation, was unjustified. And he discussed, as he has previously, that he has directed U.S. Attorney John Durham to examine the origins of the probe and its conduct in 2016 and 2017.

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Justice Department Drops Case Against Flynn Despite Guilty Plea

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

The Justice Department filed a motion on Thursday to drop the charges against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, the first case brought by former Special Counsel Robert Mueller against one of President Donald Trump's close aides.

Flynn had pleaded guilty to the charge of lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia during the presidential transition, and he admitted to working as an undisclosed agent of the Turkish government during the 2016 campaign. But after pleading guilty, Flynn eventually dropped his legal counsel, hired a much more aggressive lawyer, and moved to withdraw his plea. He has also accused the Justice Department and the FBI of misconduct against him, though no persuasive evidence for these allegations has emerged.But the department has been reviewing the case, and the AP reported that the official leading the reviewed pushed to drop the charges.

It explained:

In court documents being filed Thursday, the Justice Department said it is dropping the case "after a considered review of all the facts and circumstances of this case, including newly discovered and disclosed information." The documents were obtained by The Associated Press.
The Justice Department said it had concluded that Flynn's interview by the FBI was "untethered to, and unjustified by, the FBI's counterintelligence investigation into Mr. Flynn" and that the interview on January 24, 2017 was "conducted without any legitimate investigative basis."
The U.S. attorney reviewing the Flynn case, Jeff Jensen, recommended the move to Attorney General William Barr last week and formalized the recommendation in a document this week.
"Through the course of my review of General Flynn's case, I concluded the proper and just course was to dismiss the case," Jensen said in a statement. "I briefed Attorney General Barr on my findings, advised him on these conclusions, and he agreed."

Prior to the news breaking of the dropped charges, prosecutor Brandon Van Grack withdrew from the case — a clear sign that the department's stance was changing.

In the filing requesting that the court drop the case, the department argued Flynn wasn't properly informed about the circumstances of the charges against him when he pleaded guilty.

"Mr. Flynn previously pleaded guilty to making false statements," it said. "In the Government's assessment, however, he did so without full awareness of the circumstances of the newly discovered, disclosed, or declassified information as to the FBI's investigation of him."

When Flynn pleaded guilty, however, he was unequivocal, saying: "I recognize that the actions I acknowledged in court today were wrong, and, through my faith in God, I am working to set things right."

Many legal analysts argued that the reasoning the department put forward for dropping the case was highly unusual. It argued, for example, that Flynn's lies to the FBI about his contact with the Russian ambassador during the 2016 presidential transition were not "material" to the investigators, meaning relevant to key decisions that officials may make. But the standard the Justice Department applied in this case sharply deviated from its usual position — suggesting Flynn is getting special treatment.

The argument also strained credulity. The FBI had been investigating Flynn as a potential counterintelligence threat for his potential ties to Russia. Misleading investigators about the nature of his conversation with the Russian ambassador was clearly relevant to their case. Flynn had intervened after the Obama administration his Russia for retaliatory measures for its efforts to interfere in the 2016 campaign, which was precisely what the FBI was investigating.

But none of this should be that surprising. Attorney General Bill Barr was appointed by Trump specifically to replace Jeff Sessions, who infuriated the president by refusing to interfere in the Russia investigation. Barr previously intervened in the case against Roger Stone to push the department to lower its recommendation for sentencing, a move that also conflicted with DOJ's general practice.

Barr's doing exactly what he was appointed for: undoing Mueller's work.