Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Impending Train Wreck Between Trump and Mueller

There is the sense of an impending train wreck between President Trump and independent counsel Robert Mueller. You know it’s coming, you know it’s going to be ugly, but you just can’t look away.

After rumors swirled a few weeks ago that President Trump was considering firing Mueller, things quieted down. Over the last week, the tension once again seems to be mounting with Trump’s criticism of Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation and the news that Mueller’s investigation is expanding to examine Trump’s business dealings with Russians going back as far as 2008.

In response, the Trump Administration seems to be once again considering the possibility of firing the special counsel, a move that many Republicans argue would be destructive to the already-embattled Trump Administration.

“Congress must make it very clear: Bye-bye Mueller, bye-bye Trump. Otherwise bye-bye Congress 2018. Americans are fed up!” tweeted Richard Painter, President George W. Bush’s ethics lawyer from 2005 to 2007.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) agreed. “It would be a mistake to fire Bob Mueller,” Rubio said in The Hill.

The New York Times reported that Team Trump is investigating the investigators with an eye toward building a case for firing Mueller or simply discrediting his probe. President Trump told the Times that he was aware that some of Mueller’s investigators had conflicts of interest and that he would make this information available “at some point.” Members of Mueller’s team have come under criticism already for their contributions to Democrats.

There are also reports that the Trump Administration is exploring the use of pardons to stymie the Mueller investigation. The Washington Post reported that the president had asked legal advisors about his presidential power to pardon aides and family members who might be snared by Mueller’s net. The president even asked whether he could pardon himself.

“This is not in the context of, ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself,’” said one unnamed advisor, who said that the president’s questions were merely expressing curiosity about the extent of his constitutional powers.

President Trump has been fiercely protective of his privacy as it relates to his business dealings and personal finances. During the campaign, after initially promising to release his tax returns, he became the first president in decades to keep his tax records private.

The Trump Administration has resisted the Russia investigation every step of the way, with Trump denying for months that Russia had even attempted to affect the election. The stonewalling has contributed to continual drip of revelations about contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russians. Although it isn’t clear if any laws were broken, the cover-up and lack of cooperation and openness from the Trump Administration makes it seem as if the president has something to hide.

The Administration’s efforts to keep its connections with Russia concealed and Mueller’s directive to bring them into the open set the stage for a confrontation between the two. If Trump is set on preserving his privacy and protecting members of his staff from possible prosecution, then sooner or later he will have to take action against Mueller. The resulting kerfuffle is likely to make the firing of James Comey seem tame by comparison.

Read the full story on The Resurgent

Man Arrested For Threatening To Kill Ted Cruz

It may be something that happens frequently to many celebrities and political figures, but it is still illegal. Death threats are treated very seriously by law enforcement, especially when directed at a sitting US Senator. A San Antonio man is learning this hard truth after threatening to kill Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

James Amos Headley allegedly told Cruz in a voicemail on July 11, “Pretty soon you’re gonna be runnin for your life, just hope your family is not with ya because I’m not gonna insult them, I’m gonna kill them, right after I shoot you right in front of them.” The San Antonio News-Express reports that Headley also allegedly sent threatening emails to Cruz.

Federal agents traced the messages to Headley, a Marine veteran who neighbors say who was friendly, but generally kept to himself. “He’s close to being an invalid,” said neighbor Mike Hall of Headley, who is recovering from a stroke.

What was the motive for Headley’s threats? What could make him angry enough to threaten to kill not only a sitting US Senator, but his entire family as well?

Headley admitted that, after mowing the lawn, he came inside and became upset as he watched the news. The criminal complaint affidavit, which identifies Cruz only by his initials, says, “Defendant told agents he was upset with T.C.’s position on different policies and decided to call and leave a message demonstrating an intent to impede and intimidate a U.S. official.”

Was the issue “fake news” reporting that demonized President Trump and Republicans? Is Headley a rare Texas liberal, upset with Senator Cruz’s conservative policy stances? Actually no. The Express-News says that it has confirmed through multiple sources that Headley is a supporter of President Donald Trump and was upset with Cruz’s resistance to the president’s policies.

Headley acknowledged to police that he kept a Beretta pistol in his house, but neighbor Mike Hall says he never saw him with the gun. There is no indication that Headley was plotting to carry out his threats.

Headley’s case is a reminder that words have meaning. Threatening words spoken in anger, even over the internet, can have lifechanging consequences. In Headley’s case, the consequences may be as long as 10 years in prison.

Read the full story on The Resurgent

Monday, July 17, 2017

Secret Service Did Not Vet Russians at Trump Jr. Meeting

The Secret Service is denying a claim by Jay Sekulow, a prominent member of the Trump legal team, that nothing “nefarious” could have happened at the June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump, Jr. and Natalia Veselnitskaya, described to Trump as a Russian government lawyer with information damaging to Hillary Clinton. Sekulow claimed that the Secret Service would have prevented misbehavior and would have even prevented the Trumps from meeting with unsavory characters.

Reuters reports that Sekulow, who is also Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, said on “This Week” on ABC News, “Well, I wonder why the Secret Service, if this was nefarious, why the Secret Service allowed these people in. The president had Secret Service protection at that point, and that raised a question with me.”

In an emailed response to Sekulow’s query, also quoted by Reuters, Secret Service spokesman Mason Brayman said, “Donald Trump, Jr. was not a protectee of the USSS in June, 2016. Thus we would not have screened anyone he was meeting with at that time.”

Additionally, the Secret Service does not screen meeting participants for honesty or “nefarious” purposes. The role of the Secret Service is limited to providing physical protection for their protectees.

It is not the job of the Secret Service to prevent protectees from making bad decisions. This concept is illustrated by reports that Malia Obama smoked marijuana while under Secret Service protection. The Bush twins also reportedly got into trouble while under Secret Service protection. A 2009 book detailed the girls’ wild side that included buying alcohol with a fake ID and a bar fight that eventually required the Secret Service to intervene.  

Questions have been raised about the role of participants at the meeting, as well as the purpose of the meeting itself. Donald Trump, Jr. initially claimed the meeting was about child adoption policy, but then released the email chain showing that the topic was to be Hillary Clinton and assistance that the Russian government could provide to the Trump campaign.

The principal in the meeting was Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer described as representing the Russian government of Vladimir Putin. Veselnitskaya denies working for the Kremlin and seems to have been a lobbyist who met with both Democrats and Republicans.

Last week, NBC News reported that Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-born lobbyist who served as a counterintelligence officer in the Russian military, was also present at the meeting. Akhmetsin, who holds dual US-Russian citizenship, denies having current ties to Russian intelligence.

In musing about the responsibility of the Secret Service to protect adult children of the president from unsavory characters, Sekulow broke a cardinal rule of the trial lawyer profession: Never ask a question unless you know the answer. Sekulow is a respected conservative attorney who really should have known better.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Monkey Business in Federal Court

Naruto (Currently Public Domain)
Federal courtrooms are commonly accused of monkey business, particularly where the Ninth Circuit is concerned. That was certainly the case this week when a three-judge panel heard the case of an Indonesian macaque named Naruto.

The simian, aided by human attorneys from PETA, was attempting to sue photographer David Slater for copyright infringement. It seems that the humanoid fur-baby allegedly grabbed Slater’s camera on a trip to Indonesia in 2011 and took a hundreds of pictures including several striking selfies.

Without bothering to ask Naruto’s permission, Slater published the picture in a book after retrieving his camera. The monkey poo hit the fan when the pictures were posted to Wikimedia in a move that Slater said violates the copyright on his work and is costing him a fortune in royalties.

Slater says that he did most of the work, setting up the camera equipment and framing the shots. “You could look at it like this: The monkey was my assistant,” Slater told the BBC. “And therefore I was the artist behind the image and I had my assistant press the button. This needs to be tested in a court of law.”

The US Copyright Office saw things differently. In 2014, the agency clarified its guidelines on the issue, saying that works created by nonhumans are not subject to copyright. “Photograph taken by a monkey” is specifically listed as an example. Nevertheless, Slater continues to claim the copyright and has considered suing Wikimedia.

David Schwarz, a PETA lawyer, argued that Slater’s actions constituted copyright infringement and filed suit on behalf of Naruto in 2015 per the LA Times.  Exhibiting an obvious case of human privilege, judges seemed skeptical of the PETA argument that Naruto had suffered an injury due to Slater’s shameless appropriation of the monkey’s artistic efforts. At one point, Judge Carlos Bea suggested that the case should be dismissed and, in a throwback to the Scopes Trial, asked Schwarz to cite any Supreme Court precedent that held that “man and monkey are the same.”

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to uphold the earlier decision in favor of Slater and against PETA. “It is absurd to say a monkey can sue for copyright infringement,” said Angela Dunning, Slater’s attorney. “Naruto can’t benefit financially from his work. He is a monkey.” PETA is “not even sure they have the right monkey,” she added.

A British newspaper argued, “Hey, hey, it’s the monkey’s,” but Slater may have the last laugh. Another of his attorneys, Andrew Dhuey, said that PETA should be forced to pay legal fees for the nearly broke photographer.

“Monkey see, monkey sue will not do in federal court,” Dhuey argued.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Cruz-Lee Provision Is Reportedly In New Health Bill Draft

As Republicans scramble to find enough Senate votes to keep their health care reform effort alive, there are reports that the most current draft of the bill will contain a provision written by Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) that is popular with conservatives. Axios cites three sources familiar with the bill who say that the proposal of the two conservatives to allow a liberalization of health policy requirements is part of the bill at least for the time being.

Under the Consumer Freedom Protection option, health insurance companies that sell policies that are compliant with the requirements of the Affordable Care Act will be allowed to sell noncompliant policies as well. The ability to buy noncompliant policies should help consumers find lower cost health insurance.

The ACA mandates “essential health benefits” that must be included in health insurance policies. These requirements often include coverages that consumers may not want, need or can afford. The requirement to provide these coverages in all plans drives up costs and puts insurance out of reach for many consumers.

Critics of the provision say that healthy consumers will choose the lower cost noncompliant plans while those who are sick will likely buy the more expensive compliant plans. They argue that this will contribute to the death cycle of Obamacare and raise the cost of insurance for people with pre-existing conditions. These costs would be passed along to the federal government through insurance subsidies.

Over the past few months, the GOP reform effort has been losing support from both the center and the right. Republican moderates oppose the bill because of its phase out of the Medicaid expansion while conservatives argue that the bill does not go far enough in repealing and replacing Obamacare. Inclusion of the Cruz-Lee provision may have the effect of winning back the votes of some members of the conservative wing of the party.

The Axios report also gives several other details about the current version of the bill. The new version increases the amount of money for states to stabilize their health markets and cover pre-existing condition to more than $170 billion. It also keeps two of the Obamacare tax increases on wealthy families. Other new provisions allow consumers to pay insurance premiums with money from health savings accounts that receives favorable tax treatment and allow people receiving ACA insurance subsidies to buy lower cost insurance policies that provide only catastrophic coverage.

The laws of supply and demand dictate that as prices fall, demand will increase as more people can afford the product. As the price of health insurance decreases, more people will decide that insurance protection is worth the cost.

Republicans had planned to vote on the bill before the Independence Day recess, but delayed the vote due to opposition from Republican senators. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that he hopes to bring the bill to a vote next week

Read the full story on The Resurgent

Amelia Earhart Photo Debunked, But History Channel May Have Debunked Global Warming Concern

The History Channel special on Amelia Earhart this week fell flat with respect to finding the fate of the famed aviatrix, but, in addition to discrediting The History Channel, the special may have also helped debunk a major concern of climate change alarmists. The evidence for the survival of Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan was largely based on photograph. Ironically, it is a History Channel photograph that, if accurate, causes problems for the climate change crowd.

The “lost evidence” for Earhart’s survival consisted of a photograph that showed people who resembled Earhart and Noonan on a dock on Jaluit Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The History Channel’s assumption, based on the resemblance of the people in the photo to Noonan and Earhart, was that the pair had survived their last flight and were taken prisoner by the Japanese and later executed.

In a post on July 9, Japanese military history blogger Kota Yamano challenged the History Channel claim. Yamano said that an internet search for the picture revealed that it was taken too early to be Earhart and Noonan. The picture was originally published in a travelogue, “The Ocean's ‘Lifeline’: The Condition of Our South Seas,” in 1935, two years before the disappearance of Earhart and Noonan.

“The photo was the 10th item that came up,” Yamano said in an interview with The Guardian. “I was really happy when I saw it. I find it strange that the documentary makers didn’t confirm the date of the photograph or the publication in which it originally appeared. That’s the first thing they should have done.”

There were other problems with The History Channel theory as well. The Daily Beast points out that when Charles Lindbergh made an emergency landing in Japan in 1931, he was given a hero’s welcome. The Daily Beast also cites a Japanese book from 1982 that detailed the story of a crewman on the Japanese navy ship in the picture. According to the testimony of Japanese veterans, the Japanese navy was instructed to join the search and rescue effort for Earhart. The ship’s log contains no mention of Earhart or Noonan.

Earhart and Noonan disappeared on July 2, 1937. At that time, relations between the US and Japan were still good. The attack on Pearl Harbor was four years away. Even though fighting in the Pacific predated America’s entry into World War II, the region was still largely peaceful at the time. Japan’s war with China began five days after Earhart’s disappearance with a battle between Japanese and Chinese forces at Marco Polo bridge in Beijing. At the time, Earhart disappeared, the Japanese had not motive to keep her rescue a secret.

The theory that Earhart went off course on her way to Howland Island and wound up crash landing in the Marshall Islands also strained credulity. The Marshall Islands are 1,000 miles away from Earhart’s intended target. To end up there, Earhart and Noonan would have had to fly to the vicinity of Howland Island, realize that they were lost, and then, low on fuel and disoriented in bad weather, fly past numerous other islands for another thousand miles.

On the other hand, Steve Milloy of Junk Science claims that a graphic used in The History Channel’s documentary undermines the argument for rising sea levels due to climate change. The graphic shows Mili Atoll, an island in the Marshall Islands, with markings that say “area between blue lines was shore in 1937.” The blue lines on the photo show a forested area in 2017. If the History Channel photo is accurate, Mili Atoll has grown since 1937 instead of getting smaller due to rising seas.

The History Channel documentary does point out that coral islands can change shape over time. A 2015 report by New Scientist found that, even if sea levels rise, many islands are rising faster.

If the History Channel expose’ was truly a bust on the scale of Gerado’s unveiling of Al Capone’s vault, what really happened to Earhart and Noonan? Sometimes the simplest and most obvious explanation is also the correct one. The pair were using primitive navigation methods to Howland Island, a small, isolated speck of land. The Pacific is a very big ocean and Earhart and Noonan are most likely at the bottom of it.

Read the full article on The Resurgent

Comparing Timeline to Emails Creates a Big Problem for Trump

The text of Donald Trump Jr.’s emails detailing the meeting with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya is troubling enough, but the way the emails fit into the overall timeline of the presidential campaign and the unfolding Russia scandal are even more problematic for the Trump Administration. The emails, released by Donald Trump, Jr., provide confirmation that members of the Trump campaign were open to accepting “Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump” and actions taken by the Trump campaign may indicate that Donald Trump himself was aware of the offer and intended to use the Russian government’s intelligence information.

The email chain began on June 3, 2016, about a week after Donald Trump had officially secured a majority of Republican delegates to become the presumptive nominee. At this point, the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the theft of the emails was not public knowledge.

On Tuesday, June 7, 2016, Donald Trump announced, “I am going to give a major speech on… probably Monday of next week [June13] and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons and I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.”

The next day, June 8, the @DCLeaks_ Twitter account posted the first links to stolen emails on the DC Leaks website. The DC Leaks website and Facebook accounts apparently debuted the same day.

On Thursday, June 9, Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, “The [sic] Russian government attorney” referred to in the emails, in New York’s Trump Tower.

On Sunday, June 12, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said on British television that more leaked emails relating to the Clinton campaign would be coming out soon.

Donald Trump did not make his promised “very interesting” speech on June 13, but on June 14, the Washington Post broke the news that hackers had penetrated the DNC network and “gained access to the entire database of opposition research on GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump.” The report, which identified the culprits as “Russian government hackers” even at that early date, also said that “the intruders so thoroughly compromised the DNC’s system that they also were able to read all email and chat traffic.” The Post also reported the hackers had targeted Republicans as well. Trump’s speeches from that week did not contain any new and notable information about Hillary.  

The next day, June 15, a hacker calling himself “Guccifer 2.0” contacted The Smoking Gun to claim credit for the hack of the Democratic National Committee. Guccifer 2.0  claimed to be a Romanian, but is widely suspected to be a creation of Russian intelligence.

On June 18, the Washington Post reported that the Trump campaign had removed a pledge to provide weapons to the Ukrainian forces fighting the Putin-backed invasion of their country. The report says that the changes were made “last week,” which would mean the platform changes immediately followed the meeting of Trump’s campaign advisors with Veselnitskaya.

On June 27, the first stolen DNC emails were published on the DC Leaks website.

A month later, on July 22, WikiLeaks released a second batch of DNC emails. The FBI announced that it was opening an investigation into the hack shortly after.

It was at this point that Donald Trump publicly asked Russia for help in finding the emails that were deleted from Hillary Clinton’s private server. “I will tell you this,” Trump said on July 27 at a press conference, “Russia: If you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

A few months later, just before the final release of stolen emails by WikiLeaks, Roger Stone, a Trump advisor, seemed to hint that something big was coming. “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta's time in the barrel,” Stone tweeted on August 21. In the week before the final email dump on Oct. 7, Stone posted three tweets hinting that something was coming according to Business Insider, including one on Oct. 3 that read “I have total confidence that @wikileaks and my hero Julian Assange will educate the American people soon.”

While Donald Trump, Jr. claims that nothing of substance emerged from the meeting with the Russian lawyer, his response to the emails and the subsequent actions of the Trump campaign clearly show an intent to use information obtained from a foreign government to discredit a political rival. Such coordination is possibly illegal and certainly unethical.

While there is currently no paper trail that leads directly to Donald Trump, Sr., Trump’s speech on June 7 suggests that he was aware that something was in the wind. Additionally, his July 27 appeal to Russia looks starkly different in view of the revelation that the Russian government had offered its assistance to his campaign a month before.  

In addition to the fact that none of the Trump advisors disclosed the meeting and that Donald Trump, Jr. initially lied about what was discussed, the emails create another problem for the Trump Administration.  The timing of the meeting and the platform change raise the possibility of a quid pro quo with the Russians. The fact that the Trump campaign changed the Republican Party platform in a way that benefitted the Russian government immediately after the Russians offered dirt on Hillary is something that will be difficult to explain away. It is also a decision that can likely be traced to Donald Trump himself.

Although the Donald Trump, Jr. emails are not a smoking gun to prove that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, but they are close to it. 

Originally published on The Resurgent