Once again, Trump displays ‘a psychopath’s inability to accept that social norms apply to him’

The New York Times reports: Last fall, Donald J. Trump inadvertently touched off a national conversation about sexual harassment when a recording of him boasting about groping women was made public at the same time a succession of women came forward to assert that groping was something he did more than talk about.

A year later, after a wave of harassment claims against powerful men in entertainment, politics, the arts and the news media, the discussion has come full circle with President Trump criticizing the latest politician exposed for sexual misconduct even as he continues to deny any of the accusations against him.

In this case, Mr. Trump focused his Twitter-fueled mockery on a Democratic senator while largely avoiding a similar condemnation of a Republican Senate candidate facing far more allegations. The turn in the political dialogue threatened to transform a moment of cleansing debate about sexual harassment into another weapon in the war between the political parties, led by the president himself.

Indeed, Republicans on Friday were more than happy to talk about Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, who apologized this week after a radio newscaster said he forcibly kissed her and posed for a photograph a decade ago appearing to fondle her breasts while she was sleeping. Democrats, for their part, sought to keep the focus on Roy S. Moore, the Republican candidate in Alabama who has been accused of unwanted sexual conduct by multiple women going back even further, including one who was 14 at the time.

But the notion that Mr. Trump himself would weigh in given his own history of crude talk about women and the multiple allegations against him surprised many in Washington who thought he could not surprise them anymore. A typical politician with Mr. Trump’s history would stay far away from discussing someone else’s behavior lest it dredge his own back into the spotlight. But as Mr. Trump has shown repeatedly during his 10-month presidency, he is rarely deterred by conventional political wisdom even as he leaves it to his staff to fend off the cries of hypocrisy.

“Like everything else Trump touches, he hijacks it with his chronic dishonesty and childishness,” said Mark Salter, a longtime adviser to Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona. “The intense, angry and largely ignorant tribalism afflicting our politics predates Trump’s arrival on the scene. But he has infused it with a psychopath’s inability to accept that social norms apply to him.” [Continue reading…]

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Gillibrand says Bill Clinton should have resigned over Lewinsky affair. What might have happened?

The New York Times reports: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, who holds Hillary Clinton’s former seat, said on Thursday that Bill Clinton should have resigned the presidency after his inappropriate relationship with an intern came to light nearly 20 years ago.

Asked directly if she believed Mr. Clinton should have stepped down at the time, Ms. Gillibrand took a long pause and said, “Yes, I think that is the appropriate response.”

But she also appeared to signal that what is currently considered a fireable offense may have been more often overlooked during the Clinton era.

“Things have changed today, and I think under those circumstances there should be a very different reaction,” Ms. Gillibrand said. “And I think in light of this conversation, we should have a very different conversation about President Trump, and a very different conversation about allegations against him.” [Continue reading…]

As Democrats gain a semblance of retrospective moral clarity on the Clinton presidency, this isn’t going to carry much weight among Republicans. That is, it won’t — unless this resuscitation of conscience also includes the Clintons themselves.

How likely is that to happen?

Probably as likely as Donald Trump spontaneously declaring he’s realized he’s not fit for the presidency.

Nevertheless, it’s worth considering the likely consequences had Clinton resigned, not simply because of the current context but also because of the likely results of Al Gore having become president in 1998.

In the 2000 presidential election, there’s a reasonable chance that, as the incumbent, Gore would have comfortably defeated George W Bush.

We can assume that this wouldn’t have changed al Qaeda’s calculus and likewise that the U.S. intelligence agencies would have remained as ineffective in thwarting 9/11.

But what would have followed would have been vastly different: no war in Iraq; no fanciful promises to eradicate evil; no war on terrorism.

President Gore would surely have been capable of mustering the required gravitas demonstrating America’s capacity to demonstrate strength and restraint.

In other words, he could have responded to 9/11 with a sense of proportion, thereby ensuring that the aftermath was not more calamitous than the event.

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Al Franken should be investigated, and he should be held accountable

Ezra Klein writes: The allegation that Sen. Al Franken kissed and groped a woman with whom he was performing a comedy skit is serious, and should be taken seriously. It has also kicked off an energetic round of but-your-side-does-it-too on Twitter, where conservatives exhausted by the Roy Moore debacle of recent weeks are demanding that Democrats disavow Franken.

There are a couple of things to say about all this, but I want to start with this tweet by FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten:


1) The Democratic Party is full of men who have sexually abused women. The Republican Party is full of men who have sexually abused women. The mass of Americans who belong to neither party is full of men who have sexually abused women. Peer into socialist circles, libertarian circles, tech circles, media circles, the construction trades — you will find men who have sexually abused women. America has allowed a culture of sexual abuse and harassment to flourish, and all of our industries and political parties exist within that culture. This is a systemic rot, not merely a few bad apples. [Continue reading…]

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Democrats are shockingly unprepared to fight climate change

The Atlantic reports: There’s a wrinkle in how the United States talks about climate change in 2017, a tension fundamental to the issue’s politics but widely ignored.

On one hand, Democrats are the party of climate change. Since the 1990s, as public belief in global warming has become strongly polarized, the Democratic Party has emerged as the advocate of more aggressive climate action. The most recent Democratic president made climate policy a centerpiece of his second term, and the party’s national politicians now lament and oppose the undoing of his work. Concern for the climate isn’t just an elite issue, either: Rank-and-file Democrats are more likely to worry about global warming than the median voter.

On the other hand, the Democratic Party does not have a plan to address climate change. This is true at almost every level of the policy-making process: It does not have a consensus bill on the issue waiting in the wings; it does not have a shared vision for what that bill could look like; and it does not have a guiding slogan—like “Medicare for All”—to express how it wants to stop global warming.

Many people in the party know they want to do something about climate change, but there’s no agreement about what that something may be.

This is not for lack of trying. Democrats struggle to formulate a post-Obama climate policy because substantive political obstacles stand in their way. They have not yet identified a mechanism that will make a dent in Earth’s costly, irreversible warming while uniting the many factions of their coalition. These problems could keep the party scrambling to face the climate crisis for years to come. [Continue reading…]

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Sessions insists ‘factual basis’ will determine appointment of counsel, not Trump

The New York Times reports: President Trump did not need to send a memo or telephone his attorney general to make his desires known. He broadcast them for all the world to see on Twitter. The instruction was clear: The Justice Department should investigate his defeated opponent from last year’s campaign.

However they were delivered, Mr. Trump’s demands have ricocheted through the halls of the Justice Department, where Attorney General Jeff Sessions has now ordered senior prosecutors to evaluate various accusations against Hillary Clinton and report back on whether a special counsel should be appointed.

Mr. Sessions has made no decision, and in soliciting the assessment of department lawyers, he may be seeking a way out of the bind his boss has put him. At a congressional hearing on Tuesday, he pushed back against Republicans impatient for a special counsel. But if he or his deputy ultimately does authorize a new investigation of Mrs. Clinton, it would shatter post-Watergate norms intended to prevent presidents from using law enforcement agencies against political rivals.

The request alone was enough to incite a political backlash, as critics of Mr. Trump quickly denounced what they called “banana republic” politics of retribution, akin to autocratic nations where election losers are jailed by winners.

“You can be disappointed, but don’t be surprised,” said Karen Dunn, a former prosecutor and White House lawyer under President Barack Obama who advised Mrs. Clinton during her campaign. “This is exactly what he said he would do: use taxpayer resources to pursue political rivals.” [Continue reading…]

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Is Trump turning the Justice Department into his own political attack dog?

The Washington Post reports: Attorney General Jeff Sessions is entertaining the idea of appointing a second special counsel to investigate a host of Republican concerns — including alleged wrongdoing by the Clinton Foundation and the controversial sale of a uranium company to Russia — and has directed senior federal prosecutors to explore at least some of the matters and report back to him and his top deputy, according to a letter obtained by The Washington Post.

The revelation came in a response by the Justice Department to an inquiry from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who in July and again in September called for Sessions to appoint a second special counsel to investigate concerns he had related to the 2016 election and its aftermath.

The list of matters he wanted probed was wide ranging but included the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, various dealings of the Clinton Foundation and several matters connected to the purchase of the Canadian mining company Uranium One by Russia’s nuclear energy agency. Goodlatte took particular aim at former FBI director James B. Comey, asking for the second special counsel to evaluate the leaks he directed about his conversations with President Trump, among other things.

In response, Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd wrote that Sessions had “directed senior federal prosecutors to evaluate certain issues raised in your letters,” and that those prosecutors would “report directly to the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General, as appropriate, and will make recommendations as to whether any matters not currently under investigation should be opened, whether any matters currently under investigation require further resources, or whether any matters merit the appointment of a Special Counsel.” [Continue reading…]

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America, I apologize for the South’s hypocrisy

Issac Bailey writes: As a native Southerner, I’d like to apologize to the rest of the country. My region repeatedly claims that we place God above all else, but our actions tell a different story, especially when we mix religion, politics and the mistreatment of women and girls. We have politicians who feel no compunction, even, misusing the story of a sacred virgin birth to ignore child molestation.

“Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter,” Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler told the Washington Examiner Thursday, in an attempt to defend Roy Moore, a candidate for the US Senate from Alabama, after a damning story about Moore’s alleged past was published by the Washington Post. “They became parents of Jesus,” Zeigler added.

Such assertions of support are likely why a man like Moore felt comfortable enough to fund-raise just hours later — while boldly proclaiming the name of God.

That’s right. A man in a high-profile political race representing the supposed “family values” party, after being named in an eye-popping report alleging that when he was a 32-year-old man he tried to have a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl, not only did not drop out of the race or hide in shame, he doubled down. Moore denied the allegations and evoked the term “spiritual warfare,” which is well known in Southern Christian churches, black and white, to elicit as much sympathy from the faithful as possible.

“The forces of evil will lie, cheat, steal — even inflict physical harm — if they believe it will silence and shut up Christian conservatives like you and me,” Moore pronounced in an email to supporters asking for emergency donations. “Their goal is to frustrate and slow down our campaign’s progress to help the Obama-Clinton Machine silence our conservative message. That’s why I must be able to count on the help of God-fearing conservatives like you to stand with me at this critical moment.”

Moore plans to weather this political storm with help from the same God-fearing conservatives who made sure Donald Trump remained on a path to the presidency after being caught on video bragging about sexually assaulting women. And there’s no reason Moore won’t survive it, for in our region, in the eyes of many conservative Christians, the only evil greater than Satan himself is a Democrat with political power. Increasingly, little else seems to matter. [Continue reading…]

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Offshore cash helped fund Steve Bannon’s attacks on Hillary Clinton

The Guardian reports: Eighteen months before guiding Donald Trump to election victory, Steve Bannon delivered the opening shot in the ruthless Republican campaign to paint their Democratic opponent as corrupt.

The future White House chief strategist produced a book in May 2015 accusing Hillary Clinton of trading favours for donations to her charitable foundation. Its questionable central charge, on the sale of a uranium company to Russia, recently became the subject of a House inquiry and feverish talk on conservative media.

But the financial arrangements of another foundation, which bankrolled Bannon’s creation of the book, Clinton Cash, have received less scrutiny.

Leaked documents and newly obtained public filings show how the billionaire Mercer family built a $60m war chest for conservative causes inside their family foundation by using an offshore investment vehicle to avoid US tax.

The offshore vehicle was part of a network of companies in the Atlantic tax haven of Bermuda led by Robert Mercer, the wealthy hedge-fund executive and Bannon patron whose spending helped put Trump in the White House and aided a resurgence of the Republican right. [Continue reading…]

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CIA director met advocate of DNC hack conspiracy theory at Trump’s request

Duncan Campbell and James Risen report: CIA director Mike Pompeo met late last month with a former U.S. intelligence official who has become an advocate for a disputed theory that the theft of the Democratic National Committee’s emails during the 2016 presidential campaign was an inside job, rather than a hack by Russian intelligence.

Pompeo met on October 24 with William Binney, a former National Security Agency official-turned-whistleblower who co-authored an analysis published by a group of former intelligence officials that challenges the U.S. intelligence community’s official assessment that Russian intelligence was behind last year’s theft of data from DNC computers. Binney and the other former officials argue that the DNC data was “leaked,” not hacked, “by a person with physical access” to the DNC’s computer system.

In an interview with The Intercept, Binney said Pompeo told him that President Donald Trump had urged the CIA director to meet with Binney to discuss his assessment that the DNC data theft was an inside job. During their hour-long meeting at CIA headquarters, Pompeo said Trump told him that if Pompeo “want[ed] to know the facts, he should talk to me,” Binney said. [Continue reading…]

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A year after his election, Donald Trump is as unpopular as Hillary Clinton

ABC News reports: A year after his surprise election victory, President Donald Trump is underperforming expectations and lagging behind his predecessors, with the lowest job approval of any postwar president at this point in office, broad distrust across a range of issues and majority belief that he’s not delivering on his campaign promises.

Yet for all his shortcomings, Trump runs a dead heat with Hillary Clinton among 2016 voters in a hypothetical rematch in this ABC News/Washington Post poll, underscoring Clinton’s own enduring unpopularity. Ninety-one percent of Trump voters say they’d support him again (albeit down from 96 percent in April). And marking a still-struggling opposition, 61 percent of Americans say Democratic leaders are mainly criticizing Trump, not presenting alternatives.

Democratic disarray, though, doesn’t negate Trump’s own challenges. Just 37 percent of Americans approve of his job performance, the lowest for any president at nine months in office in polling dating to 1946. Fifty-nine percent disapprove, numerically a new high for this president, but essentially unchanged since summer. Half disapprove “strongly,” another high — twice as many as strongly approve. [Continue reading…]

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Donna Brazile: I considered replacing Clinton with Biden as 2016 Democratic nominee

The Washington Post reports: Former Democratic National Committee head Donna Brazile writes in a new book that she seriously contemplated replacing Hillary Clinton as the party’s 2016 presidential nominee with then-Vice President Biden in the aftermath of Clinton’s fainting spell, in part because Clinton’s campaign was “anemic” and had taken on “the odor of failure.”

In an explosive new memoir, Brazile details widespread dysfunction and dissension throughout the Democratic Party, including secret deliberations over using her powers as interim DNC chair to initiate the process of removing Clinton and running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.) from the ticket after Clinton’s Sept. 11, 2016, collapse in New York City.

Brazile writes that she considered a dozen combinations to replace the nominees and settled on Biden and Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), the duo she felt most certain would win over enough working-class voters to defeat Republican Donald Trump. But then, she writes, “I thought of Hillary, and all the women in the country who were so proud of and excited about her. I could not do this to them.”

Brazile paints a scathing portrait of Clinton as a well-intentioned, historic candidate whose campaign was badly mismanaged, took minority constituencies for granted and made blunders with “stiff” and “stupid” messages. The campaign was so lacking in passion for the candidate, she writes, that its New York headquarters felt like a sterile hospital ward where “someone had died.” [Continue reading…]

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How Russians hacked the Democrats’ emails

The Associated Press reports: It was just before noon in Moscow on March 10, 2016, when the first volley of malicious messages hit the Hillary Clinton campaign.

The first 29 phishing emails were almost all misfires. Addressed to people who worked for Clinton during her first presidential run, the messages bounced back untouched.

Except one.

Within nine days, some of the campaign’s most consequential secrets would be in the hackers’ hands, part of a massive operation aimed at vacuuming up millions of messages from thousands of inboxes across the world.

An Associated Press investigation into the digital break-ins that disrupted the U.S. presidential contest has sketched out an anatomy of the hack that led to months of damaging disclosures about the Democratic Party’s nominee. It wasn’t just a few aides that the hackers went after; it was an all-out blitz across the Democratic Party. They tried to compromise Clinton’s inner circle and more than 130 party employees, supporters and contractors. [Continue reading…]

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Donna Brazile’s bombshell about the DNC and Hillary Clinton, explained

Jeff Stein reports: A former Democratic National Committee chair on Thursday revealed the existence of a previously secret agreement that appeared to confirm some of Bernie Sanders supporters’ fears about the 2016 Democratic primary.

Donna Brazile, a longtime Clinton ally who stepped in as DNC chair last year in the wake of Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation, published an excerpt of her upcoming book in Politico in which she disclosed the details of a fundraising agreement between the DNC and the Clinton campaign reached in August 2015.

“The agreement — signed by Amy Dacey, the former CEO of the DNC, and [Clinton campaign manager] Robby Mook with a copy to [Clinton campaign counsel] Marc Elias— specified that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised,” Brazile wrote in the story under the headline “Inside Hillary Clinton’s Secret Takeover of the DNC.”

Brazile added of the deal: “[Clinton’s] campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics, and mailings.”

During the 2016 election, Sanders allies alleged that the DNC did not act as a neutral arbiter of the Democratic primary, favoring Clinton in its selection of debate times and fundraising. Their suspicions were only heightened when leaked emails published by WikiLeaks, and now reported to have been hacked by the Russians, appeared to show DNC staffers deriding Sanders and plotting ways to help Clinton. The accusations grew so heated that Wasserman Schultz resigned, which is when Brazile took over.

But now Brazile has provided explosive new evidence for the initial allegations. “The shocking news here is this idea they were exerting a level of control over DNC affairs that we didn’t know about,” said Kenneth Pennington, who served as digital director for the Sanders campaign. “If you had told me this during the primary — that they’re using the joint fundraising committee to get veto power over DNC functions — I would have called you a conspiracy nut.” [Continue reading…]

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How Hillary Clinton seized control of the DNC before receiving the Democratic nomination

Donna Brazile writes: Before I called Bernie Sanders, I lit a candle in my living room and put on some gospel music. I wanted to center myself for what I knew would be an emotional phone call.

I had promised Bernie when I took the helm of the Democratic National Committee after the convention that I would get to the bottom of whether Hillary Clinton’s team had rigged the nomination process, as a cache of emails stolen by Russian hackers and posted online had suggested. I’d had my suspicions from the moment I walked in the door of the DNC a month or so earlier, based on the leaked emails. But who knew if some of them might have been forged? I needed to have solid proof, and so did Bernie.

So I followed the money. My predecessor, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, had not been the most active chair in fundraising at a time when President Barack Obama’s neglect had left the party in significant debt. As Hillary’s campaign gained momentum, she resolved the party’s debt and put it on a starvation diet. It had become dependent on her campaign for survival, for which she expected to wield control of its operations.

Debbie was not a good manager. She hadn’t been very interested in controlling the party—she let Clinton’s headquarters in Brooklyn do as it desired so she didn’t have to inform the party officers how bad the situation was. How much control Brooklyn had and for how long was still something I had been trying to uncover for the last few weeks.

By September 7, the day I called Bernie, I had found my proof and it broke my heart. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: Throughout the campaign, the DNC and its then-chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, fiercely denied any suggestion that the party was helping Clinton over other candidates. The presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) had criticized Wasserman Schultz for limiting the early primary debate schedule, allowing party money to be used for Clinton fundraising, and briefly cutting off Sanders’s access to the party voter file shortly before the New Hampshire primary after a Sanders staffer inappropriately accessed information.

Some Democrats now say the arrangement is evidence that the concerns were valid. Ray Buckley, the chairman of New Hampshire’s Democratic Party, said that he first learned of the agreement while serving as DNC vice chair in 2016. “The day that Donna discovered this, she called me and I almost passed out,” Buckley said. “We were blatantly misled.”

In response to the report Thursday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said in a CNN interview that she believed the primary contest between Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders had been rigged. “This is a real problem,” she said. “We have to hold this party accountable.” [Continue reading…]

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U.S. prosecutors consider charging Russian officials in DNC hacking case

The Wall Street Journal reports: The Justice Department has identified more than six members of the Russian government involved in hacking the Democratic National Committee’s computers and swiping sensitive information that became public during the 2016 presidential election, according to people familiar with the investigation.

Prosecutors and agents have assembled evidence to charge the Russian officials and could bring a case next year, these people said. Discussions about the case are in the early stages, they said.

If filed, the case would provide the clearest picture yet of the actors behind the DNC intrusion. U.S. intelligence agencies have attributed the attack to Russian intelligence services, but haven’t provided detailed information about how they concluded those services were responsible, or any details about the individuals allegedly involved. [Continue reading…]

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Americans are officially freaking out

Bloomberg reports: For those lying awake at night worried about health care, the economy, and an overall feeling of divide between you and your neighbors, there’s at least one source of comfort: Your neighbors might very well be lying awake, too.

Almost two-thirds of Americans, or 63 percent, report being stressed about the future of the nation, according to the American Psychological Association’s Eleventh Stress in America survey, conducted in August and released on Wednesday. This worry about the fate of the union tops longstanding stressors such as money (62 percent) and work (61 percent) and also cuts across political proclivities. However, a significantly larger proportion of Democrats (73 percent) reported feeling stress than independents (59 percent) and Republicans (56 percent).

The “current social divisiveness” in America was reported by 59 percent of those surveyed as a cause of their own malaise. When the APA surveyed Americans a year ago, 52 percent said they were stressed by the presidential campaign. Since then, anxieties have only grown.

A majority of the more than 3,400 Americans polled, 59 percent, said “they consider this to to be the lowest point in our nation’s history that they can remember.” That sentiment spanned generations, including those that lived through World War II, the Vietnam War, and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. (Some 30 percent of people polled cited terrorism as a source of concern, a number that’s likely to rise given the alleged terrorist attack in New York City on Tuesday.) [Continue reading…]

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The party of ‘law and order’ has a disregard for law and order

Eli Lake writes: the Washington Post reported last week that a Clinton campaign lawyer, Marc Elias, paid the opposition research firm Fusion GPS to dig up dirt on Trump. Some of that information came from Russian officials speaking to a former British spy, Christopher Steele.

So, Trump supporters would seem justified in asking, why is it permissible for Russians to help Democrats and not permissible for Russians to help Republicans?

There are two answers here. The first is obvious. The Russians tried to sow chaos in the election by trolling both the left and the right on social media with fake news. But when Russian hackers distributed stolen emails on the internet, they came from only one party: the Democrats. If Mueller finds evidence that this was coordinated with Trump or his associates, it would be like finding out G. Gordon Liddy subcontracted the Watergate burglary to the KGB.

The other answer is more subtle. Adav Noti, who served as a Federal Election Commission lawyer between 2007 and 2017, told me that all of this goes back to the ban on contributions and donations from foreign governments or foreign nationals in federal elections. The law has been on the books since the 1970s, and he said it applies to promises of deleted emails and other kinds of opposition research.

“There is a real meaningful distinction,” said Noti, who is now senior director of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan group that monitors election law. “The Clinton campaign, based on what has been reported, paid for opposition research, which included paying people to dig up dirt in foreign countries.” Unsavory? Perhaps. But not illegal.

Compare that to what we know about George Papadopoulos, a low-level Trump campaign foreign-policy adviser, who has pled guilty to lying to the FBI. The plea agreement, released Monday by Mueller, says Papadopoulos emailed a Russian professor and another Russian contact who promised to turn over Clinton’s emails free of charge.

Or consider the meeting in the summer of 2016 between Donald Trump Jr. and Russian nationals who reportedly offered to hand over dirt on Clinton. Noti said that if the Trump officials solicited the information, “the act itself was unlawful.”

Noti cannot be dismissed as a partisan. Last week, his law center filed a formal complaint with the FEC against the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee for filing misleading federal reports that hid the contract with Fusion GPS. [Continue reading…]

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