Congressional gunman had a history of domestic violence

The Daily Beast reports: The gunman who attacked members of Congress on Wednesday morning, wounding a GOP leader, had a long history of domestic violence that included the use of a gun and hated Republicans.

James T. Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Illinois, opened fire on a congressional baseball practice outside of Washington, D.C., a senior law-enforcement official told The Daily Beast. Hodgkinson was killed by police.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, two Capitol Police officers, and congressional staffers were wounded. They are all expected to survive, according to police.

Hodgkinson may have practiced before the attack, a neighbor told The Daily Beast.

On March 24, neighbor William Schaumleffel called the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Office to complain that Hodgkinson had fired approximately 15 shots outside. A responding officer found Hodgkinson shooting into nearby trees and advised him to stop, according to a sheriff’s report, which added that Hodgkinson had a valid firearm license.

“I thought, my God, what is that guy shooting?” Schaumleffel recalled.

He told The Daily Beast that he was out in his backyard with his grandchildren when the shooting started. He heard one shot, then another, and then three in rapid succession.

Hodgkinson held the gun to his shoulder and fired across Schaumleffel’s field, he said. Schaumleffel said he yelled to him to say that there were houses in that direction and that he should stop, but wasn’t sure if he heard him.

The shooting started again, in what Schaumleffel now calls “target practice.”

“I told my wife, hey, I’m gonna call the sheriff. He’s liable to turn the gun on us,” Schaumleffel said.

Schaumleffel said had never met the Hodgkinson, and said that almost everyone in the neighborhood owned a gun. But no one starts shooting randomly, into the distance, like Hodgkinson did.

“He was being very reckless that day,” Schaumleffel said.

Shortly after the incident, Hodgkinson reportedly left Illinois and was living in Virginia.

Hodgkinson had a history of violence that did not rise to the level to prohibit him from legally owning a firearm.

Hodgkinson was the foster father of at least two girls. The first, Wanda Ashley Stock, 17, committed suicide in 1996 by pouring gasoline on herself and setting herself on fire after a few months of living with the Hodgkinsons, the Belleville News-Democrat reports. The Hodgkinsons gave an interview to the paper after her suicide, calling her a “very practical, level-headed girl.”

Privacy laws do not allow the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to release foster records.

In 2002, Hodgkinson became the foster father of another girl whom he allegedly abused, according to police record. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Gingrich on Mueller: ‘superb choice’ as special counsel’; now says GOP must focus on ‘closing down’ investigation

Facebooktwittermail

What was the real reason for Jeff Sessions repeatedly meeting Sergey Kislyak?

Julia Ioffe writes: It can be hard to get a straight answer out of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

When Senator Al Franken asked then-Senator Sessions at his Senate confirmation hearing on January 10 whether he “communicated with the Russian government,” he said, “I’m not aware of any of those activities.” Unprompted, Sessions then went further, saying, “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn’t have—did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.” Then less than two months later, on March 1, The Washington Post reported that Sessions had, in fact, met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak—not once, but twice.

It was a serious omission, especially for the nation’s top law-enforcement officer, and one who is a vocal advocate for law and order. Scrambling to contain the damage, Sessions issued a statement that attempted to draw a very subtle distinction. Calling the report “false,” he said that he had “never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign.” His spokeswoman, Sarah Isgur Flores, spelled it out even more clearly: “He was asked during the hearing about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign—not about meetings he took as a senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee,” she said. (In fact, Franken had made no such qualification) And a White House official insisted that Sessions had “met with the ambassador in an official capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee,” not a campaign surrogate. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Trump considering firing special counsel Robert Mueller, says close friend

 

Facebooktwittermail

Trump’s unwillingness to uphold his oath to defend the United States

Asha Rangappa writes: Reactions to former FBI director James B. Comey’s testimony Thursday mostly seemed to follow predictable, partisan lines. To many Democrats, Comey appeared to be describing a clear case of obstruction of justice by President Trump. To Republicans who support the White House, Comey’s recounting of “leaking” his memos about conversations with Trump showed that he deserved to be fired.

But as a former FBI counterintelligence agent, what I saw as the most explosive aspect of the testimony didn’t involve any legal violation of the U.S. code or questions about whether Comey had broken established Department of Justice protocols. Instead, it was the prima facie evidence that Comey presented that Trump appears unwilling to uphold his oath “to preserve, protect, and defend” the country — which puts the security of our nation and its democracy at stake. In the nine times Trump met with or called Comey, it was always to discuss how the investigation into Russia’s election interference was affecting him personally, rather than the security of the country. He apparently cared little about understanding either the magnitude of the Russian intelligence threat, or how the FBI might be able to prevent another attack in future elections. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Understanding exactly what Trump means

Deborah Tannen writes: At Thursday’s Senate hearing, Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho) sought former FBI director James B. Comey’s agreement that President Trump did not tell him to drop his investigation of fired national security adviser Michael Flynn: “He did not direct you to let it go.” Comey agreed, “Not in his words, no.” Risch pressed his point: “He did not order you to let it go?” Comey concurred: “Again, those words are not an order.” Yet later in the hearing, in response to Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) asking whether the president’s words were “a directive,” Comey said, “Yes.”

Was Comey contradicting himself? Based on decades of studying indirectness in conversation — and a lifetime of using language to communicate — I’d say no. Risch was talking about the message: the literal meaning of words spoken. King, and later Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), were referring to the metamessage: what it means to say those words in that way in that context. When people talk to each other, they glean meaning from metamessages. But messages come in handy when someone wants to deny a meaning that was obvious when the words were spoken.

The president’s “exact words,” according to Comey’s notes, were: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” Risch cried literal meaning. Zeroing in on the word “hope,” he asked Comey if he knew of anyone being charged with a criminal offense because “they hoped for an outcome.” Though he confessed that he didn’t, Comey said, “I took it as, this is what he wants me to do.” Risch rested his case: “You may have taken it as a direction but that’s not what he said.” Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, later made the same point in a tweet: “Hoping and telling are two very different things.”

Actually, they aren’t, when the speaker is in a position of power, as Harris noted. Referring to her experience as a prosecutor, she said, “When a robber held a gun to somebody’s head and said, ‘I hope you will give me your wallet,’ the word ‘hope’ was not the most operative word at that moment.” The gun gives the robber power to encourage another to make his hope a reality.

Trump Jr. also tweeted, “Knowing my father for 39 years when he ‘orders or tells’ you to do something there is no ambiguity, you will know exactly what he means.” He’s right. Comey knew exactly what he meant. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Trump has no grasp on the extent of his ignorance

Fred Kaplan writes: After James Comey’s sworn Senate testimony Thursday, even stalwart Republicans are finding it harder to deny that Donald Trump has no business being president. But it’s not stopping them from defending him anyway or from bringing the nation closer to disaster.

House Speaker Paul Ryan tried to excuse the most incriminating portions of Comey’s statement—the highly detailed claims that Trump pressured him to swear loyalty, to drop the probe of Michael Flynn, and to tell the public that Trump himself was not under criminal investigation—by saying that the president is “just new to this.” In other words, Ryan was saying, Trump isn’t a crook; he’s just ignorant.

Leaving aside the civic bromide that ignorance is no excuse when it comes to breaking the law, Ryan is off the mark, at least in this case. Trump kicked several officials out of his office before twisting the FBI director’s arm. As Comey asked at his hearing, why would he do that if he didn’t know he was about to engage in improper behavior?

New Jersey Gov. (and former Trump transition-team chairman) Chris Christie came closer to honesty, dismissing the president’s exchanges with Comey as “normal New York conversation.” This might indeed be the perception of a man who once prosecuted white-collar criminals, including Jared Kushner’s father, in the New York metropolitan area. In other words, Christie was saying, Trump is just strutting like a slippery operator—not quite the exoneration that he may have intended.

So these are the GOP’s rationales for Trump’s behavior: He was only talking like a felon, he didn’t necessarily commit a crime; and if he did, it’s only because he didn’t know what he was doing. It’s hard to believe that even the likes of Ryan and Christie aren’t a little disturbed by this state of affairs—not only because of what might be uncovered next, but because of what they are facing and abetting right now. By the powers vested in his office, Trump has immense powers (among other things, he has the nuclear codes), and his defenders are tolerating his presence in this office, even while knowing the risks.

Yes, “He’s just new to this,” but that’s the problem, or part of the problem. In fact, all presidents are “new to this.” As most of them have confessed after their terms, no experience quite prepares one for the lonely pressures of the Oval Office. But Trump takes a novice’s limits to new levels. Not only did he enter the job with no knowledge of its nature (despite bragging that he alone could fix everything), he installed an equally clueless entourage. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The five lines of defense against Comey — and why they failed

David Frum writes: Thursday was a bad, bad day for Team Trump. Things looked even worse at the end of the day than they did when the Senate Intelligence Committee adjourned midday.

The first line of defense—revealed by the president’s own team yesterday—is that Comey somehow vindicated Trump by confirming that he told Trump in January that Trump was not personally a target of an investigation. But if that assurance had been enough for the president, Trump would not have added the demand that Comey end the investigation of Michael Flynn. Trump evidently felt strongly motivated to protect Flynn—more strongly motivated than he had been to protect any of his other associates.

Line two of defense is that the president’s expression of a “hope” that Mike Flynn could be “let go” merely expressed a wish, not an order. But Adam Liptak, Supreme Court reporter for The New York Times, almost instantly produced an example of an obstruction of justice conviction that rested precisely on “I hope” language—and the all-seeing eye of Twitter quickly found more. Anyone who has ever seen a gangster movie has heard the joke, “Nice little dry cleaning store, I hope nothing happens to it.” The blunt fact is that after Comey declined to drop the investigation or publicly clear the president, Trump fired Comey. A hope enforced by dismissal is more than a wish. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Comey lays out the case that Trump obstructed justice

The Washington Post reports: Former FBI director James B. Comey on Thursday essentially laid out an obstruction of justice case against President Trump and suggested senior leaders in the bureau might have actually contemplated the matter before Trump removed him as director.

Comey did not explicitly draw any legal conclusions. Whether justice was obstructed, he said, was a question for recently appointed special counsel Robert Mueller. But he said Trump’s request to terminate the FBI’s investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn left him “stunned,” and senior FBI officials considered it to be of “investigative interest.”

Of particular concern, Comey said, was that Trump asked other officials to leave him alone with his FBI director in the Oval Office before saying of Flynn: “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

“Why did he kick everybody out of the Oval Office?” Comey said. “That, to me as an investigator, is a very significant fact.” [Continue reading…]

The Daily Beast reports: Four current and former law enforcement officials believe prosecutors have been treating Trump and his associates like a criminal network, and subjecting them to an array of time-tested law enforcement tricks.

One of those tricks involves floating names of potential targets of the investigation, to try and get potential co-conspirators to turn on one another. Another, called “tickling the wire,” entails strategically leaking information to try and provoke targets under surveillance into saying something dumb, or even incriminating.

“You want people to freak out, to say, ‘are they talking about me? Is this me? What do they know?’—and you want them to do this in a way that is captured,” one former FBI official said about the Russia investigation.

“Now we wait for the cover up.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Full text: James Comey testimony transcript on Trump and Russia

Facebooktwittermail

I helped prosecute Watergate. Comey’s statement is sufficient evidence for an obstruction of justice case

Philip Allen Lacovara, a former U.S. deputy solicitor general in the Justice Department who served as counsel to the Watergate special prosecutors, writes: In prepared testimony released on the eve of his appearance Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, former FBI director James B. Comey placed President Trump in the gunsights of a federal criminal investigation, laying out evidence sufficient for a case of obstruction of justice.

Comey proved what Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and National Security Agency Director Michael S. Rogers carefully avoided admitting in their testimony on Wednesday — that the president had specifically attempted to shut off at least a major piece of what Trump calls the “Russia thing,” the investigation into the misleading statements by fired national security adviser Michael Flynn concerning his role in dealings with the Russians. This kind of presidential intervention in a pending criminal investigation has not been seen, to my knowledge, since the days of Richard Nixon and Watergate.

Comey’s statement meticulously detailed a series of interventions by Trump soliciting his assistance in getting the criminal probe dropped. These details are red meat for a prosecutor. Presumably, the team of experienced criminal prosecutors that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has assembled will be following up on this crucial testimony, which rests on contemporaneous memorandums that Comey was sufficiently alarmed to prepare immediately after receiving the president’s requests. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Comey’s testimony is the most shocking document about any president since the release of the Watergate tapes

Benjamin Wittes writes: James Comey’s seven-page written statement, released by the Senate Intelligence Committee this afternoon in connection with Comey’s impending testimony tomorrow, draws no conclusions, makes no allegations, and indeed, expresses no opinions. It recounts, in spare and simple prose, a set of facts to which Comey is prepared to testify under oath tomorrow. Despite this sparseness, or maybe I should say because of it, it is the most shocking single document compiled about the official conduct of the public duties of any President since the release of the Watergate tapes.

Let me begin by walking through the document and annotating it a bit with those reasonable inferences that Comey leaves implicit but which a member of Congress, or a member of the public, should certainly consider. That is, let me start by considering in a narrow-bore way what some of these facts mean. Having done so, I’ll zoom out and try to make sense of the big picture as Comey takes the stand tomorrow. Comey proceeds in his statement chronologically. I am going to treat matters more thematically—which will mean bouncing around a bit in the document. The following comments will make more sense if readers first take the time to read the statement in its entirety, something I think it incumbent on citizens and other stakeholders in this society to do. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

James Comey’s written testimony, annotated

In a statement provided to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, former FBI Director James Comey writes: The President began by asking me whether I wanted to stay on as FBI Director, which I found strange because he had already told me twice in earlier conversations that he hoped I would stay, and I had assured him that I intended to. He said that lots of people wanted my job and, given the abuse I had taken during the previous year, he would understand if I wanted to walk away.

My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship. That concerned me greatly, given the FBI’s traditionally independent status in the executive branch.

I replied that I loved my work and intended to stay and serve out my ten-year term as Director. And then, because the set-up made me uneasy, I added that I was not “reliable” in the way politicians use that word, but he could always count on me to tell him the truth. I added that I was not on anybody’s side politically and could not be counted on in the traditional political sense, a stance I said was in his best interest as the President.

A few moments later, the President said, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence. The conversation then moved on, but he returned to the subject near the end of our dinner.

At one point, I explained why it was so important that the FBI and the Department of Justice be independent of the White House. I said it was a paradox: Throughout history, some Presidents have decided that because “problems” come from Justice, they should try to hold the Department close. But blurring those boundaries ultimately makes the problems worse by undermining public trust in the institutions and their work.

Near the end of our dinner, the President returned to the subject of my job, saying he was very glad I wanted to stay, adding that he had heard great things about me from Jim Mattis, Jeff Sessions, and many others. He then said, “I need loyalty.” I replied, “You will always get honesty from me.” He paused and then said, “That’s what I want, honest loyalty.” I paused, and then said, “You will get that from me.” As I wrote in the memo I created immediately after the dinner, it is possible we understood the phrase “honest loyalty” differently, but I decided it wouldn’t be productive to push it further. The term – honest loyalty – had helped end a very awkward conversation and my explanations had made clear what he should expect. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Republicans won’t impeach Trump, no matter what his crimes

Jonathan Chait writes: Many conservatives opposed Trump during the primaries because they suspected, with good reason, that his conservatism was shallow or insincere. They worried that, once elected, Trump would abandon their priorities and pursue the most expedient course.

But Trump has not done that at all. The policies or talking points Trump has abandoned are the centrist ones: He would protect Medicaid from cuts, give everybody terrific coverage, hammer the big banks, spend a trillion dollars on infrastructure, and cut deals with both parties. This week, Trump formally abandoned the last possible area of ideological compromise in infrastructure, “clarifying” that his plan relies on private industry, states, or cities ponying up the money. Trump’s budget actually cuts federal investments in infrastructure. He has positioned himself to the right of even House Republicans on domestic spending, and continues to push for their grossly unpopular plan to cut a trillion dollars from Obamacare. “The Never Trump conservative argument that Trump is not a conservative — one that I, too, made repeatedly during the Republican primaries — is not only no longer relevant, it is no longer true,” points out the popular conservative talk-show host Dennis Prager.

Trump is faithfully supporting the conservative agenda, so most conservatives faithfully support him. Their concerns are pragmatic ones about his effectiveness on behalf of their common agenda, rather than moral objections to the legitimacy and propriety of his actions. Trump may have committed impeachable offenses, but the impeachment clock has not even begun to move. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The flake in the Oval Office: For Trump ‘two weeks’ means: who knows when?

Bloomberg reports: President Donald Trump has a plan. It’ll be ready in two weeks.

From overhauling the tax code to releasing an infrastructure package to making decisions on Nafta and the Paris climate agreement, Trump has a common refrain: A big announcement is coming in just “two weeks.” It rarely does.

On Feb. 9, Trump boasted that his administration was “way ahead of schedule” on a tax overhaul.

“We’re going to be announcing something I would say over the next two or three weeks that will be phenomenal in terms of tax and developing our aviation infrastructure,” Trump said while meeting with airline executives.

Eleven weeks elapsed before the White House released a one-page outline of the tax plan. [Continue reading…]

Politico reports: President Donald Trump is lashing out at Democrats for allegedly stalling his appointments and agenda, but it’s his own administration that is frequently sitting on the necessary paperwork for nominees.

Trump tapped Kevin McAleenan on March 30 to lead Customs and Border Protection, a critical position for his drive to revamp U.S. immigration policy. But the White House didn’t formally submit his nomination to the Senate for confirmation until May 22, nearly eight weeks later.

And McAleenan’s nomination is far from alone in taking weeks to be sent to the Senate, where Republicans are growing impatient and bewildered with the Trump White House’s historic lag in filling administration posts.

Trump’s two nominees for the Export-Import Bank board — ex-GOP Reps. Scott Garrett and Spencer Bachus — haven’t been submitted to the Senate, despite being named April 14. Trump rolled out a batch of 10 judicial nominations to much fanfare on May 8, but two of them have yet to arrive on Capitol Hill.

And Dan Brouillette, nominated by Trump to be Rick Perry’s chief deputy at the Energy Department, was announced on April 3, yet his nomination wasn’t sent by the White House until May 16. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Nunes-led House Intelligence Committee asked for ‘unmaskings’ of Americans

The Washington Post reports: The Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee asked U.S. spy agencies late last year to reveal the names of U.S. individuals or organizations contained in classified intelligence on Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, engaging in the same practice that President Trump has accused the Obama administration of abusing, current and former officials said.

The chairman of the committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), has since cast the practice of “unmasking” of U.S. individuals and organizations mentioned in classified reports as an abuse of surveillance powers by the outgoing Obama administration.

Trump has argued that investigators should focus their attention on former officials leaking names from intelligence reports, rather than whether the Kremlin coordinated its activities with the Trump campaign, an allegation he has denied. “The big story is the ‘unmasking and surveillance’ of people that took place during the Obama administration,” Trump tweeted Thursday. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail