Pardon for Sheriff Joe Arpaio would show Trump’s contempt for Constitution

Noah Feldman writes: If President Donald Trump pardons Joe Arpaio, as he broadly hinted at during a rally Tuesday in Arizona, it would not be an ordinary exercise of the power — it would be an impeachable offense. Arpaio, the former sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County, was convicted of criminal contempt of court for ignoring the federal judge’s order that he follow the U.S. Constitution in doing his job. For Trump to pardon him would be an assault on the federal judiciary, the Constitution and the rule of law itself.

To see why pardoning Arpaio would be so exceptional — and so bad — you have to start with the sheriff’s crime. Arpaio wasn’t convicted by a jury after a trial for violating some specific federal statute. Rather, he was convicted by a federal judge on the rather unusual charge of criminal contempt of court.

Specifically, Arpaio was convicted this July by Judge Susan Bolton of willfully and intentionally violating an order issued to him in 2011 by a different federal judge, G. Murray Snow.

The order arose out of a civil suit against Arpaio brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, accusing him of violating the law by detaining undocumented immigrants simply for lacking legal status.

Snow issued a preliminary injunction that ordered Arpaio to stop running so-called saturation patrols — police sweeps that essentially stopped people who looked Latino and detained those who were deemed undocumented. The basic idea was that the profiling, warrantless stops and detention were unconstitutional.

Yet despite the federal court’s order, Arpaio kept running the unlawful patrols for at least 18 months, and publicly acknowledged as much. [Continue reading…]

CNN reports: The White House has prepared the paperwork for President Trump to pardon former sheriff Joe Arpaio when he makes the final decision to do so, CNN has learned.

An administration official said the White House has also prepared talking points to send to surrogates after he is pardoned.

One of the talking points is that Arpaio served his country for 50 years in the military, the Drug Enforcement Administration and as Arizona’s Maricopa County sheriff, and that it is not appropriate to send him to prison for “enforcing the law” and “working to keep people safe.” [Continue reading…]

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Pro-Russian bots take up the right-wing cause after Charlottesville

ProPublica reports: Angee Dixson joined Twitter on Aug. 8 and immediately began posting furiously — about 90 times a day. A self-described American Christian conservative, Dixson defended President Donald Trump’s response to the unrest in Charlottesville, criticized the removal of Confederate monuments and posted pictures purporting to show violence by left-wing counterprotesters.

“Dems and Media Continue to IGNORE BLM and Antifa Violence in Charlottesville,” she wrote above a picture of masked demonstrators labeled “DEMOCRAT TERROR.”

But Dixson appears to have been a fake, according to an analysis by Ben Nimmo, a fellow with the Digital Forensic Research Lab at the Atlantic Council think tank. The account has been shut down. Dixson’s profile picture was stolen from a young Instagram celebrity (a German model rumored to have dated Leonardo DiCaprio). Dixson used a URL shortener that is a tell for the sort of computer program that automatically churns out high volumes of social media posts whose authorship is frequently disguised. And one of her tweets attacked Sen. John McCain for his alleged support of Ukrainian neo-Nazis, echoing language in tweets from Russian outlets RT and Sputnik.

The same social media networks that spread Russian propaganda during the 2016 election have been busily amplifying right-wing extremism surrounding the recent violence in Charlottesville, according to researchers who monitor the activity. It’s impossible to tell how much of the traffic originates from Russia or from mercenary sources. But there were hordes of automated bots generating Twitter posts and much more last week to help make right-wing conspiracy theories and rallying cries about Charlottesville go viral. [Continue reading…]

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U.S.-led airstrikes are killing hundreds of civilians in the battle for ISIS-held Raqqa

The Washington Post reports: U.S.-led coalition airstrikes in the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria are killing hundreds of civilians each month, according to monitoring groups, deepening already grave concerns for thousands of families trapped inside the city.

At least 725 civilians have been killed in coalition airstrikes since the offensive to retake Raqqa began June 6, according to Airwars, a London-based monitoring organization that works with local activists, human rights groups and the Pentagon.

“We had been flagging for months prior to the offensive that far more civilians were dying around Raqqa than we would have expected even a few months earlier,” said Chris Woods, the director of Airwars.

“Since the assault began, we have seen a casualty count that is relatively high compared to the rest of the coalition’s war against ISIS,” he said, using another name for the Islamic State. “In Raqqa, this means high numbers of identifiable civilians, many of them women and children.” [Continue reading…]

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Palestine: Dangerous escalation in attacks on freedom of expression

Amnesty International reports: The Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and their rivals, the de-facto Hamas administration in Gaza, have both tightened the noose on freedom of expression in recent months, launching a repressive clampdown on dissent that has seen journalists from opposition media outlets interrogated and detained in a bid to exert pressure on their political opponents, said Amnesty International.

In the West Bank, the Palestinian authorities have arrested six journalists in August so far, shut down 29 websites and introduced a controversial Electronic Crimes Law imposing tight controls on media freedom and banning online expression and dissent. In the Gaza Strip, Hamas security forces have arrested at least two journalists since June and hampered others from freely carrying out their work. At least 12 Palestinians, including activists, were also detained by Hamas for critical comments posted on Facebook.

“The last few months have seen a sharp escalation in attacks by the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, on journalists and the media in a bid to silence dissent. This is a chilling setback for freedom of expression in Palestine,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.

“By rounding up journalists and shutting down opposition websites the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip appear to be using police state tactics to silence critical media and arbitrarily block people’s access to information.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump in Phoenix fuels divisions and incites violence

These days America’s Thug-in-Chief can’t even fill an auditorium:


The fake, soon-to-be failed, president is, needless to say, in denial about the level of support he retains:


But there is little doubt that Trump, as an unleashed demagogue, is now inciting violence:

The Washington Post reports: Just before President Trump strolled onto the rally stage on Tuesday evening, four speakers took turns carefully denouncing hate, calling for unity and ever so subtly assuring the audience that the president is not racist.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson proclaimed that “our lives are too short to let our differences divide us.” Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King Jr., led everyone in singing a few lines of “How Great Thou Art.” Evangelist Franklin Graham prayed for the politically and racially divided nation and asked the Lord to shut the mouths of “those in this country who want to divide, who want to preach hate.” And Vice President Pence declared that “President Trump believes with all his heart … that love for America requires love for all its people.” Meanwhile, a supporter seated directly behind stage even wore a T-shirt that stated: “Trump & Republicans are not racist.”

Then Trump took the stage.

He didn’t attempt to continue the carefully choreographed messaging of the night or to narrow the ever-deepening divide between the thousands of supporters gathered in the convention center hall before him and the thousands of protesters waiting outside.

Instead, Trump spent the first three minutes of his speech — which would drag on for 75 minutes — marveling at his crowd size, claiming that “there aren’t too many people outside protesting,” predicting that the media would not broadcast shots of his “rather incredible” crowd and reminiscing about how he was “center stage, almost from day one, in the debates.”

“We love those debates — but we went to center stage, and we never left, right?” the president said, reliving his glory days. “All of us. We did it together.”

Over the next 72 minutes, the president launched into one angry rant after another, repeatedly attacking the media and providing a lengthy defense of his response to the violent clashes in Charlottesville, between white supremacists and neo-Nazis and the counterprotesters who challenged them. He threatened to shut down the government if he doesn’t receive funding for a wall along the southern border, announced that he will “probably” get rid of the North American Free Trade Agreement, attacked the state’s two Republican senators, repeatedly referred to protesters as “thugs” and coyly hinted that he will pardon Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County who was convicted in July of criminal contempt in Arizona for ignoring a judge’s order to stop detaining people because he merely suspected them of being undocumented immigrants. [Continue reading…]

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James Clapper questions Trump’s fitness, worries about his access to nuclear codes

 

The Washington Post reports: James R. Clapper Jr., former national intelligence director, questioned President Trump’s fitness for office following his freewheeling speech in Phoenix on Tuesday night, which Clapper labeled “downright scary and disturbing.”

“I really question his ability to be — his fitness to be — in this office,” Clapper told CNN’s Don Lemon early Wednesday morning. “I also am beginning to wonder about his motivation for it — maybe he is looking for a way out.”

In Trump’s remarks, delivered without a teleprompter, the president threatened to shut down the government over funding for the border wall he promised, opined that the North American Free Trade Agreement will likely be terminated and hinted he might pardon former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, convicted last month of criminal contempt. [Continue reading…]

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McConnell, in private, doubts if Trump can save presidency

The New York Times reports: The relationship between President Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, has disintegrated to the point that they have not spoken to each other in weeks, and Mr. McConnell has privately expressed uncertainty that Mr. Trump will be able to salvage his administration after a series of summer crises.

What was once an uneasy governing alliance has curdled into a feud of mutual resentment and sometimes outright hostility, complicated by the position of Mr. McConnell’s wife, Elaine L. Chao, in Mr. Trump’s cabinet, according to more than a dozen people briefed on their imperiled partnership. Angry phone calls and private badmouthing have devolved into open conflict, with the president threatening to oppose Republican senators who cross him, and Mr. McConnell mobilizing to their defense.

The rupture between Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell comes at a highly perilous moment for Republicans, who face a number of urgent deadlines when they return to Washington next month. Congress must approve new spending measures and raise the statutory limit on government borrowing within weeks of reconvening, and Republicans are hoping to push through an elaborate rewrite of the federal tax code. There is scant room for legislative error on any front.

A protracted government shutdown or a default on sovereign debt could be disastrous — for the economy and for the party that controls the White House and both chambers of Congress.

Yet Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell are locked in a political cold war. [Continue reading…]

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Nikki Haley’s path to the presidency runs right past Trump

Vox reports: Attacks on Russia. Soccer games with refugees. Lively chats about human rights with Bono.

Browse through Nikki Haley’s Twitter feed long enough and you’d be forgiven for forgetting she’s a powerful and high-ranking official in the Trump administration, where the president pointedly refuses to do the first one of those and would consider the last two to be political suicide.

President Trump selected Haley early on in the formation of his Cabinet, settling on her as his ambassador to the United Nations before picking Rex Tillerson for secretary of state or James Mattis for secretary of defense. But she was a surprising pick then, and remains so today.

A popular twice-elected governor of South Carolina, she’s an experienced GOP politician in an administration packed with outsiders. As the daughter of Indian immigrants, she stands out in an administration run chiefly by white men. Telegenic and poised, she has a knack for the limelight that stands in sharp contrast to the administration’s tendencies toward the rumpled (former press secretary Sean Spicer) or reclusive (Tillerson).

But in her first seven months at the helm of the US mission to the UN, Haley’s differences have gone far beyond optics. Trump campaigned on a foreign policy platform of “America first” — the idea that the US should avoid getting involved in unnecessary conflicts overseas and focus narrowly on national security interests over promotion of democracy and human rights abroad.

But Haley has pursued the opposite course. From her stern criticism of Moscow to her championing of human rights to her calls for Syrian regime change, she’s routinely diverged from, or outright contradicted, Trump’s stance on the biggest foreign policy issues of the day.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the most hawkish Republican senators in Washington, told the New York Times recently, “She sounds more like me than Trump.”

Haley’s stances may reflect more than just policy differences. Many in the GOP worry that Trump may not survive four years and that those who’ve served in his administration may be tainted by association if he resigns or is impeached. Haley appears to be one of the few administration officials with the potential to survive the Trump years — and could be positioning herself for a presidential campaign of her own. [Continue reading…]

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Putin’s ‘dangerous’ game with North Korea

The Daily Beast reports: In May, President Putin admitted that the missile tests Russia’s friend Pyongyang performed this year were “dangerous.” But he insisted, “We must stop intimidating North Korea and find a peaceful solution to this problem.”

What was Putin’s plan? Go easy on Pyongyang and team up with China to get tough on the United States, all in the name of mediation.

But at the time, North Korea was just about to make a major breakthrough. Previously it had been testing an intermediate range missile called the Musudan that failed repeatedly. But in mid-May, it launched a liquid fuel Hwasong-12, capable of reaching the American territory of Guam or beyond.

Then, to the consternation of the international community, on July 4—Independence Day in the United States—North Korea launched the two-stage Hwasong-14, a true ICBM capable of reaching Alaska. That was followed by the launch of another Hwasong-14 that demonstrated even greater potential range on July 28. The continental United States was coming in range.

Where did impoverished little North Korea get the wherewithal to build such ICBMs, not to mention the nuclear weapons that might someday ride in their nose cones?

International experts have concluded that the rocket engine used by North Korea was of the Soviet-origin RD-250 family, but where the engines came from, and whether they were brought in whole, built from parts, or constructed from scratch based on plans is not clear.

Michael Elleman at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, publishers of The Military Balance, wrote earlier this month that, “No other country has transitioned from a medium-range capability to an ICBM in such a short time,” and concluded North Korea acquired “a high-performance liquid-propellant engine” from “a foreign source.”

“An unknown number of these engines were probably acquired through illicit channels operating in Russia and/or Ukraine,” Elleman wrote, suggesting they probably were acquired in one form or another over the last two years.

But there is evidence the North Korean effort to make such acquisitions dates back much further. [Continue reading…]

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North Korea shipments to Syria chemical arms agency intercepted

Reuters reports: Two North Korean shipments to a Syrian government agency responsible for the country’s chemical weapons programme were intercepted in the past six months, according to a confidential United Nations report on North Korea sanctions violations.

The report by a panel of independent U.N. experts, which was submitted to the U.N. Security Council earlier this month and seen by Reuters on Monday, gave no details on when or where the interdictions occurred or what the shipments contained.

“The panel is investigating reported prohibited chemical, ballistic missile and conventional arms cooperation between Syria and the DPRK (North Korea),” the experts wrote in the 37-page report. [Continue reading…]

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Trump lies to the public about five times a day

The Washington Post reports: We have been tracking President Trump’s false or misleading claims for more than seven months. Somewhere around Aug. 4 or Aug. 5, he broke 1,000 claims, and the tally now stands at 1,057. (Our full interactive graphic can be found here.)

That’s an impressive number by any standard. In fact, we are a little late with this update because we have simply been overwhelmed keeping track of the deluge of claims made by the president in the later part of July. Things slowed down during the president’s “working vacation,” so we have finally been able to catch up.

At the president’s current pace, he averages nearly five claims a day. Many are repeats of claims that have been previously debunked. We also include statements that are unacknowledged flip-flops from previously held positions, such as touting new highs in a stock market that he previously derided as being a “big, fat bubble.” [Continue reading…]

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As Trump predicts victory, the Taliban are prepared to fight for another 16 years

The New York Times reports: The retired Afghan general is no friend of the Taliban: He is a Parliament member, an adviser to the Afghan president and a combat veteran. But he is also from Helmand Province, the heart of the Taliban insurgency, and knows people on the other side.

After President Trump’s speech, the general recalled a Taliban fighter who had taken up arms after six of his sons were killed, one by one. The same AK-47 was handed down to each. Then the father was killed.

“You don’t make peace with people like that,” said the general, Abdul Jabbar Qahraman. “You also don’t win by killing them, there are always more.”

After nearly 16 years of war, America’s longest, the Taliban are not only far from defeated, they are gaining ground. They also have evolved into a more tenacious foe than the one routed in 2001, making a United States military triumph seem more remote.

Ever since 2008, when Adm. Michael Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said “we can’t kill our way to victory,” the cornerstone of American policy in Afghanistan has been not about obliterating the Taliban but pummeling them toward peace talks. President Barack Obama’s Afghan surge of 100,000 American troops failed to do this.

Now, President Trump has asserted that the United States would yet achieve peace through victory. Despite that assertion, and far more modest troop commitments this time, the hope of tiring the Taliban remains the mantra repeated by American diplomats and the generals whom the president has empowered to execute his policy.

They have quietly repeated that hope even in the absence of any visible peace process since the latest serious effort at talks collapsed last year. Within hours of President Trump’s speech, the American military commander in Kabul made that clear.

“This new strategy means the Taliban cannot win militarily,” said the commander, Gen. John W. Nicholson. “Now is the time to renounce violence and reconcile. A peaceful, stable Afghanistan is victory for the Afghan people and the goal of the Coalition.”

As might be expected, the Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, scoffed at President Trump’s speech as “nothing new.” But many Afghans on the government side had a similar take.

“That’s the same strategy going on the last two decades,” said Jamaluddin Badr, a member of the Afghan High Peace Council. “He said we’re going to win, but he didn’t make it clear how we’re going to win.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s base goes ballistic over his ‘unlimited war’

The Daily Beast reports: President Donald Trump acknowledged on Monday night that the new Afghanistan strategy he unveiled is a reversal of his long-held objection to the very idea of having a U.S. military presence in the country.

But in announcing a ramp up of U.S. forces with no defined timeline for their departure, Trump tailored and mangled and obscured the policy to such a degree so as to make it both difficult to understand and—he hopes—palatable to his base. At one point, he asserted that his strategy was to have no publicly-stated strategy at all.

“We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities,” Trump told a crowd of servicemen at Virginia’s Fort Myer on Monday.

Presidents have made abrupt foreign policy reversals before, often breaking with campaign pledges when presented with a new set of geopolitical realities. Trump’s reversal stands out not just for the outright vehemence with which he previously argued that America needed to put an end to its 16-year-long war—Trump has called for total US withdrawal from Afghanistan and for handing the country over to an army of mercenaries—but also because of what it says about his foreign policy at large. In the seven months since taking office, Trump has expanded military operations in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Libya and, now, Afghanistan. And that’s in addition to an escalated nuclear standoff with North Korea. [Continue reading…]

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Pressure on Manafort grows as feds track more income, possible money laundering

McClatchy reports: Paul Manafort’s place in the crosshairs of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the Kremlin’s attempts to sway the 2016 presidential election seems to be growing more uncomfortable.

Two sources familiar with the inquiry tell McClatchy that investigators are working to confirm information indicating that Manafort and the consulting firms he led earned between $80 million and $100 million over a decade from pro-Moscow Ukrainian and Russian clients.

Mueller’s expanded focus on Manafort’s complicated financial picture is zeroing in on whether he may have evaded taxes or engaged in any money laundering schemes, the sources say, and the hunt for his financial records through a labyrinth of offshore bank and business accounts has become an important prong of the investigation. [Continue reading…]

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Pro-Trump/anti-Muslim/alt-right rallies in 36 states cancelled

Patch reports: ACT for America, the so-called “national security agency” known most recently for organizing anti-Sharia law rallies across the United States, has canceled 67 pro-Trump “America First” rallies in 36 states, citing “the recent violence in America and in Europe.” Instead the group said the 67 rallies planned for Sept. 9 will be replaced with an online “Day of ACTion.”

The group made the announcement in a statement given exclusively to Breitbart News, which it shared on its website and social media pages. While the group says the rallies were canceled “out of an abundance of caution,” the cancellation also comes at the heels of a “Free Speech” rally in Boston where thousands of counter-protesters drowned out a small group of rally-goers. [Continue reading…]

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Nearly 2,600 advertisers have pulled advertising from Breitbart

The Independent reports: More than 2,500 advertisers have reportedly stopped advertising on right-wing news website Breitbart News in recent months, underscoring the swelling power of a grassroots campaign to boycott the platform, especially amid escalating political tensions in the US.

According to a tweet by Sleeping Giants, a campaign group aiming to pressure companies into cutting ties with media they deem to be racist or sexist, the number of advertisers that have ceased advertising is “climbing towards 2,600”. [Continue reading…]

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How Trump is enabling famine

Jackson Diehl writes: Last month, eight large private U.S. relief organizations formed an unprecedented alliance to call Americans’ attention to the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II: 20 million people at imminent risk of famine in four countries, including millions of children the United Nations says are “acutely malnourished.” Thinking of the popular anti-famine movements of the 1980s and ’90s, the groups enlisted support from big corporations and rock stars; the hope was to get through to the 85 percent of Americans whom polling showed were unaware of the crisis, and make a dent in the more than $2 billion deficit in funding needed to head off mass starvation.

For the most part, the two-week campaign didn’t work. Officials from the groups say they raised about $3.7 million and got more coverage than they would have working separately. But there was no eruption of public interest; news stories about the famine remain few and far between. The reason is fairly obvious: The continuing Trump circus sucks up so much media oxygen that issues that otherwise would be urgent — such as millions of people starving — are asphyxiated.

The U.N. tried to call attention to the looming hunger crisis in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria in March. Nearly six months later, the grim facts are these: Just 54 percent of the $4.9 billion the U.N. said was needed to head off a catastrophe has been raised. Though aid deliveries have pulled a state in South Sudan formally out of famine, more than half the population there and in Somalia need emergency food assistance, along with 5.2 million people in northeastern Nigeria. [Continue reading…]

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