Trump, Week 70: Friday, 18 May – Thursday, 24 May 2018 (Days 484-490)


March for Our Lives, Pittsfield, MA, Saturday, 24 March 2018


Keeping Track (of some things), Staying Outraged (it is possible), and Resisting (it’s essential)


Passages in bold in the body of the texts below are my emphasis. This is an ongoing project, and I update the site frequently. Because I try to stay focused on what has actually happened, I usually let the news ‘settle’ a day or so before posting. I hope readers will peruse the articles in full for a better understanding of the issues and their context; our democracy and our future depend on citizens who can distinguish between facts and falsehoods and who are engaged in the political process.


Friday, 18 May 2018, Day 484:


In Texas School Shooting, 10 Dead, 10 Hurt, and Many Unsurprised, The New York Times, Manny Fernandez, Richard Fausset, and Jess Bidgood, Friday, 18 May 2018: “A nation plagued by a wrenching loop of mass school shootings watched the latest horror play out in this small Southeast Texas town Friday morning, as a young man armed with a shotgun and a .38 revolver smuggled under his coat opened fire on his high school campus, killing 10 people, many of them his fellow students, and wounding 10 more, the authorities said. By the end of the day, a 17-year-old suspect, Dimitrios Pagourtzis — an introvert who had given off few warning signs — had surrendered and been taken into custody. Law enforcement officials said they found two homemade explosive devices left at the school during the rampage. It was the worst school shooting since the February assault on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where a young man with an AR-15 rifle left 17 people dead and prompted a wave of nationwide, student-led protests calling on lawmakers to tighten gun laws. It was barely after 7:30 a.m. at Santa Fe High School, about 35 miles southeast of Houston, when gunfire first resounded through the halls, the opening volley of yet another massacre at an American high school that would leave students, teachers and staff members shocked, and in some cases bloodied. But they were not necessarily surprised.” See also, 2018 has been deadlier for schoolchildren than for military service members, The Washington Post, Philip Bump, Friday, 18 May 2018: “The school shooting near Houston on Friday bolstered a stunning statistic: More people have been killed at schools this year than have been killed while serving in the military.” See also, Ten Killed in Texas high school shooting include 8 students and 2 teachers; police say suspect confessed, The Washington Post, Brittney Martin, Mark Berman, Joel Achenbach, and Amy B. Wang, published on Saturday, 19 May 2018. See also, Who Is Dimitrios Pagourtzis, the Texas Shooting Suspect? The New York Times, Julie Turkewitz and Jess Bidgood, Friday, 18 May 2018. See also, Everything About the Texas School Shooting Seems Horribly Familiar, The New Yorker, John Cassidy, published on Saturday, 19 May 2018: “The United States has eight times more gun deaths, relative to its population, than Canada, twenty-seven times more than Denmark, and is almost on a par with Iraq.”

F.B.I. Used Informant to Investigate Russia Ties to Campaign, Not to Spy, as Trump Claims, The New York Times, Adam Goldman, Mark Mazzetti, and Matthew Rosenberg, Friday, 18 May 2018: “President Trump accused the F.B.I. on Friday, without evidence, of sending a spy to secretly infiltrate his 2016 campaign ‘for political purposes’ even before the bureau had any inkling of the ‘phony Russia hoax.’ In fact, F.B.I. agents sent an informant to talk to two campaign advisers only after they received evidence that the pair had suspicious contacts linked to Russia during the campaign. The informant, an American academic who teaches in Britain, made contact late that summer with one campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, according to people familiar with the matter. He also met repeatedly in the ensuing months with the other aide, Carter Page, who was also under F.B.I. scrutiny for his ties to Russia. The role of the informant is at the heart of the newest battle between top law enforcement officials and Mr. Trump’s congressional allies over the F.B.I.’s most politically charged investigations in decades. The lawmakers, who say they are concerned that federal investigators are abusing their authority, have demanded documents from the Justice Department about the informant. Law enforcement officials have refused, saying that handing over the documents would imperil both the source’s anonymity and safety. The New York Times has learned the source’s identity but typically does not name informants to preserve their safety. Democrats say the Republicans’ real aim is to undermine the special counsel investigation. Senior law enforcement officials have also privately expressed concern that the Republicans are digging into F.B.I. files for information they can weaponize against the Russia inquiry. Over the past two days, Mr. Trump has used speculative news reports about the informant, mostly from conservative media, to repeatedly assail the Russia investigation.” See also, Secret FBI source for Russia investigation met with three Trump advisers during 2016 presidential campaign, The Washington Post, Robert Costa, Carol D. Leonnig, Tom Hamburger, and Devlin Barrett, Friday, 18 May 2018. See also, The FBI Informant Who Monitored the Trump Campaign, Stefan Halper, Oversaw a CIA Spying Operation in the 1980 Presidential Election, The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald, published on Saturday, 19 May 2018. See also, Giuliani says Trump doesn’t know ‘for sure’ that there was an FBI informant in his campaign, The Washington Post, Jenna Johnson, Friday, 18 May 2018. See also, Rudy Giuliani makes a big, new concession: A president can commit obstruction of justice, The Washington Post, Aaron Blake, Friday, 18 May 2018.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s ‘Leadership Summit’ on PFOA Pollution Will Exclude Victims and Community Groups, but the Manufacturers of the Chemicals Will Be Well Represented, The Intercept, Sharon Lerner, Friday, 18 May 2018: “Kristen Mello wasn’t invited to the Environmental Protection Agency’s upcoming ‘National Leadership Summit’ on PFOA, PFOS, and other PFAS chemicals. For most of her life, Mello, a member of Westfield Residents Advocating For Themselves, drank water contaminated with the chemicals that are going to be discussed at the meeting. At least six compounds in this class seeped into local drinking water from firefighting foam used at the Air National Guard base in her hometown of Westfield, Massachusetts. Mello and several of her immediate family members have developed some of the health problems associated with the chemicals, including thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, and liver problems. While most people in the United States have been exposed to PFAS, Westfield is one of the growing number of communities to learn they’ve had an especially high dose of the chemicals as the result of living near a military installation or manufacturing site that used them. But when Mello sent the EPA a request to attend the PFAS summit, which will be held May 22-23 at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., the agency said she wasn’t welcome…. Although the summit is intended to identify actions ‘needed to address challenges currently facing states and local communities,’ according to the agency’s website, the people in these communities who are directly affected by the chemicals will be strikingly absent from the meeting…. While the people suffering from this contamination will not be at the meeting, the manufacturers of the chemicals used in the production of Teflon and other nonstick, water-resistant, and stain-resistant products will be well represented.”

Continue reading Week 70, Friday, 18 May – Thursday, 24 May 2018 (Days 484-490)

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt moves to rescind regulations inspired by West, Texas, chemical explosion in 2013 that killed 15, The Washington Post, Meagan Flynn, Friday, 18 May 2018: “Sometime before 7:30 p.m. on April 17, 2013, in the small town of West, Tex., a fire broke out at the West Fertilizer Company plant. Thirty volunteers made up the town’s fire department. They heard the beep on their pagers, said goodbye to their families and headed to the source of the menacing black smoke. Some of them, 12 of them, wouldn’t come back. Twenty minutes after the fire started, the plant exploded — so powerfully that it registered as a 2.1-magnitude earthquake on the Richter scale. A total of 15 people died in the blast, including the 12 volunteer first responders. Two hundred sixty people were injured, and 150 buildings in the vicinity were damaged. Half of them, including two schools, had to be demolished…. The fatal blast prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to make serious changes to regulations about how companies store dangerous flammable chemicals and how they develop risk-management plans. The new rules were set to take effect in June 2017, but they were held up by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt after he took office. Now Pruitt wants to rescind most of the safety regulations, saying that a lot of them imposed ‘unnecessary regulatory burdens’ on the chemical industry. Pruitt’s proposed changes, signed Thursday, are subject to public comment.”

How New Abortion Restrictions Would Affect Women’s Health Care, The New York Times, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Friday, 18 May 2018: “A Trump administration proposal to bar federally funded family planning facilities from providing or referring patients for abortions is aimed at forcing organizations like Planned Parenthood to make a simple choice: cease offering abortion services or lose some of their government money. But the proposed rules, which the Department of Health and Human Services submitted Thursday night, have raised complicated questions about the fate of Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health organizations that provide both family planning and abortion services — and the potential health effects on women who depend on such providers for basic care. At issue are the regulations surrounding Title X, the 1970 law that created the federal family planning program. The statute already bans direct funding of abortion, but many organizations that provide abortions, including Planned Parenthood, use Title X money to subsidize other women’s health services, such as dispensing birth control and providing cancer screenings. The proposal — a top priority of social conservatives who are staunch supporters of President Trump — seeks to end that commingling, or at least make it more difficult for reproductive health providers to do both.”

Alex Azar, Trump’s New Health and Human Services Secretary, Is a Joyful Regulator, The New York Times, Margot Sanger-Katz, Friday, 18 May 2018: “As Health and Human Services Secretary, Mr. Azar [has] a lot of power to change health policy, without having to go through Congress. And in a sharp break from his predecessor — and from most Trump cabinet secretaries — he seems to be relishing the chance to write new regulations, rather than just crossing out Obama-era ones. His department is doing its part to support some Trump campaign promises, by allowing health plans that could undermine some Obamacare protections and, as reported on Thursday, by working on rules meant to limit federal funding to Planned Parenthood. But Mr. Azar has said little about those initiatives in public. Instead, he has embarked on a blitz of speeches and interviews about proposed new policies related to drugs and medical payment. Mr. Azar appears to be a joyful regulator, eager to wield his power to change the way medicine is practiced.”

Calling people ‘animals’ is dangerous–and we’ve seen it before, Southern Poverty Law Center, Friday, 18 May 2018: “His insinuation that immigration status or criminal record somehow determines humanity is not only appalling — it’s dangerous. We’ve heard this dehumanizing rhetoric before. During the Holocaust, the Nazis called Jews Untermenschen — subhumans. Before the Rwandan genocide, Tutsis were called ‘cockroaches.’ And just recently in our own country, we learned that extremists behind a bomb plot to kill Somali Muslims called their intended victims ‘cockroaches.’ Dehumanizing rhetoric — unacceptable from anyone — is especially dangerous when it comes from the mouth of the president. It’s also troubling that five days before Trump’s ‘animals’ comment, his chief of staff, John Kelly, told an interviewer that immigrants are ‘not people that would easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society.’ Despite Kelly offering caveats to present his comments as not painting all immigrants as bad people, his statement about assimilation echoes the kind of rhetoric many would like to think we left in the past.”

In blow to Republicans, the House fails to pass massive farm bill in face of conservative Republican showdown, The Washington Post, Erica Werner and Mike DeBonis, Friday, 18 May 2018: “A sweeping farm bill failed in the House on Friday in a blow to GOP leaders who were unable to placate conservative lawmakers demanding commitments on immigration. The House leadership put the bill on the floor gambling it would pass despite unanimous Democratic opposition. They negotiated with members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus up to the last minutes. But their gamble failed. The vote was 213 to 198, with 30 Republicans joining 183 Democrats in defeating the bill.” See also, House Farm Bill Collapses Amid Republican Disarray, The New York Times, Glenn Thrush and Thomas Kaplan, Friday, 18 May 2018: “The factional rancor threatening Republicans heading into the midterm elections this fall erupted into the open on Friday when a slugfest among moderates, hard-line conservatives and House leaders over immigration and welfare policy sank the party’s multiyear farm bill. The twice-a-decade measure — which would have imposed strict new work requirements on food aid recipients while maintaining farm subsidies important to rural lawmakers — failed on a 213-to-198 vote. It was a rebuke of Speaker Paul D. Ryan by a key bloc of conservatives over his refusal to schedule an immediate vote on a restrictive immigration bill sponsored by the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.”

Trump personally pushed postmaster general to double rates on Amazon and other firms, The Washington Post, Damian Paletta and Josh Dawsey, Friday, 18 May 2018: “President Trump has personally pushed U.S. Postmaster General Megan Brennan to double the rate the Postal Service charges and other firms to ship packages, according to three people familiar with their conversations, a dramatic move that probably would cost these companies billions of dollars. Brennan has so far resisted Trump’s demand, explaining in multiple conversations occurring this year and last that these arrangements are bound by contracts and must be reviewed by a regulatory commission, the three people said. She has told the president that the Amazon relationship is beneficial for the Postal Service and gave him a set of slides that showed the variety of companies, in addition to Amazon, that also partner for deliveries.”

Trump Says He Will Nominate Acting Secretary Robert Wilkie to Lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, The New York Times, Eileen Sullivan and Dave Philipps, Friday, 18 May 2018: “President Trump said Friday that he intended to nominate Robert Wilkie, the acting secretary of veterans affairs, to take over the sprawling agency — a move the president said would surprise even Mr. Wilkie because he had not told him…. The Department of Veterans Affairs has been without permanent leadership since the previous secretary, David J. Shulkin, was fired by tweet in March and Mr. Trump’s chosen successor, Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, withdrew from consideration in April after disparaging reports about him circulated before his scheduled confirmation hearing. In the turmoil, a number of top staff members have left the department, which has already been struggling for years with vast hurdles to providing timely and efficient care. Mr. Trump reportedly considered a number of outsiders for the top post, but in Mr. Wilkie, he picked a career Washington insider who has worked for Senators Jesse Helms, Trent Lott and Thom Tillis, and was an assistant defense secretary under George W. Bush.”

The Trump administration is throwing the language of democracy down the garbage chute, Los Angeles Times, Karen J. Greenberg, Friday, 18 May 2018: “While we were barely looking, the terminology of American democracy has been quite literally disappearing down Donald Trump’s equivalent of George Orwell’s infamous Memory Hole…. [There is] a coordinated attack on 250 years of American history and the nation’s progress toward inclusion, diversity and equal rights for minorities. It conjures instead racial and ethnic divides, ignorance (rather than science), and the creation of a state of unparalleled heartlessness and greed…. Instead of hurling insults at the president’s incompetence and the seeming disarray of his administration, it might be worth asking ourselves whether there is a larger goal in mind: namely, a slow, patient, incremental dismantling of democracy, beginning with its most precious words.”

Saturday, 19 May 2018, Day 485:

In August 2016, Trump Jr. and Other Aides Met With Gulf Emissary Offering to Help Trump Win the 2016 ElectionThe New York Times, Mark Mazzetti, Ronen Bergman, and David D. Kirkpatrick, Saturday, 19 May 2018: “Three months before the 2016 election, a small group gathered at Trump Tower to meet with Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son. One was an Israeli specialist in social media manipulation. Another was an emissary for two wealthy Arab princes. The third was a Republican donor with a controversial past in the Middle East as a private security contractor. The meeting was convened primarily to offer help to the Trump team, and it forged relationships between the men and Trump insiders that would develop over the coming months — past the election and well into President Trump’s first year in office, according to several people with knowledge of their encounters. Erik Prince, the private security contractor and the former head of Blackwater, arranged the meeting, which took place on Aug. 3, 2016. The emissary, George Nader, told Donald Trump Jr. that the princes who led Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were eager to help his father win election as president. The social media specialist, Joel Zamel, extolled his company’s ability to give an edge to a political campaign; by that time, the firm had already drawn up a multimillion-dollar proposal for a social media manipulation effort to help elect Mr. Trump. The company, which employed several Israeli former intelligence officers, specialized in collecting information and shaping opinion through social media. It is unclear whether such a proposal was executed, and the details of who commissioned it remain in dispute. But Donald Trump Jr. responded approvingly, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting, and after those initial offers of help, Mr. Nader was quickly embraced as a close ally by Trump campaign advisers — meeting frequently with Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, and Michael T. Flynn, who became the president’s first national security adviser. At the time, Mr. Nader was also promoting a secret plan to use private contractors to destabilize Iran, the regional nemesis of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.”

China agrees to buy ‘significantly’ more from the U.S., but it doesn’t commit to specific amount, The Washington Post, David J. Lynch, Saturday, 19 May 2018: “The United States and China said Saturday that two days of ‘constructive’ talks between American and Chinese officials in Washington had led to an agreement for China to buy more goods and services — including ‘meaningful increases in United States agriculture and energy exports’ — as the two countries work to defuse a brewing trade war…. The joint statement said the United States would dispatch a team to China to work out the details, which also may include expanded trade in manufactured goods and stronger ‘cooperation’ in enforcement of intellectual property protections. The statement, which had been expected Friday evening after the talks ended, said that the goal is to ‘substantially reduce the United States trade deficit in goods with China.'”


Sunday, 20 May 2018, Day 486:


Trump Demands Inquiry Into Whether Justice Department ‘Infiltrated or Surveilled’ His CampaignThe New York Times, Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Adam Goldman, Sunday, 20 May 2018: “President Trump on Sunday demanded that the Justice Department investigate whether the department or the F.B.I. ‘infiltrated or surveilled’ his campaign at the behest of the Obama administration, following through on his frequent threats to intervene in the special counsel inquiry as he targets those he views as political enemies. Mr. Trump made the order on Twitter during a day of public venting about the special counsel investigation, which he charged had turned up no evidence of collusion with Russia and was now casting a worldwide net so that it could harm Republicans’ chances in midterm congressional elections this fall. But in ordering up a new inquiry, Mr. Trump went beyond his usual tactics of suggesting wrongdoing and political bias by those investigating him, and crossed over into applying overt presidential pressure on the Justice Department to do his bidding, an extraordinary realm where past presidents have hesitated to tread.… Legal experts said such a presidential intervention had little precedent, and could force a clash between the sitting president and his Justice Department that would be reminiscent of the one surrounding Richard M. Nixon during Watergate, when a string of top officials resigned rather than carry out his order to fire a special prosecutor investigating him. In response to Mr. Trump’s post, the Justice Department asked its internal watchdog, the Office of the Inspector General, to expand its current inquiry into the surveillance of a former Trump campaign official to include the questions raised by the president…. By handing the question to the inspector general, Mr. Rosenstein appeared to be trying to thread the needle, giving the president what he said he wanted without fully bowing to his demands.” See also, Justice Department calls for inquiry after Trump demands probe into whether FBI ‘infiltrated or surveilled’ his campaign, The Washington Post, Matt Zapotosky, Robert Costa, and David Nakamura, Sunday, 20 May 2018.

Giuliani Says Special Counsel Robert Mueller Hopes Obstruction of Justice Inquiry Into Trump May Wrap Up by September 1st, The New York Times, Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman, Sunday, 20 May 2018: “The special counsel hopes to finish by Sept. 1 the investigation into whether President Trump obstructed the Russia inquiry, according to the president’s lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, who said on Sunday that waiting any longer would risk improperly influencing voters in November’s midterm elections. Mr. Giuliani said that the office of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, shared its timeline about two weeks ago amid negotiations over whether Mr. Trump will be questioned by investigators, adding that Mr. Mueller’s office said that the date was contingent on Mr. Trump’s sitting for an interview. A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment. Wrapping up the obstruction case would not signal the end of Mr. Mueller’s work. That is one piece of his broader inquiry, a counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and whether Trump associates coordinated with it. Counterintelligence investigations are used to gather information quietly about the activities of foreign powers and their agents — sometimes for years — and can result in criminal charges. Mr. Giuliani sought to frame the outcome of the obstruction investigation as pitting the credibility of one man against another: Mr. Trump vs. James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, whom the president asked to end the investigation into his first national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn. The president’s request is one of the main episodes Mr. Mueller is examining to determine whether Mr. Trump had criminal intent to obstruct the Russia investigation.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says trade war with China is ‘on hold’ as Trump pauses tariffs, Politico, Zachary Warmbrodt and Doug Palmer, Sunday, 20 May 2018: “Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Sunday that the Trump administration will hold off from imposing tariffs on China as leaders from both nations try to hammer out agreements on trade. The administration had threatened $50 billion to $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods as a way to deter the theft of U.S. intellectual property and forced transfers of technology. Beijing countered by threatening tariffs on $50 billion worth of U.S. farm, chemical and other exports.” See also, U.S. Suspends Tariffs on China, Stoking Fears of a Loss of LeverageThe New York Times, Anna Swanson and Alan Rappeport, Sunday, 20 May 2018.

Asylum seekers have flooded into Canada. The government is integrating them into the job market as quickly as possible. The Washington Post, Selena Ross, Sunday, 20 May 2018: “Tens of thousands of people have surged across the border into Canada from the United States to claim asylum in the past year as the Trump administration’s policies on migrants caused worry among asylum seekers and anti-migrant sentiment rose. The flood of migrants has put pressure on Canada’s asylum system, accustomed to smaller numbers, and has driven up costs. So Canadian policymakers are bolstering one tactic to ease the burden: They’re integrating refugee claimants as quickly as possible into the job market.”


Monday, 21 May 2018, Day 487:


In Hard-Line Speech, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Criticizes Iran’s Behavior, The New York Times, Gardiner Harris, Monday, 21 May 2018: “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used his first major policy address to deliver a hard-line speech on Monday, in which he demanded that Iran change just about everything regarding its behavior on the world stage. He insisted that Iran end all nuclear enrichment programs and close its heavy water reactor, saying it did not have the right to such a program. He also appealed directly to the Iranian people, suggesting they should reject the clerical government in Tehran, the capital.” See also, The Trump Administration Calls on Iranians to ‘Make a Choice About Their Leadership,’ The New Yorker, Robin Wright, Monday, 21 May 2018: “In a speech on Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that the United States will ‘crush’ Iran with a new package of economic, diplomatic, military, and cyber pressures if it does not accept sweeping changes to its policies at home and abroad. The new U.S. policy laid out a dozen new demands that put the Trump Administration on a collision course with the Iranian government—and falls only rhetorically short of supporting an uprising by the Iranian people…. The most controversial implication of Pompeo’s speech is that the Administration would ultimately prefer regime change to re-engagement with the Islamic Republic.” See also, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatens US will ‘crush’ Iran through sanctions and pressure campaign, CNN Politics, Nicole Gaouette and Laura Koran, Monday, 21 May 2018.

Republican Leaders Will Be Allowed to See Some Information on Russia Investigation, The New York Times, Michael D. Shear and Nicholas Fandos, Monday, 21 May 2018: “The White House brokered an agreement on Monday with intelligence and law enforcement officials that will allow Republican congressional leaders to view some of the most highly classified information related to the Russia investigation, administration officials said. For months, a small group of lawmakers close to Mr. Trump have been in a pitched fight with the Justice Department over access to some of its most delicate case files, including documents detailing the scope of the Russia investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel. They have trained their focus most recently on access to documents and information related to a secret informant used by F.B.I. agents to gather information from Trump associates who were overseas during the 2016 presidential campaign. Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California and the House Intelligence Committee chairman, has threatened to hold Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who is overseeing the Russia inquiry, in contempt of Congress or to try to impeach him if he does not hand over the material. Until Monday, intelligence and law enforcement officials had strenuously resisted both demands, saying that the information was highly sensitive and that it was not appropriate to turn over the unredacted material to Congress, where they fear it could potentially become public or be used to undermine Mr. Mueller’s inquiry. They raised some of their concerns in a letter and then in a face-to-face meeting two weeks ago with Mr. Nunes. It was not clear after Monday’s meeting how much of that information will now be shared with lawmakers and in what form, or who it will be shared with and in what venue. Democrats have typically been given the same access as their Republican counterparts to delicate files related to the case, but officials on Capitol Hill said they had been given few firm details on the apparent agreement. White House officials said they expect the disclosure to happen quickly, most likely before the end of the week. The agreement was made during a White House meeting on Monday afternoon that included Mr. Trump; Mr. Rosenstein; Christopher A. Wray, the director of the F.B.I.; Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence; and John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff.” See also, White House to convene Republican lawmakers to review classified information on FBI source, The Washington Post, Matt Zapotosky, Seung Min Kim, Carol D. Leonnig, and Devlin Barrett, Monday, 21 May 2018: “The White House and the Justice Department have put off a high-stakes confrontation over the FBI’s use of a confidential source to aid an investigation into the Trump campaign, after top law enforcement and intelligence officials met with President Trump on Monday to discuss the brewing controversy. A White House spokeswoman said Chief of Staff John F. Kelly plans to convene another gathering between the officials and congressional leaders to ‘review highly classified and other information’ about the source and intelligence he provided. That could be viewed as something of a concession from the Justice Department, which had been reluctant to turn over materials on the source to GOP lawmakers demanding them. But it also could be a bureaucratic maneuver to buy time and shield actual documents.” See also, By Demanding an Investigation, Trump Challenged a Constraint on His Power, The New York Times, Charlie Savage, Monday, 21 May 2018: “When President Trump publicly demanded that the Justice Department open an investigation into the F.B.I.’s scrutiny of his campaign contacts with Russia, he inched further toward breaching an established constraint on executive power: The White House does not make decisions about individual law enforcement investigations. ‘It’s an incredible historical moment,’ said Rebecca Roiphe, a professor at New York Law School who helped write a coming scholarly article on the limits of presidential control over the Justice Department. Mr. Trump’s move, she said, ‘is the culmination of a lot of moments in which he has chipped away at prosecutorial independence, but this is a direct assault.’ Almost since he took office, Mr. Trump has battered the Justice Department’s independence indirectly — lamenting its failure to reopen a criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton that found no wrongdoing, and openly complaining that Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia inquiry. But he had also acknowledged that as president, ‘I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department,’ as he told a radio interviewer with frustration last fall…. But Mr. Trump has also been flirting with going further, as he hinted late last year when he claimed in a New York Times interview that ‘I have an absolute right to do what I want to with the Justice Department.’ And now, by unabashedly ordering the department to open a particular investigation, Mr. Trump has ratcheted up his willingness to impose direct political control over the work of law enforcement officials.” See also, Trump’s Demands Escalate Pressure on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to Preserve the Independence of the Justice Department, The New York Times, Katie Benner, Monday, 21 May 2018: “As President Trump and his allies repeatedly take aim at the Justice Department investigation into his campaign’s possible links to Russia’s election meddling, Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general overseeing the inquiry, has mostly evaded the attacks through inventive maneuvers. To protect the inquiry, Mr. Rosenstein has agreed to meet increasingly onerous demands from Mr. Trump and his allies on Capitol Hill. But legal scholars and former law enforcement officials fear that the measures Mr. Rosenstein has resorted to could weaken the Justice Department’s historic independence, allowing the department to be used as a cudgel to attack the president’s political enemies. That dilemma intensified on Sunday when Mr. Trump demanded that the department investigate the F.B.I., infuriated by reports that a government informant had met with officials from his campaign in the early weeks of the investigation. Mr. Trump’s request violated decades of established Justice Department independence from presidential intervention into what it investigates, and it targeted one of the law enforcement officials’ most sensitive secrets: the identity of a source. Nonetheless, Mr. Rosenstein responded by asking the department’s inspector general to examine the president’s allegations.” See also, Trump’s Assault on American Governance Just Crossed a Threshold, The New Yorker, John Cassidy, published on Tuesday, 22 May 2018: “Since Donald Trump entered the White House, American democracy has sometimes been described as dangerously fragile, but that isn’t necessarily true. Having survived for two hundred and forty-two years, American democracy is more like a stoutly built ocean liner, with a maniac at the helm who seems intent on capsizing it. Every so often, he takes a violent tug at the tiller, causing the vessel to list alarmingly. So far, some members of the ship’s crew—judges, public servants, and the odd elected official—have managed to rush in, jag the tiller back, and keep the ship afloat. But, as the captain’s behavior grows more erratic, the danger facing the ship and its passengers increases. In the past forty-eight hours, Trump has demanded that the Justice Department open an investigation into its own investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. The Justice Department has already—partially, at least—acceded to his wishes. It feels as though an important threshold has been crossed…. [A]ll that concerns [Trump] is discrediting the Russia investigation and saving his own skin. To this end, he will do practically anything he can get away with. And, judging by the deathly silence from the Republican leadership over the past couple of days, he won’t receive any resistance from that quarter. To repeat, the danger is increasing.”

Who is Stefan A. Halper, the FBI source who assisted the Russia investigation? The Washington Post, Robert Costa, Carol D. Leonnig, and Shane Harris, Monday, 21 May 2018: “Stefan A. Halper, the FBI source who assisted the Russia investigation and is at the center of a standoff between congressional Republicans and the Justice Department, is a well-connected veteran of past GOP administrations who convened senior intelligence officials for seminars at the University of Cambridge in England. In the summer and fall of 2016, Halper, then an emeritus professor at Cambridge, contacted three Trump campaign advisers for brief talks and meetings that largely centered on foreign policy, The Washington Post reported last week.”

Trump Falsely Claims the Russia Investigation Started Because of the Steele Dossier, The New York Times, Linda Qiu, Monday, 21 May 2018: “President Trump has repeatedly pointed to the findings of a House Intelligence Committee report to insist his campaign did not collude with Russia. But that same report concludes that the inquiry began with a diplomat’s tip about a Trump campaign adviser — not the salacious findings of a former British spy.”

Supreme Court Upholds Workplace Arbitration Contracts Barring Class Actions, The New York Times, Adam Liptak, Monday, 21 May 2018: “The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that companies can use arbitration clauses in employment contracts to prohibit workers from banding together to take legal action over workplace issues. The vote was 5 to 4, with the court’s more conservative justices in the majority. The court’s decision could affect some 25 million employment contracts. Writing for the majority, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch said the court’s conclusion was dictated by a federal law favoring arbitration and the court’s precedents. If workers were allowed to band together to press their claims, he wrote, ‘the virtues Congress originally saw in arbitration, its speed and simplicity and inexpensiveness, would be shorn away and arbitration would wind up looking like the litigation it was meant to displace.’ Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read her dissent from the bench, a sign of profound disagreement. In her written dissent, she called the majority opinion ‘egregiously wrong.’ In her oral statement, she said the upshot of the decision ‘will be huge under-enforcement of federal and state statutes designed to advance the well being of vulnerable workers.’ Justice Ginsburg called on Congress to address the matter. Brian T. Fitzpatrick, a law professor at Vanderbilt University who studies arbitrations and class actions, said the ruling was unsurprising in light of earlier Supreme Court decisions. Justice Gorsuch, he added, ‘appears to have put his cards on the table as firmly in favor of allowing class actions to be stamped out through arbitration agreements.’ As a result, Professor Fitzpatrick said ‘it is only a matter of time until the most powerful device to hold corporations accountable for their misdeeds is lost altogether.'”

‘Too inconvenient’: Trump goes rogue on cellphone security. Trump has kept features that are at risk for hacking and resisted efforts by staff to inspect the phones he uses for tweeting. Politico, Eliana Johnson, Emily Stephenson, and Daniel Lippman, Monday, 21 May 2018: “President Donald Trump uses a White House cellphone that isn’t equipped with sophisticated security features designed to shield his communications, according to two senior administration officials — a departure from the practice of his predecessors that potentially exposes him to hacking or surveillance. The president, who relies on cellphones to reach his friends and millions of Twitter followers, has rebuffed staff efforts to strengthen security around his phone use, according to the administration officials. The president uses at least two iPhones, according to one of the officials. The phones — one capable only of making calls, the other equipped only with the Twitter app and preloaded with a handful of news sites — are issued by White House Information Technology and the White House Communications Agency, an office staffed by military personnel that oversees White House telecommunications. While aides have urged the president to swap out the Twitter phone on a monthly basis, Trump has resisted their entreaties, telling them it was ‘too inconvenient,’ the same administration official said.” See also, The very real risks posed by Trump’s use of a cellphone, The Washington Post, Philip Bump, published on Tuesday, 22 May 2018: ” See also, Trump’s clear double standard between Hillary Clinton’s emails and his own cellphones, The Washington Post, Aaron Blake, published on Tuesday, 22 May 2018.

Interior Department moves to reverse Obama-era rules on hunting bears and wolves in Alaska, PBS NewsHour|Associated Press, Michael Biesecker, Monday, 21 May 2018: “The Trump administration is moving to reverse Obama-era rules barring hunters on some public lands in Alaska from baiting brown bears with bacon and doughnuts and using spotlights to shoot mother black bears and cubs hibernating in their dens. The National Park Service issued a notice Monday of its intent to amend regulations for sport hunting and trapping in national preserves to bring the federal rules in line with Alaska state law. Under the proposed changes, hunters would also be allowed to hunt black bears with dogs, kill wolves and pups in their dens, and use motor boats to shoot swimming caribou. These and other hunting methods — condemned as cruel by wildlife protection advocates — were outlawed on federal lands in 2015. Members of the public have 60 days to provide comment on the proposed new rules. Expanding hunting rights on federal lands has been a priority for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.” See also, Trump administration moves to end a ban on Alaska hunting practices that many say are cruel, The Washington Post, Darryl Fears, published on Tuesday, 22 May 2018.

Things blamed for the deadly Texas school shooting: Ritalin. Abortion. The media. Lack of religion in schools. Video games. And doors. The Washington Post, Eli Rosenberg, Monday, 21 May 2018: “Another school shooting has prompted yet another debate, the same intractable split about a statistic that has made the United States an outlier compared with other countries: the high number of mass shootings per capita. Study after study analyzing mass shootings within the United States and in comparison with other countries demonstrate that the single most important variable is the high number of guns in the country, according to the New York Times. Yet after the high school shooting in Santa Fe, Tex., left 10 people dead last week, the National Rifle Association and other conservative entities have offered a host of reasons for the violence, none of which involve the weapons. [This article presents] some of the problems [conservatives] spotlighted for blame, followed by what data has shown.”

Two US citizens were detained by a Border Patrol agent in Montana after he heard them speaking Spanish at a gas station convenience store, The Washington Post, Amy B. Wang, Monday, 21 May 2018: “The American Civil Liberties Union said Monday it is looking into an incident in which a Border Patrol agent detained and questioned a woman and her friend — both U.S. citizens — when he overheard them speaking Spanish at a gas station in Montana…. ‘We were just talking, and then I was going to pay,’ [Ana] Suda told The Washington Post. ‘I looked up [and saw the agent], and then after that, he just requested my ID….  Suda said she felt uncomfortable and began recording the encounter with her cellphone after they had moved into the parking lot. In the video Suda recorded, she asks the agent why he is detaining them, and he says it is specifically because he heard them speaking Spanish. ‘Ma’am, the reason I asked you for your ID is because I came in here, and I saw that you guys are speaking Spanish, which is very unheard of up here,’ the agent can be heard saying in the video.”

Who’s to blame for the hiccup in North Korea talks? South Koreans say National Security Adviser John Bolton. The Washington Post, Anna Fifield, Monday 21 May 2018: “President Trump is blaming Kim Jong Un for changing the scope of their summit talks planned for next month and will doubtless air his frustrations when he meets with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Washington on Tuesday. But in South Korea, many say the blame for the sudden problems in the diplomatic process lies squarely at the feet of someone else: John Bolton. ‘There are several land mines on the way to the summit between North Korea and the U.S.,’ said Chung Dong-young, who served as unification minister during the last progressive administration and is now a lawmaker. ‘One of those land mines just exploded: John Bolton,’ Chung told YTN Radio. Woo Sang-ho, a lawmaker in Moon’s ruling Democratic Party, agreed. ‘Bolton’s preposterous “Libya solution” is a red light in North Korea’s summit talks with the U.S. and South Korea,’ he wrote in a Facebook post.


Tuesday, 22 May 2018, Day 488:


House approves plan to roll back Dodd-Frank post-financial-crisis rules for banks, The Washington Post, Erica Werner and Renae Merle, Tuesday, 22 May 2018: “The House on Tuesday passed a plan to roll back banking regulations passed in response to the 2008 financial crisis, sending the bill to President Trump to sign. The measure leaves the central structure of the post-financial-crisis rules in place, but it would make the most significant changes to weaken the Dodd-Frank banking regulations since they were passed in 2010. It would exempt some small and regional banks from the most stringent regulations, and would also loosen rules aimed at protecting the biggest banks from sudden collapse. The measure is nearly certain to become law after its passing in the House, 258 to 159, on Tuesday with nearly all House Republicans and 33 Democrats voting for it. The Senate approved the bill in March with bipartisan backing, and White House officials said that Trump plans to sign it in the coming days. The bill’s supporters say it provides needed relief for community and local banks withering under Washington’s regulations. But critics charge it opens the financial system back up to the abuse and risky behavior that brought the U.S. economy to its knees a decade ago — and does so at a time when financial firms are posting record profits.” See also, House Approves First Big Dodd-Frank Rollback, The New York Times, Alan Rappeport and Emily Flitter, Tuesday, 22 May 2018.

Evgeny Freidman, Michael Cohen’s Business Partner, Agrees to Cooperate as Part of Plea Deal, The New York Times, Danny Hakim, William K. Rashbaum, and Vivian Wang, Tuesday, 22 May 2018: “A significant business partner of Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s personal lawyer, has agreed to cooperate with the government as a potential witness, a development that could be used as leverage to pressure Mr. Cohen to work with the special counsel examining Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Under the deal reached with the New York attorney general’s office, the partner, Evgeny A. Freidman, a Russian immigrant who is known as the Taxi King, specifically agreed to assist government prosecutors in state or federal investigations, according to a person briefed on the matter.” See also, A big shoe drops in the Mueller probe, as the Taxi King flips, The Washington Post, Tuesday, 22 May 2018.

Environmental Protection Agency blocks journalists from CNN, Associated Press, and E&E News from attending a national summit on harmful chemicals in water where Scott Pruitt, the agency’s head, was speakingCNN Media, Oliver Darcy and Gregory Wallace, Tuesday, 22 May 2018: “Journalists from CNN, the Associated Press and E&E News, a publication that covers energy and environment issues, were barred by the EPA from entering the event, which was focused on harmful chemicals in water. A handful of other reporters from other news organizations, however, were allowed inside the event for Pruitt’s opening remarks after having been previously invited by the agency the day before. In a statement, Jahan Wilcox, an EPA spokesman, said the agency barred reporters from attending due to space limitations inside the venue. He said the EPA was able to accommodate only 10 reporters and that it provided a livestream ‘for those we could not accommodate.’… A report published by The Hill, however, said a handful of seats in the press section remained vacant by the time Pruitt began speaking. Another reporter told Politico there were dozens of empty seats in the room, and a photo obtained by CNN also showed space for cameras. Additionally, the Associated Press said in a story that one of its reporters, denied entry, was grabbed by security guards and forcibly shoved out of the building after asking to speak to an EPA public affairs person. A CNN photographer saw the female journalist being shoved out of the building by a uniformed guard, and the Associated Press journalist recounted the incident to CNN immediately after it took place…. Sally Buzbee, executive editor of The Associated Press, said in a separate statement, ‘The Environmental Protection Agency’s selective barring of news organizations, including the AP, from covering today’s meeting is alarming and a direct threat to the public’s right to know about what is happening inside their government.’… Cy Zaneski, executive editor of E&E News, also released a statement: ‘Our readers rely on us to provide thorough daily coverage of energy and environment issues. EPA’s National Leadership Summit on PFAS is focused on an important public health concern that we have followed closely over many years. Our reporter deserved to be in that room to ask smart questions of EPA officials.’ Following the media firestorm, the EPA reversed course and opened the second portion of the summit, which Pruitt was not scheduled to speak at, to the press.” See also, Three Reporters Are Turned Away From an Environmental Protection Agency Event, The New York Times, Coral Davenport and Jaclyn Peiser, Tuesday, 22 May 2018.

Broadcast journalist Lesley Stahl says Trump admitted he attacks the press in order to shield himself from negative coverage, The Washington Post, Eli Rosenberg, Tuesday, 22 May 2018: “One of the foremost broadcast journalists in the country said this week that President Trump admitted to her that his relentless attacks on the press was a strategy to discredit reporters and news media organizations to shield himself from negative coverage…. At the Deadline Club Awards presentation, [Judy] Woodruff [of ‘PBS NewsHour’] asked [Lesley] Stahl about her November 2016 interview with Trump — his first after the election victory. Stahl described going to meet with him at Trump Tower in the months before the interview, along with one of her bosses, whom she did not name. After Trump began to unload on the news media, she said, she asked him whether he planned to stop attacking the press, which was a hallmark of his campaign. ‘I said, you know that is getting tired, why are you doing this — you’re doing it over and over and it’s boring,’ Stahl said. ‘He said you know why I [attack the press]? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.'”

The US government secured a criminal conviction against Purdue Pharma in the mid-2000s but failed to curb sales of OxyContin after Rudy Giuliani reached a deal to avoid a bar on Purdue doing business with the federal government, The Guardian, Chris McGreal, Tuesday, 22 May 2018: “The US government missed the opportunity to curb sales of the drug that kickstarted the opioid epidemic when it secured the only criminal conviction against the maker of OxyContin a decade ago. Purdue Pharma hired Rudolph Giuliani, the former New York mayor and now Donald Trump’s lawyer, to head off a federal investigation in the mid-2000s into the company’s marketing of the powerful prescription painkiller at the centre of an epidemic estimated to have claimed at least 300,000 lives. While Giuliani was not able to prevent the criminal conviction over Purdue’s fraudulent claims for OxyContin’s safety and effectiveness, he was able to reach a deal to avoid a bar on Purdue doing business with the federal government which would have killed a large part of the multibillion-dollar market for the drug. The former New York mayor also secured an agreement that greatly restricted further prosecution of the pharmaceutical company and kept its senior executives out of prison.”

FBI repeatedly overstated encryption threat figures to Congress and to the public, The Washington Post, Devlin Barrett, Tuesday, 22 May 2018: “The FBI has repeatedly provided grossly inflated statistics to Congress and the public about the extent of problems posed by encrypted cellphones, claiming investigators were locked out of nearly 7,800 devices connected to crimes last year when the correct number was much smaller, probably between 1,000 and 2,000, The Washington Post has learned. Over a period of seven months, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray cited the inflated figure as the most compelling evidence for the need to address what the FBI calls ‘Going Dark’ — the spread of encrypted software that can block investigators’ access to digital data even with a court order…. ‘The FBI’s initial assessment is that programming errors resulted in significant over-counting of mobile devices reported,’ the FBI said in a statement Tuesday. The bureau said the problem stemmed from the use of three distinct databases that led to repeated counting of phones. Tests of the methodology conducted in April 2016 failed to detect the flaw, according to people familiar with the work.” See also, F.B.I. Admits Overstating Locked Phone Problem, and Critics Pounce, The New York Times, Charlie Savage, Wednesday, 23 May 2018.

Stacey Abrams Wins Georgia Democratic Primary for Governor, Making History, The New York Times, Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns, Tuesday, 22 May 2018: “Georgia Democrats selected the first black woman to be a major party nominee for governor in the United States on Tuesday, choosing Stacey Abrams, a liberal former State House leader, who will test just how much the state’s traditionally conservative politics are shifting. By handily defeating Stacey Evans, also a former state legislator, Ms. Abrams also became Georgia’s first black nominee for governor, a prize that has eluded earlier generations of African-American candidates in the state. The general election is sure to draw intense national attention as Georgia voters determine whether a black woman can win in the Deep South, a region that has not had an African-American governor since Reconstruction.”

Federal judge rules that Virginia school board violated the rights of transgender teen Gavin Grimm, a major victory for trans rights, The Guardian|Associated Press, published on Wednesday, 23 May 2018: “A federal judge on Tuesday sided with a transgender teen in Virginia who claims a school board violated his rights when it banned him from using boys’ bathrooms. In a major victory for trans rights, US district court Judge Arenda Wright Allen declined the Gloucester county school board’s request to dismiss the case filed by former student Gavin Grimm. She wrote that the board’s policies ‘singled out and stigmatized Mr Grimm’ and ruled that he was protected by federal law. The judge in Norfolk, Virginia, ordered lawyers for both sides to schedule a settlement conference in the next 30 days.”

Congress Approves Bill Giving Patients a ‘Right to Try’ Experimental Drugs, The New York Times, Robert Pear, Tuesday, 22 May 2018: “Congress gave final approval on Tuesday to a bill that would allow patients with serious illnesses to try unproven experimental treatments, sending the measure to President Trump, a strong supporter of the legislation. By a vote of 250 to 169, the House passed the same ‘right to try’ bill that was approved in August by unanimous consent in the Senate. The bill would, in effect, allow dying patients to bypass the Food and Drug Administration and obtain an ‘investigational drug’ with the approval of their doctors, if the drug manufacturer agrees to supply it…. Critics said the bill was not as innocuous as it sounded. It was opposed by many Democrats and by dozens of organizations that represent patients, including the National Organization for Rare Disorders and the lobbying arm of the American Cancer Society. The right-to-try bill ‘could greatly increase the likelihood of our patients being harmed by unsafe and ineffective experimental therapies,’ the health groups said in a letter to House leaders.”

Trump Rule Would Bar Some Abortion Advice at Federally Funded Clinics, The New York Times, Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Michael D. Shear, Tuesday, 22 May 2018: “President Trump’s proposal to impose new abortion restrictions on federally funded family planning programs would bar doctors from advising a woman weighing an abortion about where she could receive one. The proposed rule submitted last week, a copy of which was posted on the Department of Health and Human Services website, would bar clinics or programs that receive federal family planning funds from providing abortions or referring women to places that do, imposing what it calls a ‘bright line’ of separation. It takes direct aim at Planned Parenthood and reproductive health organizations like it, which provide a range of women’s health services, including abortions.”

Top Senate Democrats introduce bill to amend Religious Freedom Restoration Act, The Washington Post, Julie Zauzmer, Tuesday, 22 May 2018: “Prominent Senate Democrats introduced a bill Tuesday that would amend the 25-year-old Religious Freedom Restoration Act to prevent the law from being used to justify discrimination against people, including gay, lesbian and transgender citizens. Though it is unlikely to pass in the Republican-controlled Congress, the Democrats’ bill, called the Do No Harm Act, shows the party’s stance toward a thorny question in the hands of the Supreme Court — how to choose when both LGBT people and conservative Christians feel their civil rights are at risk. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, commonly referred to as RFRA, was popular among lawmakers in both parties when it was enacted in 1993. Initially, it was usually referenced in cases involving practitioners of minority religions, such as Sikhs and Muslims seeking the right to wear their religious headgear in their driver’s license photos. But in recent years, it has become a favorite law among conservative Christians, who say that it protects their rights to abstain from practices they disavow…. Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips … says the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects his right to refuse to make a gay couple’s wedding cake. Democrats want to amend that law.”

House Democrats question Department of Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen’s claim of ignorance about Russian election interference, The Washington Post, Karoun Demirjian, Tuesday, 22 May 2018: “House Democrats are questioning Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s commitment to improving election security after she told reporters Tuesday that she is unfamiliar with a key finding in the intelligence community’s assessment of Russian interference in the 2016 election: that the Kremlin intended to help President Trump win. Several top members of the party said they are unsure whether Nielsen was being serious or simply playing politics when she said she was unaware of the intelligence community’s conclusions. They surmised she might have been trying to avoid upsetting Trump, who — along with House Republicans — has sought to discredit the idea that Russia favored his candidacy over that of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.” See also, Homeland Security Head Kirstjen Nielsen Backtracks After Saying Russia Didn’t Try to Help Trump, The New York Times, Ron Nixon, Tuesday, 22 May 2018.

Nicolás Maduro Expels Top U.S. Diplomats from Venezuela, The New York Times, Nicholas Casey, Tuesday, 22 May 2018: “Fresh off his re-election in what critics called a rigged vote, President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela on Tuesday ordered the top American diplomat and his deputy expelled, describing them as conspirators against his government. In a televised address, Mr. Maduro gave the diplomats, Todd D. Robinson, who is the United States Embassy’s chargé d’affaires, and Mr. Robinson’s No. 2, Brian Naranjo, 48 hours to leave, declaring them both persona non grata…. Venezuela and the United States have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010, a reflection of the worsening state of relations between the two. The expulsions added to Venezuela’s rupture not only with the United States but other big countries in the Western Hemisphere.”


Wednesday, 23 May 2018, Day 489:


Federal District Court Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald Says Trump Violates First Amendment by Blocking Twitter UsersThe New York Times,  John Herrman, Wednesday, 23 May 2018: “[O]n Wednesday, one of Mr. Trump’s Twitter habits — his practice of blocking critics on the service, preventing them from engaging with his account — was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge in Manhattan. In her ruling, Federal District Court Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald wrote of seven plaintiffs who sued Mr. Trump and several of his aides after being blocked by Mr. Trump’s Twitter account that ‘the speech in which they seek to engage is protected by the First Amendment.’ Judge Buchwald added that Mr. Trump and Dan Scavino, the White House social media director, ‘exert governmental control over certain aspects of the @realDonaldTrump account.’ The plaintiffs, who were joined in the suit by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, argued that Mr. Trump’s Twitter feed was an official government account and that blocking users from following it was a violation of their First Amendment rights.” See also, Trump violated the Constitution when he blocked his critics on Twitter, a federal judge rulesThe Washington Post, Brian Fung and Hamza Shaban, Wednesday, 23 May 2018.

Jared Kushner Gets Security Clearance as He Tries to Move Past Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Inquiry, The New York Times, Matt Apuzzo, Wednesday, 23 May 2018: “Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, has been granted his permanent security clearance, a person briefed on the matter said on Wednesday, ending a period of uncertainty that had fueled questions about whether Mr. Kushner was in peril in the special counsel investigation. Mr. Kushner’s F.B.I. background checks had dragged on for a year. White House officials were adamant that the lengthy process was not unusual for a government official who has a complicated financial history and many foreign contacts. But the delay became a distraction and, with the special counsel investigating some of Mr. Kushner’s meetings with Russian officials, it left open the question of whether investigators had uncovered evidence that made him a security threat.” See also, Jared Kushner receives permanent security clearance, ending uncertainty over his status, The Washington Post, Philip Rucker, Carol D. Leonnig, and Matt Zapotosky, Wednesday, 23 May 2018.

Trump Repeats Unconfirmed Claims of Campaign Spying, The New York Times, Eileen Sullivan and Nicholas Fandos, Wednesday, 23 May 2018: “President Trump accused federal investigators on Wednesday of using a spy inside his campaign, repeating unconfirmed claims and saying it could be one of the ‘biggest political scandals in history,’ as administration officials bowed to political pressure to change plans to share information about the informant with Congress. In a series of Twitter posts early Wednesday about the continuing Russia investigation, Mr. Trump briefly departed from his previous language about the possibility that the government deployed a spy inside his presidential campaign. Instead, he stated it as fact. ‘Look how things have turned around on the Criminal Deep State,’ he wrote. ‘They go after Phony Collusion with Russia, a made up Scam, and end up getting caught in a major SPY scandal the likes of which this country may never have seen before! What goes around, comes around!’ The president also gave the scandal a name: ‘SPYGATE.'” See also, ‘SPYGATE’: Trump steps up attacks on FBI’s probes during campaign, The Washington Post, John Wagner, Wednesday, 23 May 2018. See also, There is no evidence for ‘Spygate’–but there is a reason Trump invented it, The Washington Post, Philip Bump, Wednesday, 23 May 2018. See also, Trump Incorrectly Quotes James Clapper to Falsely Claim F.B.I. Spied on Campaign, The New York Times, Linda Qiu, Wednesday, 23 May 2018: “President Trump tweeted on Wednesday that Mr. Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, said he ‘should be happy that the F.B.I. was spying on his campaign.’ Mr. Clapper did not say that.”

Senate Sends Major Overhaul of Veterans Health Care to Trump, The New York Times, Nicholas Fandos, Wednesday, 23 May 2018: “The Senate gave final passage on Wednesday to a multibillion-dollar revamp of the veterans health care system, consolidating seven Veterans Affairs Department health programs into one and making it far easier for veterans to take their benefits to private doctors for care. The legislation, which passed 92 to 5, also expands popular stipends to family caregivers of veterans who served during the Vietnam War era or after. And it establishes a nine-member commission to study the department’s current infrastructure to determine where its health system should expand and contract. The comprehensive bill had been a year in the making, and ultimately won the support of Republicans and most Democrats. The House passed it last week, 347 to 70, and President Trump plans to sign it into law…. But beneath the surface, deep mistrust remains over the Trump administration’s mission to increase the use of private care. Many of the largest veterans groups, as well as Democrats and some moderate Republicans, fear that the White House’s push to unfetter veterans’ ability to choose their care is a backdoor effort to tip the scales in favor of private medicine and to starve the federal government’s second-largest department and its vast government-run health system.”

In reversal, Giuliani now says Trump should do interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team, The Washington Post, Josh Dawsey, Wednesday, 23 May 2018: “President Trump’s attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani switched gears Wednesday, saying that he would prefer the president grant an interview to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s office and that a decision would be made within ‘the next couple weeks.’ ‘I guess I’d rather do the interview. It gets it over with it. It makes my client happy,’ he said in an interview with The Washington Post. ‘The safe course you hear every lawyer say is don’t do the interview, and that’s easy to say in the abstract. That’s much harder when you have a client who is the president of the United States and wants to be interviewed.'”

How the Robert Mueller Investigation Could Play Out for Trump, The New York Times, Michael S. Schmidt, Charlie Savage, Alicia Parlapiano, Anjali Singhvi, and Troy Griggs, Wednesday, 23 May 2018: “Of all the questions hanging over the special counsel investigation, one stands out: How will President Trump fare in the end? An indictment is one possibility that has grown increasingly unlikely. The office of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has told the president’s lawyers that it plans to abide by the Justice Department’s view that sitting presidents cannot be indicted no matter what the evidence shows. Still, if Mr. Mueller finds wrongdoing, Mr. Trump could be indicted after he leaves office. But for now, there are several other potential outcomes while Mr. Trump is president. The New York Times spoke to defense lawyers, legal experts and former Justice Department officials to determine how the Mueller investigation may play out for Mr. Trump. The Times explored the likeliest outcomes in this little-tested area of the law; some have nearly endless permutations that are not covered here.”

Trump lawyer Michael Cohen ‘paid by Ukraine’ to arrange talks with Trump, BBC, Paul Wood, Wednesday, 23 May 2018: “Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, received a secret payment of at least $400,000 (£300,000) to fix talks between the Ukrainian president and President Trump, according to sources in Kiev close to those involved. The payment was arranged by intermediaries acting for Ukraine’s leader, Petro Poroshenko, the sources said, though Mr Cohen was not registered as a representative of Ukraine as required by US law. Mr Cohen denies the allegation. The meeting at the White House was last June. Shortly after the Ukrainian president returned home, his country’s anti-corruption agency stopped its investigation into Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort.”

5 Key Takeaways From Tuesday’s Primaries, The New York Times, Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin, Wednesday, 23 May 2018: “It was a night for upsets and breakthroughs: In Georgia, a black woman was nominated for governor by a major party for the first time in any state. In Kentucky, a math teacher defeated a Republican power broker. And in Texas, the vice president of the United States faced the limits of his clout.” See also, Five lessons from this week’s primaries, The Washington Post, David Weigel, Wednesday, 23 May 2018.

In an internal memo, the White House considered whether to simply ‘ignore’ federal climate research, The Washington Post, Chris Mooney and Juliet Eilperin, Wednesday, 23 May 2018: “White House officials last year weighed whether to simply ‘ignore’ climate studies produced by government scientists or to instead develop ‘a coherent, fact-based message about climate science,’ according to a memo obtained by The Washington Post. The document, drafted Sept. 18 by Michael Catanzaro, President Trump’s special assistant for domestic energy and environmental policy at the time, highlights the dilemma the administration has faced over climate change since Trump took office. Even as Trump’s deputies have worked methodically to uproot policies aimed at curbing the nation’s carbon output, the administration’s agencies continue to produce reports showing that climate change is happening, is human-driven and is a threat to the United States.”

Trump warns against admitting unaccompanied migrant children: ‘They’re not innocent,’ The Washington Post, Seung Min Kim, Wednesday, 23 May 2018: “President Trump and his top administration officials repeatedly warned Wednesday that unaccompanied migrant children arriving at the southern border are potentially exposing the nation to eventual gang crime.  Immigrant advocates have long said that the children, primarily from Central America, are fleeing violence in their home countries and seeking safe harbor in the United States. But the Trump administration has used their plight to justify cracking down on policies that allow these migrants to be released and obtain hearings before immigration judges, rather than being deported immediately.”

Trump made an immigration crackdown a priority. Jeff Sessions made it a reality. Vox, Dara Lind, Wednesday, 23 May 2018: “While other Cabinet officials have gotten sucked into White House drama or caught in their own venal scandals, Sessions has generally kept his attention on doing his job — even at the cost of his relationship with the president. He’s pulled every available lever to redirect the considerable resources of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to fight the crimes he considers most serious: violent crimes, drug crime, and, most notably, violations of immigration law. The DOJ’s role in the immigration system isn’t widely understood, but it’s crucial. Illegal entry and reentry aren’t just the most commonly prosecuted federal crimes — they make up a majority of all federal convictions. The litigation the DOJ chooses to file can help tilt the balance between state, federal, and local governments as the three try to negotiate who gets to help — or has to help — enforce immigration law. Perhaps most importantly, the part of the deportation process that has so far posed the biggest obstacle to mass deportation — the immigration court system — is under Sessions’s control.”

Prosecutors Withheld Evidence that Could Exonerate J20 Inauguration Protesters, Judge Rules, The Intercept, Sam Adler-Bell, Wednesday, 23 May 2018: “Chief Judge Robert E. Morin of the D.C. Superior Court found on Wednesday that federal prosecutors suppressed potentially exculpatory evidence against six Inauguration Day protesters. In a motion filed late last night, attorneys for the defendants accused the government of withholding evidence that could have exonerated their clients — a serious violation of pretrial discovery rules. Attorneys allege that the state withheld evidence by editing a video of a protest planning meeting. Defense attorneys called on the court to sanction Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff for ‘blatant hiding of evidence’ and requested that the indictment against their clients be dismissed.”

Trump Supports N.F.L.’s New National Anthem Policy, The New York Times, Matthew Futterman and Victor Mather, Wednesday, 23 May 2018: “Seeking to end a political controversy that has embarrassed professional football, the N.F.L.’s team owners on Wednesday held that players could no longer kneel during the national anthem without leaving themselves open to punishment or their teams facing possible financial penalties. But the league also said the new policy would not force athletes to stand on the sideline during the anthem; it would give them the option of staying in the locker room during the pregame ceremony. Almost immediately after passage, questions arose about how it would be enforced…. Trump said he was pleased with the N.F.L.’s new policy, but said he did not think the players should even be staying in the locker room in protest. If a player is not standing for the national anthem, Mr. Trump said, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.’ The president’s comments, recorded Wednesday, were aired Thursday morning on ‘Fox & Friends.’… In a strongly worded statement issued just minutes after the N.F.L.’s announcement, the N.F.L. Players Association said the league had not consulted the players’ union in creating the new protocol and accused league officials of hypocrisy. ‘The vote by N.F.L. club C.E.O.s today contradicts the statements made to our player leadership by Commissioner Roger Goodell and the Chairman of the N.F.L.’s Management Council John Mara about the principles, values and patriotism of our League,’ the statement said. George Atallah, the union’s assistant executive director for external affairs, said the new rules were ‘not a compromise.’ The players’ union said it would challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement. Malcolm Jenkins became a leader of a group of socially active players known as the Players Coalition after having raised his fist in protest during the anthem last season. He said the league had acted to silence the players.”

I.R.S. Warns States Not to Circumvent State and Local Tax Cap, The New York Times, Alan Rappeport and Jim Tankersley, Wednesday, 23 May 2018: “The Internal Revenue Service is preparing to crack down on states that try to circumvent a new limit on the state and local tax deduction, saying on Wednesday that it will not allow local governments to find creative ways to help individuals fully deduct those taxes. The I.R.S. warning comes in response to states, like New York, that have looked for ways to blunt the impact of a new $10,000 cap on the state and local tax deduction, known as SALT. The cap, which was included in last year’s $1.5 trillion Republican tax overhaul, hit predominantly Democratic, high-tax states hardest since it limits the amount of state and local sales, income and property taxes that residents can deduct from their federal taxes. That has prompted a scramble among local lawmakers to find ways to allow constituents who owe more than $10,000 to continue to fully deduct those taxes and avoid a tax increase. The I.R.S. said it would not tolerate states that try to flout the law — a stance that is likely to be challenged in court.”

‘Astounding ignorance of the law’: Civil rights groups slam DeVos for saying schools can report undocumented students, The Washington Post, Moriah Balingit, Wednesday, 23 May 2018: “Civil rights groups slammed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for saying Tuesday that schools can decide whether to report undocumented students to immigration enforcement officials, saying her statements conflict with the law and could raise fears among immigrant students.”

Transgender People in Missouri Prisons Will Be Allowed to Access Lifesaving Health Care, BuzzFeed News, Nidhi Prakash, Wednesday, 23 May 2018: “Transgender people in Missouri prisons must be given access to gender-affirming health care even if they weren’t on those treatments before they were in prison, a federal district court judge ruled Tuesday afternoon. The Missouri Department of Corrections’ rule, known as a ‘freeze frame’ policy, meant that transgender prisoners were denied hormone treatments and other gender-affirming care if they were not already receiving those treatments and care before they went to prison. The court found Tuesday that the policy violates transgender prisoners’ constitutional rights, specifically their protections against cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.”


Thursday, 24 May 2018, Day 490:


Trump’s cancellation of summit with Kim raises fears of renewed tensions and destabilizationThe Washington Post, David Nakamura, Anna Fifield, and John Wagner, Thursday, 24 May 2018: “President Trump’s abrupt decision Thursday to abort a summit next month with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un left the White House scrambling to explain the outcome to allies amid fears that the collapse of talks would mean a return to heightened tensions between nuclear powers in East Asia. Trump announced he was pulling out of the planned meeting in Singapore on June 12 in a letter to Kim that came less than 12 hours after a North Korean official had personally disparaged Vice President Pence and warned of a nuclear showdown if the United States did not alter its tone ahead of the summit. In a missive that aides said the president dictated, Trump was by turns regretful of the missed opportunity and adamant that he would not tolerate the “tremendous anger and open hostility” from North Korea. The president pointedly warned Kim that he oversees a nuclear weapons arsenal that is ‘so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.'” See also, Trump’s Letter to Kim Canceling North Korea Summit Meeting, AnnotatedThe New York Times, David E. Sanger, Thursday, 24 May 2018: ” See also, Trump Pulls Out of North Korea Summit Meeting With Kim Jong-unThe New York Times, Mark Landler, Thursday, 24 May 2018. See also, In a Testy Letter, Trump Cancels the North Korea SummitThe New Yorker, Robin Wright, Thursday, 24 May 2018.

Emmet T. Flood, Trump’s Lawyer, and John Kelly, Trump’s Chief of Staff, Appear at Briefings on F.B.I.’s Russia InformantThe New York Times, Nicholas Fandos and Katie Benner, Thursday, 24 May 2018: “President Trump’s chief of staff and a White House lawyer representing the president in the Russia investigation were present on Thursday at the start of two classified meetings requested by members of Congress to review sensitive material about the F.B.I.’s use of an informant in the inquiry. The two men left both meetings after sharing introductory remarks ‘to relay the president’s desire for as much openness as possible under the law’ and before officials began to brief the lawmakers, the White House said in a statement. But the presence of John F. Kelly, the chief of staff, and Emmet T. Flood, the president’s lawyer, infuriated Democrats, and legal experts said their visit, at the least, could give off the appearance that the White House abused its authority to gain insight into an investigation that implicates the president.” See also, White House lawyer’s presence at briefings on FBI’s Russia source roils lawmakersThe Washington Post, Matt Zapotosky, Devlin Barrett, Karoun Demirjian, and Seung Min Kim, Thursday, 24 May 2018.

Trump says NFL players who are unwilling to stand for the national anthem maybe ‘shouldn’t be in the country,’ The Washington Post, John Wagner and Mark Maske, Thursday, 24 May 2018: “NFL players unwilling to stand for the national anthem should be barred from playing and maybe ‘shouldn’t be in the country,’ President Trump said in a television interview that aired Thursday. The president was reacting to the adoption Wednesday of a new NFL policy that could bring disciplinary action for players who kneel or make other protests during the national anthem. Trump said he objected to a provision in the new policy that will allow players to stay in the locker room while the song is played, but added: ‘Still, I think it’s good.’ ‘You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there, maybe they shouldn’t be in the country,’ Trump said in an interview that aired Thursday morning on ‘Fox & Friends’ on Fox News. The protests were started to call attention to police shootings against African Americans and other issues of racial inequities, but they have morphed into wider struggles in America’s culture wars.” See also, What the NFL’s new rules for anthem protests really mean for the First Amendment, according to expertsThe Washington Post, Eli Rosenberg, Thursday, 24 May 2018. See also,  Trump Praises NFL Decision and Questions if Protesting Players Should Be in the CountryNPR, Domenico Montanaro, Thursday, 24 May 2018. See also, The Indignity of the N.F.L.’s New National-Anthem PolicyThe New Yorker, Ian Crouch, Thursday, 24 May 2018.

Trump signs law rolling back post-financial crisis banking rules, The Washington Post, Erica Werner, Thursday, 24 May 2018: “President Trump on Thursday signed into law a bill that rolls back banking regulations passed in response to the 2008 financial crisis, declaring it a ‘big deal for our country.’ The measure, which passed the House this week, leaves the central structure of the post-financial-crisis rules in place, but it makes the most significant changes to weaken the Dodd-Frank banking regulations since they were passed in 2010. It exempts some small and regional banks from the most stringent regulations and also loosens rules aimed at protecting the biggest banks from sudden collapse.”

House Votes to Mandate Investigation of U.S. Involvement in Yemen’s Secret Torture Prisons, The Intercept, Alex Emmons, Thursday, 24 May 2018: “In the wake of a bruising confirmation fight that highlighted new CIA Director Gina Haspel’s role in the U.S. torture program in the years after 9/11, the House of Representatives on Thursday voted to force a public accounting of the current U.S. role in torture prisons across the south of Yemen. Earlier this week, the House Rules Committee advanced an amendment by California Democratic Reps. Ro Khanna and Barbara Lee that would require the Department of Defense to investigate whether U.S. allies in Yemen were involved in torturing detainees and if U.S. personnel had any role in the interrogations. The measure was adopted unanimously on the floor by a voice vote on Thursday. An investigation by the Associated Press last year revealed a network of 18 clandestine prisons across south Yemen that are run by the United Arab Emirates – the U.S.’s primary ally in fighting Al Qaeda in Yemen – or by Yemeni forces controlled by the UAE. The investigation found that nearly 2,000 Yemenis had been disappeared into prisons where severe torture techniques were the norm, including a ‘grill’ in which ‘the victim is tied to a spit like a roast and spun in a circle of fire.'”

Senate passes bill to change how Congress deals with sexual harassment claims, The Washington Post, Sean Sullivan, Thursday, 24 May 2018: “The Senate passed a bill Thursday that would change the way Congress deals with sexual harassment claims, another sign that the MeToo movement that has swept across numerous industries is also having an impact on Capitol Hill workplaces. The bill would end a mandatory 90-day waiting period and allow individuals to seek a hearing or civil action on their claim immediately. It would also require members of Congress to reimburse the government for monetary settlements resulting from harassment by them. The legislation, which also covers other claims of workplace discrimination, passed by voice vote, meaning no senators objected to it. Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) introduced it.

The group least likely to think the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees? Evangelicals. The Washington Post, Philip Bump, Thursday, 24 May 2018: “In February 2017, as debate raged nationally over President Trump’s decision to curtail immigration to the United States, the conservative Christian Broadcasting Network dipped into the Bible to share what that sacred text said about refugees. ‘Treat refugees the way you want to be treated,’ it said, quoting Leviticus. ‘Invite the stranger in’ (Matthew) and ‘Open your door to the traveler’ (Job). The first comment in reply to the article captures the tone of the rest of the feedback the site received: ‘Shame on CBN for this very poorly written article full of political rhetoric. This is not a Biblical issue.’ At the time, polling from Pew Research Center showed that about 56 percent of Americans believed that the United States had a responsibility to welcome refugees into the country. In the year since, that figure has dropped and is now at a bare majority, 51 percent. But Pew’s new research includes a fascinating detail: No group agrees less with the idea that the United States has a responsibility to accept refugees than white evangelical Protestants. Only 25 percent of evangelicals told Pew that they believed the United States has such a responsibility, half the percentage of Catholics who said the same thing and substantially lower than the religiously unaffiliated. In statistical terms, the percentage of evangelicals holding that view was about equal to the percentage of Republicans, 26 percent, given margins of error.”

Trump’s Crackdown on Students Who Overstay Visas Rattles Higher Education, The New York Times, Erica L. Green, Thursday, 24 May 2018: “The Trump administration plans to crack down on international students and visitors who overstay their visas, stoking fears in the higher education community that President Trump’s aggressive immigration policies will hinder university efforts to attract the brightest minds from overseas. In a policy memorandum, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services announced this month that it plans to change how it calculates ‘unlawful presence’ for foreigners in the student visa and exchange program. It will also impose harsher punishments — up to a 10-year ban from the country — for graduates who overstay their visas. The policy, due to take effect in August, has been criticized by higher education institutions and student advocates who say the change shows the indiscriminate nature of the Trump administration’s ‘America First’ policies. They say Mr. Trump’s aggressive immigration efforts are shutting out the nation’s leading scholars, who contribute billions of dollars to the economy in the United States, staff its leading research institutions, support its most high-skilled jobs, and contribute to the president’s own goal of strengthening the pipeline to science, technology, mathematics and engineering jobs.”

Border Patrol union calls Trump’s National Guard deployment a ‘colossal waste,’ Los Angeles Times, Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Thursday, 24 May 2018: “A month after President Trump called for sending National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, the head of the national Border Patrol union called the deployment ‘a colossal waste of resources.’ ‘We have seen no benefit,’ said Brandon Judd, president of the union that represents 15,000 agents, the National Border Patrol Council. The criticism is a dramatic departure for the group, which endorsed Trump’s candidacy for president and has praised his border security efforts, including National Guard deployments.”