The Curious Timing of Flynn Events and EO 13769

The crew here has been seasonally busy; there are graduations, returns from college, business and vacation travel, many other demands keeping us away from the keyboard. Bear with us.

That’s not to say we’re not stewing about — well, everything. EVERYTHING. Pick a subject and it’s probably on fire if it’s not smoldering. Touch it and it may burst into flame, kind of like James Comey’s job.

Yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with testimony from Sally Yates and James Clapper is one such topic utterly ablaze. How to even start with what went wrong — like Ted ‘Zodiac Killer’ Cruz and his sidling up to ‘But her emails!’. Or John Kennedy’s [string a bunch of expletives together and insert here] questions which did nothing to further any investigation.

I’m glad Sally Yates laid one across Cruz on the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (INA); he deserved it for his particularly egregious mansplaining.

As you can see from their tweets, I know my fellow contributors have much they wish they could post about the hearing. I know after the closing gavel I had many more questions, not fewer.

Like timing. Timing seemed so inter-related on seemingly disparate issues.

What about the timing of Yates’ discussion with White House Counsel Don McGahn about Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (ret.) and the timing of the Muslim travel ban, Executive Order 13769?

10-NOV-2017 — First warning about Flynn to Trump by Obama during post-election meeting.

18-NOV-2017 — Flynn named National Security Adviser by Trump.

25-DEC-2017 — Flynn allegedly sends text messages to Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak including holiday greetings.

29-DEC-2017 — New sanctions announced by Obama, including eviction of 35 Russians (including family members) from two compounds.

29-DEC-2017 — Michael Flynn talks with Kislyak more than once on the same day.

30-DEC-2017 — Trump tweeted positively about Russian president Vladimir Putin’s refusal to retaliate against the new sanctions.

12-JAN-2017 — The Washington Post reported on the Flynn-Kislyak conversations; source cited is “a senior U.S. government official.”

15-JAN-2017 — VP Mike Pence says in a TV interview that he had talked with Flynn about contact with Kislyak:

JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask you about it was reported by David Ignatius that the incoming national security advisor Michael Flynn was in touch with the Russian ambassador on the day the United States government announced sanctions for Russian interference with the election. Did that contact help with that Russian kind of moderate response to it? That there was no counter-reaction from Russia. Did the Flynn conversation help pave the way for that sort of more temperate Russian response?

MIKE PENCE: I talked to General Flynn about that conversation and actually was initiated on Christmas Day he had sent a text to the Russian ambassador to express not only Christmas wishes but sympathy for the loss of life in the airplane crash that took place. It was strictly coincidental that they had a conversation. They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.

JOHN DICKERSON: So did they ever have a conversation about sanctions ever on those days or any other day?

MIKE PENCE: They did not have a discussion contemporaneous with U.S. actions on—

JOHN DICKERSON: But what about after—

MIKE PENCE: —my conversation with General Flynn. Well, look. General Flynn has been in touch with diplomatic leaders, security leaders in some 30 countries. That’s exactly what the incoming national security advisor—

JOHN DICKERSON: Absolutely.

MIKE PENCE: —should do. But what I can confirm, having spoken to him about it, is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.

JOHN DICKERSON: But that still leaves open the possibility that there might have been other conversations about the sanctions.

MIKE PENCE: I don’t believe there were more conversations.

20-JAN-2017 — Inauguration Day

21-JAN-2017 — Flynn has a follow-up call with Kislyak with regard to a future phone call between Trump and Putin.

23-JAN-2017 — Answers to questions during a press briefing with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer didn’t match what Pence said in the 15-JAN interview. Spicer said, “There’s been one call. I talked to Gen. Flynn about this again last night. One call, talked about four subjects. … During the transition, I asked Gen. Flynn that – whether or not there were any other conversations beyond the ambassador and he said no.”(Come on, Spicey. Come the fuck on. Pure sloppiness; this isn’t the time for disinformation.)

24-JAN-2017 — Flynn is interviewed by the FBI and without a lawyer present. Yates informed McGahn about Flynn’s interview.

25-JAN-2017 — Yates reviews Flynn’s interview.

25-JAN-2017 — Draft of the travel ban EO leaked and published by WaPo

A provision about safe zones in Syria appears in this draft. It will not appear in the final EO.

26-JAN-2017 — Yates called McGahn that morning and asked for an in-person meeting about a sensitive topic she could not discuss on the phone. They met later that afternoon at McGahn’s office:

…We began our meeting telling him that there had been press accounts of statements from the vice president and others that related conduct that Mr. Flynn had been involved in that we knew not to be the truth.”

A senior member of the DOJ’s National Security Division accompanied Yates. Yates explained why Flynn was compromised and how his actions set Pence up to make unknowingly false statements to the public.

Spicer has said McGahn immediately notified and briefed Trump after meeting with Yates.

27-JAN-2017 — McGahn called Yates and asked for a second in-person meeting. Yates met him at his office. During their conversation, McGahn asked, “Why does it matter to DOJ if one White House official lies to another?” Yates re-reviews the FBI’s concerns shared the previous day. (I want to ask if McGahn got his JD out of a box of Cracker Jacks.) McGahn asked,

“And there was a request made by Mr. McGahn, in the second meeting as to whether or not they would be able to look at the underlying evidence that we had that we had described for him of General Flynn’s conduct.” (Bold mine; who is ‘they’?)

Yates indicated she would work with FBI team and “get back with him on Monday morning.”

27-JAN-2017 — Travel ban EO signed and distributed. Rex Tillerson has not yet appeared before the Senate in a confirmation hearing. Defense Department’s James Mattis did not see the EO until morning of January 27; the EO is signed later in the day after Mattis was sworn in just before 3:00 p.m. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said he saw final EO draft not long before it was signed. Office of Legal Counsel issued a determination about the EO that day, “the proposed order is approved with respect to form and legality.” According to Yates’ SJC testimony the OLC’s determination goes to the form and not the content of the EO.

28-JAN-2017 — Federal Judge Ann Donnelly issued a stay late Saturday on deportations of persons with valid visas.

29-JAN-2017 — Though not yet confirmed as Secretary of State, Tillerson involved in cabinet-level meetings in pre-dawn hours regarding the travel ban.

30-JAN-2017 — Yates called McGahn that morning and told him he could go to FBI to look at “underlying evidence.” McGahn does not reply until the afternoon. Yates didn’t know whether McGahn looked at evidence because “because that was my last day with DOJ.” Yates ordered DOJ not to defend the EO in court

30-JAN-2017 — Yates is fired by the White House Monday night. White House statement said,

“The acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, has betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States … This order was approved as to form and legality by the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel. … Ms. Yates is an Obama Administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration. It is time to get serious about protecting our country. Calling for tougher vetting for individuals travelling from seven dangerous places is not extreme. It is reasonable and necessary to protect our country.”

08-FEB-2017 — WaPo reports Flynn denied twice discussing Russian sanctions with Kislyak.

09-FEB-2017 — Allegedly, Pence learned this day Flynn was not straight with him about his interactions with Kislyak. WaPo reported Flynn had discussed sanctions with Kislyak prior to the inauguration.

10-FEB-2017 — ABC News reported Flynn wasn’t certain he talked about the sanctions with Kislyak. Pence spoke with Flynn twice this day.

12-FEB-2017 — Stephen Miller dodges questions about Flynn’s status during Sunday morning TV interviews.

13-FEB-2017 — Flynn resigns, 18 days after Yates raised questions with the White House about his vulnerability to compromise.

Yates’ directive not to enforce the illegal travel ban EO is the prima facie reason why she was fired a week after the EO was pushed. But was it really the travel ban or the fact she had not only warned the White House about Flynn’s compromised status but the implication there might be more at stake?

The rushed timing of the EO — pushed out on a Friday night after business hours — and its inception generate more questions about the travel ban.

Who really wrote the travel ban? Some reports say the ‘major architects’ were Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon, neither of whom have law degrees or any experience in legal profession. Wikipedia entry for Bannon indicates he has a master’s in national security studies from Georgetown, but there’s no indication about the date this was conferred and it’s still not a law degree. Miller has a BA from Duke and a bunch of cred from writing conservative stuff, much of it with a white nationalist bent. (Yeah, stuff, because none of it provided adequate background to write effective executive orders.)

There were reports a week after the first travel ban EO was issued which indicated Congressional aides actually wrote the executive order — aides from Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s office.

Who were those aides?

Why Goodlatte’s aides? Was it because Goodlatte is the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee?

Was it because of Goodlatte’s immigration bills circa 2013:

H.R. 2278, the “Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act” (The SAFE Act)
H.R. 1773, the “Agricultural Guestworker Act”
H.R. 1772, the “Legal Workforce Act”
H.R. 2131, the “SKILLS Visa Act”

In other words, did the aides who wrote those bills also assist with and/or write the EO?

If these aides helped the ‘major architects’, why did the travel ban EO look so clearly illegal?

Did these aides ever refer the ‘major architects’ to the Office of Legal Counsel for assistance with the EO’s wording?

Did media try to interview the aides in question? If not, why? If not permitted to do so, why?

Did those aides sign a non-disclosure agreement with the White House? (Why the hell are there NDAs for ANY government employee anyhow, especially those with security clearance of any level? This is OUR government, not the Trump holding company.) Did the aides limit their work to transition team support, or were they working on the EO post-inauguration? Did they take vacation time to do the work? Or were they performing work for the White House on Congress’ dime?

In spite of his iffy-sounding support for their work, did Goodlatte kick those aides in the ass for moonlighting while puncturing the separation between the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch, making it appear (if tenuously) there was a degree of concurrence between the two branches?

Did Michael Flynn talk about the EO with these aides?

And was Flynn one of the ‘major architects’ of the travel ban EO along with Miller and Bannon as reported in some outlets?

Assuming Flynn was a co-architect/co-author of the EO, was the EO pushed through in a hurry to effect Flynn’s work before he might be terminated and/or prosecuted?

Was the execution of a travel ban EO part of a quid pro quo with a foreign entity?
Is this the reason why Trump reduced the role of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence to “an as-needed basis” on National Security Council — to reduce potential interference by seasoned security professionals who might stop the EO?

Was Miller’s role in the creation of the travel ban EO less about any experience he has but instead related to his former work during 113th Congress with the Gang of Eight on immigration reform? (We come full circle – see Goodlatte’s bills above.)

How might this travel ban EO — banning Muslims from specific countries — help a foreign entity?

Or was the Muslim travel ban EO simply launched early — before the administration even had a Secretary of State, before its content was reasonably defensible — to distract Yates and the DOJ and derail further investigation into Flynn’s compromised status?

I’m sure if I spend any more time re-reading the SJC’s hearing transcript I’ll come up with even more questions. But as events around Flynn and the travel ban EO unfolded as if knit together, I can’t help wondering if they really were of a piece.

How odd that the first thing the first SJC non-chair member did, before asking witnesses any questions, was hand out a timeline of events to all the participants.

And how convenient FBI Director James Comey screwed up his last testimony before congress enough that his firing this evening by the White House would look entirely justified — immediately removing him not only from the next FBI flight from Los Angeles to DC but from any further investigation into Michael Flynn.

What timing.

The Tuesday Night Massacre

As you may have heard, President Trump has just fired FBI Director James Comey.

This is truly Nixonian Saturday Night Massacre level action.

Trump previously ran on, indeed got elected on, and likely only on, the scurrilous rogue comments of Jim Comey starting with the rogue July 5, 2016 press conference where Comey went off all rails on DOJ and PIN protocols. Here is the New York Times original report:

Mr. Comey’s dismissal was a stunning development for a president that benefited from the F.B.I. investigation of the Democratic nominee during the 2016 campaign. Separately, the F.B.I. also is investigating whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the election.

The abrupt firing raised questions over whether Mr. Trump was trying to influence the Russia investigation. But he said he was following recommendations from the Justice Department, which criticized how Mr. Comey concluded the investigation into Mrs. Clinton.

Trump actually saluted Comey for this at one point. What a micro-moment self serving, not to mention narcissistic jerk.

If anybody in the world thought that that Trump is not as craven and against the Constitutional form of government we all were born and raised on, let that no longer be a question.

And if the media cannot get their heads out of their asses and realize the danger is NOT just to their First Amendment rights, but to the core of our republic and democracy, then they too should go the way of the dodo bird.

The foundations of this cowardly play were always there if you followed the ever changing voice and words of Donald Trump regarding the Clinton email issue and how the Department of Justice handled it.

If you thought this point, and/or Comey was the one only voice that could not be fired or silenced, you are sadly mistaken.

This blog has never, and I am being kind across my writings, Marcy’s and those of our departed friend Mary, been a friend of Jim Comey. He has long, and more presently, been an uneven and self serving voice mostly interested in preservation and enhancement of his own voice and position. Comey has been preternaturally successful at this.

That said, tonight I will be in Comey’s camp. I await what my friends at Lawfare and some others may have to say regarding the Tuesday Night Massacre.

Because this is a day that should live bright for a very long time.

People glibly talk about the “Resistance”. How naive. The battle is now, and has been joined in full by a cabal that makes Nixon look like a piker. The place is here. The time is now.

The temporal fact that it is Comey that tipped a scale of justice is immaterial. It has happened.

Sean Hannity Cries Himself A River

There has been a lot of upheaval at Fox News lately. Gretchen Carlson went nuclear on Ailes and the misogynistic rapey culture that Fox cultivated over decades, and nothing has been the same there since.

That is a good thing. It may have been a limited, even if loud start, but Carlson initiated ripples in the Murdoch empire that could not be easily contained, even with the ample crisis suppression talents of hired liar Ted Wells and his firm, Paul Weiss. The once closed barn door was open, and all horses and carts were suddenly out.

The Murdoch cabal, give them an iota of credit, realized the situation….kind of, and cut bait with Ailes in record speed for a bigly man that supposedly was untouchable and was a bff of Trump.

Probably motivated by Rupert’s sons, James and Lachlan, but still correct, even if horribly behind the curve of human decency and sexual harassment law. But so much has happened since Gretchen Carlson cooked the supposed golden goose, Roger Ailes, that common lore held responsible for all the Fox News golden eggs.

Whatever the impetus, Roger Ailes was summarily dismissed when obviously necessary. The Murdochs and Fox News probably thought that might contain the exposure of their decades long belligerent misogyny. But, no, then came the claims against Bill O’Reilly. An odious asshole every bit as despicable as Ailes. And one known as exactly that since the Andrea Makris out of court settlement over O’Reilly’s loofah phone fetishes back in 2004.

Instead, Fox not only kept O’Reilly until they could no longer, they kept Ailes Number Two, Bill Schein and attendant protective underlings in place. Until they no longer could. That started today with Schein’s ouster. And Hannity is floating like an overboard deck chair in the seas away from the Titanic, away from the mothership. (Killer graphic by the one and only Darth – click to enlarge!). But the suddenly disposable Sean Hannity deck chair is drifting away from the ignorant and misogynistic shipwreck he helped perpetuate all these years.

In any normal corporation, especially such a public facing one like Fox News, they would have culled the problems out immediately after the Ailes embarrassment. But not Fox. Oh no. Instead, Fox and Fox News allowed O’Reilly and Sean Hannity to bellow with umbrage about the public admissions of their owners of misogyny and bigotry. Fox, as a company, had not learned their lesson going back to Andrea Makris in 2004, nor insured that their precious bought and paid for “talent” did.

But now the Murdoch sons, James and Lachlan, are protecting the family name by cleaning up their father’s idiocy at warp speed in a way that the gel headed sons in the Trump family can only dream of. Today, the Murdochs the younger have outed Bill Schein. Via Digby, a quote from Andrew Kirell at Daily Beast:

Sean Hannity is looking to leave Fox News, according to sources, following the resignation of Fox News co-president Bill Shine officially on Monday.

Schein was Hannity’s long-time ally whom he personally recommended the network hire two decades ago to produce Hannity & Colmes.

So, cry me a river Sean Hannity you stuporous dolt. In recent days, Hannity warned it would be the “total end” of Fox News should Shine leave, and he rallied conservative activists to back him up.

Initially, insiders said, Hannity’s army of lawyers had hoped to discuss with Fox ways of protecting his 8-year-old primetime show, amid fears that Lachlan and James Murdoch—fresh off the ousting of Bill O’Reilly—were looking to push the network away from hard-right politics.

Yeah, good riddance. See ya, wouldn’t want to be ya, Sean. Go fuck yourself in hell.

[Okay, went with that version of Cry Me a River because it is sooo much better audio and video production wise than the one from Mad Dogs and Englishmen (with Leon Russell, of course) that I really envisioned.]

Three Things: Day 1 – Tax Day, Ballmer’s Gift, Microsoft

Day 1: Tax Day
You have today until midnight local time today to file your federal income taxes or file for an extension. As of midnight, Trump owes us yet another federal tax return.

And no, Trump’s federal income tax return for 2016 is NOT under audit as the deadline hasn’t even passed. Even if an audit of Trump’s 2016 filing began tomorrow there’s no excuse for not disclosing what has been filed with the IRS regardless of audit status.

What made America great has been its lower rate of corruption and clear expectations of oversight and governance. What makes America less than great is a failure of governance, lack of transparency, and increasing corruption. Why would any foreign individual, or company, or country invest in the U.S. when they can no longer reasonably expect fairness and security from our government? Trump’s behavior (and that of his family and his corporate holding structure) placing himself beyond the law undermines our strength. This cannot continue.

Steve Ballmer’s gift: USAFacts
Admittedly, I was never very crazy about Ballmer as CEO of Microsoft. He continued Bill Gates’ flawed ideology after Windows reached near-ubiquity, suppressing Microsoft’s value and negatively influencing the tech industry for too long. What a pleasant surprise, though, to learn about his retirement hobby: USAFacts, a Big Data initiative tracing the flow of tax dollars using government data.

The project began after Ballmer’s spouse prodded him to do more philanthropically. He resisted because he paid a lot of taxes; weren’t his tax dollars enough? Mm-hmm.

He learned a lot, and I expect we will be, too, as USAFacts matures. Some ugly truths have already been exposed to people like Ballmer who might not otherwise have looked — like the power of the gun lobby to suppress government reporting, or the inability of children to rise from poverty.

Ballmer’s redeeming himself. I only hope his project can get out in front of the Trump administration’s rapid decimation of government reporting.

Microsoft: a very different gift
Systems administrators who manage Windows-based enterprises aren’t very happy with a change Microsoft made to its security bulletins — they’re gone, replaced by a searchable database.

Which sounds all fine and dandy in theory until reality meets the road. Just read users’ feedback and you’ll quickly grasp additional workload has been pushed off onto administrators who already have quite enough to do. SANS Internet Storm Center looked swamped by the change.

Elimination of the security bulletin format had been expected since last November and anticipated for February. It’s not clear if there is a relationship between the unusual patch pushes February and March and this new security updates database.

One meager upside: malicious hackers will have just as much difficulty (or more) determining what was patched as will Windows administrators.

Speaking of hackers, I should note here I may be a minority report on The Shadow Brokers (TSB). The manner in which the last three months of Windows’ security fixes have been handled — which included many key vulnerabilities in advance of TSB’s latest NSA toolkit dump — suggests somebody inside Microsoft already knew what to patch months ago. Perhaps even last year when the change to security bulletins was announced given the amount of lead time needed to fix complex vulnerabilities.

Further, Microsoft had been compromised once some years ago that we know of by a Russian spy. Recall the roundup of the Illegals Program by FBI in late June 2010 when ten Russian sleeper agents including Anna Chapman were taken into custody and deported less than two weeks later in a spy swap. An eleventh agent had been picked up in Seattle where he worked for Microsoft. Reports said he was a only entry-level software tester who had established employment under his real name, Alexey Karetnikov. He first worked as an intern for Microsoft in the summer of 2008, then hired on full time in October 2009 after a gap year in Russia. (Karetnikov wasn’t the only Illegal Program spy in the Seattle area; a spy using the name ‘Tracey Foley‘ had been hired to work for a real estate company’s Seattle branch but had not fully established a presence in the northwest by the time she was arrested. There didn’t appear to be an immediate link between Foley and Microsoft or any Seattle-area technology company.)

What did Microsoft do after they learned about Karetnikov’s presence? When did they learn about him — before his arrest, or only when the arrest took place? How did MSFT mitigate risks, including the possibility there were other undisclosed spies in their ranks? Is TSB really a means by which now-useless or exposed tools are rolled up while being used as a honeypot? Could explain why linguists say TSB is likely English-speaking masquerading as non-English speaker.

We’ll probably never know for sure.

A little less than seven hours until tax filing deadline here in Eastern Daylight timezone. Tick-tock.

Three Things: Not-So-Neutral, Day 2 and Reading

This house was occupied by outside forces this long holiday weekend, obstructing output. Hope your weekend was similarly occupied by loved ones. Here’s three things for today.

It’s Day 2, Donald
At least 150 Tax March rallies across the country on Saturday reflected the public’s opinion about Trump’s tax returns — he must disclose them. Predictable locations participated, like New York City, but when red state cities and towns like Florida’s West Palm Beach have marches it’s an indicator.

Where are your tax returns, Trump? And don’t give us the “under audit” excuse yet again like you did through Spicer this afternoon. All previous presidents have been automatically audited while in office and still disclosed their returns. Nor are we going to buy your administration’s trash talk about the Tax Marches; we know what’s up with organized white supremacist provokatsiya.

Projection, much?

Net-not-so-Neutral
The big guys in technology — Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, Twitter, more — are slowly stirring from their post-inauguration torpor on net neutrality and the threat to their businesses non-neutrality poses. Their industry group, the Internet Association, expressed their concerns last week to the Federal Communications Commission about the FCC Chair Ajit Pai’s intent to kill net neutrality regulations established under the Obama administration.

Kind of slow on the uptake, dudes. Could have seen this coming based on Pai’s anti-neutrality stance when he served as an FCC commissioner. Also could have easily predicted Pai’s position based on the current administration’s drive against regulations.

And Pai’s move to reduce FCC oversight of the internet by shifting it to the Federal Trade Commission is a blowjob gift for the telcos — in spite of the fact more communications travel over the internet, a move to the FTC reduces exposure of communications to existing communications regulations. This does not serve the public’s interest.

There’s an alternate tack members of the Internet Association could take, if a little pricey and radical: they could simply buy the telcos. Google could acquire AT&T which has been a major PITA obstructing competition from Google Fiber. Apple could just buy Verizon for iPhone service and Facebook could snap up CenturyLink. The Internet Association could take on a role as mediator addressing traffic issues between them.

And then let’s see what happens to reducing regulation and net neutrality. Of course this creates an entirely new set of challenges with regard to privacy, but I’d rather move toward regulations to address them under FCC. (And I’d really rather digital morons like Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) had nothing to do with the intersection of privacy and technology when he clearly doesn’t grasp the internet is telecommunications deserving the same privacy as landlines.)

Speaking of acquisitions, there’s speculation Apple could buy Disney which includes ABC and other content subsidiaries like ESPN. Looks like wishful thinking right now on part of analysts, but if FCC’s Pai continues shredding net neutrality, it makes more sense for Apple (and other internet companies) to snap up companies which make content, cutting out carriers or forcing them to pay for Apple’s content.

Longreads
Here’s a few things worth your time during a commute or lunch hour this week:

A look at the end of Gaullism as France approaches its election.

Essay: Friendship as a Civic Democratic Practice — that’s little d democratic here; Ivy Schweitzer asks if we can’t look to our friendships to fix our national political schism. (Me? On a limited basis; I can’t be friends with Nazis.)

Marc Ambinder on U.S. government continuity — worth a read, but I’ve long had a nasty feeling continuity plans were changed because of 9/11 and they’re in a classified executive order if I’m right.

Interesting look at impact of open-source citizen investigations on Russian disinformation — focal point of this analysis is the doomed 2014 Malaysian Air flight MH17.

Those should keep you busy. Day 1 ahead — last day to file income taxes without penalty or file for an extension. Time, tide, and taxes wait for no man, Trump.

Three Things: Day 6, Bombs Away, Get Carter 2

As long as my schedule permits I’ll continue to post Three Things each day at least through next Tuesday. Here we go…

Day 6: Countdown to Tax Day deadline continues
There’s a clear trend in interest about Trump’s tax returns since the election with a spike reflecting two pages leaked from Trump’s 2005 return on Rachel Maddow’s show last month. Stretching out the Google Trends period to five years and a seasonal bump can be seen each year. This year’s seasonal bump is completely distorted by discussion of Trump’s returns.

59 Tomahawk missiles launched at Syria and a GBU-43/B MOAB dropped on Afghanistan aren’t going to change this picture. Where are your tax returns, Trump?

Bombs away
Speaking of missiles and bombs, I sure hope somebody is watching transactions related to military industrial complex stocks. The image here includes just three companies, one of which is Raytheon, the maker of Tomahawk missiles in which  Trump may or may not own shares. How convenient for shareholders of record last Friday the stock went ex dividend this Monday after a spike in price late last week when 59 missiles were aimed just off a Syrian runway.

Considering both Russia and Syria knew in advance the US was deploying missiles, one would be foolish not to wonder if any one with vested interest in NYSE:RTN or competitors might also have known in advance to buy before the 01:40 UTC launch with a sell order for Monday’s open. For those of you mentally checking off time zones of key cities and major stock markets:

Damascus Fri 07-APR-2017 4:40:00 am EEST UTC+3 hours
Washington DC Thu 06-APR-2017 9:40:00 pm EDT UTC-4 hours
Moscow Fri 07-APR-2017 4:40:00 am MSK UTC+3 hours
Tokyo Fri 07-APR-2017 10:40:00 am JST UTC+9 hours
Shanghai Fri 07-APR-2017 9:40:00 am CST UTC+8 hours
Corresponding UTC(GMT) Fri 07-APR-2017 01:40:00

Get Carter 2
I’d much rather talk about a second installment of the 1971 movie featuring Michael Caine but no, it’s all about Carter Page and his less-than-stellar ability to prevaricate about his dealings with Russians. While quizzed by ABC’s George Stephanopolous about the chances sanctions were discussed by Page and Russians during the 2016 campaign season, Carter replied, “Something may have come up in a conversation…”

Uh-huh. Imagine somebody at the FBI cutting to a taped conversation or two at that point. Page insists he didn’t ask or offer about the sanctions, but he’s wholly unconvincing. It’s no wonder at all known Russian spies in the Buryakov case were skeptical about Page, a.k.a. ‘Male-1’. Whatever Page claims there was enough there to pass the threshold requirements for a FISA warrant.

Why is Page talking to media now anyhow? Is he somebody’s canary-in-the-coal-mine? Definitely not a FISA warrant canary.

That’s Three Things. By the way: about 22 percent of taxpayers wait until the last two weeks before the deadline to file. Tick-tock — only a handful of hours until Day 5 before deadline.

(p.s. treat this like an open thread)

Trump Is a Market Disaster

Byron York has an interesting column explaining why Trump has such a difficult time staffing his administration. After laying out the scope of the problem and (for some reason) invoking Mao, York correctly notes Trump relies on family — especially Jared Kushner, who (after all) has only been family for eight years — where others might demand loyalty via long-term political ties.

Thus Trump’s focus on the family. After dispatching sons Don and Eric to run the business, Trump formally brought daughter Ivanka and Kushner into the White House power structure. (The president sought and received a Justice Department opinion arguing that the White House is exempt from federal anti-nepotism law.)

And Trump began to pile jobs on Kushner. The Middle East peace portfolio. Point of contact for foreign leaders. Tackling the opioid crisis. Heading the Office of American Innovation. “No human being can do all that stuff,” says a Republican White House veteran.

When Bannon appeared ready for a “gunfight” with Kushner, eyes rolled across Washington. Who was Bannon kidding? “He’s picked a fight with the only person he can’t beat,” said a top GOP politico close to the White House. And it didn’t take a top GOP politico to figure that in the end, family will win.

At least, family will win in a fight versus Bannon or any of Trump’s other hires, no matter how initially infatuated Trump might be with them. In the long run, though, it might not be correct to say Kushner, even with his special place as the husband of Trump’s favorite daughter, cannot be fired. It might be more accurate to say he will be the last fired.

But even in a column that ends up there, at the family, York makes this error:

Trump’s way of running his business, even though it made him a billionaire, was small in scale — in his Trump Tower office, he relied heavily on a tight circle of people who were either related to him or had been with him for a very long time. [my emphasis]

Trump’s way of business didn’t make him a billionaire. On the contrary, Trump has generally underperformed both the stock market and what other billionaires — ones more justifiably recognized for their business acumen — have done. What made Trump a billionaire was, in very significant part, nothing more than inheriting a lot of money. That is, what made this man whose overwhelming loyalty in life is to his family was his family. Indeed, some of the other things that have helped him accrue and keep his fortune along the way involve asymmetries like bankruptcy law which actually prevent the market from measuring business success (to the extent it ever actually does that).

Which brings me to this widely-noted point in the WaPo piece on Bannon’s declining influence, the subject of York’s piece.

Trump’s three oldest children — Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric — and Kushner have been frustrated by the impression of chaos inside the White House and feel that their father has not always been served well by his senior staff, according to people with knowledge of their sentiments. The Trump heirs are interested in any changes that might help resuscitate the presidency and preserve the family’s name at a time when they are trying to expand the Trump Organization’s portfolio of hotels.

The kids are intervening not because Ivanka looked at dying Syrian children and wept, but because Trump’s failure as president threatens to ruin the family brand, the one thing they’ve got.

I actually predicted this some time ago: Ivanka, especially, would intervene to fix things when it became clear Trump’s disastrous presidency was hurting the family.

I raise this to point out something else, beyond that we should be appealing to Trump’s brand if we want him to change.

It’s that, for a businessman, Trump has a remarkably bad idea how markets work, because he has long defied them. So it’s not surprising that he embraces policies — his immigration policy is a mixed bag, but it does relate to markets, and his drug war and “school choice” policies are actually anti-market policies disguised as market ones — that can be justified by market spin but are actually about defying it.

We should not expect Trump to believe in measures of efficacy because he has never been held to real measures of efficacy.

One more note: It is true that Jared Kushner, by virtue of marrying Trump’s favorite child, gets grand-fathered in as a family member. But remember that Kushner has only been part of this family for 8 years, for a shorter period of time than long-time Trump associates like lawyer Michael Cohen or Roger Stone. Remember, too, that (if possible) Kushner is even more a product of inheritance and privilege than Trump.

That’s a volatile combination, even assuming that Kushner’s make-believe diplomat role, in issues he has absolutely no preparation for, doesn’t get him in a heap of trouble, which I think (especially, but not exclusively, on the Russian front) it might.

Trump works by family, Trump works by brand. But Kushner may not always serve those purposes.

Three Things: Day 7, Get Carter, SLAPP-ish Defense

Busy, busy, busy here, now running very late. Only have time for three quick things.

DAY 7 and counting
U.S. income tax filings are due by midnight local time next Tuesday, April 18, the day before we ask where Trump’s 2016 tax returns are in addition to previous years’ returns.

Coincidentally, scientists may have gotten a snapshot of a black hole for the first time, though we won’t know for a few months. We may have better luck looking to that void for Trump’s tax returns.

Get Carter
Carter Page, that is, not to be confused with the 1971 film character Jack Carter. You’ve surely heard since Tuesday night’s reports that a FISA warrant was issued mid-2016 to allow the FBI to monitor Page’s communications. You’ll recall that Page was identified as U.S. contact “Male-1” in the 2015 Buryakov complaint. Russian spy Victor Podobnyy tried to recruit Page, who was intent on doing business with state-controlled energy company Gazprom. It was Page’s relationship with both Gazprom and Russia which were touted as strengths when he joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 as an adviser. Page had been both an investor and an adviser to Gazprom; with Gazprom being majority owned by the Russian government since 2005, Page’s status under the Foreign Agents Registration Act has been fuzzy, though not as clear as Evgeny Buryakov or Victor Podobnyy. As of mid-2015, things did not look good for Gazprom — rough because of U.S. sanctions from 2014, and worse because of cannibalization of the domestic energy business by Rosneft. If Page was still invested in or committed to Gazprom, it’s hard to see how he would not have been influenced by this Russian state-controlled business. He has said he sold his Gazprom stock, but details about timing aren’t readily available.

And now, Get Paul — sorry, no movie of that name, but things are definitely heating up about the former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. He’s registering as a foreign agent — a wee bit after the fact — conveniently after AP reported money received by his business linked with a black ledger produced last year. Do watch sourcing; not many names attached to the content. Are they leaked materials or are the sources unwilling to go public given how many Russians have suddenly taken to keeping on their backs, pining for the fjords?

Anthem SLAPPs breach victims
I’m not a lawyer, but looks to me like Anthem is using strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) against customers who whose private health care data was exposed by a breach of Anthem’s security. The health care insurer won court orders demanding examination of customers’ computers to determine if any exposure was due not to Anthem’s breach but to the customers’ information security prior to the breach. Customers withdrew their suits against Anthem rather than subject their machines to examination. This sets a hideous precedent allowing greater sloppiness with information security which may only be reined in by shareholder suits and government intervention if HIPAA regulations were violated.

Nearly Day 6 o’clock. Do you know where your deductions are?

DHS IG Gives Secret Service All Clear for 2014 Fence Jumper Incident 6 Days After Latest Fence Jumper

On March 10, Jonathan Tran jumped three White House fences and managed to rattle the door of the White House before he was arrested.

To enter the south lawn of the White House, the intruder jumped three separate fences: A 5-foot perimeter fence near the Treasury Building, an 8-foot vehicle gate and another 3 ½-foot fence near the East Wing.

A new Secret Service timeline of the incident revealed the fence jumper scaled the first barrier at about 11:21 p.m. on March 10 — and wasn’t arrested until 11:38 p.m.

The Washington Metropolitan Police Department identified the man as Jonathan Tran, 26, of Milpitas, Calif. He is charged with entering or remaining in restricted grounds while using or carrying a dangerous weapon.

Six days later, Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General finalized a report titled, The Secret Service Has Taken Action to Address the Classified Recommendations of the Protective Mission Panel. It reads, in part,

Following the September 19, 2014 White House fence jumping incident, the Secretary of Homeland Security established the Protective Mission Panel (PMP) to undertake a broad independent review of the Secret Service’s protection for the White House Complex (WHC). In addition to recommendations made in an unclassified report, the PMP made a number of recommendations in its December 2014 classified report.

As directed by Congress in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016, we reviewed the Secret Service’s actions to address the PMP’s classified recommendations. The PMP’s classified recommendations primarily relate to security gaps and vulnerabilities at the WHC. We reviewed changes made by the Secret Service to equipment, technology, and operations in response to these recommendations.

The Secret Service has taken action to address the PMP’s classified recommendations by using funding appropriated for PMP initiatives to begin enhancing security and refreshing technology at the WHC. As in our unclassified report, we concluded that fully implementing many of the recommendations will depend on staff increases, sustained funding, and a multi-year commitment by Secret Service and Department leadership to ensure actions continue even during times of increased protective mission demands and unexpected priorities.

Admittedly, USSS is facing increasing strain now with the challenges of protecting President Trump’s weekend golf jaunts and Melania’s NYC tower dwelling. But this is pretty embarrassing timing.

Day 33: Happy Some Saint’s Day

I know, it’s St. Patrick’s Day, not just any saint but the patron saint of Ireland. It’s certainly not St. Trump’s Day, that’s for sure.

Trump’s budget proposal is the furthest thing from saintly — cutting federal funding to the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) is just one disgusting example. CDBG provides grants to the Meals on Wheels (MoW) program, which feeds the home-ridden elderly and disabled as well as kids in after-school programs. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney says MoW is “not showing any results.” No more fishes and loaves for you, sickly/old/poor people, if Congress goes along with this nonsense. I guess your desiccated, malnourished corpses are the kind of results this administration wants to see.

According to St. Patrick’s ‘Confessio‘ — an autobiography-cum-confession — he overcame kidnapping from Scotland, enslavement by the Irish, and eventually converted Irish to Catholicism. In contrast, Trump was born with a silver spoon and treated his fellow man (and some family) like crap throughout his lifetime. Definitely not saintly. And definitely not up to converting those who aren’t already his hardcore faithful adherents.

Stuff of the Irish:

Irish PM Enda Kenny visits Trump and asks for leniency for illegal Irish aliens — Let’s be frank about this issue: Trump’s probably fine with them (meaning Bannon is fine with them, too) because these aliens are probably white and Christian. Got to give it to PM Kenny, though, for this nice bit of snark:

“They say the Irish have the capacity to change everything…I just saw the president of the United States read from his script, entirely.”

Wonder if Trump was ballsy enough to go for an other conflict of interest and complain about the sea wall he wants for his Doobeg golf course resort.

British Brexit secretary David Davis says border checks between North Ireland and Ireland possible post-Brexit — He did qualify them as “light” customs checks, saying,

“There are already customs checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland because there are excise differences, but they are done in a very light way. … There would be customs checks, [but] that does not mean we demur from our position of wanting to have a very light border, no hard border.”

But wait…what do the Irish think of this?

Sinn Féin MEP tells Theresa May Brexit border checks in Ireland can go ‘where the sun don’t shine’ — And there it is. I didn’t even paraphrase that hed, that’s exactly what The Irish Post wrote. Here’s exactly what MEP Martina Anderson said:

“Theresa, your notion of a border, hard and soft, stick it where the sun doesn’t shine ‘cos you’re not putting it in Ireland.”

Ouch. No mincing words there.

Women won largest number of seats ever in North Ireland’s assembly election — Sinn Féin leads in gender parity as women represent 41% of its Member of the Legislative Assembly. Between the surge of women in NI’s National Assembly and the increased weighting of representation by Sinn Féin in both NI and Ireland’s National Parliament, the reaction toward the UK and Brexit will be quite different from expectations nine months ago.

Banks may be moving to Dublin from London because of Brexit — This report says Ireland is surprised; I don’t know why, given the amount of business conducted in English language in Dublin as compared to any other location like Paris, Brussels, or Frankfurt. Ireland has been a tax haven and a center for both insurance and technology for a couple decades, too. Perhaps Ireland ought to be more lenient toward educated illegal aliens from the U.S. if it’s looking to staff up its financial sector quickly.

Op-ed: ‘Another day, another Brexit lie exposed’ — Theresa May has only increased Irish sympathies for Scotland with her rejection of a second independence referendum, as if all the other Brexit fail wasn’t enough. Could this animus be enough to unite Ireland, but against Britain and its “Tory public schoolboys”?

That’s a wrap on this work week and Day 33 in our countdown to Tax Day. Don’t drink green beer. Just don’t.

image_print