Open Thread

The Open Thread for May 18, 2017

The U.S. Department of Justice has named former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel in charge of Russia investigation.

Said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein: “I determined that it is in the public interest for me to exercise my authority and appoint a Special Counsel.”

Washington Post: “The move marks a concession by the Trump administration to Democratic demands for the investigation to be run independently of the Justice Department. Calls for a special counsel have increased since Trump fired FBI Director James Comey last week.”

New York Times: “The appointment of Mr. Mueller dramatically raises the stakes for President Trump in the multiple investigations into his campaign’s ties to the Russians.”

Foreign Policy: “NATO is scrambling to tailor its upcoming meeting to avoid taxing President Donald Trump’s notoriously short attention span. The alliance is telling heads of state to limit talks to 2 to 4 minutes at a time during the discussion, several sources inside NATO and former senior U.S. officials tell FP. And the alliance scrapped plans to publish the traditional full post-meeting statement meant to crystallize NATO’s latest strategic stance.”

“On May 25, NATO will host the heads of state of all 28 member countries in what will be Trump’s first face-to-face summit with an alliance he bashed repeatedly while running for president. NATO traditionally organizes a meeting within the first few months of a new U.S. president’s term, but Trump has the alliance more on edge than any previous newcomer, forcing organizers to look for ways to make the staid affair more engaging.”

Washington Post: “In the days leading up to Trump’s high-risk debut on the world stage — a nine-day, five-stop, four-nation tour — the Oval Office has morphed into a graduate seminar room, with a rotating roster of policy experts briefing the president.”

“Trump’s advisers say the president understands the stakes and is taking his preparation seriously. His team deliberately scaled back his public schedule in the two weeks leading up to his planned Friday departure, even though much of his time last week was eaten up by the Comey drama and talks about shaking up his West Wing staff… The process largely is being overseen by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a senior adviser, as well as McMaster and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell.”

Josh Marshall on the Special Prosecutor appointment: “First, this is a good pick.  Mueller has a strong reputation for professionalism. He was in DC for years. So people will have disagreements about this or that. He also headed the FBI for the whole post-9/11 era, during which the US pursued numerous highly controversial law enforcement and counter-terrorism policies. But with Mueller overseeing the investigation, I think that if anyone under scrutiny broke any laws they’re likely in pretty big trouble. For the purposes of this appointment, that’s what matters. I don’t think Mueller has any interest or willingness to cover for President Trump or any of his associates.

About the decision itself, this was Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s call. Initial reports say he did not consult with the White House about the decision and had finalized the order with his signature before notifying the White House. He apparently gave the White House about 30 minutes heads up. Reading between the lines, piecing together the embargoes that the big news organizations waited on until 6 pm, it sounds like this happened: The DOJ contacted the White House and the major news organizations around the same time, made the news organizations agree to an embargo until 6 pm and that brief period from 5 or 5:30 until 6 pm was the White House’s heads up.  That is about the absolute minimal courtesy Rosenstein could have provided.”

Jake Tapper took exception on CNN at President Trump’s claim that he’s been treated more unfairly than any other president in history.

Said Tapper: “Every single one of the president’s wounds is self-inflicted. Every single one. I don’t really understand the propensity for self-pity at a time like this.”

He added:  “My second reaction is, four U.S. presidents have been actually literally assassinated and killed. But more broadly speaking, when it comes to a president that has been treated unfairly, I mean that president led the charge claiming that the first African-American president was born in Africa. Which is not only a charge that is false, but is not a little bit racist.”

Five days before we learned that ousted FBI Director James Comey had written a memo saying President Trump asked him to stop the investigation into National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, the former top Justice Department spokesman tweeted this:  “One thing I learned at DOJ about Comey: he leaves a protective paper trail whenever he deems something inappropriate happened. Stay tuned.”

Today, Miller told the Washington Post: “We have no idea who made the decision to leak this, whether it was Comey himself or it was people at the FBI. And we don’t know what their complete strategic goals are. But if you were really looking to damage the president, you wouldn’t leak the most damaging memo first. So who knows what comes next?”

“In the House Republicans’ conference meeting on Capitol Hill this morning, the mood among members was subdued and somewhat anxious,” according to Jonathan Swan.

One source described members as “shellshocked.”

“Republican leaders are distressed by what’s going on, but don’t want to join the pile on… The posture (for now): let’s get the facts out there and try to be ‘sober’ about them. The last thing GOP leaders want is for pertinent facts to remain undisclosed, because all that means is the news media will ferret them out, blast them out and further shake the system.”

A Russian state-run bank under scrutiny by U.S. investigators “financed a deal involving Donald Trump’s onetime partner in a Toronto hotel tower at a key moment for the project,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“U.S. investigators are looking into any ties between Russian financial institutions, Mr. Trump and anyone in his orbit, according to a person familiar with the probe. As part of the investigation, they’re examining interactions between Mr. Trump, his associates and VEB, which is now subject to U.S. sanctions, said another person familiar with the matter. The Toronto deal adds a new element to the list of known connections between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia.”

Richard Painter and Norm Eisen: “After the revelations of the past 24 hours, it appears that President Trump’s conduct in and around the firing of the F.B.I. director, James Comey, may have crossed the line into criminality. The combination of what is known and what is credibly alleged would, if fully substantiated, constitute obstruction of justice. It is time for Congress and a special counsel in the executive branch to conduct objective, bipartisan inquiries into these allegations, together with the underlying matters involving Michael Flynn and Russia that gave rise to them.”

Republicans close to the White House tell Mike Allen that yesterday’s revelations “could take President Trump into a legal or constitutional realm where his staff and supporters can’t save him.”

Said one: “A week ago, we were talking about the agenda grinding to a halt. Now, the train is going down the hill backwards.”

This is important: “Watch for Trump to continue stoking his base, because his support there is what gives him power over lawmakers: They’re much less likely to abandon or undermine him if he remains popular in their states or districts. It’s his most basic survival strategy — and it’s another reason he won’t change.”


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12 comments on “The Open Thread for May 18, 2017

  1. Rosenstein played it smart, if he had given the White House any longer they would have mounted a media blitz and tweet counter strike. It appears Comey is well prepared for the eventual attacks Team Trump will launch, like a good Boy Scout he is well prepared and has left a trail to follow. The real question is what will come out and will Trump be the only target, I suspect not. As noted a thousand times this will play out over a period of months and perhaps years, but it’s a start we have all been waiting for, even the Republicans.

    • pandora

      Trump and co. would be wise to lawyer up.

    • This also makes the brilliant idea to pin the firing on Rosenstein seem like the worst possible choice Trump could have made.

      It’s like Rosenstein was like “screw this, I’m going to quit.” and someone said, “I’ve got a better idea”.

  2. pandora

    Roger Ailes has died.

    • To quote Josh Barro, a conservative writer, Roger Ailes behaved egregiously toward women in his organization and changed our culture for the worse, making people dumber and angrier. The world is a better place now that he is dead.

    • Prop Joe

      If you showed me a picture of Roger Aisles, I’d swear it was Alfred Hitchcock… Good riddance to a miserable, disgusting human being. And I am not sorry one bit at saying that. Just because someone who was a disgusting, filthy pig while breathing dies doesn’t mean they should suddenly earn respect or kind words.

  3. Missing in all this is the news that also broke last night that Flynn told the Trump team before the inauguration that he was under FBI investigation for working as a paid lobbyist from Turkey, and they hired him anyway.
    I keep thinking about the Sally Yates testimony that WH counsel McGahn asked her why the DOJ was concerned about Flynn lying to Pence about not having discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador. He already knew about the FBI investigation (he was the one told), and had already determined it wasn’t a big deal. They must have felt they needed Flynn bad, but why?
    Consider this leak about Flynn with the comment from Matthew Miller in mind, “But if you were really looking to damage the president, you wouldn’t leak the most damaging memo first. So who knows what comes next?”

    • What I meant to include above is — What about Pence? Wouldn’t he also have had to known about Flynn being under investigation? Did he do anything about that, or is he purposely keeping himself at arm’s length to keep from being splattered when all these shoes drop? I wish we’d hear more about his involvement.

      • DCDelaware

        That’s been my concern too. So far, he is often portrayed as “out of the loop” and/or mislead. As the head of the transition team, he should have no excuse, but I’m concerned he is being protected so he can survive. Hopefully, it will all come out.

    • elizabeth

      Pence was in charge of vetting these people. I never believed he didn’t know from the git go that they all knew about Flynn he was a solid partner in their crimes to win the election.

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