“Within hours of opening an investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia in the summer of 2016, the F.B.I. dispatched a pair of agents to London on a mission so secretive that all but a handful of officials were kept in the dark,” the New York Times reports.
“Their assignment, which has not been previously reported, was to meet the Australian ambassador, who had evidence that one of Donald J. Trump’s advisers knew in advance about Russian election meddling. After tense deliberations between Washington and Canberra, top Australian officials broke with diplomatic protocol and allowed the ambassador, Alexander Downer, to sit for an F.B.I. interview to describe his meeting with the campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos.”
“The agents summarized their highly unusual interview and sent word to Washington on Aug. 2, 2016, two days after the investigation was opened. Their report helped provide the foundation for a case that, a year ago Thursday, became the special counsel investigation. But at the time, a small group of F.B.I. officials knew it by its code name: Crossfire Hurricane.”
NEW: A law enforcement official who leaked all of the Cohen financial records says they did it when suspicious transactions disappeared from a federal database. Concerned that there may be a coverup, they leaked the documents. @RonanFarrow scoops https://t.co/0ob5yTHAsg
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) May 16, 2018
Ronan Farrow: “Last week, several news outlets obtained financial records showing that Michael Cohen, President Trump’s personal attorney, had used a shell company to receive payments from various firms with business before the Trump Administration. In the days since, there has been much speculation about who leaked the confidential documents, and the Treasury Department’s inspector general has launched a probe to find the source.”
“That source, a law-enforcement official, is speaking publicly for the first time, to The New Yorker, to explain the motivation: the official had grown alarmed after being unable to find two important reports on Cohen’s financial activity in a government database. The official, worried that the information was being withheld from law enforcement, released the remaining documents.”
“Seven former government officials and other experts familiar with the Treasury Department’s FinCEN database expressed varying levels of concern about the missing reports. Some speculated that FinCEN may have restricted access to the reports due to the sensitivity of their content, which they said would be nearly unprecedented. One called the possibility ‘explosive.’”
Senate GOP: Russia Interfered to Help Trump. “The Senate Intelligence Committee says the U.S. intelligence community was correct in assessing that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections with the aim of helping Donald Trump, contradicting findings House Republicans reached last month,” the Washington Post reports. “The determination sets up a clash within the GOP over which record of events is most accurate, a dispute that could complicate the party’s messaging surrounding the Russia investigations as it heads into the 2018 election season.
If you want to do some light reading, here are all the transcripts and exhibits that the Senate Committee has released:
— Talking Points Memo (@TPM) May 16, 2018
Trump Made to Look the Fool on North Korea. North Korea cancelled talks with South Korea “indefinitely” and threatened to cancel next month’s summit with President Trump over joint U.S.-South Korean military drills, Yonhap reports. Axios: “This is a dramatic change in tone from North Korea… North Korea has long viewed the drills as a rehearsal for invasion, but had remained uncharacteristically silent about exercises last month.”
Kim Jong-un Just Used Trump’s Favorite Tactic Against Him https://t.co/iwR2MKudNo
— Nancy LeTourneau (@Smartypants60) May 16, 2018
Progressives and Women Victorious. Nathaniel Rakich: “The Democratic Party woke up this morning with a clear signal from Tuesday’s primary elections: The #Resistance means business. The more progressive candidate won in Democratic primaries around the country. The question, however, is whether those more liberal candidates will hurt the party’s chances in November.”
“The biggest — and most surprising — news of the night was nonprofit executive Kara Eastman’s nomination in Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District. Although former U.S. Rep. Brad Ashford had both the money and the backing of national Democrats, Eastman defeated him 51% to 49%. Like many of yesterday’s victorious Democrats, Eastman won by throwing red (blue?) meat to the liberal base: Where Ashford touted his ability to build consensus in Congress, Eastman promised confrontation and, well, resistance to President Trump.”
Tuesday's primaries resulted in big wins for women and progressives https://t.co/pcxqc7rq5x
— Daily Intelligencer (@intelligencer) May 16, 2018
First Read: “Two years after Donald Trump shocked the political world by winning Pennsylvania in the general election (and after Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., surprisingly won re-election, too), the GOP isn’t showing the same kind of strength — at least from last night’s primary returns. The competitive GOP Senate primary between Barletta and James Christiana got fewer votes (a combined 681,000) than incumbent Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., got in running unopposed (743,000). Additionally, more Democrats turned out to vote in PA-1 (49,000 vs. 47,000) and PA-7 primaries (45,000 vs. 31,700), which will be competitive general-election races come November.”
Immigration Showdown in the House. “Republican leaders warned rank-and-file members Wednesday not to move ahead with a discharge petition to force an immigration vote, saying the effort would effectively hand over power to the Democrats,” The Hill reports. “Eighteen Republicans have signed on to a discharge petition to force a series of votes on several immigration bills… If all Democrats back the petition, the sponsors would only need 25 Republicans to do so, a number that appears to be within reach despite opposition from GOP leaders.”
“With just one month until a scheduled sit-down with North Korea’s leader, President Trump hasn’t set aside much time to prepare for meeting with Kim Jong Un, a stark contrast to the approach of past presidents,” Time reports. Said one administration official: “He doesn’t think he needs to.”
“Aides plan to squeeze in time for Trump to learn more about Kim’s psychology and strategize on ways to respond to offers Kim may make in person, but so far a detailed plan hasn’t been laid out for getting Trump ready for the summit.”
— Greg Sargent (@ThePlumLineGS) May 15, 2018
Article of Impeachment No. LVIII. Norm Eisen, the top ethics official under former President Obama, accused President Trump of violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause because of a Trump development project in Indonesia that will be backed by Chinese government loans, The Hill reports. The South China Morning Post reports that $500 million in Chinese government loans will support construction of MNC Lido City, a billion-dollar resort and theme park project that will feature Trump-branded hotels and a golf course.
Garrett VeneKlasen (D) is running for Land Commissioner in New Mexico, an office which oversees millions of acres of land in the state, including areas that President Trump would need to build a border wall.
Gina Haspel has the votes. “Haspel appears to have secured enough votes to be confirmed as the country’s next CIA director after stating in a letter to a top Democrat that the agency never should have detained terrorist suspects and employed brutal interrogation techniques against them,” the Washington Post reports. “Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark R. Warner (D-VA) said that he had asked Haspel to write down her views because he believed that in one-on-one meetings she had expressed greater regret, and more resolute moral opposition to the agency’s interrogation program than she had communicated during her confirmation hearing last week.” The Senate Intelligence Committee will vote on Haspel’s nomination Wednesday; the full Senate is expected to vote on her confirmation later this month.
Dems to Campaign on Net Neutrality. Axios: “The linchpin of that strategy is a vote in the Senate Wednesday on a measure to undo the Federal Communications Commission’s 2017 repeal of net neutrality rules. That raises the prominence of the effort to preserve the neutrality rules — and will put at least some Republicans on record as opposing it.”
“The net neutrality voters care a lot about the issue, even if they make up only a small portion of the population.”
Democrats need to ignore the pleas that they "respect" Trump voters. This is a rigged game and the only way to win is not to play.
My post: https://t.co/gxW9G9erRN
— Paul Waldman (@paulwaldman1) May 15, 2018
NC GOP Strips Education Funding from Democratic Districts. This is quite a story in the Raleigh News & Observer: In the middle of the night, North Carolina Senate Republicans — “visibly upset with Democrats for prolonging the budget debate with amendments” — called for a recess, stopping the proceedings for nearly two hours.
“The session finally resumed around 3 a.m., and Republican Sen. Brent Jackson introduced a new budget amendment that he explained would fund more pilot programs combating the opioid epidemic. He cited ‘a great deal of discussion’ about the need for more opioid treatment funding.”
“Jackson didn’t mention where the additional $1 million would come from: directly from education programs in Senate Democrats’ districts and other initiatives the minority party sought.”
Trump’s Israel policy: let them do whatever they want https://t.co/1sia7dE1ZS
— Vox (@voxdotcom) May 15, 2018
A Missing Trump Campaign Email. New York Times: “Testifying behind closed doors on Capitol Hill in late March, the official, John K. Mashburn, said he remembered the email coming from George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the campaign who was approached by a Russian agent, sometime before the party conventions — and well before WikiLeaks began publishing messages stolen in hackings from Democrats. Such an email could have proved explosive, providing evidence that at least one high-ranking Trump campaign official was alerted to Russia’s meddling, raising questions about which advisers knew and undercutting President Trump’s denials of collusion. But two months after Mr. Mashburn testified, investigators for the Senate Judiciary Committee have not found any such message.”
A brief Turtle Spine sighting.
Not Surprising: “The Justice Department and the F.B.I. are investigating Cambridge Analytica, the now-defunct political data firm, and have sought to question former employees and banks that handled its business,” the New York Times reports.
“Prosecutors have questioned potential witnesses in recent weeks, telling them that there is an open investigation into Cambridge Analytica — which worked on President Trump’s election and other Republican campaigns in 2016 — and ‘associated U.S. persons.’ But the prosecutors provided few other details, and the inquiry appears to be in its early stages, with investigators seeking an overview of the company and its business practices.”
A federal judge ruled against Paul Manafort’s attempt to dismiss charges brought against him in DC on Tuesday, writing that the charges fell “squarely” within special counsel Robert Mueller’s authority — which means Manafort is headed for trial this year. https://t.co/ZUvKtQDS25
— Vox (@voxdotcom) May 16, 2018
Politico: “In a blow to Paul Manafort’s defense, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that Mueller’s prosecution of the longtime political consultant on charges of money laundering and failing to register as a foreign agent for Ukraine was ‘squarely’ within the authority that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein granted to Mueller last May.”
He was/is a Bag Man. Michael Cohen “is facing claims he asked a Middle Eastern official for millions of dollars to give to ‘Trump family members’ in a meeting at Trump Tower weeks after the president’s election victory,” the Daily Mailreports.
“Cohen is alleged to have asked Ahmed Al-Rumaihi, a former diplomat in charge of a $100 billion Qatari investment fund, to send ‘millions’ through him to Trump family members. A source told Daily Mail that the Qatari said he refused.”
Slate: Michael Cohen’s meetings with Michael Flynn and a Qatari diplomat might be the key to unlocking the Steele dossier.
— Talking Points Memo (@TPM) May 16, 2018
Warren 2020. “Democratic jockeying for the 2020 presidential race was on full display Tuesday as a host of likely contenders addressed liberal activists in Washington,” The Hill reports. “It was Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) who ultimately won the day with a full-throated assertion of the need for Democrats to hew closely to a base she characterized as ‘angry and scared’ about President Trump’s impact on the nation.”
Said Warren: “The sad truth is, most of these ideas won’t go anywhere unless we deal with the defining crisis of this moment in our history… Democracy is crumbling around us.”
Trump Leaves Us Defenseless. “The Trump administration has eliminated the White House’s top cyber policy role, jettisoning a key position created during the Obama presidency to harmonize the government’s overall approach to cybersecurity policy and digital warfare,” Politico reports.
“The cyber coordinator led a team of directors and senior directors who worked with agencies to develop a unified strategy for issues like election security and digital deterrence. The coordinator also represented the administration in meetings with foreign partners and at conferences and other public events.”