The Open Thread for June 3, 2018

“President Trump’s lawyers have for months quietly waged a campaign to keep the special counsel from trying to force him to answer questions in the investigation into whether he obstructed justice, asserting that he cannot be compelled to testify and arguing in a confidential letter that he could not possibly have committed obstruction because he has unfettered authority over all federal investigations,” the New York Times reports.

“In a brash assertion of presidential power, the 20-page letter — sent to the special counsel, Robert Mueller III and obtained by The New York Times — contends that the president cannot illegally obstruct any aspect of the investigation into Russia’s election meddling because the Constitution empowers him to, “if he wished, terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon.”

“Mr. Trump’s lawyers fear that if he answers questions, either voluntarily or in front of a grand jury, he risks exposing himself to accusations of lying to investigators, a potential crime or impeachable offense.”

The letter Trump’s lawyers sent Mueller is extraordinary. They effectively argue that Trump cannot break the law because Trump is the law. All investigations belong to Trump. All crimes can be erased by Trump.

“President Trump has spent more in taxpayer dollars on his frequent trips to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida than Robert Mueller’s office has spent on the Russia investigation so far, despite Trump’s attacks on the high cost of the Russia probe,” The Hill reports.

“The president has repeatedly attacked the Mueller probe for racking up millions of dollars in expenditures after the Justice Department reported this week that the special counsel’s office had spent roughly $16.7 million… But that number is dwarfed by the amount required to pay for the president’s numerous trips to the ‘Winter White House,’ which The Washington Post and Politico analyses have estimated to cost taxpayers on average between $1 and $3 million dollars per trip.”

“An analysis by the Associated Press shows that nearly half the political appointees hired at EPA under President Donald Trump have industry ties. Of more than 60 EPA hires tracked by the AP over the last year, about one-third worked as registered lobbyists or lawyers for chemical manufacturers, fossil fuel producers or other EPA-regulated companies.”

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) “has been a pitbull investigator for Republicans for years. Now, he’s is in President Trump’s doghouse for daring to challenge the president’s unsupported claim that Democrats and their sympathizers in the FBI embedded a spy in his 2016 campaign,” Politico reports.

“Trump allies have been pummeling Gowdy in recent days, branding him a gullible or clueless backer of the intelligence community.”

Former Attorney General Eric Holder told an audience in New Hampshire that even if President Trump is using his pardon power to send a signal to potential witnesses in the Mueller probe, people who are pardoned can still go before a grand jury, Axios reports.

Said Holder: “If Bob Mueller, for instance wants to take a pardoned person, put that person before a grand jury, that person no longer has the ability to say, ‘I’m going to invoke my Fifth Amendment right’ and that person then becomes a perfect witness for the special counsel.”

McClatchy: “A new Russian influence operation has surfaced that mirrors some of the activity of an internet firm that the FBI says was deeply involved in efforts to sway the 2016 U.S. elections, a cybersecurity firm says.”

“A website called appeared on the internet May 17 and called on Americans to rally in front of the White House June 14 to celebrate President Trump’s birthday, which is also Flag Day… The website’s operators once worked out of the same office building in St. Petersburg, Russia, where the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency had its headquarters.”

The United States is planning for a potential summit between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Wall Street Journal reports.  U.S. ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman has been in Washington, D.C., to coordinate a possible meeting.

“Barack Obama is set to help Democrats gear up for the 2018 midterm elections, which supporters hope could see the party take control of at least the House this year,” NBC News reports. “Obama will appear at a Democratic National Committee Gala Dinner in Los Angeles on June 28, organizers said in an emailed invitation.“

Steve Bannon told CNN that he thinks President Trump will force another government shutdown this fall.

Said Bannon: “I believe that what he’s going to do is, as we come up on September 30, if that appropriations bill does not include spending to fully build his wall — not some $1.6 billion for prototypes, I mean to build the southern wall — I believe he will shut down the government.”

He added: “The wall is not just totemic. The wall is absolutely central to his program.”

“Do you really want to know what I think about those jerks? I think they’re a waste of time. They’re guys who can’t get a real job, ethics watchdog? Who gets a job — ethics watchdog? Give me a break.”

— Charles Kushner, in an interview with The Real Deal, about his son’s ethics problems in the White House.

Washington Post: “At an island resort off the coast of Singapore, U.S. event planners are working day and night with their North Korean counterparts to set up a summit designed to bring an end to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. But a particularly awkward logistical issue remains unresolved… Who’s going to pay for Kim Jong Un’s hotel stay?”

“The prideful but cash-poor pariah state requires that a foreign country foot the bill at its preferred lodging: The Fullerton, a magnificent neoclassical hotel near the mouth of the Singapore River where just one presidential suite costs more than $6,000 per night.”

“When it comes to paying for lodging at North Korea’s preferred 5-star luxury hotel, the United States is open to covering the costs, the two people said, but it’s mindful that Pyongyang may view a U.S. payment as insulting. As a result, U.S. planners are considering asking the host country of Singapore to pay for the North Korean delegation’s bill.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) “is already working to line up support behind the scenes. But his ascension is unlikely to be smooth,” Time reports.

“These Republicans expect a challenger to emerge from the right-wing Freedom Caucus. More intriguingly, they believe that divisions among the GOP’s Establishment bloc may create an opening for a compromise candidate such as Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, or Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee.

Richard Cohen: “As the November election approaches, forecasts of the outcome in the House have evolved. No doubt, the uncertainties will continue. But little attention has been given to the implications of the growing possibility that the House majority could be razor-thin, for one party or the other. That, in turn, could result in a chaotic handling of the House’s customary first decision and vote—the selection of the Speaker.”

“Given statements that have been made by renegade Democrats and Republicans—including both incumbents and prospective freshmen in each party—who oppose their party’s current leadership, there is a real risk that when the 116th Congress convenes next January nobody will receive the requisite majority for Speaker from those present and voting, as required by House rules.”

“A federal study found signs that surveillance devices for intercepting cellphone calls and texts were operating near the White House and other sensitive locations in the Washington area last year,” the Washington Post reports.

“The discovery bolsters years of independent research suggesting that foreign intelligence agencies use sophisticated interception technology to spy on officials working within the hub of federal power in the nation’s capital. Experts in surveillance technology say that IMSI catchers — sometimes known by one popular brand name, Stingrays — are a standard part of the tool kit for many foreign intelligence services, including for such geopolitical rivals as Russia and China.”

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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