Notes and Comment Blog

No need to hire a lawyer yet

Jun 13th, 2017 10:25 am | By

It’s tricky, having a private lawyer working out of the White House.

Marc E. Kasowitz, a New York civil litigator who represented President Trump for 15 years in business and boasts of being called the toughest lawyer on Wall Street, has suddenly become the field marshal for a White House under siege. He is a personal lawyer for the president, not a government employee, but he has been talking about establishing an office in the White House complex where he can run his legal defense.

His visits to the White House have raised questions about the blurry line between public and private interests for a president facing legal issues. In recent days, Mr. Kasowitz has advised White House aides to discuss the inquiry into Russia’s interference in last year’s election as little as possible, two people involved said. He told aides gathered in one meeting who had asked whether it was time to hire private lawyers that it was not yet necessary, according to another person with direct knowledge.

Such conversations between a private lawyer for the president and the government employees who work for his client are highly unusual, according to veterans of previous administrations. Mr. Kasowitz bypassed the White House Counsel’s Office in having these discussions, according to one person familiar with the talks, who, like others, requested anonymity to discuss internal matters. And concerns about Mr. Kasowitz’s role led at least two prominent Washington lawyers to turn down offers to join the White House staff.

He’s representing Trump, so WH aides shouldn’t be consulting him about anything, because his advice won’t necessarily be in their interests.

Mr. Kasowitz has been central to Mr. Trump’s recent legal battles, helping his client keep divorce records sealed and representing him in the Trump University fraud lawsuit, in which Mr. Trump ultimately agreed to pay $25 million to settle claims from former students that the institution had cheated them out of tuition money.

In the final weeks of the presidential campaign, Mr. Kasowitz threatened to sue The New York Times for libel on Mr. Trump’s behalf over a story in which two women accused Mr. Trump of inappropriate touching years earlier. No lawsuit has been filed. A decade earlier, however, Mr. Kasowitz followed through on a similar threat, suing Timothy O’Brien, a Trump biographer and former reporter and editor for The Times, for libel and alleging that he had understated Mr. Trump’s net worth. That suit was dismissed by a New Jersey Superior Court judge.

He almost sounds more like an enforcer than a lawyer.

As for Mr. Kasowitz’s conversations with presidential aides, the White House Counsel’s Office typically supervises such discussions to make sure the aides understand their rights and do not feel pressured to help a lawyer who does not represent their interests, legal experts said. The counsel’s involvement is all the more critical in this case, they said, because many of the aides — potential witnesses in the government’s inquiry — do not currently have personal lawyers.

Mr. Kasowitz’s advice to administration staff may benefit the president more than the aides themselves, the experts said. The conversations he has with aides could shape their testimony before Mr. Mueller has a chance to interview them, should they be called as witnesses.

Staff are expendable. The Prince must be protected.

Partly because of concerns that Mr. Kasowitz is undermining the White House Counsel’s Office, at least two veteran Washington lawyers — Emmet Flood, a partner at Williams & Connolly, and William A. Burck, a partner at Quinn Emanuel — rejected offers to join the counsel’s office to help represent the administration in the Russia inquiry, according to people familiar with the hiring discussions, although they may yet represent individual White House officials.

Other noted criminal defense lawyers have similarly rejected offers to join Mr. Trump’s private legal team because of a range of uncertainties, including how much control Mr. Kasowitz exercises over his client, whether their advice would be secondary to his and whether Mr. Trump would pay legal bills. Besides Mr. Kasowitz, Mr. Trump’s personal legal team includes his partner, Michael J. Bowe, and Jay Sekulow, a Washington lawyer who specializes in free speech and religious liberties.

Emphasis added. It’s either funny or horrifying the way that’s slipped in there as if it’s just normal. Will the billionaire pay his lawyers? Hmmm, there’s no telling.

Under ethics rules, Mr. Kasowitz cannot interview any official who has hired a lawyer without that lawyer’s permission, meaning it would be in his interest if administration aides did not hire their own lawyers, experts said. “It is probably easier for him to represent Trump if he doesn’t have to deal with a bunch of other lawyers,” Ms. Sherburne said, adding that she believed it was inappropriate for Mr. Kasowitz to discourage aides from hiring their own counsel.

Richard Painter, the White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush who now teaches at the University of Minnesota’s law school, said that in a worst-case scenario, a staff member might listen to Mr. Kasowitz’s advice and “end up thrown under the bus.”

They are underlings. The Prince must be protected.

Kushner, of course, has his own lawyer.

The poison fruit

Jun 13th, 2017 9:05 am | By

Trump is thinking about firing the special counsel. Well of course he is, he’s Trump. But everyone around him is advising him not to. That means he will.

Newt Gingrich agrees with Trump though.

“I think Congress should now intervene and they should abolish the independent counsel,” the former House speaker said. “Because Comey makes so clear that it’s the poison fruit of a deliberate manipulation by the FBI director leaking to The New York Times, deliberately set up this particular situation. It’s very sick.”

Yeah, boy, that crazy Commie weirdo flake FBI director, that’s scary stuff man.

Adam Schiff urges time-thrift.

Schiff later told CNN’s Anderson Cooper he wouldn’t be surprised if Trump was considering ousting Mueller.

“You have to hope that common sense would prevail,” Schiff said. “But it wouldn’t surprise me at all, even though it would be absolutely astonishing were he (Trump) to entertain this. The echoes of Watergate are getting louder and louder.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan, however, did say he would be “surprised” if Trump fired Mueller.
“I think he should let Bob Mueller do his job, do his job independently, and do his job quickly, because I think that that’s what he would want to have happen,” Ryan told conservative commentator Guy Benson.

Unless of course he doesn’t want Mueller to find what there is to find.

Conspiracy bullies

Jun 12th, 2017 4:42 pm | By

Someone in Florida was sentenced to five months in prison this week for threatening the father of one the children killed at Sandy Hook elementary school. There’s a whole big conspiracy theory about Sandy Hook.

[Leonard] Pozner has spent years using every tool at his disposal to scrub the online record of his son’s memory clean of videos suggesting that Noah and his surviving siblings and his parents are actors perpetrating a massive conspiracy against the American public. Pozner has made some progress in defending his family against these lies, but he said that countering hoaxers is still an uphill battle. Big tech companies such as Google, Twitter and Facebook are doing far too little to deter the conspiracies, harassment and hatred that flourish on their sites, Pozner said.

While these companies have been talking publicly about confronting fake news, “They really don’t do that much. They can be doing a lot more – especially Facebook. It really turns the other way.”

He said tech companies that allow the spread of conspiracies and hatred, including Islamic State propaganda, “have blood on their hands”.

Why would there be a conspiracy theory about Sandy Hook?

Pozner’s six-year-old son, Noah, was murdered alongside his first-grade classmates in Newtown on 14 December 2012. Pozner’s young son was one of 20 first-graders and six educators who were shot to death in a small suburban elementary school by a troubled local man with a military-style rifle in one of the most shocking mass shootings in US history.

But in the early stages of mourning their murdered children, the Pozners and other families of victims had to confront an extra burden: accusations that their children were not dead, and that the tragedy that upended their lives was all a fraud designed to undermine Americans’ gun rights.

Oh. That. Good god.

While he had no exact data, Pozner said he believes there are “tens of thousands” of conspiracy theorists globally who believe that mass casualty attacks such as Sandy Hook, the Boston Marathon bombing and the 2012 mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, are hoaxes.

As more and more people join social media sites, Pozner believes the problem is growing more acute – and more people vulnerable to conspiracy theories are exposed to the “contagious addictive content” that spread hoaxes like viruses across the internet.

Pozner, who once listened to InfoWars’ Alex Jones before Jones became a Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist, said that people were drawn to hoaxes for different reasons.

Some “have nothing else going on in their lives and this gives them a sense of community, a sense of identity. It’s like a cult,” he said. Others are drawn to feeling “smarter” than the people around them who do not believe the conspiracy, thinking, “Oh, I’m awake – you guys are not awake.”

That works going in both directions though, and if you do it in the other direction, at least you’re not harassing the families of the murdered children.

The Honr Network, the organization Pozner founded to hold hoaxers accountable for their behavior, now has about 300 volunteers who help monitor hoaxer content online.

It is a gruesome world to confront briefly, much less over and over again. Hoaxers, for example, will share videos of Boston Marathon bombing victims having their limbs blown off, and then debate whether the color of the blood in the footage is realistic, or look for evidence that the person in the footage whose limb was just blown off was already an amputee who is now faking a new injury.

The long fight to use copyright protections to remove family photographs of Noah and his surviving children from posts full of wild conspiracies has left him frustrated at tech companies, who he said often push back or simply refuse to take down content related to his young children.

“If you become the victim of a crime, shouldn’t you be protected by society somehow? Shouldn’t society hold you up when you’re kind of weakened? That’s not the case right now. If life has thrown you a curveball and you’ve been knocked to the ground, YouTube and Google and Facebook think that others should be allowed to kick you while you’re down as much as they like, and they’ll protect those people’s right to kick you.”

Yes, they do, and they will.

Kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss

Jun 12th, 2017 4:29 pm | By

Now people are laughing at Trump for holding a Kiss the Ring or Perhaps the Ass ceremony at his first “Cabinet Meeting” today.

Donald Trump opened a cabinet meeting Monday by bragging about the “record-setting pace” of his legislation, which is his fantasy as opposed to fact. Then things got weird, as Trump invited members to introduce themselves. They knew what to do.

Watch the full 11-minute video

Tell him he’s awesome. Did I guess right?

The cabinet responded with appalling enthusiasm, viz: “we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda”; “great honor to serve you”; “my hat’s off to you”; “privilege of my life”; “thank you, great honor”.

Oh god oh god oh god it’s so embarrassing.

Chuck Schumer added his bit.

Smirnoff added its.


Jun 12th, 2017 12:17 pm | By

Then there’s that lawsuit filed today by the AGs of Maryland and DC:

The attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia have announced they’ve filed suit against President Donald Trump, alleging he violated the Constitution by retaining ties to a sprawling global business empire.

District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh made the announcement at a jointly held news conference in Washington, confirming the suit has been filed in federal court in Maryland. Frosh and Racine cited Trump’s leases, properties and other business “entanglements” around the world as the reason for the suit, saying those posed a conflict of interest under a clause of the Constitution.

“The president’s conflicts of interest threaten our democracy,” Frosh told journalists. “We cannot treat the president’s ongoing violations of the Constitution and his disregard of the rights of the American people as the new acceptable status quo.”

The RNC attempted to brush it off with the usual lies:

A spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee says a lawsuit filed against President Donald Trump by the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia “is absurd.”

Lindsay Jancek said Monday that Trump has been committed to “complete transparency and compliance with the law.” She says the lawsuit represents “the kind of partisan grandstanding voters across the country have come to despise.”

Trump has been committed to complete transparency? Really? Even though he has never released his tax returns? Even though during the campaign he said he would eventually, but then when he got in he said no he wouldn’t? Come on. A lie that blatant would make a statue blush.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer says it’s “not hard to conclude that partisan politics may be one of the motivations” in the lawsuit filed against President Donald Trump. He says the Trump administration will continue to move to dismiss the lawsuit in the normal course of business.

Of course it’s not hard to conclude that, and it’s probably even true, but that does nothing to erase the facts about Don’s self-dealing and conflicts of interest and furtiveness.

9th Circuit to President Liar: Nope

Jun 12th, 2017 11:55 am | By

Oh dear, poor Lying Don, another harsh blow. 9th Circuit says a big no to Don’s Excellent Travel Ban.

Another federal court has ruled against President Donald Trump’s revised executive order limiting travel from six predominately Muslim countries — and like other courts, used his tweets against him.

The ruling from a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is yet another stinging loss from a court that similarly refused to reinstate Trump’s original executive order on travel in February.

“We conclude that the President, in issuing the Executive Order, exceeded the scope of the authority delegated to him by Congress,” the three judges, all appointed by President Bill Clinton, wrote. “(I)mmigration, even for the President, is not a one-person show.”

The judges cited Trump’s latest tweets in the travel ban saga.

“That’s right, we need a TRAVEL BAN for certain DANGEROUS countries, not some politically correct term that won’t help us protect our people!” Trump tweeted on June 5.

Everybody warned him about that tweet. He doesn’t listen very well, does he.

They also cited White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s confirmation that the President’s tweets are “considered official statements by the President of the United States.”


When backed into a corner, lie like a rug

Jun 12th, 2017 11:41 am | By

Amber Phillips notes there’s this pattern President Liar has of throwing out criminal accusations whenever the heat gets too close to his bum.

We know that James B. Comey is a leaker. It’s doubtful that he’s a criminal; legal experts have said that even though the former FBI director shared his memos of conversations with President Trump with the media, if the information wasn’t classified, that probably wasn’t a crime.

Do we know that Comey is a leaker? I don’t feel as if I know that. He shared his own notes with a friend with a request to read portions to the Times. The notes were typed on a fed machine on fed time, true, but is that by itself really enough to qualify them as a leak if he shares them? Especially when the conversation they record was forced on him in the first place? When he would have avoided the conversation if he could have?

At any rate, Trump’s response was that tweet we saw yesterday:

Trump just basically accused the FBI director he fired of leaking classified information, days after Comey testified under oath to Congress that the president might have interfered in an FBI investigation.

In hindsight, this tweet probably shouldn’t have been surprising: When the president feels threatened, his go-to move is to accuse his opponent of doing something illegal and offer no evidence to back it up. Conspiracy theorists can and will pick this up and run with it, people can choose to believe which narrative they want, and the waters are sufficiently muddied.

And Trump, I would think, has opened himself to a libel suit.

But soon, Trump could regret this tweet. Congress might be calling the president’s bluff — if that’s what it is — by asking the White House to turn over tapes of Trump’s conversations with Comey (if they exist) and other evidence of their conversations. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) even invited Trump to testify before Congress. (“One hundred percent,” Trump said Friday when asked in a news conference if he’d testify under oath if asked.)

The problem for Trump is that Comey is a largely credible witness, and his testimony under oath was detailed and shocking.

Unlike Comey, Trump has offered no proof. And he appears to be going out of his way to create another story line: Comey is a leaker (true), and maybe even leaked more than we know about and it might be illegal (there is no evidence for this).

I don’t think Comey has offered any “proof” either, unless the legal definition is more relaxed than I realized. He’s offered evidence. We all learned at the start of his that an agent’s contemporaneous notes are considered admissible evidence in court, but evidence isn’t the same as proof. I think the actual claim should be that Comey has offered evidence while Trump has not. The nature of the evidence though is surely different when the agent in question is defending himself as well as his agency, the country, etc. I don’t for a second think Comey lied, but if I were Trump’s lawyer I’m sure I would point out that it’s certainly possible that he did, and that he had a motive.

Trump does this so often that reporters call him out in news stories for it. “It has long been his practice to stir up new controversies to deflect attention from a damaging news cycle,” The Washington Post’s White House team wrote about the wiretapping tweet.

In November, just weeks after Trump’s election, he claimed that the biggest voter fraud in U.S. history caused him to lose the popular vote. Seven months later, there’s no investigation of this, and there is no evidence for it.

He’s a serial liar, who tells destructive lies about other people to protect or puff up himself. And he’s the president.

Act One scene 7

Jun 12th, 2017 10:57 am | By

So what might happen next? Don could fall a few more flights.

but how much worse could this get? The chatter on the Sunday shows hinted at where we may be headed. Here are a few things to watch for:

The tapes Trump hinted at turn out not to exist. On ABC’s “This Week,” Jay Sekulow, a member of Trump’s legal team, said Trump will make a decision very soon on whether to release the tapes he may have made of his conversations with then-FBI Director James B. Comey.  After the news broke that Trump may have demanded a “loyalty” pledge from Comey, the president tweeted that Comey had better hope he doesn’t have tapes of their conversations. Trump has since hinted he still might release them, and congressional investigators have demanded them.

This state of play is utter lunacy in its current form — the White House has still not said whether these tapes exist, even as Trump hints they might still be coming, and we are so numb to Trump’s daily crazy at this point that we now oddly treat this as somewhat unremarkable. Maybe they do exist. But what happens if the White House, in response to those congressional demands, ultimately confirms that they don’t? Experts think the White House will have to come clean in some way. At that point, it would be confirmed that Trump invented the existence of these tapes to chill Comey from offering a full public accounting of the events leading up to his firing — which itself was a massive abuse of power, given that Trump allowed it was because of the FBI’s Russia probe — in the full knowledge that Comey was going to serve as a witness before long. What will Republicans say about that?

Most of them? The usual – he’s new to the job, he’s still learning about the rules and norms, he ran as a mavericky rebel dude, he’s a CEO not a politician, but her emails, draining the swamp, but Comey and her emails, yadda yadda yadda.

But what if he confirms they do exist, and produces them, and it can be determined they were not altered in any way? Well then, clearly, he’d be in deep shit, so it’s not going to happen.

What, there’s no chance that Comey’s lying and Trump’s telling the truth? Correct: there’s no chance of that.

Viciousness is it?

Jun 12th, 2017 10:29 am | By

Aaron Blake collects some of Don’s viciousness in response to his children’s complaints about the viciousness of people who dislike Don:

For the second time in a week, one of President Trump’s children took to the Fox News airwaves to complain about just how rough-and-tumble our political system is.

A few days after Eric Trump decried the political left as “not even people” over its “hatred” and treatment of his father, Ivanka Trump went on “Fox and Friends” on Monday morning and decried the “viciousness” of Washington.

“There’s a level of viciousness that I was not expecting,” she said. “I was not expecting the intensity of this experience.”

I guess she must think that her loathsome bullying father has some sort of right to be vicious because he’s so rich, and thus that she has some sort of right to complain about “viciousness” in his critics because she too is so rich (thanks to her vicious father).

In case you’ve blocked out everything that happened between June 2015 and November 2016 (which=understandable), here is a quick refresher of the things Donald Trump did as a candidate:

He also attacked Alicia Machado on Twitter and alluded to a non-existent “sex tape.” He also repeatedly called Senator Warren “Pocahontas.” He also brushed off his “you can grab them by the pussy” boast by calling it “locker room talk” – as if it were normal for men to talk about women like that.

He’s a bad, poisonous man, with a bad poisonous character. He’s malevolent and cruel and, yes Ivanka, vicious. Look to thine own nest and clear the excrescences therein.

Sweating, are ya, Don?

Jun 12th, 2017 10:06 am | By

Poor Donnie. Sad!

He’s not at all worried about any of it. Not at all. He’s chill and happy and focused and at peak performance. Definitely.

The guy won’t pay and he won’t listen

Jun 11th, 2017 4:39 pm | By

Unsurprisingly, Lyin’ Donnie is having a hard time finding top lawyers willing to take him on. Gee I wonder why.

Top lawyers with at least four major law firms rebuffed White House overtures to represent President Trump in the Russia investigations, in part over concerns that the president would be unwilling to listen to their advice, according to five sources familiar with discussions about the matter.

The president’s chief lawyer now in charge of the case is Marc E. Kasowitz, a tough New York civil litigator who for years has aggressively represented Trump in multiple business and public relations disputes — often with threats of countersuits and menacing public statements — but who has little experience dealing with complex congressional and Justice Department investigations that are inevitably influenced by media coverage and public opinion.

And is barely literate and is vulgar and crude, so probably not the best choice for the job.

The lawyers and their firms cited a variety of factors in choosing not to take on the president as a client. Some, like Brendan Sullivan, said they had upcoming trials or existing commitments that would make it impossible for them to devote the necessary time and resources to Trump’s defense.

Others mentioned potential conflicts with clients of their firms, such as financial institutions that have already received subpoenas relating to potential money-laundering issues that are part of the investigation.

But a consistent theme, the sources said, was the concern about whether the president would accept the advice of his lawyers and refrain from public statements and tweets that have consistently undercut his position.

“The concerns were, ‘The guy won’t pay and he won’t listen,’” said one lawyer close to the White House who is familiar with some of the discussions between the firms and the administration, as well as deliberations within the firms themselves.

Other factors, the lawyer said, were that it would “kill recruitment” for the firms to be publicly associated with representing the polarizing president and jeopardize the firms’ relationships with other clients.

Other than that…

Just to shoot the breeze

Jun 11th, 2017 3:15 pm | By

Good god.


“When I’ve been reading the stories of how the President has been contacting (former FBI Director) Jim Comey over time, felt a little bit like deja vu,” [Preet] Bharara said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Trump invited Bharara to Trump Tower in New York a few weeks after the election, and Bharara said Trump asked him to stay on at the time.

Bharara said Trump called him twice during the transition “ostensibly just to shoot the breeze.”

“It was a little bit uncomfortable,” Bharara said. “But he was not the President. He was only the President-elect.”

The former US attorney said Trump called him one more time — in March, after Trump had taken office.

“I refused to return the call,” Bharara said.

He said he talked to his team and reported the phone call to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff, saying it appeared Trump “was trying to cultivate some kind of relationship.”

Bharara explained it was important for him to stay at “arm’s length” from the President given the then-US attorney’s jurisdiction over business interests, including the Trump Organization’s, in New York.

He also argued that Trump knew such outreach was problematic.

Bharara said 22 hours after he declined to return the call, he was asked to resign along with the other US attorneys.

And when he didn’t he was fired.

Holy crap. Is that corrupt enough for them? Is that blatantly mobster-like enough for them? Is that grotesquely sleazy and wrong and criminal enough for them? A few weeks into his “administration”?

When he tells you to do something, guess what?

Jun 11th, 2017 11:57 am | By

Don Junior carelessly confirmed the truth of what Comey testified, in his eagerness to sneer at and defame him.

Donald Trump Jr. — the president’s eldest son — seemed to confirm Comey’s version of events in a Saturday interview on Fox News as he tried to emphasize the fact that his father did not directly order Comey to stop investigating Flynn.

“When he tells you to do something, guess what? There’s no ambiguity in it, there’s no, ‘Hey, I’m hoping,'” Trump Jr. said.

He says dogmatically, but of course he wouldn’t know what Trump does when it’s a matter of being president and wanting to bully the head of the FBI into closing an investigation while also wanting not to be impeached for obstruction of justice. Even Trump isn’t so stupid that he thinks it would be totally cool and acceptable to just order the head of the FBI to shut that whole thing down. Why else, as Comey said, did he empty the room? Why else was that dinner just the two of them? So Don 2’s deep experience of Daddy is not all that informative on this subject.

“When he tells you to do something, guess what? There’s no ambiguity in it, there’s no, ‘Hey, I’m hoping,'” Trump Jr. said. “You and I are friends: ‘Hey, I hope this happens, but you’ve got to do your job.’ That’s what he told Comey. And for this guy, as a politician, to then go back and write a memo: ‘Oh, I felt threatened.’ He felt so threatened — but he didn’t do anything.”

So he’s pretty much as disgusting as Daddy then. It’s not that Comey felt personally threatened, as in Trump was going to assault him – it’s that he was amazed and alarmed that Trump was trying to strong-arm him into shutting down an investigation. That’s an entirely reasonable reaction from the head of the FBI to such a request. It’s not something for Little Don Trump to sneer at on Fox News.

Trump Jr. also said that Comey’s testimony “vindicated” the president and that everything in it was “basically ridiculous.”

“I think he’s proven himself to be a liar in all of this. I think he’s proven himself to be a dishonest man of bad character,” Trump Jr. said.

Projection again. Seems to be a family vice. I wonder why.

The interviewer by the way is a family friend of the Trumps. All open and aboveboard.

Trump is a hostile, dangerous power

Jun 11th, 2017 11:38 am | By

The Observer offers a crisp take on Trump’s suitability for a state visit to the UK.

Donald Trump is not a fit and proper person to hold the office of president of the United States. That is a view widely held in the US and among America’s European allies, by politicians and diplomats in government and by rank-and-file voters repelled by his gross egoism, narcissism and what Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, has rightly termed his “stupefying ignorance”. It is a view we wholeheartedly share and have repeatedly expressed, before and after Trump’s narrow election victory last November.

Trump is an habitual liar, as evidenced again in last week’s sworn congressional testimony by his sacked FBI director, James Comey. Trump is a bully, as Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, among many others, can testify from personal experience. And Trump is a coward. When put on the spot, as over his authorisation of a disastrous special forces raid in Yemen in January or his bogus claim that Britain’s GCHQ bugged him, his craven instinct was to shift blame to others.

It’s funny, I was just saying all those things in response to his tweet calling Comey a coward – he’s a liar, a bully, and a coward. He’s terrible just as a basic human being, let alone as a head of state.

Plainly, Trump is no friend to Britain. On the contrary, he is a menace. His divisive policies, his authoritarian tendencies, his disrespect for the US constitution, his ignorance and fear of the world, his mendaciousness and grubby personal instincts amount to a clear and present danger to British interests.

Trump – not the US – is a hostile, dangerous power. May, or her successor, should recognise the threat he poses and rescind his invitation to make a state visit to Britain this autumn. Contrary to what the two-faced Johnson says, there is every reason to block this visit. The prospect of this loathsome man being afforded the full honours of the British state is quite simply disgusting. It is an affront to the British people and British values. It could cause lasting damage to the Anglo-American relationship. Assuming he is not impeached first, oafish Trump must be told: you are not welcome here.

Rat shan’t visit party.

They’re waiting for the queen to phone

Jun 11th, 2017 11:28 am | By

Patrick Wintour at the Guardian reports that Trump is having doubts about that visit to the UK, but the White House has issued a statement saying Nuh-uh.

Donald Trump has told Theresa May in a phone call he does not want to go ahead with a state visit to Britain until the British public supports him coming.

The US president said he did not want to come if there were large-scale protests and his remarks in effect put the visit on hold for some time.

The call was made in recent weeks, according to a Downing Street adviser who was in the room. The statement surprised May, according to those present.

May’s people refuse to comment.

“We aren’t going to comment on speculation about the contents of private phone conversations. The Queen extended an invitation to President Trump to visit the UK and there is no change to those plans.”

Yeah that’s meaningless. What plans? An invitation isn’t plans.

We don’t actually have an ambassador to the UK, by the way.

Trump has named Woody Johnson, a Republican donor and owner of the New York Jets, as the new ambassador to the UK but has yet to nominate him formally. A large number of US ambassadorial positions remain unfilled worldwide largely due to the Trump team failing to make any formal nominations.

I guess Trump is too busy tweeting and watching Fox and Friends to take care of trivia like filling ambassadorial vacancies.

The White House said in statement: “The President has tremendous respect for Prime Minister May. That subject never came up on the call.”

Jenna Johnson, a Washington Post reporter tweeted to say that the White House press secretary had told her the Guardian’s report was “false” but added that the White House “won’t say when Trump plans to go to the UK”.

FUBAR as usual.

Project much?

Jun 11th, 2017 10:37 am | By

Don the Bully has been active this morning.

I suppose what he meant by “prevalent” is that there are more of them than the one non-leak of Comey sharing his notes with the Times via a friend. There is of course little reason to “believe” any such thing, and quite a lot of reason not to. One compelling reason is simply that Comey wasn’t a stifled underling, he was the head of the organization, so he generally didn’t need to “leak.” The special case would be if he needed to leak information related to Trump and Co, as Mark Felt aka Deep Throat did. If the situation had continued maybe he would have, but it doesn’t look particularly likely that he did: he kept the top FBI people informed instead.

But what really made my outrage alarm go off is that disgusting “Very ‘cowardly!'” How dare he. How dare that loathsome bully who has spent his whole life abusing people less powerful than himself call anyone else “cowardly.” Trump is the coward here. Trump who walks in on women in dressing rooms because he owns the pageant. Trump who assaults women who sit next to him on airplanes. Trump who yanked his wife’s hair out in a fit of anger. Trump who rips people off with fake “university” seminars. Trump who stiffs workers and contractors. Trump who uses Twitter to insult anyone who annoys him. Trump is the coward here. Trump is the bragging bullying self-obsessed coward. Comey made a huge mistake last October that is probably why we’re stuck with the bullying coward now, but Comey is not the coward of this particular pairing.

Many waves

Jun 10th, 2017 6:02 pm | By

Carol Tavris on feminism and misogyny, which she could also have called feminism and reaction or feminism and backlash.

Feminism and misogyny have been locked in a painful, inextricable embrace for centuries: The ascendance of one enrages, provokes and energizes the other. Each seeks justifications for its premisses and goals in religion, culture, tradition – and that most solemn of authorities, science.

No they don’t. Anti-feminism does, but feminism is deeply rooted in resistance to religion, culture, tradition. Until very recently religion, culture, tradition have been centrally about keeping women subordinate and silent.

Anyway, it gets better after that.

Whenever women sought to enter these or any other male-dominated fields, they would get the sneering question that Angela Saini, in her book Inferior, reports that a man asked her after a lecture: “Where are all the women scientists? Where are the women Nobel Prize-winners? Women just aren’t as good at science as men are. They’ve been shown to be less intelligent”. This ignorant question never subsides; it just moves to a new target. Once women got through answering “where are the women bartenders, business leaders, soldiers, politicians, scientists, and physicians?” – they are here in great numbers now, thank you, once the barriers of discrimination and tradition were lifted – the opposition is still not satisfied. The architectural historian Despina Stratigakos got so exasperated hearing “Where are the women architects?” that in 2016 – 2016! – she wrote a splendid book with that title, explaining what should have been the familiar answer: They are here. They have always been here. There would be more of them but you guys shut them out of the academies, the prizes and the historical records.

In short, stop asking questions like that and you’ll see where women are.

[T]he particular biological deficiency said to afflict women and limit their abilities keeps changing. In 1970, a prominent American physician declared that women’s “raging hormones” made them unfit for public office, commenting, apparently with a straight face, that a female president in menopause might irrationally start a war. The anthropologist Lionel Tiger announced, apparently with a straight face, that any young woman who took the US Graduate Records Exam while menstruating was in danger of jeopardizing her entire career.

I watched Lionel Tiger give a bafflingly anti-feminist (and structureless) talk at a conference once. I think everyone in the audience was bewildered.

Then, starting in the 1980s, the era of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, biology came roaring back – a result of new technologies, billions of dollars available for research, and the turn of the political wheel back towards conservatism and traditionalism.

As night must follow day, biology must follow bigotry as the popular explanation of persistent gender differences. Brains are so much sexier than those pesky problems of salary, parental leave, status, harassment, and who does the dishes. And so we got a deluge of books about the “essential”, hard-wired differences between men and women: Simon Baron-Cohen’s The Essential Difference (2003); Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate (2002); Louann Brizendine’s The Female Brain (2006), followed by The Male Brain in 2010; and a bunch of silliness from the Gurian Institute, such as It’s a Baby Girl! (2009), which claimed that “Without testosterone interfering, your daughter develops not only female genitalia but a decidedly female brain . . . [one] that will direct her female approach to the world”.

It was popular.

Explanations of behaviour based on brain scans feel so final – who could argue with all those lit-up areas? Women have a fatter corpus callosum than men? So that explains their greater chattiness! And testosterone – so that explains murder and war! And evolution – so that explains male promiscuity! It’s in men’s nature – live with it, girls!

But now feminism has returned, and with it the resistance to all that.

And so, as day must follow night, we find the emergence of books designed to counter the belief that women and men are inherently, biologically different. The first out of this decade’s chute was Cordelia Fine’s splendid Delusions of Gender: The real science behind sex differences (which I reviewed in these pages; January 28, 2011); she has followed up this volume with Testosterone Rex: Myths of sex, science, and society (to be reviewed in a forthcoming issue of the TLS). Note the emphasis on “science” in both subtitles, “real” and “mythical”.

Gavin Evans’s Mapreaders and Multitaskers: Men, women, nature, nurture reports that “male brains” are not fundamentally different from “female brains”; that men have not evolved to be more promiscuous than women; that men talk just as much as women; that the sexes don’t differ in multi-tasking, map-reading, maths or nurturing skills; that evolutionary psychologists “exaggerate the gender divide” and “routinely overstate the impact of genes and understate the impact of culture and environment”; that women are not “naturally” more empathetic than men nor worse at maths; that gender-linked preferences for pink and blue are recent cultural constructions, not genetically based; and that almost all of the media’s breathlessly reported claims of hard-wired sex differences (e.g., that genes “dictate shopping styles”) are scientifically unwarranted and reductionistic. All of this is true; none of this is new. Readers who are not familiar with these arguments, and the science of the past forty years that supports them, should read this book. Especially fathers who have daughters, as Evans does.

Unless now in the Age of Bannon we have to give the whole thing up again and wait for the next turn?

Who gets the extra ice cream?

Jun 10th, 2017 3:18 pm | By

A couple of weeks ago there was an evangelical Christian conference in Sydney “devoted to what it means to be a godly woman.” Oooh I know this one! It means to be obedient, submissive, subordinate, compliant, complaisant, “sweet,” deferential, self-effacing, and not at all in any way challenging to the Authority and Superiority of Men.

During a talk about the meaning of Bible verses on male headship — where men are leaders in the home and the church — an image of newly-shorn actress Kristen Stewart flashed onto an overhead screen.

Actress Kristen Stewart poses with close cropped hair as she arrives for the premiere of her new film "Personal Shopper"

Was this platinum blonde buzz cut, asked the speaker, Carmelina Read, appropriate for a woman? Was it feminine and submissive, or instead flagging independence and rebellion?

Women should have long hair to serve as convenient handles.

But what annoyed some of the thousands of women there was a claim that “women should also consider themselves ‘helpers’ of men in the workplace.”

Sure. Even if she has more talent, experience, education, and knowledge than the nearest man, she should consider herself his helper. Always inferior, you see; it’s god’s divine rule.

While it is generally accepted amongst conservative Christians that “headship” means women should submit to men at home and in the church, extending the idea to the world beyond is considered controversial, a form of mission creep.

So there’s a lot of arguing going on.

The doctrine of headship means, in short, that men are to be the heads of women in the church as well as in marriage. The verses being discussed in 1 Corinthians 11 say:

“… the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head — it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.”

The idea of headship has long divided Protestants in Australia, with the conservative pockets — where women are not allowed to be priests, such as the Sydney Anglican diocese, and Presbyterian church — adhering to it most vigorously.

Those who argue for male headship are called complementarians; the idea being that women and men are equal before God, but have different and complementary roles to play (as per literal interpretations of verses in Ephesians 5, where wives are told to submit to their husbands as their heads, and 1 Timothy 2, where women are told not to teach or have authority over a man).

By an amazing coincidence, that’s also the view of the Catholic church, bless its heart. Naturally this was just men dressing up their determination to be the boss of everything as somehow holy, but I think after all these centuries we can let it go now. Men are not the heads of women. Women have their own damn heads.

H/t Barry Duke

Morrison v Olson

Jun 10th, 2017 10:47 am | By

Alan Dershowitz has been telling the world that Trump can’t be charged with obstruction of justice. Rick Pildes at Lawfare explains what he’s ignoring.

The reason, according to Dershowitz, is that the Constitution gives the exclusive power to the President to control all federal law-enforcement investigations—and  thus to shut any of them down for any reason the President sees fit.  In other words, the President can never commit obstruction of justice by shutting down a criminal investigation or prosecution.

But Dershowitz fails to take into account that the Supreme Court has decisively rejected this view.  In Morrison v. Olson (1988), a 7-1 Supreme Court turned back constitutional challenges   to Congress’ creation of the Act that gave us the office of the Independent Counsel—and in doing so, dismissed exactly the argument that Dershowitz now seeks to invoke.

The Ethics in Government Act was created out of the recognition that the President should be taken out of the process of controlling investigations and prosecutions that involved potential crimes by himself or high-ranking government officials—i.e., close aides of the President.

The act was passed in 1978. That seems awfully…delayed.

The Act created a process that could lead to the appointment of an Independent Counsel for this role, and the entire point of the Act was to insulate the Independent Counsel—and hence the investigation and prosecution of crimes involving the President and his or her  top aides—from the President’s complete control.  The Act essentially put the powers of the Department of Justice in the hands of the Independent Counsel:  it vested him or her with the “full power and independent authority to exercise all investigative and prosecutorial functions and powers of the Department of Justice [and] the Attorney General.”

Then, to even further ensure that the President not have unfettered control when potential crimes involving himself and his top aides were at stake, the Independent Counsel, once appointed, was wrapped in several layers of additional insulation from presidential control.  Thus, the only person who could remove the counsel from office was the Attorney General—and, very importantly, the Attorney General could only do that for limited and specific reasons (“good cause”), such as misconduct in office or inability to perform the counsel’s duties.*  If the Attorney General did remove a counsel, the AG had to file a report with Congress and the courts stating the factual basis for this removal.

Ah, but then what if one party is in control of all of them, and has a dismal record of holding its own members to account for violations of law, norms, ethics and the like? What then? I ask because that’s the situation right now, at a time when the worst human being on the planet sits at the apex of the whole thing.

At his core a dishonest and untrustworthy man

Jun 10th, 2017 10:02 am | By

At this point the people who don’t think Trump is a confirmed resolute habitual liar would fit comfortably inside a boutique coffee shop in Sausalito. Dana Milbank won’t be sharing a table with them.

In the three hours I sat transfixed in Room 216 of the Hart Building, 15 feet behind the fired FBI director, the line that chilled me more than any other was Comey’s account of why he wrote extensive, real-time notes of his conversations with Trump. “The nature of the person,” Comey explained in part. “I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, and so I thought it really important to document.”

The nature of the person.

This was the essence of Comey’s testimony: that the president of the United States is at his core a dishonest and untrustworthy man. It was judgment on character, not a legal opinion, and even Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee made no real attempt to dispel it.

Dishonest and untrustworthy as well as self-interested and greedy as well as malevolent and aggressive as well as too stupid and ignorant to hide any of that.

(And yet with all that he still got elected. That says something about us, and that something is not a good something.)

Republicans on the committee defended Trump on some technical points but not on matters of integrity. Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho) called Comey’s testimony “as good as it gets” for legal writing and accepted that “we know exactly what happened” between him and Trump. Collins said Trump “never should have cleared the room, and he never should have asked you, as you reported, to let it go — to let the investigation go.”

Trump is growing lonely in his protestations of his own probity. Friday morning he inexplicably claimed “total and complete vindication.” Trump’s spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders vouched that “the president is not a liar. I think it’s frankly insulting that that question would be asked.”

She’s one of the customers at that coffee shop. I hope the scones are good.