Tuesday, May 22, 2018

AMERICAN POLITICS - Trump's Sponsor, Russia, Given Free Pass

Hay, Putin got Trump elected.  What do you expect?

"The U.S. Considered Declaring Russia a State Sponsor of Terror, Then Dropped It" by Sebastian Rotella, ProPublica 5/21/2018

After an attack on a former spy, the State Department pondered placing that label on Putin’s government.  Instead, the Trump administration continued a longtime U.S. policy of treating Russia as a partner in fighting terrorism even as evidence of its misbehavior mounts.

The attempt to kill a former Russian spy in England bore an ominous signature: The assailants used a lethal nerve agent of a type developed in the Soviet Union, and British investigators quickly concluded that only the Kremlin could have carried out such a sophisticated hit.

Soon after the March attack, Rex Tillerson, then the U.S. secretary of state, ordered State Department officials to outline the case for designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism under U.S. law.  Experts in the department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism began to assemble what they thought was a strong case.

But almost as quickly as the review began — within about two days — the secretary of state’s office sent new instructions to drop the initiative, according to State Department officials familiar with the episode.

“There are a lot of issues that we have to work on together with Russia,” a U.S. official said.  “Designating them would interfere with our ability to do that.”

The State Department’s reluctance to impose the terror designation was not a product of Trump administration sympathy for Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. officials say.  Rather, it reflected an ambivalent and at times contradictory policy toward Russia on terrorism issues that stretches back more than a dozen years, American intelligence officials and foreign-policy experts said.

Even as Washington [DC] has grown more concerned about an array of Russian security threats, it has continued to seek Moscow’s cooperation in combating terrorism.  Although the approach has yielded few victories against the Islamist militants that the two countries vowed to fight after 9/11, advocates of the policy argue that it has been one of the few areas of common ground in which cooperation remains possible during a period of increasing confrontation.

“Russia is clearly a bad actor on the world stage,” said David McKean, a former director of policy planning at the State Department.  “But terrorism is an area where we have to keep trying to talk to them.  They can either play a negative role or not play a negative role — or occasionally play a positive role.”

Yet, as Tillerson’s order for the review suggested, the calculus in Washington [DC] has begun to shift.  Throughout the civil war in Syria, Russia has strengthened its backing for the regimes in Damascus and Teheran, which Washington [DC] has long accused of supporting terrorism, and their ally Hezbollah, an officially designated terrorist group.  Russia has intervened more directly in Afghanistan, Pentagon officials have said, shipping arms to the Taliban with little apparent regard for the geopolitical consequences.  And the Kremlin has methodically pursued its enemies overseas, ordering a series of assassination attempts in Europe, Turkey and the Middle East, national security officials said.

As the evidence of Russian support for terrorism has grown, the Putin regime’s campaign of cyberattacks and other subversion in the United States, Europe and elsewhere has raised new questions about the utility and viability of narrow efforts at cooperation on issues such as counterterrorism.

“We assume the Russians are like us, and if we would just do a better job of explaining ourselves, they would come around and be allies on counterterrorism,” said John Sipher, a former deputy chief of Russian operations at the CIA.  “Russia has been more consistent.  They have seen us, not terrorism, as the main enemy all along.”

In the case of the former Russian spy poisoned in the English town of Salisbury, Sergei Skripal, the Trump administration eventually joined Britain and other allies in retaliating for the attack.  Washington [DC] and its allies expelled scores of Russian diplomats and imposed financial sanctions on oligarchs and political leaders.

To formally name Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, however, would represent a more significant step.  The State Department’s list, which now includes North Korea, Iran, Syria and Sudan, reflects a formal determination that a foreign government has repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism.  (Secretary Tillerson was fired days after he ordered up the aborted review, apparently for reasons that were unrelated.  His replacement, Mike Pompeo, has not commented publicly on the prospect of such a designation.)

Under a process first implemented in 1979, the designation results in sanctions barring the country from U.S. foreign aid, arms sales and various forms of commerce.  It also restricts U.S. trade and diplomatic contact with nations that do business with countries on the list.

But both Republican and Democratic administrations have wielded the State Department’s terrorism sanctions primarily against countries where the United States has limited interests.  Washington [DC] has used the tool far more sparingly against powerful nations like Russia, where U.S. relationships include substantial competing equities.

In November, for example, the Trump administration aggressively pushed through the designation of North Korea as a sponsor of terrorism, despite what officials in the State Department and other experts considered a relatively weak evidentiary case.

“Russia much more neatly meets the definition of a state sponsor than North Korea does,” said a national security official familiar with the issue.

The Trump administration cited a series of complaints against North Korea, including the mistreatment of an American college student who died after being released from North Korean custody.  But the primary new evidence of repeated support for terrorism was an act that some officials and experts consider insufficient: the 2017 assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s half-brother at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

“I am delighted to see us get tough with North Korea,” said Daniel Byman, a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.  “I’d rather we chose another label.”

Pakistan, by contrast, has been spared from inclusion on the State Department list despite what U.S. officials say is a well-documented history of funding, training and protecting terrorist groups including the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba.  Even after U.S. counterterror agencies have directly implicated Pakistani intelligence officials in such flagrant activity as the 2008 terror attacks that killed 166 people — six of them Americans — in Mumbai, the U.S. government has continued to treat Pakistan as an indispensable, if untrustworthy, partner.

Russian leaders have bristled at the idea that they might qualify for inclusion on the terror-sponsors list.  Particularly since the 9/11 attacks, the Putin government has cast Russia as a Christian bulwark against the threat of Islamist militancy.  Putin was the first foreign leader to call President George W. Bush to express his sympathies after the attacks.  As the Bush Administration scrambled to strike back against al-Qaida, the Kremlin provided diplomatic and logistical support for the U.S. military’s operations in Afghanistan.

Russian security forces also worked with Western counterparts to track threats related to Chechnya.  And Moscow avoided criticizing the Americans’ use of brutal interrogation methods and secret detentions, despite years of U.S. human rights criticism of Russia’s own counterterror operations.

From the start, however, some U.S. intelligence experts warned that Moscow played by different rules.  Sipher, the former deputy chief of Russian operations, recalled his reaction after learning that the then-CIA director, George Tenet, had told Bush that Russia would be a key ally in the new war on terrorism.

“Tenet asked us to put together a paper on how the Russians were going to help us,” Sipher recalled.  “We were dumbfounded.  We said someone needs to tell the President they are NOT going to be an ally.  They are not going to help on counterterrorism.”

It was not long before signs of Russian duplicity began to surface, Sipher recalled.  In the mid-2000s, the CIA learned that Russia had given its allies in Central Asia a database of suspected extremists that included the names of some CIA undercover officers.

“When our officers showed up in certain countries at the airport, they were handcuffed because we popped up on the list as terrorists,” Sipher said.

In what some U.S. intelligence veterans see as a reflection of Putin’s background as a career officer in the Soviet KGB, Russia has mixed fierce tactics against Islamist militants in Chechnya with cooperation and collusion, officials said.

Russian opposition leaders and journalists have accused the Kremlin’s security forces of masterminding a string of mysterious bombings in Russia in 1999.  About 300 civilians were killed in the explosions at apartment buildings.  The attacks, which the government blamed on Chechen militants, helped then-Prime Minister Putin bolster his standing ahead of the Presidential election he won in 2000.

The U.S. case against Russia as a sponsor of terrorism has grown substantially over the past decade, national security officials said.

As Islamist militants began moving into Syria in 2012 to join that country’s civil war, law enforcement agencies in Europe arrested scores of would-be jihadists.  By contrast, U.S. officials have said, Russia’s principal internal security agency, the FSB, appeared to encourage militants from predominantly Muslim regions like Dagestan to go to Syria ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.  The FSB carried out this activity to reduce the threat at home during the Winter Games, according to U.S. officials, despite the fact that such militants were likely to join the Islamic State’s fight against the Syrian government, a close Russian ally.

“There must have been senior approval,” said Michael Carpenter, who served as National Security Council director for Russia during the Obama administration.  “There was facilitation, payment, passports.  There were hundreds, at a minimum, who went to Syria during this period.”

There have been more direct examples of state-sponsored violence in the pursuit of Chechen rebel leaders and other Kremlin enemies far beyond Russia’s borders, U.S. officials said.  Russian spies have been convicted of or accused of murdering suspected Islamist extremists in Dubai, Qatar and Turkey, according to officials, court verdicts and published reports.

Both the United States and Israel have often killed suspected terrorists overseas, notably in drone strikes conducted by the Pentagon or the CIA.  But Russia has targeted its own exiled political dissidents with growing frequency — an action that would qualify as terrorism under U.S. law if there is an intent to intimidate a group of people.

In the Skripal case in England, Carpenter said, the seemingly obvious signature of the nerve agent used to try to kill the exiled Russian spy on March 4 was integral to the plot.  “I think the Russians planned it as a hit that would lead everyone to think the Kremlin was behind it, and that would spread a chill among former spies,” he said.  “Is it terrorism?  Yes.  It targets that population of former Russian spies and dissidents and sends a message to stop cooperating with the West.”

Russia had convicted Skripal of working as a British double agent, but released him from prison and sent him to Britain in a spy swap in 2010.  The former military intelligence officer, 66, had lived quietly for eight years in the riverfront town of Salisbury until, British officials say, suspected Russian agents smeared the nerve agent Novichok on the handle of his front door.

Skripal was in critical condition for weeks before his health began to improve.  On Friday, he was released from the hospital.  Authorities moved him to a secret location to continue his recovery.  The other two victims — his 33-year-old daughter and a British police officer — were released from the hospital weeks ago.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said that only Russia had the weapon, motive and operational experience to carry out the plot, an assertion that U.S. intelligence officials have endorsed.  Because the Russian state tightly controls access to Novichok, American intelligence officers think the order to use it had to have come from high-level officials, a U.S. intelligence official said.

Russian leaders have denied any involvement in the case, and have even accused the British security services of staging the attack themselves in order to frame Russia.  After the director of the MI5 domestic intelligence service said last week that the Kremlin was at risk of becoming an “isolated pariah,” the Russian embassy in London declared: “This shows to what lengths London is prepared to go in order to keep the Western bloc in the UK-led confrontation with Russia.”

The Skripal attack recalled the 2006 assassination in London of Alexander Litvinenko, a former FSB officer who had also worked with Western intelligence services.  After fleeing to London in 2000, Litvinenko had publicly accused Putin of plotting the 1999 bombings in Russia, among other crimes.  He was killed by two Russian operatives who poisoned his tea with polonium-210, a rare radioactive substance produced by a Russian military laboratory.  A British court convicted the two Russians in absentia, but one of them, Andrei Lugovoy, a retired KGB officer, received a medal from Putin and was elected to the Russian parliament.

A dozen other suspicious deaths in Britain — the victims were Russian expatriates or Britons linked to them — drew less attention over the past 15 years.  In the aftermath of the Skripal attack, however, British authorities said they would reexamine those cases, which prominently include the death of Boris Berezovsky, an exiled Russian oligarch and enemy of Putin who was initially ruled to have committed suicide in 2013.

When Tillerson ordered the review of Russia’s record on terrorism in March, State Department experts examined a history of Russian-sponsored violent activity in neighboring Ukraine as a key element of a case for designation.

In 2004, an anti-Putin presidential candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, blamed Russian operatives for trying to kill him with dioxin.  The poison badly disfigured Yushchenko, but he survived and won the Ukrainian election.  In another case last October, Ukraine’s attorney general accused the Russian FSB of teaming with a politically connected gangster to assassinate a fugitive Russian legislator in Kiev.

One of the most serious elements of the case against Russia, U.S. officials said, may be the government’s alleged involvement in the shoot-down of a Malaysia Airlines flight by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014.  A Russian-made missile killed all 298 people aboard and was part of a wave of separatist bombings and other violence against civilians blamed on Russia after its forces occupied the Crimea region.

“It is the current Russian regime that provided the missiles, the launcher, the software, the training, and perhaps even the triggerman to shoot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17,” Carpenter testified before a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee in November.

U.S. military commanders have also accused Russia of increasing support for the Taliban.  Although the Afghan insurgency originated with the Islamic militant fighters who battled the Soviets during their occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, Russian forces have provided funding and small arms to the Taliban as part of an effort to undermine U.S. policy in the region, Pentagon officials have said.

Amid calls for stronger retaliation against Russia for the Skripal case and its meddling in the 2016 elections, some members of Congress have pushed the Trump administration to consider designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism.  Even if the case seems strong, U.S. officials say the action would imperil remaining lines of communication with Moscow and create legal problems for the United States in dealing with nations that do business with Russia.

The Trump administration recognizes Russia’s record, officials said, but senior intelligence officials have emphasized their continued support for a better counterterrorism partnership with the Putin regime.

U.S. intelligence agencies went so far as to extend a highly unusual invitation to Russian spy chiefs, which resulted in a meeting between the sides in January to discuss counterterrorism cooperation.  The directors of the FSB and the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service, held talks in Washington with the then-CIA director, Pompeo, and the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats.  The Americans reminded the spy chiefs that the CIA had relayed a lead that foiled a terrorist plot in Saint Petersburg in December, but the Russians have so far declined to share any comparable intelligence, a U.S. intelligence official said.

“The intelligence agencies want to have a channel open to the Russians,” the official said.  “Historically, at times of political tensions, the spy services have been able to de-escalate while Presidents like Putin are playing to domestic audiences.  It’s important to keep that back channel.”

Critics of the meetings took a less optimistic view, saying the U.S. intelligence community sent a message that it is not serious about confronting Russia’s aggressive conduct.  The Salisbury attack just weeks later underscored the futility of the outreach effort, those experts said.

“These are the guys behind the interference campaign in the U.S. elections, the guys directing Russian operations in Syria and Ukraine and ordering hits like the one on Skripal,” Carpenter said of the meetings.  “Words escape me to express how bad it was.”

Monday, May 21, 2018

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 5/18/2018

"Shields and Brooks on Jerusalem embassy conflict, Mueller investigation takeaways" PBS NewsHour 5/18/2018


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including a forthcoming rule from the Trump administration on family planning, the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem and the deadly protests along the Israel-Gaza border, plus what we know about the Russia investigation, one year on.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Now back to political developments, both here in the United States and beyond, with the analysis of Shields and Brooks.  That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.  We haven’t all three been together in a little while.  It’s great to see you.

Let’s start, Mark, with the story we led off as a segment earlier, and that is the administration moving to close down, essentially, or close funding for clinics that either provide abortion services or refer women to clinics that do.

It’s the early phases of this, but it’s something the Trump administration seems determined to do.

MARK SHIELDS, syndicated columnist:  Determined, Judy, to make a political issue out of.

I think that Donald Trump, if I’m not recalling — recalling correctly, as a candidate, made the issuing of executive orders by Barack Obama something noxious, pernicious and to be avoided.

That was when Obama did issue executive orders, obviously.  We had Republicans controlling both houses of Congress.  Donald Trump has both houses of Congress in his party.  He tried and Republicans did unsuccessfully in their attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, to defund completely Planned Parenthood, and to achieve these objectives.

Now he’s moving — all of these occurrences, I hate to sound cynical, happened to occur in an election year, not simply with President Obama, but it did with President Clinton, with President Obama, with President Trump.  It did with President Bush.  And it began with President Reagan.

The one person who had clean political hands in this was Richard Nixon, who in 1971, invoked Title X, and to provide health care and to provide family planning advice to poor women who couldn’t afford it.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So it’s become a political football.  Is that what we’re talking about here?

DAVID BROOKS, New York Times:  Yes, I’m not sure I totally agree with that.

It has an election year — it has obvious political benefits for each party’s base, but for Ronald Reagan, I’m pretty sure it was probably a sincere belief that taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for abortions.  For Bill Clinton, it was probably a completely sincere belief that this is a program should be longstanding.

I’m not sure where Donald Trump actually stands in his heart of hearts on this issue.  I do know he has made a deal with social conservatives that you’re going to have put up with a lot of lies and payoffs to adult film actresses, but I’m going to give you — on policy, you will get — and he’s been very consistent on giving social conservatives policy victories.

This is something they have wanted for a long time.  And Donald Trump is handing it to them.  And so a lot of social conservatives who are willing to swallow his personal failures are going to feel vindicated that this was a deal worth making.

I don’t particularly agree with that, but I think social conservatives will say, yes, if we’re going to get wins like this, which are for, in their case, for the good of the country and for the good of humanity, they’re willing to swallow a lot from Donald Trump.

MARK SHIELDS:  I’m not questioning the sincerity of all involved.

I do — their motives — but I think there is a strong political element to it.  And it has to be noted of Planned Parenthood, while it provides cancer screening, all sorts of health care, it does provide also 330,000 abortions a year.  So it’s a major element in the — in abortion-providing.

DAVID BROOKS:  Yes.  The tradeoff here is that Planned Parenthood, which does a lot of all sorts of health stuff, also does the abortions.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  An array of services.

DAVID BROOKS:  And so you get — say you’re a social conservative.

You get what you want on the abortion.  It’s going to be harder to get an abortion and some of them will get less funding.  But in places where they have done this — and we have now seen what happens when you do this — when you take people away from Planned Parenthood, you also — you do see a sharp rise in pregnancies, because contraception isn’t prescribed as much.

You see some health — deleterious health benefits down the side.  So, on the plus side, people who really find abortion morally abhorrent don’t have to pay for it.  On the minus side, there are negative health effects.
JUDY WOODRUFF:  An anniversary this week.  We have only got a couple of minutes left.

But, David, Robert Mueller started his Russia investigation a year ago this week.  Where are we after a year of that?  Of course, it’s all been behind closed doors.  We have seen indictments.  We have seen some pleas.  Where does it stand?

DAVID BROOKS:  Well, we have had a year of speculation about what is about to happen.

What we have learned is that it’s a pretty broad-ranging investigation.  There’s a lot of dirty businesses, a lot of guilty pleas already, a lot of people brought under indictment.  So it’s a real investigation, investigating what looks like real crimes.

As for the collusion charge, we know there were many more meetings between the Trump people and the Russians than we thought before.  There was a meeting in Trump Tower.  And so there’s clearly more smoke there than we knew before a year ago.

What we don’t have is actual evidence of real collusion, and particularly by an awareness of the President himself.  That may be still out there, but that part, we still don’t have.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And we know he may be pursuing other charges as well.


JUDY WOODRUFF:  Mark, how do you see it?

MARK SHIELDS:  What we do know, Judy, is that the Senate Intelligence Committee is composed of grownups and led by Senator Burr and Senator Warner, and they deserve credit.

The House Intelligence Committee is led by just outrageous adolescents who are about as deep as a birdbath.

At the same time, I think what we learned is that the defense of Donald Trump, led by himself and Rudy Giuliani, is to savage and torment, denigrate, vilify and libel Bob Mueller.

Bob Mueller happens to be an American who turned down an eight-figure income to be a major corporate lawyer, instead became a public servant.  He’s a man who volunteered and carries the wounds of battle from having been a Marine platoon leader in Vietnam.  He is a public servant.

He has not said a word.  He has not given an interview.  He has not leaked to anybody.  And he stands vilified by Trump and Giuliani and their cohorts and their outriders.

It is indefensible.  And they are trying to exact the same damage upon the Justice Department of the country, the FBI and this country that Joe McCarthy did on the State Department, which has never fully recovered from his libelous attacks.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Twenty seconds.

DAVID BROOKS:  Yes, I don’t disagree with that.

I would just say, I observe politically, I do think if Trump fired Mueller tomorrow, the Republican Party would back him.

MARK SHIELDS:  Do you really?

DAVID BROOKS:  Because I think FOX News has created a predicate.  They have done thousands of surveys and investigations about Mueller as a political operative.

UK ECONOMY - The Royal Wedding

"Why the royal wedding is a gift for the UK economy" PBS NewsHour 5/18/2018

This is one of those 'DUH' questions.


SUMMARY:  Saturday's wedding between Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle has provided a much-needed boost for Britain’s economy during the uncertainty of its separation from the European Union.  From those hawking commemorative knickknacks to the cucumber industry, special correspondent Malcolm Brabant explains what the windfall means for the U.K.

The Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (9:33:14)


When are YOU (the voter) going to say enough, and through out politicians who do nothing to protect your children?

"Texas school shooting days before graduation draws governor’s call for new gun laws" PBS NewsHour 5/18/2018


SUMMARY:  Students, parents and teachers suffered the agony of a school shooting on Friday morning near Galveston, Texas, where at least 10 people were murdered and 10 more wounded.  The suspect, a 17-year-old according to media reports, is being held on a capital murder charge.  Judy Woodruff learns more from Gail Delaughter of Houston Public Media.

BRIEF BUT SPECTACULAR - Parents of Child With Cancer

"How being a parent to a child with cancer changes your life" PBS NewsHour 5/17/2018


SUMMARY:  What is it like to have your child diagnosed with cancer?  Monica McGuiness and Aaron Rodriguez spent two years traveling 80 miles to a hospital so that their 8-year-old son could receive treatment.  McGuiness and Rodriguez share their Brief but Spectacular take on childhood cancer and how they coped.

SOCIAL MEDIA - Should We Be More Like Cats?

"Why we should be more like cats than dogs when it comes to social media" PBS NewsHour 5/17/2018


SUMMARY:  Computer scientist and virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier doesn't mince words when it comes to social media.  In his latest book, "Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now," says the economic model is based on "sneaky manipulation."  Economics correspondent Paul Solman sits down with Lanier to discuss how the medium is designed to engaged us and how it could hurt us.

TRUMP TRADE - China, U.S. Companies' Stake

"What’s at stake in China trade talks for U.S. companies" PBS NewsHour 5/17/2018


SUMMARY:  Prospects for averting an all-out trade war grew dimmer as the second round of negotiations between the U.S. and China kicked off in Washington [D.C.].  The President said China had been “spoiled" by lenient U.S. trade policies for too long.  Yamiche Alcindor reports, and Judy Woodruff talks with David Lampton of Johns Hopkins University about questions surrounding Chinese telecom ZTE and more.

BORN IN THE USA - Declining Birth Rates

"The surprising thing about the declining U.S. birth rate" PBS NewsHour 5/17/2018


SUMMARY:  More than 3.8 million babies were born in the U.S. last year, but the birth rate drop was the largest one-year decline since 2010.  Why hasn’t the downward trend changed direction, even though economic conditions have improved?  Amna Nawaz explores some of the factors with Hans-Peter Kohler of the University of Pennsylvania.

NEWS HOUR SHARES - Perception, 'Yanny' vs "Laurel'

Our ears hear reality, our brains 'hear' an interpretation.

"Yanny vs. Laurel spotlights our brains’ desire to fill in the gaps" PBS NewsHour 5/16/2018


SUMMARY:  It's the auditory debate taking the internet by storm.  The PBS NewsHour's Nsikan Akpan and Julia Griffin explain how one sound can create two different experiences.


On my iPhone I hear "Yanny."  On my TV home entertainment system connected to a HI Def Surround Sound Amplifier, I hear "Laurel."  The device does make a difference.

FACEBOOK - News or Junk?

"Inside Facebook’s race to separate news from junk" PBS NewsHour 5/16/2018


SUMMARY:  At Facebook, there are two competing goals; keep the platform free and open to a broad spectrum of ideas and opinions, while reducing the spread of misinformation.  The company says it's not in the business of making editorial judgments, so they use fact-checkers, artificial intelligence and their users.  Can they stop junk news from adapting?  Science correspondent Miles O'Brien reports.

AMERICAN POLITICS - Vote 2018, Women & Progressives

"Women, progressive Democrats score wave of primary wins.  What will that mean for midterms?" PBS NewsHour 5/16/2018


SUMMARY:  Tuesday's primaries spanned the country and the political spectrum, from more liberal Oregon, to conservative Idaho and Nebraska, to swing-state Pennsylvania, where wins by women were particularly notable.  Lisa Desjardins learns more from Dave Davies of WHYY in Philadelphia.

RUSSIA INVESTIGATION - As the 'Noose' Tightens

"Where Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation stands, one year later" PBS NewsHour 5/16/2018


SUMMARY:  As Robert Mueller’s special counsel probe marks its first year, the Senate Judiciary Committee released thousands of pages of documents providing the most comprehensive look at an undisclosed meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer.  Nick Schiffren talks with Wired magazine contributor Garrett Graff, and Matt Olsen former director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

TRUMP AGENDA - It Starts Falling Apart, North Korea Summit

aka "Another North Korean Monkey Wrench"

Once North Korea had missiles that could hit the United States they are NOT going to give that up.  It was their primary goal.

"North Korea casts doubt on Kim-Trump summit, rejects total disarmament" PBS NewsHour 5/16/2018


SUMMARY:  North Korea upset months of thawing relations on Wednesday by threatening to cancel the June summit with President Trump if the U.S. continues to push Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons.  Judy Woodruff reports on the response from the White House.

"Why North Korea is threatening to pull out of the U.S. summit" PBS NewsHour 5/16/2018


SUMMARY:  What seemed like a sure thing a week ago in now up in the air.  A top North Korean official released a statement saying that they are not interested if the U.S. insists on complete nuclear disarmament.  Judy Woodruff talks with former State Department official Joel Wit about the recent back and forth and the prospects for productive talks.

RETHINKING COLLEGE - First-Generation Mentoring

"How faculty mentors can help first-generation students succeed" PBS NewsHour 5/15/2018


SUMMARY:  A new initiative by the University of California system uses first-generation faculty to guide first-generation students, with the goal of decreasing dropout rates.  As part of our series Rethinking College, Hari Sreenivasan visits UCLA to see how the program is working.

UNIVERSITIES - As Portraits of Resilience Fighting Depression

"‘Portraits of Resilience’ destigmatize depression at one of the world’s top universities" (1 of 2) PBS NewsHour 5/14/2018


SUMMARY:  Students at MIT are now part of a project to give a face and voice to a growing crisis across U.S. campuses.  When a computer science professor noticed more and more students were coming to discuss their mental health issues, he turned to photography to bring the stigmatized problem of depression into the open.  Now that project is a book, “Portraits of Resilience.”  Jeffrey Brown reports.

"How students who struggle with mental illness can find help" (2 of 2) PBS NewsHour 5/15/2018


SUMMARY:  These three high-achieving students at one of the world's most prestigious universities have also suffered crippling depression and been through years of therapy and medication.  In the second part of his report, Jeffrey Brown hears how they got help with debilitating illness, then learns more about student mental health challenges and solutions from Alfiee Breland-Noble of Georgetown University.

TRUMP AGENDA - Jerusalem Embassy, Scuttling Peace Process

"Carnage and celebration mark U.S. Embassy opening in Jerusalem" PBS NewsHour 5/14/2018


SUMMARY:  As the United States opened its new embassy in Jerusalem, Israeli security forces shot dead dozens of Palestinian protesters in Gaza, and reportedly wounded more than 2,000 others.  Blanket denunciations are sweeping across the Arab and Muslim world, blasting both the embassy move and the killings.  Special correspondent Jane Ferguson joins Judy Woodruff for more.

"How the world is reacting to Gaza border bloodshed" PBS NewsHour 5/15/2018


SUMMARY:  It was a day for burying the dead in Gaza, with nearly 60 funerals in 24 hours, while the wounded continue to overwhelm hospital staff and supplies.  Monday became the deadliest day since the 2014 war as Americans opened the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.  And there was more violence along the border on Tuesday, where at least two Palestinians were killed by Israeli gunfire.  Nick Schifrin reports.

"Harsh living conditions in Gaza fuel little-to-lose mentality" PBS NewsHour 5/15/2018


SUMMARY:  Palestinians have been protesting for weeks for the right to leave Gaza; in the last two days, tens of thousands have joined in.  Under an 11-year blockade by Israel and Egypt, life there has become a painful struggle.  Unemployment stands at 40 percent, with few prospects for the young, and most Gazans cannot afford a generator during lengthy power cuts.  Special correspondent Jane Ferguson reports.

"Would alleviating Gaza humanitarian concerns ease violence?" PBS NewsHour 5/15/2018


SUMMARY:  U.S. officials are blaming Hamas for the deadly violence on the Gaza border.  Daniel Shapiro, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, says the group has long squandered its resources in trying to attack Israel, leading to "horrific" humanitarian concerns in Gaza.  Shapiro joins Nick Schifrin to discuss whether the clashes could fray alliances, and the decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

TRUMP AGENDA - Drug Pricing Scam

Without allowing Medicare to negotiate pricing for ALL drugs, nor allowing Americans to purchase drugs from other countries, this proposal is a meaningless scam.

My 'better' suggestion:  Pass a law that mandates that pharmaceutical companies CANNOT charge more for their drugs than they do in any other nation in the world (except for UN special programs).

"HHS Secretary Azar: Trump’s drug prices proposal is better than campaign pledge" PBS NewsHour 5/14/2018


SUMMARY:  President Trump laid out his long-awaited plan for tackling drug prices on Friday.  Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar joins Judy Woodruff to fill in the details about the plan, including how it will affect prices under Medicare, why the administration is calling on pharmaceutical companies to list their prices and more.

SUPREME COURT - Sports Betting

"A New Jersey bet on sports wagers pays off at Supreme Court" PBS NewsHour 5/14/2018


SUMMARY:  The Supreme Court has ruled that states have the power to legalize sports betting.  The case came from New Jersey, a state that fought for years to legalize sports bets at casinos and race tracks.  Special correspondent Brenda Flanagan of NJTV-News reports.


"How a Typical Government Leak Turned Into a Three-Way War Between Comey, McCabe and Trump" by Peter Elkind, ProPublica 5/18/2018

Two former allies, James Comey and Andrew McCabe, have offered contradictory accounts of the orchestrated FBI leak that spawned a critical investigation.  That means one of them has to be lying — as President Trump is happy to tweet to the world.

One of them has to be lying.

That conclusion is inescapable if you closely examine the sworn testimony of two erstwhile FBI allies, James Comey and Andrew McCabe, about the leaking episode that led to McCabe’s firing in March.  After all, two diametrically opposed accounts can’t both be correct.

President Donald Trump has seized upon the situation — laid bare in a report from the Justice Department’s inspector general — to assail both men, long among his favored targets for reasons having nothing to do with their veracity.  “He LIED! LIED! LIED!”  Trump wrote, in a veritable Presidential tweet-gasm, hours after the McCabe report’s release.  “McCabe was totally controlled by Comey - McCabe is Comey!!  No collusion, all made up by this den of thieves and lowlifes!”

This is much more than a venomous 21st century personal duel — tweet versus tweet at 10 paces.  The credibility of Comey and McCabe is crucial, giving Trump every incentive to tar them.  The former has offered withering accounts of his interactions with the President.  And given what the two men observed both before and after Trump sacked Comey, both could be called on for key testimony in a potential obstruction of justice charge against the President.

The truth is that, in this case, Trump is partially right: One or both of the FBI’s former top officials is almost certainly lying.  The irony is that the entire episode is at complete odds with Trump’s long-running claim about a “Deep State” FBI cabal that’s out to get him.  The leak at issue, in fact, brought election-eve attention to a second investigation of the Clintons, news that helped Trump’s campaign.

It’s yet another improbable turn of events.

Comey and McCabe were both long thought to embody the square-jawed, gray-suited ideal of the honest G-man.  And by all accounts, they were close colleagues.  Comey elevated McCabe, over more traditional candidates, to be his deputy; McCabe then served as acting FBI director for three months after Comey’s dismissal.

But they diverged dramatically in their testimony for the IG's investigation, which focused on a leak that McCabe orchestrated to the The Wall Street Journal about an FBI probe into the Clinton Foundation.  In his damning 35-page report, the IG concluded that McCabe made an “improper media disclosure” and demonstrated “lack of candor,” repeatedly lying about it under oath.

McCabe’s punishment was swift: He was fired on March 16, just two days before he would have qualified for retirement, after 21 years at the FBI.

Comey’s testimony, which the IG concluded was backed by the “overwhelming weight” of circumstantial evidence, was instrumental to the report’s conclusions.  In Comey’s telling, he was ignorant of the original leak, and then misled about it.  When he and McCabe discussed The Wall Street Journal article shortly after its publication nine days before the election, according to Comey’s sworn testimony to the IG, McCabe professed bewilderment about the leak’s source.  Testified Comey: “I have a strong impression he conveyed to me, ‘It wasn’t me, boss.’  And I don’t think that was by saying those words.  I think it was most likely by saying, ‘I don’t know how this shit gets in the media, or why would people talk about this kind of thing?’ — words that I would fairly take as: ‘I, Andy, didn’t do it.’”

Comey has always portrayed himself as a model of probity.  In public appearances and in his recent memoir, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership,” he stresses the importance of “a fundamental commitment to the truth — especially in our public institutions and those who lead them.”  In his book’s 312 pages, the word “truth” appears 73 times in various forms.  There are 98 references to “lying” or “lies.”

In interviews during the recent media blitz for his book, Comey cast the McCabe episode as reinforcing the importance of truth-telling and accountability.  “Sometimes even good people do things they shouldn’t do,” Comey told CNN.  “It’s not acceptable in the FBI or the Justice Department for people to lack candor.”  (Comey declined a ProPublica request to discuss McCabe, emailing back that the matter is “painful and complicated, and I don’t want to step into it.” McCabe also declined to be interviewed.)

For his part, McCabe testified that he told Comey about the leak at the time, insisting that it’s his old boss who has it wrong.  McCabe’s account is presented in detail in the IG’s report, as well as in a series of press statements from McCabe and his lawyer, former DOJ inspector general Michael Bromwich.

Bromwich asserts the IG report falsely “paints Director Comey as a white knight carefully guarding FBI information.”  In Bromwich’s view, Comey had “every incentive to distance himself” from the controversial leak.  After all, he noted, Comey himself was being investigated by the IG for allegedly improper media disclosures.  That report, focused on Comey’s handling of the Clinton email case, is expected in a few weeks.  It will likely spark a whole new round of scrutiny about leaking.

Meanwhile the President has reveled in the spectacle of two favorite targets turning on one another.  Six days after the McCabe report came out, he tweeted: “James Comey just threw Andrew McCabe ‘under the bus.’ Inspector General’s report on McCabe is a disaster for both of them!  Getting a little (lot) of their own medicine?”

The easy part is concluding that someone was untruthful in this instance.  The much harder point is trying to determine which person it was — and what to make of it.

Last year, I spent five months on assignment for ProPublica examining the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email investigation — an exquisitely fraught case with career implications for all involved.  The assignment offered some perspective into the trafficking of sensitive information in Washington, D.C. — and how the curious facts of the McCabe affair are distorting a series of events that in other, less politically raucous, times might have been unremarkable.  And it’s all been intensified by a drastic change in the political environment.

If you want to see the embodiment of the popular view of a government leak, Steven Spielberg’s movie “The Post” provides a good example.  It depicts The Washington Post’s Katharine Graham and Ben Bradlee (played by Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks) as they wrestle with whether to publish secret documents known as the Pentagon Papers.  Those papers were furtively photocopied and then handed over to journalists by civilian military contractor Daniel Ellsberg.  Depending on your political perspective, Ellsberg was either a conscience-driven whistleblower exposing government deceit about the Vietnam War, or a traitor harming the interests of the U.S. government.  But either way, the portrayal embodies the most traditional definition of leaking: an individual bringing to light information that those in power don’t want revealed.

But there’s a whole second category of leaks — that get less attention but are surely far more prevalent.  (Nobody keeps statistics on these things.These leaks occur when public officials disclose something, often with official approval, to advance the interests of their institutions and themselves.

The FBI is no exception to this practice.  Outside of congressional hearings or public appearances, officials there are loath to be quoted in the press by name.  “Background” briefings — where officials express opinions or describe events while shielded by agreements that they will be identified obliquely as, say, “sources familiar with the matter” — have long been common.

There are undoubtedly semantics involved.  A government official trying, in his view, to inform the public, likely doesn’t view himself as “leaking.” Sure enough, in his book, Comey wrote that he told Trump that he “didn’t do sneaky things” and he didn’t leak.  Similarly, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last May, six days before Comey’s firing, Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley asked him if he’d “ever been an anonymous source” or, in a separate question, if he had “ever authorized someone else at the FBI to be an anonymous source” for news reports about the investigations into Clinton’s emails or Trump’s Russia ties.

“Never,” Comey replied to the first question.  “No,” was his response to the second.

My reporting about the FBI doesn’t tie Comey to any disclosures directly provided or overtly “authorized.”  But it’s fair to say there was a great deal written about the agency and its work — by The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the [Wall Street] Journal, as well as ProPublica — that accurately recounted specific actions, meetings and thinking at the highest levels within the FBI.  Many of those articles quoted “sources familiar with the matter.”  Comey’s book confirmed many of these events in strikingly similar detail.

Comey has long been one of the most media-savvy officials in Washington.  Days after his firing, as he later acknowledged in congressional testimony and in his book, Comey provided a close friend, Columbia University law professor Daniel Richman, with one of the memos he prepared memorializing his meetings with the President, and arranged for Richman to anonymously share its “substance” with a New York Times reporter, in hope of forcing the appointment of a special prosecutor.

Which brings us to Donald Trump.  As a New York developer, he was widely reported to be an inveterate leaker, shamelessly inflating his reputation (as a businessman and lady’s man) with a multi-decade stream of anonymously sourced tidbits planted in Gotham’s tabloids.  As a Presidential candidate, he reveled in the hacked Clinton email revelations served up on Wikileaks.

In his actions as President, Trump has been less than consistent on the issue of leaking.  For example, he revealed highly classified intelligence to Russia’s ambassador and foreign minister during a May 2017 meeting in the Oval Office.  And last month, Trump pardoned one time vice Presidential chief of staff Scooter Libby, who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice for concealing the fact that he had leaked the identity of a CIA officer.

That hasn’t stopped Trump (like many a President before him) from expressing outrage about leaking.  In his case, he has conflated it with lying and threatening the nation’s security.  He has labored mightily to brand some of his critics with a scarlet L, as disseminators of America’s secrets to “the enemy of the people” — the news media.

Trump called California Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democrat bird-dogging the Russia investigation, “the leakin’ monster of no control.”  Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper; former CIA Director John Brennan; Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee — all were “liars and leakers.”  Comey, Trump declared over and over, was “a proven LEAKER & LIAR,” who “gave up Classified Information (jail).”  More recently, he reacted to embarrassing disclosures emanating from his own White House by calling the offenders “traitors and cowards.”

Trump began targeting Comey and McCabe while a candidate in 2016, for reasons that had everything to do with politics — and nothing to do with leaks or lies.

Candidate Trump’s opinion of the FBI director was transactional, ping-ponging with his view of whether Comey’s latest action benefited him.  He bashed Comey for his July 2016 announcement that there was no basis for charging Hillary Clinton in the FBI’s investigation of her private email server; praised Comey in late October for announcing that he was reopening the case, after agents discovered new Clinton emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop; and attacked Comey again, days later, when he announced that examination of the new messages hadn’t changed anything.

Trump then fired Comey less than four months after taking office, explaining in an NBC interview at the time that he’d been frustrated by the director’s refusal to shut down the Russia investigation.

Trump’s enmity toward McCabe has a partisan origin, stemming from reporting in an Oct. 23, 2016, Wall Street Journal story: During a failed bid for a Virginia state senate seat the year before, McCabe’s wife Jill, running as a Democrat, had taken $467,500 in contributions from the political action committee of Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a close Clinton ally.

According to an FBI statement provided to the Journal, McCabe, who was a Republican, had played “no role” in the Virginia campaign, conferred with FBI ethics overseers about the matter, and had no responsibility for the Clinton email investigation until February 2016 — months after his wife’s defeat — when Comey promoted him to deputy director.

No matter.  Then-candidate Trump immediately tweeted out the story, telling campaign rallies that the situation was “absolutely disgraceful,” sure proof that the FBI’s email probe was “rigged.”

Thus was the stage set for the “improper media disclosure” that led to McCabe’s sacking.

As leaks go, what McCabe would provide was underwhelming.  It didn’t involve classified information.  It didn’t reveal much of a secret.  And it was overshadowed by much bigger news.

This was a classic Washington leak: a calculated act of reputational enhancement (one that, not incidentally, also took a potshot at another agency).  And how it occurred was telling.  This was no secret conversation in a garage at midnight.

Instead, as laid out in the inspector general’s report, it originated with a request by a reporter to the person officially designated by the FBI to handle such queries.  Three senior officials then conferred before any information was released.

On Oct. 24, 2016, just two weeks before the Presidential election, Devlin Barrett, who covered law enforcement for the Wall Street Journal, emailed FBI public affairs chief Michael Kortan, the agency’s longtime official spokesman.  Barrett had written the article that explored whether Jill McCabe’s political ties had influenced the email probe — the article that Trump had seized upon.

Now, Barrett was pursuing a related story: He’d been told the FBI’s deputy director had sought to chill a second Clinton probe, this one involving donations to the Clinton Foundation.

Kortan conferred with McCabe, who authorized the public affairs chief and Lisa Page, a key FBI attorney assigned to McCabe’s office, to speak with Barrett on condition that they not be identified as the source of the information.  (Page, then in the midst of an extra-marital affair with Pete Strzok, the FBI agent who had led the Clinton email probe, would later become a target of criticism after investigators discovered their text exchanges, which included remarks critical of Trump.)

During an initial call on Oct. 27, Barrett told the FBI’s Kortan and Page that his sources were adamant that McCabe had issued orders to “stand down” on the Clinton Foundation investigation.  Page quickly briefed McCabe, who later told investigators he considered this narrative “incredibly damaging.”  McCabe instructed Page to provide the reporter an anecdote designed to counter the “stand down” claim.

At the time, the FBI’s investigation into the Clinton charity had been lingering for more than a year.  Its existence was widely known in Washington, in part, top FBI officials suspected, because of whispers from Clinton-hating agents in the bureau’s New York field office.  It had been written about widely in the press.

But it was still officially secret, even as the rules for confirming investigations suddenly seemed less certain.  A year earlier, Comey had publicly confirmed that the FBI was investigating Clinton’s use of a private email server.  In his book, Comey explains that the email probe was something “the whole world knew anyway”; making “no comment” about it seemed “increasingly silly.”  He cites DOJ policies allowing such disclosure regarding matters of “extraordinary public interest” or where investigative activity had already made it obvious.  (In that case, Comey wrote, Attorney General Loretta Lynch had agreed with his decision.)

But when, at a hearing in July 2016, a Republican congressman asked Comey if the FBI was looking into the Clinton Foundation, he refused to confirm the probe.  Comey testified that it was standard FBI practice to decline comment on “the existence or non-existence” of ongoing investigations.

Nonetheless, on Oct. 27, 2016, McCabe authorized Page and Kortan to furtively confirm to a reporter what Comey publicly would not.

Late that afternoon, speaking from Kortan’s office at FBI headquarters, they told the Wall Street Journal’s Barrett about a phone conversation McCabe had with Matt Axelrod, a top lieutenant to Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, two months earlier.  As the FBI officials related it, Axelrod was “very pissed off” that New York agents were still openly pursuing the Clinton Foundation probe.  (Justice Department policy strongly discourages taking any overt investigative steps involving a political candidate close to an election.)

Page and Kortan told the Wall Street Journal reporter that McCabe had defended the investigation into the Clinton Foundation, saying: “Are you telling me that I need to shut down a validly predicated investigation?”  That prompted Axelrod, “after a pause,” to say, “Of course not,” according to this account.  (Axelrod, now in private practice, declined to discuss the matter.)

After the conversation, Page reported back to McCabe (who was out of town), texting: “We’re done.  He’s going to look at his story again and will circle back with him in the morning.”

Meanwhile, the Justice Department appeared to be deploying its own leaks to jab at the FBI.  On Oct. 29, The Washington Post published an anonymously sourced story, headlined: “Justice Officials Warned FBI That Comey’s Decision to Update Congress Was Not Consistent with Department Policy.”

Strzok texted Page about the Post article the next day, concluding that Axelrod was the source.  “Yeah.  I saw it,” Page replied.  “Makes me feel WAY less bad about throwing him under the bus in the forthcoming CF [Clinton Foundation] article.”

The Journal story was posted a short time later.  The entire exchange that McCabe had leaked — including the dramatic “pause” in the conversation — appeared, attributed to “a person familiar with the probes,” “one person close to Mr. McCabe,” and “people familiar with the conversation.”

But the material was buried inside a story that focused on new details about a far bigger revelation two days earlier: Comey’s election-jarring announcement that he was reopening the email probe.  McCabe’s leak seemed trivial at the time.

A lot of things changed over the ensuing six months.  Trump was elected President, for starters, and his campaign was under investigation.  Trump began castigating the FBI on a regular basis.  An agency that had historically been subject to less criticism and scrutiny than other agencies was suddenly being bashed by the President, its motivations and actions questioned.

So when Trump fired Comey, on May 9, 2017, McCabe found himself acting director of the FBI — facing the same kind of Presidential pressure and attention that Comey had endured.  Although McCabe didn’t know it, a conversation he’d had earlier that day would light a fuse on his own FBI career.

Two agents from the FBI’s inspection division, expanding an existing investigation of media leaks, had decided to interview the deputy director about the Oct. 30 Wall Street Journal story because it appeared to show someone had improperly revealed McCabe’s private conversation with a Justice Department official.

This would be the first in a series of interviews with investigators in which McCabe, according to the inspector general, repeatedly lied and changed his story.

According to the IG report, McCabe told the agents on May 9 that he had “no idea” how the account of his conversation with the DOJ official got out.  Three days later, they emailed him a draft statement of what he’d told them, asking him to sign and return it.  The statement read in part: “I do not know the identity of the source of the information contained in the article.  ...  I gave no one authority to share any information relative to my interaction with the DOJ executive with any member of the media.”

McCabe never signed the statement.

On July 28, investigators from the Inspector General’s office, in the midst of their separate inquiry into the Clinton email case, decided to interview McCabe after reviewing Page’s text messages and discovering references to her meeting with the Journal reporter.

At this point, McCabe had roughly seven weeks to refresh his recollection.  But he stuck to his initial position.  Asked on tape and under oath if Page had been authorized to talk to a reporter, McCabe replied, according to the IG report: “Not that I’m aware of.”  Questioned about texts that suggested otherwise, McCabe said: “I was not even in town during those days.  So I can’t tell you where she was or what she was doing.”

Four days later, on Aug. 1, McCabe changed his stance.  He called an assistant inspector general and said he “may” have authorized Page to speak to Barrett, after all.

On Aug. 18, in yet another conversation with investigators, McCabe admitted he’d “misspoke.”  He now “took ownership” of the leak.

That admission led the investigators to refer the matter to Michael Horowitz, the inspector general of the Justice Department, who launched his own probe on Aug. 31, 2017.  (As it happens, McCabe’s lawyer, Bromwich, had previously praised Horowitz, calling him “an experienced and highly regarded law enforcement professional” in an op-ed for The Washington Post in early 2017.)

By Nov. 29, when he was questioned again by investigators for the IG, McCabe seemed to be trying to offload some blame on his former boss.  McCabe, now accompanied by a lawyer, detailed his claim that he’d told Comey he had disclosed the Axelrod conversation when they spoke on the day after the Journal story appeared.  The director “did not react negatively,” McCabe testified — instead telling his deputy it was “good” that he had made clear the FBI wouldn’t buckle to political pressure.

McCabe also told the IG he didn’t view what he’d done as revealing the existence of an investigation, explaining, “There really wasn’t any discussion of the case, of the merits of the case, the targets and subjects of the case, so I did not see it as a disclosure about the Clinton Foundation case.”

The Inspector General’s report served up a heap of evidence against McCabe from multiple sources.  But it was Comey who served as perhaps the most damning witness.  The report detailed his starkly conflicting account of their conversation about the Journal story.

In his testimony to the IG, Comey said McCabe had “definitely” not told him he was behind the leak.  “…[J]ust to make sure there’s no fuzz on it,” he testified, “I did not authorize this.  I would not have authorized it.”  The IG spelled out multiple reasons why Comey would not have viewed his deputy’s disclosure with equanimity.

The first was a meeting with his executive team on Oct. 31, 2016, convened shortly before he discussed the Journal story with McCabe.  There, Comey expressed dismay about all the leaks emanating from the bureau.  According to notes Page took at the meeting, later cited in the IG report, Comey cited a “need to figure out how to get our folks to understand why leaks hurt our organization.”

At the time, Comey was already being skewered for having revealed his decision to reopen the Clinton email investigation.  He said he would never support confirming any investigation through a leak and noted his earlier refusal to disclose the Clinton Foundation probe.  Discussing the conversation with Axelrod, he noted, was also sure to harm the FBI’s already troubled relations with the Justice Department.

As one of the FBI’s two top officials, McCabe had authority to share information with the media, a point he offered in his defense — but only after denying, then admitting, responsibility for the leak.  The Inspector General rejected his claim that this disclosure met the Justice Department’s “public interest” standard.  Instead, the report found, it was “an attempt to make himself look good by making senior [DOJ] leadership … look bad.”  McCabe, the report concluded, was primarily motivated by his desire to avoid “another personally damaging story.”

To put it another way: It was a typical government leak.  But with the FBI under critical examination in Trump-era Washington, it looked much more suspicious than it might have in the past, especially given McCabe’s shifting story.

In late February, the IG privately sent his report to the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which recommended McCabe’s dismissal.  Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired him on March 16.

Trump quickly tweeted: “Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI — A great day for Democracy.  Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy.  He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!”

In a series of media statements after his dismissal, McCabe, whose case has now been referred for possible criminal prosecution, blamed political pressure from Trump for his firing and made clear his determination to fight.  He contended he answered investigators’ questions “as completely and accurately as I could” during a chaotic time, and made efforts to correct his answers when he realized they were “not fully accurate or may have been misunderstood.”

McCabe presented a detailed rebuttal that was included and discussed — but ultimately found unpersuasive — in the report.  And his defense team told ProPublica they also have reviewed previously undisclosed emails proving that McCabe informed Comey that he was in contact with the Journal, which the IG chose to leave out of the report.  They also assert that transcripts of Comey’s interviews show he was uncertain in his recollections of what really happened.  They say they are barred from providing details of these purportedly exonerating documents because they remain subject to a government non-disclosure agreement.

McCabe’s team provided ProPublica with a copy of the NDA, which granted his lawyers access to “certain FBI-related information” on the condition that they not release anything “derived from or relating to FBI files” without “prior written authorization of the FBI.”  McCabe spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said Bromwich has sought, but not received, release from the non-disclosure agreement.  (A representative of the IG’s office declined comment on the issue.)

It’s certainly plausible to imagine that in an organization as hierarchical as the FBI — with its chief press officer coordinating the interaction with a major publication — Comey would normally have been made aware of McCabe’s actions.  (Kortan, who retired in February as assistant director for public affairs after surviving as the FBI’s media chief for 18 years, declined to discuss the matter; the IG’s report makes no mention of any testimony from him on the matter.)

The inspector general’s report makes clear that he considered Comey’s testimony more credible than McCabe’s.  But the same inspector general is about to release a second report, this one focused, among other matters, on Comey’s actions and public disclosures in the Clinton email case.  For all of Comey’s professions to Trump that he wouldn’t do anything “sneaky,” the episode where he leaked one of his memos through a surrogate — while not involving any classified information (contrary to what Trump claims) — appears to fit that definition.  And, as noted, descriptions in his book conspicuously match the views of “sources familiar with the matter” who were cited in past news articles.

Many legal experts — and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein — have already concluded that Comey’s actions during the email investigation violated longstanding Justice Department policy.  In the McCabe report, the IG embraced his view of events.  In the report that is forthcoming, he may not fare as well.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

INEQUALITY MEDIA - Why We Must Protect Net Neutrality

Why We Must Protect Net Neutrality
Inequality Media
Robert Reich

DOCUMENTING HATE - "Anti-Heterosexual" vs "Anti-Gay" Crimes

"Police Are Mislabeling Anti-LGBTQ and Other Crimes as Anti-Heterosexual" by Rachel Glickhouse and Rahima Nasa, ProPublica 5/15/2018

ProPublica sent public-records requests to more than 50 police departments that reported anti-heterosexual hate crimes to the FBI.  None of the reports we could track down actually included evidence of hate crimes against straight people.

Rob heard a loud knock at his door late one night in August 2014.  His landlord had been calling him about maintenance issues in his Columbus, Ohio, apartment, but that night she came with a male companion and began to scream at him.  According to a police report, the man jumped into the argument and threatened Rob — who asked that we not use his full name — with a homophobic slur.  Fearing an escalation, he called the police.

“A thing that I’ve dealt with my entire life as a gay man is extreme prejudice, from threats to constant harassment,” Rob said, noting that his landlord had previously told his neighbors that he was a “filthy queer.”

Columbus police acknowledged Rob’s concern that the incident may have been motivated by bias, but they got a key detail wrong in their incident report: They mistakenly marked it as a case of anti-heterosexual harassment.

Since 2010, Columbus police have reported six incidents that list bias against heterosexuals as the purported motivation.  That’s more than any other local law enforcement agency in the nation reported during that period.  Columbus Police Department Sgt. Dean Worthington acknowledges it’s likely that the officers who filed the reports marked the wrong box.

“Given the fact that our officers are human, we are prone to make the occasional mistake,” said Worthington.  “I can assure you these mistakes were not intentional.”

Each officer has a supervisor whose duty is to check such reports, but it’s possible the errors still got through, Worthington added.

Those reports made their way from Columbus to Washington, D.C., where they were compiled with thousands of others into what the FBI calls the Uniform Crime ReportEvery year a small number of anti-heterosexual hate crime reports end up in the UCR.  From 2010 to 2016, the FBI reported that local law enforcement agencies noted a total of 142 of them.

ProPublica reviewed dozens of these reports, however, and found few, if any, actual hate crimes targeting people for being heterosexual.

We sent Freedom of Information Act requests to every law enforcement agency that reported a heterosexual bias crime in 2016 — the most recent year for which FBI data was available.  We also sent requests to every agency that had reported two or more such crimes since 2010, as well as to any agency available in an online service used to send public-records requests called Muckrock.

In total, we were able to locate records for 58 cases.

None described hate crimes spurred by anti-heterosexual bias.  As with the case in Columbus, about half were actually anti-gay or anti-bisexual crimes that were miscategorized.  Seven cases appeared to reflect other types of bias, with victims targeted because they were Jewish or black or women.  Some 18 cases don’t seem to have been hate crimes at all, containing no discernible bias element.

The findings reflect a larger problem: Many local law enforcement agencies do a poor job tracking hate crimes.  It’s a problem that can endanger public safety and leave policy makers blind when grappling with the growing problem of hate crimes and bias incidents in America.

Rob says he was discouraged from pressing charges against his landlord due to a lack of witnesses present.  The police filled out an incident report but he decided not to pursue it further, in part because he feared reprisal from his landlord.  When he found out from ProPublica that the police had marked the report wrong, he said it felt like yet another slight.

“It’s just sad to hear because I know she was targeting me for being a gay man,” he said.

As ProPublica reported last year, when asked for hate crimes data, many police departments said they hadn’t investigated any hate incidents, had no records on file, or that their records were poorly kept.  Some police departments don’t mark bias-motivated crimes as such, or officers aren’t sure of how to mark hate crimes within their record systems.

ProPublica found that many of the anti-LGBTQ crimes mismarked as anti-heterosexual were vandalism and involved the use of a common anti-gay slur.  Even Palm Springs, California — which has one of the highest proportion of same-sex couples in the country, according to a census analysis by UCLA’s Williams Institute — misreported an anti-gay hate crime as anti-heterosexual.

In a few cases, victims were straight but were targeted by suspects who believed them to be gay.  Even in cases of mistaken identity, the FBI instructs police to mark the perceived bias of the aggressor — in these cases, as anti-LGBTQ.  In Columbus, Ohio, a straight man was called a “faggot” before he was assaulted.  The report, however, indicated that the attack was motivated by anti-heterosexual bias.  In Gainesville, Florida, a straight woman and her female roommate were targeted, police correctly marked it as an anti-lesbian hate crime on the incident report, but it was reflected in the FBI’s data as an anti-heterosexual incident.  Officials weren’t sure why.

In the FBI’s bias codes system, 44 is the code for an anti-heterosexual crime, while 41 is the code for an anti-gay male hate crime, making such a mistake a matter of a single digit.  Several police departments pointed to drop-down menus and online tracking systems as the reason behind mislabeling.

For example, San Leandro, California, reported three anti-heterosexual hate crimes to the FBI between 2014 and 2016.  Judy Park, the department’s records supervisor, acknowledged that all three were in fact anti-gay hate crimes.  She said the cases had been added to the department’s internal system correctly, but the computer software had extracted the bias code number wrong — showing a 44 (anti-heterosexual) instead of a 41 (anti-gay male) on the incident reports.  Park said she would work with the software vendor to fix the problem and try to correct the mistake with the FBI.  “Thank you for bringing it to our attention, because we never would have known,” she added.

Officials from five other police departments — Tehachapi, California; Evesham and Princeton, New Jersey; Columbus, Ohio; and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville — also said they would work to correct such errors with state or federal agencies.

In some cases, police reports obtained by ProPublica showed no indication of a bias motivation in the description of the crime.

A number of these cases involved thefts, robberies and credit card fraud.  In Benton, Kentucky, a few days before Christmas 2016, a suspect walked out of a Walmart with a shopping cart full of stolen merchandise, including drones, a scooter and a video game controller, according to Benton Police Chief Jeremy Hicks.  He acknowledged the case was mistakenly mislabeled as an anti-heterosexual hate crime.

The erroneous reports suggest that the FBI is undercounting anti-LGBTQ hate crimes, which represent a significant portion of U.S.  bias crimes.  The FBI’s 2016 hate crimes report showed that sexual orientation-based bias crimes were the third most common hate crimes.  The vast majority of those targeted victims for being gay, lesbian or bisexual.  According to a National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs report, 2016 was “the deadliest year on record” for the LGBTQ community.

A statement from the FBI was unavailable at press time.  We will update this story once we receive it.

To be sure, hate crimes against heterosexual people are possible.  Federal law lists “sexual orientation” as a category of hate crimes, and a crime perpetrated against somebody for being straight would be a hate crime under federal law.  But if there have been any of these crimes investigated or charged, it’s tough to find them in public records.

The difficulty of finding bona fide anti-heterosexual bias crimes or incidents is reflected by the lack of tips gathered by ProPublica’s Documenting Hate project.  We’ve collected more than 500 tips from people who say they or someone they know was targeted because of their sexual orientation — but no tips at all from people who say they were targeted based on being heterosexual.

Anti-heterosexual hate crimes are so rare that experts working on hate crimes for years struggled to recall them, citing two cases of straight men getting assaulted at gay bars and a few attacks on religious institutions by gay activists in the 1990s.

ProPublica identified a handful of anti-heterosexual cases that fell into a gray area.

In Canton, Ohio, a yard sign opposing gay marriage was knocked over, damaging the steel posts holding it up.  In Louisburg, North Carolina, signs encouraging people to vote for a state amendment to ban same-sex marriage were stolen multiple times in front of a Baptist church.

Police officials from Stark County, Ohio, and Franklin County, North Carolina, told ProPublica they weren’t sure why the incidents were reported to the FBI as prompted by anti-heterosexual bias.  Experts weren’t sure how to classify these crimes, saying they could potentially reflect political or ideological bias.

Jeannine Bell, a law professor at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law who has studied hate crimes for more than two decades, says poor data collection indicates law enforcement agencies don’t take hate crimes seriously.

“It means that police fundamentally are not investigating hate crimes,” she said.  “Hate crime needs to be more than checking a box.”

Monday, May 14, 2018

OPINION - Brooks and Marcus 5/11/2018

"Brooks and Marcus on Trump quitting Iran deal, Gina Haspel grilling" PBS NewsHour 5/11/2018


SUMMARY:  New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus join Amna Nawaz to analyze the week’s news, including President Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal, reactions from voters in Elkhart, Indiana, where President Trump held a campaign rally on Thursday, the contentious confirmation hearing of CIA director nominee Gina Haspel and more.

Amna Nawaz (NewsHour):  And now to the analysis of Brooks and Marcus.  That’s New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus.

Thanks so much for being here.

Let’s jump in.

Earlier this week, one of the biggest stories, David, obviously, the President making good on his promise to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal.  That’s despite the protest of a lot of U.S. allies.

Politically, was that a smart move?

David Brooks, New York Times:  I think so.

One of the things you notice with the President is that he comes from a background where basically, in the real estate business, he worked with a lot of thugs and he cultivated a lot of thugs, and he was a little thuggish himself.

But, in my view, that helps him, for all his drawbacks, understand thugs.  And so North Korea, he understood that being tough with a thug produces some results.  And we’re in a better situation with North Korea than we were otherwise.

He’s been much tougher on the Chinese in trade.  And a lot of people thinks he’s adopted the right policy, because sometimes you have got to just stand up to people.  And Iran, I have very mixed views about whether Trump did the right thing.

But President Obama, the argument he made for it, which is that Iran would moderate and become a more familiar member of the company of nations.  That has turned out to be clearly false.

They are the most genocidal nation on the face of the earth.  They export violence, terror around the earth.  And so Trump standing up to them at least has some legitimacy.  It’s possible that he understands people like that better than people who have higher SAT scores.

Amna Nawaz:  You wrote in your column this week thug is going to thug.


Amna Nawaz:  But, Ruth, looking ahead to North Korea now, how do you break from a deal like this one, and then legitimately go into negotiations with North Korea to say, no, we’re going to stick with whatever deal we agree to?

Ruth Marcus, Washington Post:  Kind of a good question.  I have had that question myself.

I think, in general, there’s legitimate questions about the Iran deal, both whether it was the best deal that could have been gotten and whether it had the hope for effect on Iran’s behavior.

But the question really is, is pulling out of it — and I was a supporter of the Iran deal, so despite those concerns.  But even if you weren’t, is pulling out of it better or worse than staying in, and not just because of the impact on Iran?  Because of the impact on our relationships with our allies.

Thug’s going to thug, but we’re not thugs, and we have to continue to maintain decent relations with our allies.  Now we’re talking about threatening them, betraying the agreement that they agreed with, and going after their companies with secondary sanctions.

And then you have this question about, if you have proven that your word as a country can’t be trusted beyond the course of a single President, doesn’t that get priced into the price of negotiating with North Korea?

And he will say, well, yes, you, but, he, Kim Jong-un, yes, you say this, but what happens next time around?  So, giving a little bit less.

So, all in all, I think — you asked about whether it was better for him politically.  He promised it.  It may make his base happy to see him thugging around.  But I think, as a strategic matter of the U.S. national interest, not better.