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We should be done with the electric car tax credits

Sun, 12/09/2018 - 00:01

For the past eight years, the government has been shelling out money to offset part of the cost of buying electric vehicles. This is an artifact from the Obama administration and it was supposed to help the climate by encouraging people to move away from gas-powered engines. But the tax credits will be expiring in many cases next year and the question now is whether Congress plans to renew this taxpayer-funded giveaway. Forbes explored the issue last month, weighing some of the pros and cons.

One-time federal tax credits of between $3,500 and $7,500 were enacted in 2010 to help spur sales of plug-in vehicles, which was then a priority for the Obama administration. The incentives helped the industry register sales of 34,000 electrified rides over the first 10 months of 2018, according to, which represents a 58% boost over the same period in 2017.

But the credits are not permanent, and are scheduled to phase out during the calendar year after an automaker sells 200,000 full electric (EV) and/or plug-in hybrid (PHEV) vehicles…

Critics argue that eliminating the tax credit based on sales essentially penalizes automakers that were at the forefront of EV development and invested heavily in the technology early in the game. Not surprisingly, GM and Tesla have lobbied Congress to extend the federal tax credits, with bills both for and against the electric vehicle tax credits being subsequently proposed.

This should really be an easy call from a number of angles. First and foremost, targeted tax credits which wind up only helping specific companies or market sectors represent a distortion of the free market and are inherently counter to the concept of capitalism. A product or service which is valued by the consumers should be able to stand on its own without the government picking winners and losers.

Congress should also consider who is primarily benefitting from this scheme. These credits have been going, in large part, to people who can afford to buy a Tesla. (Tesla has thus far sold more than 200,000 electric and hybrid vehicles, the threshold where the credits begin to draw down.) That’s not exactly your average Joe on the street.

The argument about these cars reducing emissions is partially valid, but it’s oversold. Vehicle emission standards are far tighter than they were back in the 70s and 80s, but the stuff coming out of cars’ tailpipes is still a concern. But environmentalists are at least somewhat off the mark in claiming that electric cars are anywhere near carbon neutral. That electricity making them go has to come from somewhere. If you’re in a state that generates a significant amount of power through nuclear and wind the argument carries some weight. But in the many states where electricity is generated by coal or (increasingly) natural gas, something is still getting burned to power up your car.

These tax credits have been a sweet deal for a relatively small number of people and a few companies, but that’s about it. Meanwhile, it’s going to cost us a minimum of $7.5B over the next four years, with some estimate running up past $20B by 2028. Congrss should let these credits die a natural death and let Tesla and GM find their own market for their products if the public actually wants them.

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Cruz endorses John Cornyn’s senate re-election bid

Sat, 12/08/2018 - 22:31

You may have read that headline and thought, “What’s the big deal?” It’s the junior Republican senator representing Texas endorsing the re-election of the senior Republican senator representing Texas. Fair enough. This is press release newsworthy, though, because it is the first time it has happened.

Nothing like a very close election – the closest in 40 years in Texas – to focus a politician’s mind. Computer inboxes were inundated with the news, including mine. The Texas Tribune piece was referenced as confirmation of the story. Senator Cornyn, the current Senate Majority Whip, is seeking a fourth term.

Full disclosure: in 2008 I was an unpaid, volunteer blogger for Senator Cornyn’s re-election. I am a longtime supporter of the senator.

Ted Cruz did not endorse Cornyn in 2014 for re-election. During the primary season, he decided to remain neutral. At the time the junior senator was busy keeping himself in the headlines and about to enter the 2016 Republican presidential primary. This was the time period between the government shutdown in 2013 and Cruz entering the GOP primary in 2015. The last thing he wanted to do was to endorse an “establishment” Republican over a Tea Party-style challenger during Cornyn’s primary race. So, Cruz took the safe route. No endorsement. Initially, Cornyn took a pass on endorsing Cruz in his re-election bid. Given their history, turnabout is fair play. However, as the race heated up and with the development of Democrat interest in the race, Cornyn changed course and endorsed Cruz. He also did fundraising for him and campaigned around the state for him. He went all in for Cruz. Cornyn’s support was seen as a bridge between loyal Cruzers and Republican voters who have been turned off by Cruz since his presidential primary bid.

That was then and this is now. The fact is, the two men can be an effective team working together. They don’t have to pretend to be best buddies to get the job done. Republicans in Texas have gotten complacent while winning statewide elections year after year. We just assume the Republican candidate will win the race but Cruz’s re-election race proved that even in Texas, the electorate is changing. The statewide victories entitle Republicans to continue to label Texas as the nation’s largest red state but local and county elections are a different ballgame. For several cycles now, Democrats have gained success on the local level and it is only a matter of time before everything falls into place for a Democrat to win a bigger election.

There are several factors that show a growing Democrat influence in pockets of the state of Texas. In my own Congressional district, my congressman lost to a rookie Democrat candidate. My district is one that has been represented by Republicans since George H.W. Bush’s election in 1966. Rep. John Culberson was defeated in November by Democrat Lizzie Pannill Fletcher. Culberson held the office since 2000. My district is considered the most Republican of the ones in Houston, yet, here we are. Demographics, newcomers from other states, anger towards incumbents, anti-Trump sentiment, all play a part. Harris County is no longer the largest Republican county in the country.

In order for Ted Cruz to remain viable in his political aspirations, whether it is another presidential bid, a future Supreme Court nomination, or re-election to the Senate he has to transition into a Republican team player instead of priding himself on being a lone wolf, going rogue against his own party. No doubt Cruz’s endorsement of Cornyn now will ruffle feathers of loyal Cruzers who misguidedly think Senator Cornyn isn’t pure enough. I’ve heard rumblings of Republican primary challengers coming for Cornyn but that will remain to be seen, especially now given Cruz’s early move to tamp down any challenges that may arise. The signal has been sent.

The Kavanaugh hearings continue to have an effect in politics. I think the move by Cruz is also a bit of fallout from the Democrats’ behavior during that chaotic time. Cornyn and Cruz both sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee and both played a strong role in Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Senator Cornyn is a former Texas Attorney General (the first since Reconstruction) and state Supreme Court Justice. His steady, calm demeanor makes for a good yin and yang combo with Cruz’s personality.

I don’t see Beto O’Rourke challenging Cornyn in 2020. I think he’s focused on becoming a vice-presidential nominee or maybe the actual presidential candidate, now that he is the darling of the left. We’ll have to wait and see if he can maintain the interest and enthusiasm he garnered during his failed Senate run.

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Comey applauds Trump’s appointment of Bill Barr — who thought firing him was the right decision

Sat, 12/08/2018 - 21:01

“I know of no former senior Justice Department official — Democrat or Republican — who does not view Comey’s conduct in July [2016] to have been a grave usurpation of authority,” wrote Barr in an op-ed for WaPo last year, three days after Trump dropped the axe. He complimented Comey in the same piece, calling him “an extraordinarily gifted man who has contributed much during his many years of public service,” but in hindsight that op-ed was probably a key factor in convincing Trump he could trust him as AG. It’s strange watching Comey lavish praise on a man who defended the most controversial personnel decision of Trump’s presidency, one which many think amounted to obstruction of justice.

But then, like I said yesterday, the amount of respect Barr enjoys from official Washington has made the reaction to his nomination strange all over. Trump obviously thinks Barr will be “loyal” or else he wouldn’t have nominated him; Trump critics like George Conway and Benjamin Wittes, meanwhile, think Barr is a by-the-book administrator who’d never tolerate political interference by the White House, no matter how broad his views are of the president’s authority under Article II. Someone will be wrong. But in the meantime, legal eagles across the spectrum are cheering the nomination. Trump-friendly former federal prosecutor Andy McCarthy:

Barr and Mueller had a fine working relationship [when both were at the DOJ under Bush 41]. That will come in handy because, once Barr is confirmed, Mueller will again be reporting to him. The two men respect each other and know what to expect from each other. Mueller knows that Barr understands that investigations must be insulated from politics. In fact, when the now-lapsed independent-counsel law was in effect, Barr appointed one in 1992 to investigate the Bush administration’s scrutiny of then-candidate Bill Clinton’s passport file.

Still, Mueller also knows Barr will expect prosecutors to grasp that their authority is limited to deciding whether there is sufficient evidence to charge crimes. It is for Congress and the voters, not prosecutors, to go beyond questions of guilt or innocence, to make political assessments of a president’s fitness or judgment. I believe that, where Mueller has real evidence of a crime, Barr will be his strongest prosecutorial ally; and where Mueller lacks evidence, Barr will expect him to close the case the way prosecutors close cases — without fanfare.

Anti-Trump former federal prosecutor (and Democrat) Harry Litman:

I am very confident that Barr regards Mueller as a beacon of integrity and a prosecutor’s prosecutor.

That’s not to say he would agree with every investigative move that Mueller makes, and as attorney general, he could trim the special counsel’s wings. I would not be surprised if he regarded large independent counsel investigations, including this one, with some concern.

But there is no doubt that if he were to do so, it would be through direct, respectful discussion. And he has expressed support for the idea that the basic allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government are proper predicates for criminal investigation.

However Barr ends up handling Mueller and Russiagate, he’s immune from the charges of cronyism that would have greeted nearly any other AG Trump might have realistically nominated. Which means, if his views of Article II lead him to side with Trump in curtailing the probe somehow, it’ll be a political master stroke by POTUS. He’ll have gotten the end he desired through respectable institutional means. He’s gambling by picking Barr, but he stands to win big potentially.

As for the occasion for the mini-press-conference below, it happened shortly after Comey’s closed-door testimony before the House Judiciary Committee wrapped up. He wanted the hearing held publicly; House Republicans refused. Both sides were pissy afterward, with Republicans grumbling that DOJ lawyers in attendance prevented Comey from answering questions related to when exactly the FBI began looking into Trump associates’ ties to Russia.

Today wasn’t a search for truth, but a desperate attempt to find anything that can be used to attack the institutions of justice investigating this president. They came up empty today but will try again. In the long run, it'll make no difference because facts are stubborn things.

— James Comey (@Comey) December 8, 2018

He’ll be back the week after next to continue his testimony. As for his praise of Barr notwithstanding Barr’s criticism of him, I think Comey relishes the opportunity to do that. He’s always tried to present himself, a la Barr, as a by-the-book lawman whose criticism of Trump isn’t personal or partisan. He stands for truth and norms, he’ll eagerly remind you, not petty grudges. Applauding Barr despite Barr’s defense of his firing is his way of showing that he’s happy to give credit where it’s due even to an adversary. It’s not criticism he objects to, it’s Trump’s approach to the DOJ.

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Trump makes it official. John Kelly on the way out

Sat, 12/08/2018 - 19:31

How many times have you seen this headline? It feels like Trump’s Chief of Staff has been “on the way out” since shortly after taking the position over from Reince Priebus. This week most of the major news outlets had it from “anonymous sources” that the end was definitely near this time. Personally, I wasn’t going to believe it until we heard it from one them, but after the Army-Navy game, the President made it official. John Kelly will be departing by the end of the year. (USA Today)

Former White House chief of staff John Kelly, who was assigned to bring a level of discipline to President Donald Trump’s often chaotic administration, is leaving the post after months of internal tensions increasingly spilled into view, Trump said Saturday.

“John Kelly will be leaving toward the end of the year,” the president told reporters as he left the White House for the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia.

While the two men have clashed in recent months, Trump called Kelly “a great guy.”

Considering all of the wrath and acrimony that’s supposedly been going on in Kelly’s office as well as Trump’s, it seems almost charitable for the President to call Kelly “a great guy.” You can’t help but wonder how long that’s going to last, though. I’m guessing it will mostly depend on how many (if any) interviews the General decides to do between now and then or after he’s officially out. Being an old-school military guy, I can picture him holding his tongue and just quietly returning to private life.

So if the President is saying he’ll be naming a replacement “in a few days” you can bet he’s already got somebody in mind. There’s a lot of buzz around Nick Ayers (the Vice President’s Chief of Staff) being the pick, which would probably have some heads exploding in the press briefing room. But that largely depends on if Ayers actually wants to move up and if Pence is willing to let him go.

For an exit question, I would pose the following thought for you. All the things that Donald Trump supposedly doesn’t like about Kelly’s style are the things most presidents take for granted. These include keeping something of a check on access to the Oval Office and keeping control of the messaging from day to day. Kelly was reportedly doing those things for a while after he arrived, at least until Trump rebelled. If he’s going to be replaced by someone who will just “let Trump be Trump” (to steal a line from an old West Wing episode), why have a Chief of Staff at all? I have to wonder if the President isn’t seriously considering just leaving the job vacant and running the circus himself.

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NBC’s Chuck Todd trashes “gullible” Trump voters

Sat, 12/08/2018 - 18:01

Trump voters in 2016 were “gullible” and victims of gaslighting according to NBC news anchor Chuck Todd. What else could possibly explain why Hillary Clinton failed to win the presidential election?

“I knew the gaslighting was out there. I knew it was every day,” Todd said. “But I think there was part of me in my head assumed people were discerning it out, knew the BS from the non-BS. So, I think what my sort of shock to the system was just sort of how gullible a big chunk of the country was to this and gullible because maybe they want to be gullible.”

Two years into his administration, the liberal left in the media still cannot accept that the inauguration of Hillary Clinton never happened. When all other reasoning fails, the voters themselves are blamed for just being too willing to fall under the psychological spell of Donald Trump. Frankly, I think that says more about Chuck Todd and his colleagues than it does of anyone who voted for Trump, including myself.

Remember just a few days ago when Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) made headlines because she claimed that Democrats don’t connect with people very easily because they are just so darn smart? The only mistake she made with that admission is that she simply spoke the honest truth that liberal Americans really believe they are smarter than everyone else. Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell, and Hallie Jackson were all of the same opinions as they waxed poetically about what rubes regular Americans are during a Recode Decode podcast.

Andrea Mitchell admits she doesn’t understand the importance of popular culture in today’s politics. She lives in such a myopic bubble that she had no idea that Donald Trump had millions of fans from his days on “The Apprentice”, an NBC show.

Andrea Mitchell: What I undervalued about Donald Trump in the primaries is that I had never watched “The Apprentice.” I had never watched reality TV. I did not know that he had millions and millions of fans out there. I didn’t know that that base existed. I thought he was not a serious candidate. I did not know that the single most important and visited tourist attraction in all of New York City were people taking selfies in front of Trump Tower. I always thought it was the Statue of Liberty, or the Empire State Building, or 30 Rock.

I remember talking to my youngest sister, who lives in the midwest, during the GOP primary season and when I asked her about Trump she told me that at least he would be entertaining as president. I was, frankly, shocked by that response. People who weren’t political junkies were hungry for a non-politician, particularly one who spoke about bringing jobs back to long-forgotten places. The fact that Trump was not a traditional politician giving speeches that all the rest were giving was a plus. They weren’t being gaslighted (psychologically manipulated), they were going along on the ride. Like so many other American voters, I was completely stunned that Trump won the presidency though I voted for him.

What the intellectual superiors on the left fail to realize is that Americans voted for Trump for lots of reasons, mostly quite practical reasons. I voted for Trump because of the judiciary. Like millions of others, the thought of Hillary Clinton putting two or three people on the Supreme Court alone was enough to get me to the polls to vote for Trump. For others, it was his focus on bringing jobs back to the heartland from overseas or a tough stance against illegal immigration. The media elites like to think people were suckered because it is less painful than Democrats admitting how tone deaf they have become. Do they really think blaming voters is the best path back to electoral success?

So, here we are two years out and liberal media anchors are still trying to figure out what went wrong in the last presidential election. Here’s a hint for them – it isn’t because they were just too darn smart.

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“NO COLLUSION!”: Trump claims total vindication

Sat, 12/08/2018 - 16:31

It didn’t take long for Donald Trump to take a victory lap after Robert Mueller’s big reveal yesterday — even if the game might not even yet be in the fourth quarter. Trump declared this morning that Mueller’s court filings revealed “NO COLLUSION!” after tweeting  last night that Mueller’s record “totally clears” him. But that assumes that we’ve seen Mueller’s entire hand:

Totally clears the President. Thank you!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018


— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 8, 2018

Politico gives a rather skeptical review of this claim:

President Donald Trump again insisted Saturday that his 2016 presidential campaign did not conspire with Russia, hammering the special counsel the morning after three long-awaited court filings shed more light on the Trump team’s contact with Russian officials and others linked to the Kremlin. …

According to a filing Friday from special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump’s longtime lawyer Michael Cohen told prosecutors that he reached out to Russia’s government to set up a meeting during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to the United Nations General Assembly in late 2015, after conferring with Trump beforehand.

The filing from Mueller’s office also disclosed that Cohen spoke to an unnamed Russian national claiming to be a “trusted person” in the Russian Federation in or around November 2015. That person offered to help Trump’s campaign with “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level,” according to the filing.

What Politico doesn’t note is that the Russians never took Cohen up on the offer. The Washington Post does note that the contact didn’t go anywhere, in part because of the earlier effort to build in Moscow. Note also that the date for this contact comes months prior to the DNC hack, which makes this much less collusion-y:

Mueller revealed that Cohen told prosecutors about what seemed to be a previously unknown November 2015 contact with a Russian national, who claimed to be a “trusted person” in the Russian Federation offering the campaign “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level.”

Cohen told investigators that the person, who was not identified, repeatedly proposed a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, saying that such a meeting could have a “phenomenal” impact, “not only in political but in a business dimension as well,” the special counsel’s office wrote.

Cohen, though, did not follow up on the invitation, because he was already working on a Trump project in Moscow through a different person he believed to have Russian government connections, the special counsel’s office wrote.

There’s another flaw in this for “collusion” purposes — Cohen didn’t work on the campaign. He worked as Trump’s personal attorney. Also, the “collusion” theory also included the idea that Cohen went to Prague to further these efforts, a thread that seems to have evaporated from the case, at least thus far. Cohen denied ever traveling to Prague, and now Mueller’s filing asserts Cohen didn’t follow up at all. Cohen’s crime is that he lied about the contact, which might be understandable if he thought the contact might have unsavory connections, although lying about it made his problem exponentially worse. (Cohen’s other big problem, apart from his alleged criminality, is that he doesn’t seem too bright.)

So is Trump vindicated? Not really, no. Cohen isn’t the only possible conduit for a “collusion” charge; Mueller’s still interested in Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi, who theoretically had closer proximity to the attempts to suss out the DNC hack. Furthermore, Mueller’s new sentencing memo notes that Cohen discussed his idea of making a back-channel contact with Russia in 2015 with “Individual-1,” obviously Donald Trump:

The defendant, without prompting by the SCO, also corrected other false and misleading statements that he had made concerning his outreach to and contacts with Russian officials during the course of the campaign. For example, in a radio interview in September 2015, the defendant suggested that Individual 1 meet with the President of Russia in New York City during his visit for the United Nations General Assembly. When asked previously about these events, the defendant claimed his public comments had been spontaneous and had not been discussed within the campaign or the Company. During his proffer sessions, the defendant admitted that this account was false and that he had in fact conferred with Individual 1 about contacting the Russian government before reaching out to gauge Russia’s interest in such a meeting. The meeting ultimately did not take place.

This is what led to the November 2015 contact with someone who was supposedly a “trusted person” in the Putin regime who could supply the requisite “synergy on a government level.” Note that this doesn’t necessarily involve any collusion per se, as the DNC hack hadn’t yet been known by anyone. Presidential candidates often seek international connections in order to bolster their perceived expertise, and as a global real-estate magnate, Trump would have had those channels to work. There would have been nothing illegal about it. The fact that nothing came of it makes it look more benign, or at least non-malicious on Trump’s part.

However, Cohen’s failure to tell the truth about it at least makes it curious. If Mueller asked about this in his written interrogatory to Trump — and it’s almost certain he would have used this information — Trump had better have answered it honestly. If not, Trump just walked into a perjury trap, one that would almost certainly get the attention of the new Democratic majority in the House.

There’s more here in Mueller’s memos that might interest them, too, especially about illegal campaign-finance activities involving hush money. Cohen now tells Mueller that “Individual-1” directed those payoffs, which opens up new legal and political problems for Trump:

During the campaign, Cohen played a central role in two similar schemes to purchase the rights to stories – each from women who claimed to have had an affair with Individual-1 – so as to suppress the stories and thereby prevent them from influencing the election. With respect to both payments, Cohen acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election. Cohen coordinated his actions with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments. (PSR ¶ 51). In particular, and
as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1.

This has nothing to do with “collusion,” of course, but in some ways it’s a bigger problem. The collusion hypothesis is almost certainly never going to convince enough people to be truly dangerous to Trump (unless he inadvertently corroborates it with careless statements), but everyone in politics will grasp the implications of these payoffs. If Mueller can find independent corroboration involving documents or testimony from witnesses that haven’t already perjured themselves, Trump could face serious political and legal consequences, especially once he leaves office. John Edwards managed to avoid a conviction for the same kind of crime, but Edwards didn’t have the shadow of Russia and obstruction, either.

It’s still possible that both threads go nowhere, too. The always-wise Andrew McCarthy argues that Mueller isn’t seeking a prosecution of Trump, but just a report that paints a grim picture of the president. Trump will bank on his ability to spin the report — an effort that went into overdrive the last two days — in the absence of an indictment, and that Congress will be loathe to impeach and remove him without one. That’s not vindication either, and even then, until we see the report any declarations of vindication are highly premature. In this case, it’s best to keep your arms and hands inside the ride until it comes to a complete stop.

Update: A sentence on the timing of the Russia contact got left out because of my editing error; it has been added back in.

Update: Jeffrey Toobin’s right about this, but  …

As Mueller put it in Friday’s Cohen court documents: “The defendant’s false statements obscured the fact that the Moscow Project was a lucrative business opportunity that sought, and likely required, the assistance of the Russian government. If the project was completed, the Company could have received hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues. The fact that Cohen continued to work on the project and discuss it with Individual 1 [aka Donald Trump] well into the campaign was material to the ongoing congressional and SCO investigations, particularly because it occurred at a time of sustained efforts by the Russian government to interfere with the U.S. presidential election. Similarly, it was material that Cohen, during the campaign, had a substantive telephone call about the project with an assistant to the press secretary for the President of Russia.”

Legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin phrased it slightly differently in the wake of Cohen’s plea agreement: “It would have been highly relevant to the public to learn that Trump was negotiating a business deal with Russia at the same time that he was proposing to change American policy toward that country.”

… but that makes for a political argument, not a legal or constitutional violation. Democrats can argue this and undoubtedly will in 2020. If voters feel betrayed by Trump’s lack of transparency on his business ventures, they can vote him out of office. It wasn’t illegal, and would not be a legitimate reason (on its own) to either impeach or indict Trump.

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Huge NJ ICE raid nets Interpol suspects, MS-13 members

Sat, 12/08/2018 - 15:01

Following a pattern we’ve seen in other blue states, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced last week that he would be limiting how much state and local police can assist immigration enforcement efforts. This no doubt plays well with the liberal base and their continued “Abolish ICE” demands. So how did Immigration and Customs Enforcement respond? With a sweeping raid that took down more than 100 illegal immigrants, including some highly sought after characters. (

Immigration officials took 105 immigrants and foreign nationals into custody in a five-day operation that included the arrests of several people wanted by Interpol for alleged crimes in their home countries, federal officials said Friday.

The sweep by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in 16 counties in N.J. also targeted immigrants who illegally re-entered the U.S. after deportation and several members of alleged gangs, including MS-13, officials said.

About 80 percent of those arrested had prior criminal convictions, ICE officials said.

“These outstanding results, which were made possible by our officers and law enforcement partners, highlight the tremendous commitment that ICE ERO has to public safety throughout the state,” said John Tsoukaris, field office director for ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations in Newark. “Our focus has been and will continue to be on arrests of illegal aliens who have been convicted of serious crimes or those who pose a threat to public safety.”

In reality, the word “respond” isn’t correct in this context. ICE officials insisted that this raid wasn’t any sort of response to Grewal’s announcement and had, in fact, been planned well in advance. That makes complete sense because you don’t line up that many targets, scope out their locations and move the resources into place to pick them all up in a week’s time. This operation has probably been building for many months. But I’m willing to bet it gave ICE at least a little satisfaction to see the timing work out this way.

But the success of the raids should raise another question regarding New Jersey’s state government. ICE wasn’t just picking up criminal illegal aliens here. They found members of MS-13 and individuals wanted by Interpol for crimes committed in their home countries. Is New Jersey law enforcement doing their jobs efficiently if all of these characters were out there roaming the streets?

If you are saying, or at least implying, that you don’t want ICE showing up in your state, shouldn’t you be able to show the citizens that they’re not needed and they will be safe in their homes or out on the streets? The New Jersey residents who are out there waving their #AbolishICE flags are the same ones who could be the next victims of these gang members and violent criminals. That doesn’t speak to a strong instinct for self-preservation.

Congratulations to the ICE units who took part in this operation. It was executed quickly and efficiently, without any of the suspects or the officers being injured in the process. It’s just a shame that New Jersey’s elected officials can’t show a little gratitude for this sort of assistance.

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Scalise: I’m totally on board with Elise Stefanik’s female recruitment efforts

Sat, 12/08/2018 - 13:31

Back on Wednesday, we looked at the efforts by New York Republican Elise Stefanik to recruit and support more female candidates during the 2020 congressional primaries. That plan seemed to at least mildly upset incoming NRCC chair Congressman Tom Emmer of Minnesota, but Stefanik is definitely plowing ahead anyway. But as of last night, she has a new ally in her cause. It’s none other than House Majority Whip (for now) Steve Scalise. (The Hill)

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) threw his support behind Rep. Elise Stefanik’s (R-N.Y.) push to help more Republican women win their primary races on Friday.

“Thank you for leading on this @EliseStefanik. We need more talented women like you in Congress. I’m proud to support your efforts,” he tweeted in response to the New York Republican warning the number of female GOP lawmakers in the House has reached “crisis levels.”

Just 13 Republican women are slated to serve in the lower chamber in the 116th Congress, down from 23.

Scalise’s comments come after Stefanik blasted newly-elected National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) for his remarks to Roll Call saying he believed it would be a “mistake” for her to intervene in primaries.

One of Emmer’s aides also went on record saying that the incoming NRCC chief and Stefanik were now “on the same page” and setting up meetings to get input from GOP women and figure out ways to recruit more female candidates and get them elected. So at least for the moment, it looks like the NY-21 congresswoman has won the battle.

So is that a win-win for the party or not? As I pointed out on Wednesday, they’re playing with a double edged sword here. I do believe that the party will generate more enthusiasm from women voters if they manage to even out some of the gender gap in the Republican caucus two years from now. If women feel shut out of the process (rightly or wrongly) that’s going to depress turnout.

But at the same time, I hope that this new-found enthusiasm for pushing outside cash toward specific candidates in the primaries doesn’t turn around and bite them. There’s a very valid reason the NRCC has traditionally stayed out of the primary fights. The voters in each district need to be the ones deciding who will represent them. If the NRCC is putting its thumb on the scale, that sort of interference doesn’t generally sit well with the natives.

Perhaps some sort of compromise could be found. Stefanik’s PAC could, for example, cover the costs associated with vetting any of the female candidates who express an interest in running and make sure that they’re viable in the general election. They might even be able to provide some staffing for them to make their initial entry into national politics a bit smoother and avoid rookie mistakes. But if we go much further than that and start buying up blocks of ad time for them… well, it just doesn’t sit well.

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James Fields convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Heather Heyer

Sat, 12/08/2018 - 01:01

James Alex Fields was convicted on ten counts Friday including first-degree murder in the death of Heather Heyer. Fields is the neo-Nazi who drove his car into a group of people in Charlottesville, killing Heyer and seriously injuring several others. From the NY Times:

After deliberating for more than seven hours on Friday, a Charlottesville jury convicted James Fields Jr. of first-degree murder, finding that the Ohio man intentionally drove his car into a crowd of protesters at a white nationalist rally last year, killing one woman and injuring nearly 40 others.

The jury, which heard testimony in a case in which hate and racism were as much on trial as Mr. Fields, also found the 21-year-old guilty of five counts of aggravated malicious wounding, three counts of malicious wounding and one count of leaving the scene of a crime. He faces up to life in prison for the death of Heather Heyer, 32, and for the aggravated woundings, and up to 20 years for the other offenses…

The nine-day trial featured days of emotional testimony from victims who were seriously injured in the crash, including a man who pushed his girlfriend out of the way, bearing the brunt of the impact himself, and a single mother who suffered two broken legs and a broken back. Many of the victims returned to the courtroom day after day to listen to other witnesses, and jurors saw them hugging and comforting one another.

Fox News has more about the closing arguments and some of the evidence used at trial:

During closing arguments Thursday, prosecutor Nina-Alice Antony portrayed Fields as a hateful young man who idled his vehicle for more than a minute before backing up and then speeding into the crowd, killing Heyer and injuring dozens of other people.

Video from a Virginia State Police helicopter captured the incident, showing a grey muscle car as it rammed the group and then drove away.

Antony also referenced a text message sent by Fields the day before the rally after his mother told him to be careful.

In the text, accompanied by a picture of Adolf Hitler, Fields wrote: “we’re not the one (sic) who need to be careful.”

Antony also repeatedly reminded jurors about a meme Fields posted on Instagram three months before the crash. The image showed a crowd, identified as “protesters,” being rammed by a car, and depicted bodies being tossed in the air.

Prosecutors argued that Fields was seeking to make that Instagram post a reality when he plowed into the crowd of counter-protesters. They also provided evidence that Fields had no remorse. In a taped phone call between Fields and his mother, which was recorded while he was in jail, Fields described Heyer’s mother as “the enemy.” From NBC News:

A taped phone call from jail between Fields and his mother was also played for the court. In it, Fields is heard lashing out at Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, calling her a “communist” and “anti-white supremacist” who was trying to slander him, according to the NBC 29.

When Fields’ mother said Bro had lost her daughter, Fields is heard saying that it “doesn’t matter” and called Bro “the enemy.”

The defense case was that Fields was in a panic when he drove into the crowd, but the jury obviously didn’t buy it. Sentencing will take place after victim impact statements are given. That’s set to begin Monday. Looking back at the video of this attack, it’s amazing that only one person died. So many other people came close to being crushed or run down. But what Fields did do is more than bad enough and now he’s going to pay for it for a very long time.

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Rex Tillerson: Trump was undisciplined, didn’t like to read, and wanted to do things in unlawful ways

Sat, 12/08/2018 - 00:21

That doesn’t sound like him.

To be clear, the bit about doing things in unlawful ways refers not to criminal schemes but to Trump sometimes not understanding what existing law did and didn’t allow him to do in setting policy unilaterally as president. That may not be a “Trump problem” per se, more of a “guy who’s never held office and didn’t go to law school and thus doesn’t know the rules” problem. (Although Trump’s interest in civics is probably below replacement level even among that group.) Plus, electing a guy who did go to a very good law school and does, in theory, know the rules is no guarantee of better results in every circumstance. Look no further than Barack Obama and DACA.

“It was challenging for me coming from the disciplined, highly process-oriented ExxonMobil Corporation to go to work for a man who is pretty undisciplined, doesn’t — doesn’t like to read, doesn’t read briefing reports, doesn’t — doesn’t like to get into the details of a lot of things but rather just kind of says, look, this is what I believe and you can try to convince me otherwise, but most of the time you’re not going to do that.”…

“When the president would say, ‘Here’s what I want to do, and here’s how I want to do it,’ and I’d have to say to him, ‘Well, Mr. President, I understand what you want to do but you can’t do it that way. It violates the law, it violates the treaty, you know,’” Tillerson explained.

“I didn’t know how to conduct my affairs with him any other way than in a very straightforward fashion. And I think he grew tired of me being the guy every day that told him, ‘You can’t do that, and let’s talk about what we can do.’”

As others have noted, this sounds like a more elaborate, refined version of a comment Tillerson is alleged to have made about Trump while he was still as State. Trump is taking the criticism in stride, as he usually does:

Mike Pompeo is doing a great job, I am very proud of him. His predecessor, Rex Tillerson, didn’t have the mental capacity needed. He was dumb as a rock and I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough. He was lazy as hell. Now it is a whole new ballgame, great spirit at State!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018

It’s worth watching the clip below despite having read the excerpt, as there’s a line in the video that wasn’t included in the written account. John Dickerson picks up on it too. At one point Tillerson notes that he and Trump don’t share some of the same “values.” What’s that mean? Managerial values, like … reading briefing books? Diplomatic values, like not speaking admiringly of tyrants? Or basic civic values, like “The treaty says we can’t do that”?

An interesting point is also made about Tillerson, a corporate exec, viewing his diplomatic job in terms of having a fiduciary duty to the public. Most politicians (some politicians?) approach their jobs that way, I’d guess: Either you produce results for your “shareholders” or you’re apt to get fired. By some key measures, even according to his admirers, Trump hasn’t produced results. But it’s unimaginable that supporters would “fire” him. This isn’t corporate warfare, it’s cultural warfare. You don’t replace the general who’s leading the culture war even if he hasn’t won as many battles as you’d hoped. Maybe that’s what Tillerson meant by different “values.”

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Federal prosecutors: Michael Cohen should serve ‘a substantial term of imprisonment’

Fri, 12/07/2018 - 23:41

Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, had sought no jail time in light of his cooperation with the Mueller investigation. But today federal prosecutors denied that request saying he had committed four crimes and deserves a “substantial term of imprisonment.” From Fox News:

Friday’s recommendation denies Cohen’s request of “no jail time” and instead calls for “a substantial term of imprisonment” come sentencing day on Dec. 12.

“Cohen, an attorney and businessman, committed four distinct federal crimes over a period of several years.  He was motivated to do so by personal greed, and repeatedly used his power and influence for deceptive ends.  Now he seeks extraordinary leniency – a sentence of no jail time,” according to the memo.

“The Office respectfully requests that this Court impose a substantial term of imprisonment, one that reflects a modest variance from the applicable Guidelines range. The Office also requests that the Court impose forfeiture in the amount of $500,000, and a fine.”

CNN adds that Cohen may be facing up to five years, though the judge can make his own decision:

In its filing, Mueller’s office says that Cohen took “significant steps” to help the investigation and has accepted responsibility for his crimes. It argues any sentence he serves should run concurrently…

The Cohen cases are being considered together for sentencing purposes. In the New York federal case, the stipulated guideline range of Cohen’s prison term is between 46 and 63 months with a range of fines of between $20,000 and $1 million, although that was determined before Cohen had received a cooperation agreement from the special counsel’s office.

The judge can deviate from the guidelines when he determines Cohen’s sentence.

But the big question many people are asking isn’t what this means for Cohen but what it may mean for President Trump. On that count, this is the first time prosecutors have said Trump directed Cohen to commit campaign finance violations, though we already knew that Cohen had made that claim back in August:

If I am reading the Govt filing correctly, it says Cohen committed campaign finance violations at the “direction” of President Trump.

That means they are saying Trump committed a felony.

And the memo goes on to explain how serious the felony is to the integrity of our system

— Neal Katyal (@neal_katyal) December 7, 2018

This is new. Federal prosecutors have said for the first time in a court filing that Cohen committed campaign finance crimes "in coordination with and at the direction of" President Trump.

— Brad Heath (@bradheath) December 7, 2018

What does this mean for Trump? Gabe Malor says nothing at least so long as Trump remains in office:

Yes, they can. Longstanding DOJ understanding (40+ years) is that sitting presidents cannot be indicted on the theory that it would unconstitutionally restrain a branch of government from carrying out mandatory duties.

— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) December 7, 2018

Of course, this could still serve as grounds for impeachment, which is something I suspect Democrats will be talking about over the weekend. There’s also the question of collusion. This bit from Mueller suggest something like it (“political synergy”) it was on offer in 2015, but notice the last line:

Mueller filing says a Russian national claiming to be a "trusted person" in the Russian Federation contacted Cohen in Nov. 2015 offering the Trump campaign "political synergy" and "synergy on a government level"

— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) December 7, 2018

Finally, this appears to be Trump’s initial response to the Cohen material but this is all there is of it so it’s a bit hard to tell.

Totally clears the President. Thank you!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018

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Pelosi on immigration compromise: We’re not funding Trump’s “immoral” border wall

Fri, 12/07/2018 - 23:01

A wall to mark the legal border between the U.S. and Mexico and prevent illegal entry, which U.S. law already prohibits, is … “immoral”?

Golly. With language as strong as that, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s borders that Democrats regard as immoral, not the wall per se.

You can treat this as negotiation positioning if you wish. Even if Pelosi’s privately willing to deal on wall funding, she’s obviously not going to show her hand in public. Only an imbecile would signal openly that he might pony up money for the wall under certain circumstances when he’s supposedly trying to to drive a hard bargain. I tend not to think that she’s bluffing, though. As I said in the post at the last link, the wall has taken on such outsized symbolic importance to Trump’s agenda that the left would revolt if she approved money for it, even as part of a trade for, say, a DREAM amnesty. They just took over the House and won the right to veto any or all parts of the MAGA platform. It’s unimaginable under those circumstances that Pelosi would turn around and give Trump the most desired item on his wish list. It might be the single most demoralizing thing she could do to the left from a policy standpoint right now.

The language about “immorality” points to another problem. Although the open-borders party always would have been hostile to a wall, it’s so tangential to meaningful enforcement that I think they might have considered making a deal to fund it earlier in Trump’s presidency. Even now, some amnesty shills like Geraldo Rivera are open to a bargain in which Trump gets the wall and DREAMers get legal status. As time has passed, though, and Trump has continued to plug away on ways to reduce illegal immigration — most famously with family separation — the lefty rhetoric has gotten hotter and hotter, to the point where progressives have ca;;ed for abolishing ICE altogether. That is, irrespective of how “immoral” they consider the wall to be, they consider Trump’s immigration program writ large to be grossly immoral. They’re not going to give him money to fund the centerpiece of that program, period. Pelosi’s comments here I take to be a reflection of that. Whether or not there was a potential compromise on the wall to be had a year ago, there isn’t one now. And there probably won’t be one unless and until Trump “softens” his approach first. Good luck figuring out a way for him to do that without his nationalist fans revolting.

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Washington Post Opinion: Kevin Hart hasn’t paid enough ‘penance’ for his bad tweets

Fri, 12/07/2018 - 22:21

Washington Post opinion writer Alyssa Rosenburg has a piece up today titled “Kevin Hart’s homophobia caught up with him. Is losing the Oscars enough?” I don’t assume she wrote the headline but that’s a pretty fair summary of the piece itself which argues that Hart’s past statements about homosexuals should cost him more than a lost gig. In fact, the headline softens it a bit by making it a question. Rosenburg asks that question in the piece and then clearly answers it by saying Hart should pay some kind of additional ‘penance’ for his bad tweets:

If Hart thought that telling Rolling Stone in 2015 that “I think we love to make big deals out of things that aren’t necessarily big deals, because we can” was enough to put that phase of his career to rest, he seems to have been disabused of that notion. Saying, as he did Friday, that “I’m sorry that I hurt people.. I am evolving and want to continue to do so. My goal is to bring people together not tear us apart” is closer to the mark.

Is it enough, though? Or is it just a start? The concept of penance may be out of fashion, but that should change, especially at a moment of national reckoning over homophobia, sexual violence and racism. Stepping down from the Oscars may be punishment for Hart, but that censure doesn’t do very much to help people who have, for example, been beaten by relatives because of their perceived sexual orientation.

I’ve written about altruistic punishment before. That’s the tendency that all people have to take pleasure from punishing socially designating villains. There’s a good societal/evolutionary reason for the existence of this tendency (it helps weed out freeloaders and people who aren’t carrying their weight). The problem is that in the modern world social media makes it easy for this natural tendency to create roving mobs looking to inflict punishment on whoever they deem deserves it. That’s how you get #HasJustineLandedYet and other low points in social media history.

Earlier this year I wrote about a woman named Monika Glennon who got in a brief argument with a stranger in the comments section of a local news station. The stranger, a woman named Mollie Rosenblum, responded by creating a false story about Glennon cheating on her husband which she spread online with the help of yet another stranger. The whole sad story is worth a look as an example of the kind of terrible behavior people are capable of once they decide the other person deserves to be punished.

Of course, people are free to decide that Kevin Hart is a terrible person and stop seeing his movies or tune him out entirely. They are free to tell their friends they think he’s a bad guy. But at some point, you do cross a line when your goal is to publicly organize social punishment for someone you don’t know and have never spoken to. That’s what Alyssa Rosenburg seems to be doing with her column in the Post.

To be clear, I’m not trying to do the same to Rosenburg. I don’t know her and I don’t want to see her fired or hounded online over her column (though it would be the height of hypocrisy if she were to complain at this point). I do think this is a problem, one which major publications like the Post ought to think about.

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Ocasio-Cortez to Trump Jr: Keep trolling me on Twitter and you might get subpoenaed

Fri, 12/07/2018 - 21:41

Imagine — a socialist, threatening to abuse the power of the state to punish her political enemies.

I’m as surprised as you are.

Aside from you-know-who, she’s the perfect Trump-era politician. Ignorant, vindictive, eager to brawl with the other side because her legions of admirers revel in the partisan bloodsport, willing to say outrageous stuff like this just for the sake of saying it and then never follow through.

I have noticed that Junior here has a habit of posting nonsense about me whenever the Mueller investigation heats up.

Please, keep it coming Jr – it’s definitely a “very, very large brain” idea to troll a member of a body that will have subpoena power in a month.

Have fun!

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) December 7, 2018

“You’ll be subpoenaed if you keep trolling me” must be part of that “relatable” everyman appeal I keep hearing about. Being a quintessential Trump-era politician, naturally she lied and whined that she was being misunderstood when she was called out for her tweet:

For the GOP crying that this is a “threat” – I don’t have power to subpoena anybody.

Congress as a body, GOP included, has the power. No indiv. member can issue a subpoena unless they are a Chair (which, as a freshman, I can assure you I will not be). Also must be under purview.

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) December 7, 2018

She’s not threatening to subpoena him herself, she’s merely suggesting she might try to get her committee to do it. Think of how imperious she’ll be when she’s 70, in her 40th year in Congress, chairing any committee she wants. Unless, of course, her fans make her empress before then.

POTUS is going to end up flaming her over her tweet at some point today and the Twitter war to end all wars will be on. In the meantime, here’s Matthew Walther from a few days ago arguing that Ocasio-Cortez is the progressive Trump:

What she offers her sizable online base is something more important — the chance to watch a cool young superhero defeat an axis of Boomer male archvillains single-handedly. She speaks to an entire generation of young Americans whose legitimate political grievances — the sham post-2010 economic recovery, the college debt epidemic, the sneering cluelessness of those who squandered our patrimony — are as numerous as their personal shortcomings — laziness, inability to think critically, lack of empathy or curiosity about people who are less woke than them, a tendency to confuse performative outrage with moral clarity. Her conception of democratic socialism is more appealing to them than that of Bernie Sanders because it is not about making sure that the wealthy pay a bit more so that no one gets left behind, but a childish vision of easy, limitless prosperity. Bernie says we don’t need 23 different kinds of deodorant; AOC asks why all 23 kinds aren’t free.

Trump vs. AOC is the election America wants, and deserves. Alas, Article II’s age threshold and the 22nd Amendment means it’ll never happen. It’ll be have to held by proxy on Twitter instead, as so many moronic political disputes are nowadays.

A fun plot line of Ocasio-Cortez’s congressional tenure will be the anonymous backbiting in the media against her from members of her own caucus, and there will be plenty of it. For three reasons. One, to her credit she seems willing already to upset some apple carts. People who like and/or are funded by those apple carts won’t be sanguine about her earnestness. Two, her sporadic doltish mistakes, like thinking there was $21 trillion floating around in the Pentagon budget that could be used for single-payer, are an irresistible target for mockery by better-informed colleagues. There’ll be more errors like that and her House-mates will notice. And third, she already has a gigantic following on social media — larger than the followings of every other freshman member of her caucus put together, I remember reading somewhere. If she’s not already the second-most well-known Democrat in the House behind Pelosi, she must be top 10. The green-eyed monster will come for her. I’ll be curious to see if her colleagues have anything to say about today’s tweet to reporters — on background, of course.

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Rudy: Mueller’s lawyers think Trump knew about the Trump Tower meeting with the Russians in 2016

Fri, 12/07/2018 - 21:01

No biggie. Just a hint from the president’s lawyer that he might soon be facing a perjury charge over a key fact in the Russia collusion investigation.

Mueller is set to file court documents today describing the lies Manafort allegedly told him during their “cooperation” sessions. It’s fair to assume Rudy expects something about this in those filings and is trying to get ahead of the news cycle. Why wait to spin bad news after it drops when you can spin it before it does?

POTUS has always insisted that he didn’t know about Don Jr’s (and Manafort’s and Jared Kushner’s) meeting with the Russian lawyer to discuss Hillary dirt at Trump Tower in summer 2016. Was that true?

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has made clear to Paul Manafort’s attorneys that they believe the former Trump campaign chair is lying to them about President Donald Trump, according to the President’s attorney Rudy Giuliani.

“In the questioning of Manafort, they did tell them at the time that they believed he was lying about certain things related to us that he’s not lying about,” Giuliani told CNN…

According to Giuliani, investigators told Manafort they don’t believe that the President did not know about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting that Manafort attended with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and a Russian attorney who had promised dirt on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

It’s not perjury unless POTUS claimed *under oath* that he didn’t know about the meeting at the time. But, er, according to reports last week, he did claim under oath in his written answers to Mueller that he didn’t know about the meeting. If the special counsel has evidence that he did know, then Trump has a major problem.

And there’s circumstantial evidence that he knew. Ben Shapiro reminds us:

On June 7, [2016,] the day the meeting was confirmed between Trump Jr. and Goldstone, Trump gave a speech in which he stated, “I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.”

That speech was never given. Team Trump insists it had nothing to do with the Trump Tower meeting that was eventually held on June 9, but it’s always seemed a bit too coincidental that POTUS was previewing dirt on Hillary Clinton, that Don Jr and other aides met with the Russian lawyer a few days later to obtain dirt on Hillary Clinton, that they came up empty, and that Trump then seemingly forgot about his big speech. If Trump wasn’t teasing Russian-supplied dirt then what was he teasing? And if he was teasing Russian-supplied dirt, then he must have known about the meeting in advance.

Whatever this means for Trump Sr, it may explain the reports lately about Don Jr allegedly telling friends that he’s worried about being indicted. Junior’s effort in arranging the Trump Tower meeting is his most prominent role in Russiagate. If he’s going to be indicted for anything, chances are it’s related to that. And if Mueller thinks POTUS lied about the extent of his knowledge of the meeting, I’d imagine he’s also eyeing any testimony from Don Jr to the same effect, that dad didn’t know. Is Junior now in jeopardy of perjury? Is Jared Kushner, who was at the same meeting?

One thing I don’t understand, though. The big news last week was that Manafort had been operating as a sort of double agent for the White House, sending his lawyer to huddle with Trump’s lawyers about what he had learned during his “cooperation” sessions with Mueller. If that’s so, and if Manafort tipped Trump and Rudy to the fact that Mueller believed Trump knew in advance about the Trump Tower meeting, then why didn’t Trump admit to advance knowledge in his written answers? Why leave himself open to a perjury charge?

Here’s Dem Rep. Jackie Speier claiming that she believes Don Jr lied at least twice to her House committee. Exit question: Who might have given Mueller the idea that the Trumps were lying about advance knowledge by the president of the Trump Tower meeting? Hmmmmm.

Rep. Jackie Speier believes Donald Trump Jr. lied to House Intel Committee on "at least two occasions"

— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) December 7, 2018

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Venezuelan officials in London to collect 16 tons of gold from the Bank of England

Fri, 12/07/2018 - 20:21

Venezuela sent officials to London in an attempt to repatriate 16 tons of gold worth more than $500 million which had been deposited at the Bank of England. From Reuters:

The government of President Nicolas Maduro is seeking to bring 14 tonnes of gold back to Venezuela because of fears it could be caught up in international sanctions on the country, sources told Reuters this month.

The gold is a crucial asset for the struggling OPEC nation, where hyperinflation is expected to reach 1 million percent this year and a broad economic collapse has fueled an exodus of some 3 million people since 2015.

Maduro’s critics, including exiled opposition leader Julio Borges, have argued that the gold should not be repatriated because it could be used to finance corruption.

In case you’re wondering, 14 metric tonnes is equivalent to about 16 U.S. tons. All of this activity is motivated by actions taken last month by President Trump. The president instituted new sanctions aimed in part at Venezuelan gold sales. Now Venezuela is trying to bring the gold it has in England home to prevent it from being cut off by those sanctions:

Trump signed an executive order to ban anyone in the United States from dealing with entities and people involved with “corrupt or deceptive” gold sales from Venezuela, Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton said in a speech in Miami.

“The Maduro regime has used this sector as a bastion to finance illicit activities, to fill its coffers, and to support criminal groups,” Bolton said.

Bolton made the announcement as part of a pledge to crack down on what he called “the troika of tyranny” in the western hemisphere, naming Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Reuters says it’s unlikely the Bank of England would refuse to return the gold because it holds gold for a number of developing countries, all of whom would be concerned if their access to their deposits was suddenly in doubt.

Back when the crisis in Venezuela was still in its early stages, some supporters of the socialist regime said Venezuela would manage its problems in part because it had a large reserve of $36 billion in gold. But hyperinflation and the degradation of the country’s oil company has forced the country to sell off a lot of that reserve. This year alone, Venezuela has sold nearly a billion dollars worth of gold.

A few more tons of gold is only going to stave off the inevitable for a short time. With hyperinflation reaching 1 million percent, millions of people fleeing the country, and an expected contraction of the economy approaching 20 percent this year, Maduro can’t keep this going much longer.

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Today’s hot topics on Relevant Radio: US-China standoff, Hart demurs, economic indicators, Black and Pro-Life in America, and more!

Fri, 12/07/2018 - 19:41

Once again, I get to step outside the box and guest host on Relevant Radio’s Drew Mariani Show from 3-6 ET today! The Catholic talk-radio network is heard nationwide on the air, as well as online and through their free mobile app that plays live and podcast shows.

Today’s Relevant Radio show includes:

  • What are the ramifications of the new trade negotiations with China? Will the arrest of a top Huawei executive derail them? Heritage Foundation‘s Dean Cheng breaks it down for us.
  • Why are the Oscars looking for a new host — again? Christian Toto of Hollywood in Toto explains Kevin Hart’s decision to decline after critics accused him of homophobia, and what that means for the future of comedy as an art form. We’ll also find out why Christian thinks pop culture clobbered conservatives in 2018, and what’s worth watching in theaters this weekend.
  • Baptist minister Walter Hoye talks to us about his experiences as an advocate for life and his new book Black and Pro-Life in America. We’ll also talk about his upcoming appearance at the Walk for Life West Coast in San Francisco next month.
  • The price of gold is ramping up along with the volatility on Wall Street. Peter Grandich and I will discuss recent economic indicators, his outlook on what it means, and why he’s committing himself even more to a Catholic-based investment strategy.
  • Andrew Malcolm joins us to wrap up the week! The Prince of Twitter and I will discuss all of the hot political stories of the day.
  • And more to come … stay tuned!

We may add more before the show starts today, plus we will have the chaplet of Divine Mercy in the second hour. We will also take your calls at 1-888-914-9149You can also listen on the Relevant Radio app no matter where you are in the world, so download it now. I’ll look forward to talking with you!

The post Today’s hot topics on Relevant Radio: US-China standoff, Hart demurs, economic indicators, Black and Pro-Life in America, and more! appeared first on Hot Air.

Bloomberg: I could shut down Bloomberg News’ political coverage if I run for president

Fri, 12/07/2018 - 17:41

Why wait? That might be what Michael Bloomberg’s political reporters are thinking after the boss casually mentioned that they might all be out of a job if he runs for president in 2020. The former mayor of New York City told an Iowa radio host that he’d either sell his news business to prevent a conflict of interest … or just put an end to its coverage of politics.

Merry Christmas, y’all!

Reporters at Bloomberg News are on edge after their boss announced that if he chooses to run for president in 2020 — a decision he will have to finalize relatively soon — it could mean the end of the news outlet’s political coverage. …

The interview quickly caused paranoia within Bloomberg’s news division, according to sources familiar with the matter. The politics team, in particular, has been rankled by what Bloomberg said about how in-house political reporters should handle his potential campaign (not at all).

“Quite honestly, I don’t want all the reporters I’m paying to write a bad story about me,” Bloomberg said through laughter during the interview. One serious option for handling his campaign, he said, would be to “not cover politics at all,” ceding all political coverage to other outlets’ wire stories.

That’s a bit extreme, but it’s not the first time that Bloomberg has made it clear that he doesn’t want his employees covering him, campaigning or not. Former Bloomberg political news director Kathy Kiely resigned nearly three years ago when Bloomberg floated an independent bid just before the primaries started. She told HuffPost that “the bottom line is, you can’t cover the circus unless you can write about one of the biggest elephants in the room.” At that time, other Bloomberg News figures disputed that characterization, but this little episode seems to vindicate Kiely’s decision.

The current staff might be rooting for a sale instead of a shutdown or even a “blind trust” arrangement. The latter would certainly remove any financial conflict of interest, but reporters would still have to put their names on any articles that might be considered critical of the boss. If Bloomberg didn’t succeed, he’d be back running the organization — and that might get a little awkward.

Bloomberg was serious about the sell option, CNBC notes, but there’s a problem with that too. Who’s got $40 billion in loose change?

Bloomberg takes in about $10 billion in annual revenue, according to a source familiar with the matter. The company would probably fetch more than $40 billion in a sale, according to two investment bankers familiar with the company’s finances. …

There aren’t many companies large enough to absorb Bloomberg that make sense as buyers. The most likely option for a sale, said the bankers, is a consortium leveraged buyout deal. Private-equity firm Blackstone acquired a majority stake in Thomson Reuters’s financial information business, which competes with Bloomberg, in a deal that valued the unit at $20 billion earlier this year.

Still, club private-equity deals aren’t nearly as common as they were a decade ago. Many of those transactions led to huge losses after the financial crisis. A leveraged buyout of Bloomberg would likely be the largest in history, topping the $32 billion acquisition of TXU led by KKR & Co. and TPG in 2007.

All of this is academic anyway, because it’s not terribly likely that Bloomberg will run at all. He’s slightly older than Joe Biden and will have been out of public office for seven years in 2020. He’s another multi-billionaire like Trump, but Trump’s an outsider, or at least he’s built up some credibility as such. Bloomberg is the ultimate insider in the NYC-DC bubble. His Wall Street track record is far outside of the mainstream among ever-harder-Left Democrats, making him the quintessential one percenter in an Occupy Wall Street party. Any attempt to run as an independent will create the same problem Bloomberg faced in 2016 — he’d get most of his votes from those already inclined to vote against Trump. Bloomberg would split Trump’s opposition and hand Trump an even bigger victory the second time out.

The most likely outcome is that Bloomberg will content himself with running his businesses while dropping tons of cash into the election. That creates fewer headaches … outside of Bloomberg News’ offices, anyway.

The post Bloomberg: I could shut down Bloomberg News’ political coverage if I run for president appeared first on Hot Air.

“Totally conflicted”: Trump attacks Mueller, Rosenstein on big-reveal day

Fri, 12/07/2018 - 17:01

As curtain-raisers go, Donald Trump’s morning blast turned out to be nearly comprehensive. Trump ripped special counsel Robert Mueller and deputy AG Rod Rosenstein as “totally conflicted” in a series of tweets. He also accused others of having conflicts, including a Mueller deputy whom Trump claimed worked at the Clinton Foundation at one point:

Robert Mueller and Leakin’ Lyin’ James Comey are Best Friends, just one of many Mueller Conflicts of Interest. And bye the way, wasn’t the woman in charge of prosecuting Jerome Corsi (who I do not know) in charge of “legal” at the corrupt Clinton Foundation? A total Witch Hunt…

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018

….Will Robert Mueller’s big time conflicts of interest be listed at the top of his Republicans only Report. Will Andrew Weissman’s horrible and vicious prosecutorial past be listed in the Report. He wrongly destroyed people’s lives, took down great companies, only to be……..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018

…..overturned, 9-0, in the United States Supreme Court. Doing same thing to people now. Will all of the substantial & many contributions made by the 17 Angry Democrats to the Campaign of Crooked Hillary be listed in top of Report. Will the people that worked for the Clinton….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018

….Foundation be listed at the top of the Report? Will the scathing document written about Lyin’ James Comey, by the man in charge of the case, Rod Rosenstein (who also signed the FISA Warrant), be a big part of the Report? Isn’t Rod therefore totally conflicted? Will all of….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018

…the lying and leaking by the people doing the Report, & also Bruce Ohr (and his lovely wife Molly), Comey, Brennan, Clapper, & all of the many fired people of the FBI, be listed in the Report? Will the corruption within the DNC & Clinton Campaign be exposed?..And so much more!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018

Usually, Trump tweets out his Mueller blasts in an extemporaneous fashion. These seem more precisely calibrated as a pre-buttal — and for good reason. Mueller will show more of his hand today, as Politico notes; Mueller will unveil more documents today related his moves on two former Trump associates:

President Donald Trump lashed out Friday morning against the Mueller investigation, outlining what he called “big time” conflicts of interest within the special counsel’s office and engaging in his most direct attacks on his deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, suggesting he is “totally conflicted.”

The president’s attacks, delivered in a flurry of early-morning posts to Twitter, come on what is expected to be a busy day for special counsel Robert Mueller, whose office is expected to release new filings on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and on the president’s former attorney, Michael Cohen.

Plus, don’t forget who’s coming to Capitol Hill today:

Former FBI Director James Comey is testifying before members of the House Judiciary Committee behind closed doors on Capitol Hill today.@mkraju has the latest:

— CNN Newsroom (@CNNnewsroom) December 7, 2018

That’s a lot of news to get out in front of. The bit about Corsi refers to Jeannie Rhee, whom Corsi says demanded “false testimony,” according to a complaint Corsi recently filed with acting AG Matt Whitaker and with the inspector general of the Department of Justice:

Corsi, an associate of Roger Stone, alleges Mueller’s team tried to pressure him to admit that he lied about his efforts to learn WikiLeaks’ plans ahead of the release of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s stolen emails in October 2016.

Corsi insists he never lied. He says he forgot about the messages he sent to Stone and others seeking to find out what damaging information WikiLeaks had on the Clinton campaign — and later amended his testimony after he found them.

“The special counsel and his prosecutorial staff threatened to indict Dr. Corsi, who is now 72 years old, and effectively put him in jail for the rest of his life, unless Dr. Corsi would provide the false testimony that they demanded, even after being informed that the testimony desired would be false,” says the 78-page document. “This is criminal.”

Rhee has represented Hillary Clinton in the past, although it’s not clear that she was ever an officer in the Clinton Foundation. The Washington Times reported in July 2017 that her status as a donor to Democrats raised questions early on about Mueller’s judgment in selecting his team:

Among the donors are Jeannie Rhee, a former deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s office of legal counsel, who donated $5,400 to Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign PAC Hillary for America. She gave $4,800 to President Obama’s campaign.

While working at the WilmerHale law firm with Mr. Mueller, Ms. Rhee was on the legal team that represented the Clinton Foundation. She was also part of the team that defended Mrs. Clinton against lawsuits over her email practices as secretary of state.

So Rhee’s old news, too, and a tad exaggerated in terms of the Clinton Foundation, anyway. Trump’s tweets serve to offer a basic outline of the formal rebuttal he promised that Rudy Giuliani would deliver … whenever Mueller finishes his report to Rosenstein:

We will be doing a major Counter Report to the Mueller Report. This should never again be allowed to happen to a future President of the United States!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018

The subtext here is that there won’t be anything else coming from the White House except for the “counter report.” Trump went after Rosenstein again this morning in a way that suggests he thinks there will be some damage that comes from it — and that Rosenstein will act on the report by giving it to Congress. (That’s almost a slam-dunk prediction anyway.) By attacking Rosenstein’s credibility, he might be laying the groundwork for a termination, but Trump had plenty of grounds for that two months ago and passed on the opportunity. This seems much more intended to paint Rosenstein as a political player with “conflicts” as a means of undermining his credibility when and not if he’s in place to act on the report. Besides, there wouldn’t be a need for a “counter report” if Trump was going to block the Mueller report in some fashion.

The same applies even more to Mueller’s status. Trump explicitly states that he’s going to wait for Mueller to finish his report, a very strong signal that — despite some handwringing in the Senate — Trump has no plans to fire the special counsel. It wouldn’t do any good anyway, as Mueller would simply go to the House Democrats to testify to his findings at this late stage. Better to keep Mueller and his grand jury under the authority of the DoJ and answerable to its directives about, ahem, indicting a sitting president.

Of course, none of this might be ready to transpire before William Barr takes over as AG. At that point, Mueller would have to answer to Barr, not Rosenstein, as the superior officer at the DoJ. Mueller still has a few weeks to go before the Senate can act on Barr’s nomination, but the clock is now ticking loudly on Rosenstein’s tenure as the supervisor of the special counsel probe. Mueller has to know that, too.

The post “Totally conflicted”: Trump attacks Mueller, Rosenstein on big-reveal day appeared first on Hot Air.

Dem senator: Heather Nauert is “clearly not qualified” to be UN ambassador

Fri, 12/07/2018 - 16:21

Are we headed for a confirmation battle here? Probably not, but when the news broke last night that Nauert was Trump’s pick it occurred to me that she’d be DOA in a Democratic-run Senate. Not so Bill Barr (I think). He’d be put through the wringer during his confirmation hearing over Russiagate and his views of executive power but he’s well-regarded as a lawyer and former AG and would be able to point to his Bush 41 pedigree as evidence of his independence from Trump. I think he’d be confirmed even by Schumer’s caucus.

Nauert would not be. Lack of diplomatic experience is bad but maybe not fatal. Nikki Haley had no diplomatic experience when she got the job, remember. Lack of any government experience beyond a spokesman role, which she’s had for all of 18 months at State, is worse. But maybe that wouldn’t have been fatal either. In a populist age, a thin resume in public service isn’t disqualifying; Trump got elected without it, Rex Tillerson got confirmed as Secretary of State without it. Tillerson, though, had traveled widely and met with the highest foreign officials in his role as head of Exxon. Nauert doesn’t have anything like that to her record. She doesn’t even have the sort of academic/think-tank credentials that the Susan Rices and Samantha Powers of the world can point to as proof that they, ahem, know what they’re talking about on foreign policy.

That’s a thin resume even by the standards of thin resumes. And to top it off, Nauert is known to the public mainly for the years she’s spent at the left’s least favorite media organization, a network that now devotes most of its time to cheerleading for their least favorite politician. I think it’s likely she’ll get not a single Democratic vote for confirmation. Even the usual red-state possibilities like Joe Manchin won’t be under any pressure to support her, knowing they won’t face voters again for six years.

Fortunately for Nauert and Trump, unified Democratic opposition is no bar to confirming nominees. He’ll have 53 Republican votes in the next Senate, easily enough if he can keep (nearly) everyone onboard. Can he, given Nauert’s lack of qualifications? Susan Collins is up for reelection in 2020 so she’ll be leery of crossing Trump, but she just banked a huge amount of goodwill among righties by coming through on Kavanaugh. She could get away with a no vote here knowing that the next UN nominee will be confirmed. Murkowski is even less likely to vote yes: She’s not up until 2022 again and has already been attacked by Trump for opposing Kavanaugh. And Ben Sasse is a wild card. He’s been pounded by critics for talking a good anti-Trump game while steadfastly voting with the president but that may change in the final two years of his Senate term if he’s leaning towards not running for reelection. Plus, Sasse has attacked Fox News staffers like Sean Hannity for pushing “polititainment.” Nauert isn’t from that side of the network but he might cast a symbolic vote against her to make the point that Trump shouldn’t be staffing influential diplomatic positions with his favorite Trump TV personalities.

If all three of them balked we’d have a 50/50 split, barely enough to get Nauert confirmed with Pence’s vote. Any remaining Republican could sink her. What would Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham do, given how seriously both of them take their roles in influencing foreign policy? (Rubio almost never defies Trump but Graham has pushed back on the White House over the Khashoggi killing.) What would Mitt Romney do?

I think it works to Trump’s disadvantage here that he’s pushing Nauert on the new Senate at the same time that he’s pushing a likely-to-be-confirmed candidate like Barr for a much more important position. If the Senate had only Nauert to consider, some Republicans who are on the fence might vote yes purely out of fear of being seen as antagonistic to Trump. Getting Barr and Nauert together in a sort of package makes opposing the latter easier, though. Fencesitters can vote yes on the former and no on the latter and point to their Barr vote as proof that they’re not opposing Trump reflexively. They backed his choice for AG! They simply, and respectfully, disagree with his choice for the UN. That thinking may weigh especially heavily on Romney, who’ll spend the next few years being criticized by the left every time he votes with Trump and by the right every time he doesn’t. Splitting his vote on the two would mollify both sides to some extent and would let him signal early how he plans to approach Trump. “I support him when he’s right but am independent enough to oppose him when he isn’t,” Romney might say. I’d say there’s a fair chance that Nauert doesn’t get confirmed.

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