Not for nothing, but this isn't over.
BREAKING! The guy who sent Trump a letter saying, "Presidents are kings who can't obstruct justice, hire me!" has found that the president didn't obstruct justice! Thanks, Bill Barr -- you're a hell of a wingman.
While we await the release of the REAL Mueller report, as opposed to the Barr whitewash letter, let's take a moment to remind ourselves that the president's legal troubles are in no way at an end. He might well get away with playing footsie with the Russians, winking and nodding about sanctions and gratefully accepting the massive electoral boost from Putin's pet hackers, but he's not getting away with all of it. So here's a helpful list of the pending legal threats to the Trumpland gangsters.
Any of it, Katie!
Now that William Barr has carefully explained that the Mueller report didn't find enough evidence to prosecute Donald Trump for conspiracy, Republicans are all about proclaiming the Trump 2020 campaign slogan: WELL SHORT OF A FELONY!! Also, please never mind that part where even Barr admitted the report doesn't exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice, because why would anyone care about any other crimes?
Of course, if you want to get all factual about it, not even Barr's letter says Mueller found no evidence of wrongdoing -- just that he couldn't make a criminal case that could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, as Roll Call explains. Thin though that is, and regardless of what's in the actual report, Trump allies are over the moon and ready to move on to the important business of putting Hillary Clinton in jail forever. Let's watch the Premature Victory Parade!
All of it. Full stop. Right the fuck now.
It's time for another round of "Goofus and Gallant," starring the New York Times and the Washington Post! See if you can guess who is who.
One of those is more correcter than the other! So yes, of course, the New York Times is Goofus, because it always is. But wait, what is this, a twist in the plot?
OH MY GOD, THEY BOTH WENT FULL GOOFUS. YOU NEVER GO FULL GOOFUS.
It might seem like quibbling, but it isn't. Attorney General William Barr sent a brief letter to Congress Sunday explaining that he had read all the pages of Robert Mueller's long report, and that it determined beyond a shadow of a doubt -- as we knew, from Mueller's indictments -- that the Russian government engaged in a concerted campaign to hack the election to hurt Hillary Clinton. However Barr reports -- not Mueller, Barr -- NO COLLUSION by any members of the Trump campaign or by the president himself (at least not "knowingly"). The letter says Mueller recommended no more indictments, and that there are no more sealed indictments, but doesn't say Mueller didn't kick anything to other jurisdictions that we don't yet know about. Finally, Barr writes that Mueller presented evidence on both sides of the question of whether Trump committed obstruction of justice, but came to no conclusion, therefore he was not accusing the president of a crime, but he wasn't exonerating him either. But Barr -- we guess because of his professional expertise in covering up Iran-Contra -- was able to determine that also NO OBSTRUCTION, therefore story over, the end, do not pass go, Rachel Maddow must now go to jail!
ACCORDING TO SOURCES, IT WAS DEFINITELY A THING.
BREAKING ACHTUNG EVERYBODY CRY AND PANIC AND HAVE ROLLICKING SEXUAL INTERCOURSE, BECAUSE ROBERT MUELLER DID THE THING.
We don't know what the thing means yet, but we know that he gave the thing to Attorney General Bill Barr, who is presumably looking at the thing right now. Donald Trump is at Mar-a-Lago, so he does not have the thing, because NO THING FOR ILLEGITIMATE PRESIDENTS. Studies show that according to sources close to the investigation who may or may not be close to the investigation, we might have some real information on what is inside the thing sometime this weekend.
Trump Can't Reveal Secret Sexxx Chats With National Security Advisor Vladimir Putin, EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE APPLYETH!
NARRATOR: No, it doesn't.
Thursday, in our post about how the Trump White House has decided to treat all congressional requests with the same level of disrespect, and that they're doing it intentionally, because FUCK YEAH, LET'S DO THE WATERGATE THING, we noted that White House counsel Pat Cipollone had just fired off a letter to House Democratic committee chairmen Elijah Cummings (Oversight), Eliot Engel (Foreign Affairs) and Adam Schiff (Intel), saying HOW ABSOLUTELY DARE YOU ask the White House for information about what Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin say under the covers to each other at night, HOW ABSOLUTELY DARE YOU!
This, despite how the FBI (really! for real!) opened an investigation into whether Trump is a literal actual foreign agent, because he does shit constantly to make it look like he is severely compromised by Vladimir Putin, who may or may not be Trump's KGB handler from way back. Yes, we get that it's an odd situation for Congress to have to demand to know what the president discusses with foreign leaders in private, but it's only odd because the president refuses to disclose his discussions with Putin, even as he crawls under the table with Putin and giggle-whispers with Putin every time they're in the same room. It's even more odd that Trump has literally confiscated his translators' notes of his meetings with Putin. Everything's just kinda strange in Putin's America, we mean Trump's America!
Good luck with that, boys.
Remember a few weeks ago when House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler sent a very nice and loving request to 81 people and entities associated with Donald Trump, including the White House, asking to please FUCKING GIVE IT a million documents, in order to aid Judiciary's investigation into Trump's millions of crimes? Well, the deadline was Monday, and some folks are helping! Others are not!
According to Nadler, they've already gotten "tens of thousands" of documents, and all signs point to more document requests coming, to approximately one million more people. There have been some surprises, too. Steve Bannon is helping a LOT, turning over thousands of pages (which is perhaps too much if you've ever seen that episode of "The West Wing," where CJ Cregg talks about being so crazy over-compliant with Congress that they just snow down investigators with everything, including take-out menus and junk mail). Trump Inauguration weirdo/longtime associate Tom Barrack is helping, and Hope Hicks is also too gonna be a good little helper. And so on!
And some are asking for "friendly subpoenas," like for instance attorney Keith Davidson, who used to rep Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, who's asking for that in order to "formalize the process," as Politico puts it. (Some people don't like being asked nicely.)
Still others are saying straight up NO, and some of them have better reasons than others. Roger Stone is pleading the Fifth on advice of counsel because, you know, he's in trouble with the law right now. Rick Gates says he can't really help, citing how he is still a cooperating witness who is very business hunting wabbits in multiple ongoing investigations. And Julian Assange said no, because (LOL) he is a journalist, you guys, and Congress shouldn't subpoena journalists about their sources. (Actually WikiLeaks is a cut-out for Russian intelligence. Which is kind of like "journalist," except not remotely.)
But the real story here is that the White House, in response to pretty much every document request it's gotten, is saying "FUCK OFF! WE ARE GOING TO DO THE WATERGATE THING! IT WORKED OUT VERY WELL, IN WATERGATE! FUCK IT, LET'S DO THE WATERGATE THING!"
Nothing to see here because it's WHAT'SAPP.
Guess who is a LIARFUCKINGLIAR today? Just kidding, that was a trick question. The answer is EVERYONE IN THE WHITE HOUSE, all day, every day. But Congressional Badass Elijah Cummings just dropped a letter on White House Counsel Pat Cipollone. Covington Catholic's proudest alum pinky swears that all the little Trumplanders comply with national security classification requirements, but he may have left out one or two wee tiny security lapses. Like, say, using an AOL email account to discuss the sensitive (and probably illegal) transfer of nuclear technology to our good buddies in Saudi Arabia. NBD, right? Russian and Chinese hackers cower in fear when they hear that scary YOU'VE GOT MAIL, it's just science!
Cummings is clearly pissed off and ready to start dropping subpoenas. Laying out "Two Years of White House Obstruction," Cummings reminded Cipollone that Jared and Ivanka spent the first eight months of the Trump administration using their own BUT HER EMAILS homebrew server, and when they got caught, they rerouted their traffic to a Trump.org server for safekeeping. Which is not how any of that works, but it's totally cool, see, because they "confessed" to it and now everything's fine. And apparently it was, because GOP Oversight Chair Trey Gowdy -- who spent years pretending that Hillary Clinton's email server was the gravest national security threat since Julius and Ethel Rosenberg -- let the Trump email inquiry drop and refused to issue any subpoenas.
But Elijah Cummings is no Trey Gowdy. For one thing, he has a normal-shaped head, so when White House lawyer Emmett Flood wrote the Committee in December saying, "the relevant advisor ... has provided the Committee with information aimed to address your current legislative interests. I hope this resolves the matter," Cummings just shook his damn normal-shaped head and got back to doing his job. Which is CONGRESSIONAL FUCKING OVERSIGHT! And here's what he found.
Better or worse than on the Mar-a-Lago patio?
Donald Trump's week of calm, rational behavior continues.
Just kidding, we think he just broke his own landspeed record for saying dumbass things. In the space of 97 seconds on the White House lawn, on his way to We Don't Fucking Care Where, Trump did the following:
1. Waddled in reporters' general direction saying "NO COLLUSION, NO COLLUSION," because we guess that's just what he says now. Does he do it when he's all by himself? Maybe. Does he do it to remind himself of his line, because his brain is so broken he still forgets it, even though it's two whole words and he says it 40,000 times a day? Also maybe.
2. Expressed confusion over the existence of Robert Mueller, saying "man gets appointed by a deputy, he writes a report, never figured that one out."
3. Bragged about his historic election, the one where he barely squeaked by in the Electoral College, while losing the popular vote by almost three million sane human votes.
4. Got confused again about existence of Robert Mueller, because Robert Mueller did not have a historic election like he did. Nobody even voted for Robert Mueller!
5. Showed reporters a visual aid of "Middle East," to prove how he murdered ISIS. You see, the red parts used to be ISIS, but now there is just a red dot right here. SEE IT RIGHT HERE? Says troops are going to take out that red dot tonight. Hey, remember how Trump used to go on and on on the campaign trail about how Obama was a pussy because he always gave advance warnings when he was going to bomb stuff, because Trump is an idiot who doesn't understand that sometimes you might give advance warning so as to reduce civilian casualties, to cite one example? The point is that Trump totally Geraldo-ed some American troop movements. (Allegedly. He literally may have no fucking clue what the troops are doing tonight, because he doesn't pay attention during briefings.) This is not the first time he has done this. Or the second. Or the ...
We feel like we've said this before, but IT'S ALL ABOUT THE SANCTIONS.
Rachel Maddow found a thing, everyone!
We thought Michael Flynn was going to be sentenced sometime soon, but last week, his lawyers stomped their feet and clapped their hands and insisted that he needs to cooperate with the feds a whole bunch more. (Look for the helpers, like Mister Rogers said! Michael Flynn is the helpers!). Flynn is cooperating as a witness for the government in the upcoming trial in the Eastern District of Virginia (EDVA) of his former business partner Bijan Rafiekian (AKA Bijan Kian), the Iranian-American who co-founded the Flynn Intel Group with him, and who is in big trouble for the same Turkish foreign agent stuff Michael Flynn is currently not in trouble for, because he's such a good helper! Kian also served on the Trump transition as an intelligence aide, vetting Trump intel appointments and like such as, because of course he did. (While he was doing secret foreign agent stuff. Because, again, of course.)
That fact is key to the thing Maddow found. As they approach trial, Kian's lawyers filed a request to see basically everything the government has on Michael Flynn, we guess as a way to impugn the credibility of the government's star witness. The government is like NUH UH! Not because they don't want to share with opposing counsel the stuff they are supposed to share with opposing counsel, but because so much of it relates to ongoing investigations that are very, very sensitive. So that is a whole fight. (That also tells you that Flynn has been helping out with more investigations besides the one into his dumb business partner who's about to go to trial.)
But in a new "give us evidence" letter Kian's lawyers sent to the prosecutors handling the case, Maddow found a curious line where it asks specifically for records of Flynn's contacts with Russians, "including Kirill Dmitriev." Like, it says that specifically. It says "Russians," and then specifies that "Russians" definitely for sure includes Kirill Dmitriev.
We're not saying he can't read. We're just saying documents like these are way above his pay grade.
A judge ordered the redacted release of MANY PAGES of documents related to the FBI's warrants to raid Michael Cohen's shit and put wire tapps in his bottom and listen to his emails, and hooray, now we get to read them!
If you're looking for the news in all this, it's that the campaign finance porn payoff money conspiracy to influence the election is still very much a live investigation, which means if you happen to be named as Individual-1 in any matter related to that -- like, if somebody pleaded guilty to taking part in that criminal conspiracy at the direction of Individual-1, who is now the president of the United States -- then you might be well within your rights to be absolutely panicked right now.
That's right, REDACTED.
And how is your week going, Donald Trump? Oh yeah, that's right, you're losing all your shit.
The good news is that Trump is too stupid and ineffective to ever make anything like this happen in America. MAYBE.
President Vladimir Putin signed laws punishing online media and individuals for spreading "fake news" or material that's considered insulting to Russian officials.
Prosecutors can now complain about online publications to the state communications watchdog, which has powers to block access to the websites if their owners fail to remove the material promptly. Publications found guilty of spreading "unreliable socially significant information" may face fines of as much as 1.5 million rubles ($23,000).
Individuals also face fines and up to 15 days in jail if they publish material online that expresses "clear disrespect for society, the state, the official state symbols of the Russian Federation, the Constitution of the Russian Federation and bodies exercising state power."
That's about what we'd expect from the guy who, in 2013, banned "gay propaganda" to minors, by which they meant being open and honest about the fact that gay people exist. (That law is not all that different from a bill that has often been introduced in the shithole totalitarian nation of ... um, Tennessee.)
So anyway, with the signing of this new bill, you can officially get in trouble in Russia -- we say "officially" because you could already get murdered by Putin's thugs for saying something mildly critical about the government or being gay or being a journalist who tells the truth -- if you say mean swears about Russian government officials (all of whom should go fuck themselves with a Matryoshka doll) or if you propagate "fake news," which in an authoritarian state means news that displeases Dear Leader. (Also Donald Trump's definition.)
He only has a few billion left! HOW WILL HE LIVE!
Pity the poor oligarchs! Won't someone please think of the Russian billionaires so cruelly impoverished by the spiteful caprice of the Trump administration's attack dogs in the Treasury Department? However will Oleg Deripaska even afford to maintain all his yachts and houses and jets when the American government cuts him off so brutishly from the international financial system? Thus he has been forced to sue Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin for arbitrarily adding him to the sanctions list and forcing him to meager subsistence on canned caviar and lobster foraged from a suburban Moscow dumpster.
Deripaska's lawsuit, filed Friday in DC, is a masterpiece of melodrama and pathos. Really, Tolstoy would blush.
Donald Trump's feud with the ghost of John McCain continues.
If you are a normal American, you might have spent your Sunday celebrating St. Patrick's Day. Or maybe you just had brunch or maybe you cleaned your house or maybe you just lay around and watched Netflix. But if you were the president of the United States, you were celebrating the Day Of The Dead (Guy Who Refuses To Stop Hurting Your Feelings Even Though He Is Dead), which means you telegraphed your insecurities by tweeting insults at John McCain, who is, again, a dead person.
We feel like we say this a lot, but this is not normal.
WHAT THEY GOT ON HIM?
Shocking news, friends! Congress agreed on something. Well, at least the House did. And they agreed on something important too, not some resolution agreeing that Big Lots is running a really good sale right now on microwaves or something. They voted yesterday 420-zip on a nonbinding resolution saying that the report put together by Robert Mueller should be made public. Now, set aside your curiosity about exactly what Republicans are up to, because we are sure they are up to something and have some sort of ulterior and misguided reason why they all -- even Devin Nunes -- have agreed that the Mueller report should be public. We are sure that will reveal itself in the coming days.
Four Republicans voted present, including two wingnuts -- Paul Gosar and Matt Gaetz -- and two other Republicans, Thomas Massie and Justin Amash, who the New York Times says "routinely" oppose resolutions like this, because you know how liberatarians are, always full of REASONS. (Amash did a Twitter thread explaining REASONS. We'll get to it in a minute.)
So, of course Lindsey Graham blocked a similar nonbinding resolution in the Senate, because of course he did, because seriously Lindsey Graham, what the fuck do Trump, his buddies at the National Enquirer, and/or the Russians have on you? Is it super-gross, like knock us off our chair gross? Or are you just scared you're in Mueller's report in some significant way, and you're trying to hide that? WHAT, LINDSEY, WHAT?
It's not that Lindsey Graham doesn't want the findings public -- he totally does! -- it's just that he's "trying to find balance here," and by "balance" he means we need a second special counsel to investigate BUT HER EMAILS AND ALSO PETER STRZOK AND LISA PAGE AND CARTER PAGE (NO RELATION) AND DID THEY HAVE A SECRET SOCIETY AND AN INSURANCE POLICY TO STOP TRUMP FROM GETTING ELECTED AND ALSO LORETTA LYNCH AND BILL CLINTON ON THE TARMAC AND AIYEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!
Like last time, they swear this will never happen again.
Facebook has a problem. On top of being a repository for ugly baby pictures, racist uncles, and a testing ground for Russian brainwashing, it is hemorrhaging users, has a slumping stock price, AND 2020 candidates are accusing it of operating a monopoly on social media. Then there's the FTC investigation, the DOJ's Cambridge Analytica investigation, and now federal prosecutors are investigating Facebook's secret trading of user data. Oh, and our notes say something ... hhmm ... Oh, Mark Zuckerberg might have lied to Congress. Oops.
The latest case Zuck seems to have caught appears related to a story the Times broke back in December, right around the time we were all busy being righteously pissed about Trump's baby jails and the looming government shutdown. The story is pretty simple: In order to rapidly grow its user base, Facebook traded access to its database of 2.2 BILLION users to phone companies, search engines, and other media platforms. Businesses got access to Facebook's treasure trove of shitposts and drunken selfies in exchange for letting Mark Zuckerberg wrap his tentacles around everything in the digital toilet we call the 21st Century. Per the Times from last December ...
Every corporate partner that integrated Facebook data into its online products helped drive the platform's expansion, bringing in new users, spurring them to spend more time on Facebook and driving up advertising revenue. At the same time, Facebook got critical data back from its partners. The partnerships were so important that decisions about forming them were vetted at high levels, sometimes by Mr. Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer, Facebook officials said. While many of the partnerships were announced publicly, the details of the sharing arrangements typically were confidential.
Facebook couldn't exactly tell anyone they were essentially selling access to user data, nor could they straight-up sell user data like credit card companies without starting a riot. Instead, Facebook built a switchboard thingy to turn certain data points ("capabilities") on and off. Capabilities ranged from being able to read email addresses and view user feeds in real time, all the way up to reading, writing and deleting private messages. Apple struck a deal to give it overriding access to contact numbers and calendars, even if you opted out, and worked with Facebook to hide its snooping. Microsoft's Bing got access to religious affiliations from user profiles. Yandex, the Russian version of Google, even had a sweetheart deal to scrape user data through 2017, which they then shared with the Kremlin.
You may be wondering, "HOW IN THE HAMSTER DANCE IS THAT LEGAL?" The good news is that it's not, but Facebook did it anyway. Since 2011, Facebook has been bound by a consent decree with the FTC that says it has to keep user data private. It's OK if an app needs specific data to work, like your email address or profile access, as long as the app asks permission. But some hooded cyborgs inside Facebook found this really harshed Facebook's global domination vibe. Facebook's brass began to see their data sharing agreements as "partnerships" that fell into a legal grey area. The data sharing partners weren't bound to the same privacy rules, and nobody at Facebook bothered to check what capabilities their partners were using. And now we know why Facebook was SO SURPRISED when Cambridge Analytica was caught sucking up massive amounts of data for the Trump campaign.
Fun Fact: If Facebook is found to have violated the consent decree it faces a $40,000 fine per use per day for each user. Since these violations could span years, the fines could be in the billions, if not trillions of dollars. Mind you, the FTC is supposed to audit Facebook's compliance with the consent decree, but it doesn't have enough staff thanks to Republican budget cuts. Instead, they farm that out to a third-party. One of these audits happened while Cambridge Analytica was busy hoovering up your drunk rants about HER EMAILS. Obviously the audit didn't find anything. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
All this leads to a very interesting pickle for Mark Zuckerberg. Most of these data sharing agreements went away after people found out the Russians were scraping Facebook for the Trump campaign, but not all of them! Since some of these partnerships were still in place in the summer of 2018, it also raises questions as to whether Mark Zuckerberg lied to Congress last April when he said, "Every single time that you share something on Facebook or one of our services, right there is a control in line where you control who you want to share with," (see pages 49 and 50) or if the company lied when, two months later, it finally responded with bullshit answers to the 43 different questions Zuckerberg dodged in order to keep from perjuring himself. IF he lied, we're sure he's sorry.
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Is an Altamont of the Beltway in our near future?
Donald Trump is a fella who likes to get his way. If he wants an Oompa-Loompa, he doesn't want it tomorrow, he doesn't want it later today, he wants it now. And if people don't want to give him his freaking Oompa-Loompa, he'll scream. Or threaten them with violence of some kind.
In an interview with Breitbart published on Thursday, our very normal president laid into all the people who failed to give him the things he wants -- specifically Paul Ryan, who wouldn't even let him subpoena random Democrats he thought should be investigated. Investigated for what? Nothing specific, just investigated! And now Trump will never even get the chance to do that, because Paul Ryan personally lost Republicans the House, which means those wily Democrats will be getting away with ... "whatever."
Trump told Breitbart News in an exclusive lengthy Oval Office interview that Ryan blocked issuance of subpoenas to people he thinks should have been investigated on the political left, and now that the Republicans no longer have the majority in the House, people Trump says Ryan protected may have gotten away with whatever they did that warranted investigation.
Trump said that House Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) and his predecessor and fellow conservative Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) wanted to be tougher with the left, but that Ryan would not let them.
Also, Paul Ryan did not force everyone to vote to fund Trump's wall, even though he really, really, really wanted it. How is that fair?
But it's not just Paul Ryan who's been getting under Trump's skin, it is also Democrats, who seem to think it is legal to oppose him and to investigate his shady dealings. He then noted that if Democrats keep playing "tough," the police, military, and biker gangs who support him (who are tougher) are going to be pushed too far and that will be "very, very, very bad" for them.
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