Trump impeachment hearing

The US Congress is holding a hearing into the possible impeachment of President Donald Trump, with allegations he used the office of President to pressure the Ukraine into investigating a political opponent, Joe Biden.

Partisan lines have been drawn, with the Democrat majority in Congress pushing the impeachment process, while Republicans claim it is a virtual coup attempt.

A White House spokesperson called it boring and a sham, while of course Trump is grumpy about it all.

Remarkably (but probably not surprising given how politics and even law can work in the US these days) it is claimed that public opinion is the key to whether impeachment will proceed or succeed or not.

Real Clear Politics – Watch Live: House Impeachment Inquiry Hearing

Ambassador William Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent testify in the first day of public impeachment inquiry hearings before the House Intelligence Committee.

Chairman Adam Schiff opened the hearing by saying Trump’s alleged actions are not “compatible with the office of the presidency.”

Republican ranking member Devin Nunes called the hearing a “coup against the President” and “televised theatrical performance.”

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham issued the first public reaction to Wednesday’s hearing in the House impeachment inquiry, calling it a “sham,” “boring,” and a “colossal waste” of time

In his opening statement, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent said he thought “Giuliani’s efforts to gin up politically motivated investigations” had infected U.S. relations with Ukraine.

William Taylor, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, agreed, saying the “official foreign policy of the United States was undercut by the irregular efforts led by Mr. Giuliani” to investigate Joe Biden and his son.

Stuff – Live: The Donald Trump impeachment inquiry

Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic committee chairman, outlined the question at the core of the impeachment inquiry – whether the president used his office to pressure Ukraine officials for personal political gain.

“The matter is as simple and as terrible as that,” Schiff said. “Our answer to these questions will affect not only the future of this presidency but the future of the presidency itself, and what kind of conduct or misconduct the American people may come to expect from their commander in chief.”

For the first time a top diplomat has testified that President Donald Trump was overheard asking about “the investigations” that he wanted Ukraine to pursue that are central to the presidentialimpeachment inquiry.

William Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, revealed the new information as the House Intelligence Committee opened extraordinary hearings on whether the 45th president of the United States should be removed from office.

The anonymous whistleblower’s complaint to the intelligence community’s inspector general – including that Trump had pressed Ukraine’s president to investigate Democratic foe Joe Biden and Biden’s son and was holding up US military aid – ignited the impeachment inquiry.

The hearing is the first chance for America, and the rest of the world, to see and hear for themselves about Trump’s actions toward Ukraine and consider whether they are, in fact, impeachable offences.

The first witness, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, said he never heard any US official try to shield a Ukraine company from investigations, directly contradicting a core complaint against Joe Biden being raised by allies of the White House.

It’s hard to see this changing the minds of entrenched Trump supporters who forgive him just about anything, nor Trump opponents who see him as an egotistical and incompetent stain on the presidency.

Trump calls the whole thing a “witch hunt,” a retort that echoes Nixon’s own defence. “READ THE TRANSCRIPT,” he tweeted Wednesday.

At its core, the inquiry stems from Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy when he asked the Zelenskiy for “a favour.”

Trump wanted the Ukraine government to investigate Democrats in the 2016 election and his potential 2020 rival, Joe Biden, all while holding as leverage military aid the young democracy relies on as it confronts an aggressive Russia.

The anonymous whistleblower first alerted officials to concerns about the phone call. The White House released a rough transcript of the conversation, with portions deleted.

The White House has instructed administration officials not to testify in the inquiry. But over the past month, witness after witness has appeared behind closed doors to tell the investigators what they know.

The circus continues.

US Attorney General’s letter to Congress on Mueller report

The US Attorney General William Barr’s summary letter to Congress on the Mueller investigation has been released.

“The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in it’s election interference activities”.

Mueller handed responsibility on whether to proceed on possible obstruction of justice to the Attorney General.

The Special Counsel states that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him”.

 

https://judiciary.house.gov/sites/democrats.judiciary.house.gov/files/documents/AG%20March%2024%202019%20Letter%20to%20House%20and%20Senate%20Judiciary%20Committees.pdf

Cohen: Trump is a racist, conman, cheat

Michael Cohen, an ex lawyer and so called ‘fixer’ for Donald Trump, is testifying before the US congress.

MSNBC – Michael Cohen: ‘I know what Mr. Trump is. He is a racist. He is a conman. He is a cheat.’

For a preview of Cohen’s statement see this thread on Twitter:

In typical fashion Trump has responded in advance.

With help from family:

That’s rather ironic.

Cohen is answering questions through the day. Lunchtime summary (Guardian live)

In explosive public testimony before Congress, Donald Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen has cast the president as a “racist” and a “conman” who engaged in criminal activity after taking office as president to cover up an illegal hush money payment to an adult film actor.

  • Cohen said Trump had prior knowledge that his longtime adviser, Roger Stone, was communicating with WikiLeaks during the 2016 election regarding the release of hacked Democratic emails.
  • He also said Trump was aware of the infamous Trump Tower meeting between members of his presidential campaign and a Russian lawyer.
  • Cohen, who spent a decade as the president’s fixer, testified publicly for the first time in detail about a six-figure sum that was paid to silence adult film actor Stormy Daniels, who alleged an affair with Trump.
  • Cohen presented checks he said were signed by the president and his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, to reimburse him for the hush money payments.
  • Cohen also added that he was instructed by Trump to lie about the affair to the president’s wife, Melania Trump, stating: “Lying to the first lady is one of my biggest regrets because she is a kind, good person.”

Questioning is continuing.

Michael Cloud, Republican of Texas, takes over, and asks Cohen if he is aware of the significance of the date May 6.

Yes, Cohen says. It’s the day he is going to prison for three years.

Cloud runs through Cohen’s crimes, sticking to that trusty Republican playbook. How are we supposed to find anything out today, Cloud says, “when the best witness” we can summon has “already been convicted of lying before us”.

And then we’re back to this book deal. According to Cloud the deal – which Cohen does not currently have – will be worth millions of dollars.

The GOP plan seems to be two-pronged:

a) Cohen is a criminal, we can’t trust him and it’s a disgrace that he’s here,

b) Cohen is only doing this because he thinks he can make money from it.

Raja Krishnamoorthi, Democrat from Illinois: Nothing at the Trump organization was done unless it was run by Donald Trump, is that correct?

Cohen: “That’s 100% certain.”

Cohen says he cannot discuss that as it is being investigated by the Southern District of New York.

Krishnamoorthi asked Cohen for details on when he last spoke with Trump or his agents:

Cohen: “Unfortunately this topic is actually something that’s being investigated right now by the Southern District of New York, and I’ve been asked by them not to discuss and not to talk about these issues.”

Krishnamoorthi asks if there is any other wrongdoing or illegality by Trump that Cohen is aware of:

“Yes and again those are part of the investigation that’s currently being looked at by the Southern District of New York.”

Lawyer lied to Congress to protect Trump and political message

Former White House lawyer Michael Cohen has pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the US Congress to protect Donald Trump and his political message.

Fox News: Ex-Trump attorney Michael Cohen pleads guilty to lying to Congress in Russia probe

Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former personal attorney who once famously claimed he would “take a bullet” for his boss, pleaded guilty Thursday to lying to Congress about a Trump real estate project in Russia in the latest development in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

He pleaded guilty to making false statements to the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2017 about a plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, was not present in court on Thursday. Instead, he was represented by attorneys Guy Petrillo and Amy Lusker.

Thursday marked the first time Mueller’s team charged Cohen as part of its investigation into Russian meddling and potential collusion with Trump campaign associates during the 2016 presidential election.

“Cohen made the false statements to minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1 [Trump] and give the false impression that the Moscow Project ended before ‘the Iowa caucus … the very first primary,’ in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations,” Mueller wrote Thursday.

“Cohen did recall that in or around January 2016, Cohen received a response from the office of Russian Official 1, the Press Secretary for the President of Russia, and spoke to a member of that office about the Moscow Project,” Mueller added.

After entering his plea, Cohen addressed the court for several minutes.

“Prior to the 2016 elections, I was a counsel and advisor to Donald Trump Organization. By 2016, I no longer did that work, but I continued to work for Donald Trump who became President of the United States, referenced as Individual 1 in the agreement,” Cohen said in court Thursday. “I continued to follow the political messaging of Individual 1 and his advisors. I was aware that Individual 1 said he was not tied to Russia, attacks were politically motivated, and all interactions were terminated by the time of the Iowa Caucuses.”

Cohen added that in 2017 when he appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee, he gave a “false” description of the Moscow Project.

“I asserted all efforts ceased in January 2016 when they kept going until June 2016,” he said. “There were more extensive communications. I said I never contemplated travel or spoke to Individual 1 regarding travel, but I did.”

He added: “I would like to add that I never did travel to Russia and I have never been to Moscow. I made the statement to keep up with political messaging and out of loyalty.”

So he has admitted lying to Congress to protect trump and his political messaging.

Fox (opinion) – Dershowitz: New Cohen Guilty Plea Another Example of Mueller Probe ‘Creating’ Crimes

Harvard Law Professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz said Thursday that Michael Cohen’s new guilty plea is another example of crimes being created as a result of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

That’s bullshit. Congressional investigations are an essential part of the US democratic system. Lying to Congress is a very serious issue. Cohen created the crime by lying.

Fox (opinion) – Judge Nap: Cohen Plea Is ‘Tip of the Iceberg,’ and Rest of Iceberg Is at Mueller’s Office

Trump’s rapid response in attacking Cohen suggests he is concerned about this development. And it is not the only thing piling pressure on Trump.

CNBC: Trump suggests he has inside information on the Russia probe, hours after Mueller said former campaign chief Manafort violated plea deal

Hours after former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was accused of lying to federal investigators in violation of his plea deal, President Donald Trump fumed against special counsel Robert Mueller, claiming his probe is “ruining lives” and suggesting that he had inside information about the investigation.

As he pilloried the special counsel, Trump echoed the salvos against the investigation recently launched by right-wing conspiracy monger Jerome Corsi, who claimed Monday that he rejected a plea dealoffered by Mueller. Corsi had said that he would “rather sit in prison and rot” than say he lied to Mueller.

“Wait until it comes out how horribly & viciously they are treating people, ruining lives for them refusing to lie,” Trump tweeted Tuesday. “The Fake News Media builds Bob Mueller up as a Saint, when in actuality he is the exact opposite. He is doing TREMENDOUS damage to our Criminal Justice System, where he is only looking at one side and not the other.”

This all looks to be far from over.

 

Zuckerberg apologises ahead of hearings, NZ data breaches

Mark Zuckerberg has apologised ahead of hearings in Congress over Facebook data breaches and possible effects on the 2016 US election. In the meantime it has been revealed that about 64,000 New Zealanders may have been involved in the data breaches.

More talk from Zuckerberg over ongoing Facebook data revelations, but  Congress will be looking for more than apologies in two days of hearings.

Reuters: CEO Zuckerberg says Facebook could have done more to prevent misuse

Facebook Inc Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg told Congress on Monday that the social media network should have done more to prevent itself and its members’ data being misused and offered a broad apology to lawmakers.

“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake,” he said in remarks released by the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee on Monday. “It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”

“It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm. That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy.”

His conciliatory tone precedes two days of Congressional hearings where Zuckerberg is set to answer questions about Facebook user data being improperly appropriated by a political consultancy and the role the network played in the U.S. 2016 election.

Top of the agenda in the forthcoming hearings will be Facebook’s admission that the personal information of up to 87 million users, mostly in the United States, may have been improperly shared with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

But lawmakers are also expected to press him on a range of issues, including the 2016 election.

Meanwhile:

Facebook, which has 2.1 billion monthly active users worldwide, said on Sunday it plans to begin on Monday telling users whose data may have been shared with Cambridge Analytica.

This potentially includes thousands of New Zealanders. RNZ:

Facebook today revealed it estimated nearly 64,000 New Zealanders were estimated to have had their data collected and used by Cambridge Analytica. The company is accused of using private data to personally target voters to manipulate elections.

A spokesperson for the social media giant said 87 million people were estimated to have been affected by the “Cambridge Analytica data misuse” worldwide, with more than 80 percent of those based in the US.

The data was apparently obtained via the “thisismydigitallife” personality test on Facebook and pulled in information about users’ friends liked without their explicit permission.

“For New Zealand, we estimate a total of 63,724 people may have been impacted – 10 are estimated to have downloaded the quiz app with 63,714 friends possibly impacted,” the company said.

The spokesperson said that from Tuesday the company would begin showing users which apps they connected to at the top of their Facebook feed, and an easy way to delete them.

“As part of this, we will let people know if their data might have been accessed by Cambridge Analytica,” the spokesperson said.

“We’re dramatically reducing the information people can share with apps. We’re shutting down other ways data was being shared through Groups, Events, Pages and Search.”

NetSafe chief executive Martin Cocker…

…said he did not think Facebook users needed to shut down their accounts following the revelation.

Mr Cocker said the breach was a reminder for Facebook users to take their privacy settings seriously, but not necessarily to quit the social media platform.

“Facebook has responded to this breach by setting up a series of tools and improving their management of apps and if anything the breach has lead to a safer Facebook in the future.”

There is nothing obviously different on my Facebook this morning.

 

Pushback against Trump’s tariff proposals

Widespread concerns over Donald Trump’s steel and aluminium tariff proposals, and the threat of a trade war, are so far being dismissed by the White House.

Politico: Frustrated White House free traders mount campaign to weaken Trump tariffs

Since President Donald Trump announced plans last week to hit steel and aluminum imports with new tariffs, his trade adviser Peter Navarro and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross have been all over television celebrating their victory and rebutting suggestions that the move would incite a damaging trade war.

But economic adviser Gary Cohn and other free-trade advocates inside the White House and the Treasury Department are mounting a last-ditch effort to blunt the impact of Trump’s head-turning decision, even as the president insisted Monday that he wasn’t going to be convinced out of it.

Cohn and like-minded officials in the administration are hoping the parade of senior GOP lawmakers, donors, lobbyists and business groups loudly opposing the pending decision will convince Trump that his proposed tariffs will damage the U.S. economy. There was a growing sense among some administration officials that the best way to talk Trump out of the tariffs was to make sure he hears from people outside of the White House, since he’s ignoring advisers inside the building.

RNZ:  Republicans ‘extremely worried’ by Trump’s metal tariffs plan

US President Donald Trump said on Saturday that steel imports would face a 25 percent tariff and aluminium 10 percent.

US Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said he was “extremely worried” about the impact of a trade war, adding that it could undermine economic gains.

But Mr Trump pushed back during a White House meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We’re not backing down,” he told reporters on Monday. “I don’t think you’re going to have a trade war.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Monday that Mr Trump was “very confident” the US would win any trade war.

Mr Trump’s Monday comments came an hour after Mr Ryan released a statement urging the White House to reconsider its plan.

“We are extremely worried about the consequences of a trade war and are urging the White House to not advance with this plan,” Mr Ryan’s spokeswoman AshLee Strong said.

“The new tax reform law has boosted the economy and we certainly don’t want to jeopardise those gains.”

Many countries and trade groups have expressed concern, including the UK, EU, Canada, Australia (and New Zealand). And also the World Trade Organisation:

The World Trade Organization (WTO) on Monday also called on member states to “stop the fall of the first dominoes” of a trade war.

“Once we start down this path it will be very difficult to reverse direction,” WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo told negotiators in Geneva on Monday. “An eye for an eye will leave us all blind and the world in a deep recession.”

There is also pushback from within the US:  Companies, industry groups target Congress to derail Trump tariffs

Automakers, business groups and farmers took their fight against U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum to Capitol Hill on Monday, betting that Republican lawmakers would stand up to the White House on their behalf.

By turning to Congress, lobbyists for industries that could lose in a trade war are making a bet that Republican lawmakers would stick to their traditional support for open trade, and potentially use legislative power to derail tariffs.

Trump and administration trade officials over the weekend said they are determined to go ahead with protective tariffs for steel and aluminum, despite the potential for retaliation by trading partners.

Industry groups opposed to the tariffs got support on Monday from House Speaker Paul Ryan and other senior Republicans. Some Democratic lawmakers from auto-producing states have praised Trump’s move, joining unions long skeptical of open trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA).

Automakers are reaching out to senators and governors and asking them to make the case against tariffs to the White House, officials said.

Manufacturers of metal-intensive products such as cars and airplanes already are wrestling with rising prices for steel and aluminum, in part because of tight production capacity.

Administration officials in TV interviews over the weekend downplayed the impact on automakers as adding only up to about $200 to the price of a vehicle — a fraction of the average $35,000 sales price. However, Goldman Sachs said in a research report on Sunday that the tariffs could depress General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co’s adjusted operating incomes by $1 billion each.

Groups representing auto dealers weighed in to support the manufacturers. In a flattening auto market, headlines about trade wars and tariffs could cause Americans to put off buying new vehicles, said Cody Lusk, president and chief executive of the American International Automobile Dealers Association.

“Everybody is reaching out to their allies on Capitol Hill just to make sure they are aware of what’s at stake,” Lusk said.

Farm groups representing producers of wheat, corn and soybeans, the top U.S. crop exports valued at nearly $37 billion last year, joined criticism of the proposed tariffs on Monday. Farm groups had been among Trump’s core support group during the 2016 election.

This may all fall on deaf ears. Trump often seems intent on being a tough decision maker and seems obsessed by ‘winning’, and has said it would be easy to win a trade war with the rest of the world.

But he is losing support.

Trump’s obsession with himself

Another leak, this time of transcripts of President Trumps conversations with Australian and Mexican leaders early this year, have shown again how obsessed with himself and his image that Trump is.

He said “I am the world’s greatest person” to Malcolm Turnbull in January.

And recent reports show how he seems to have trouble understanding the difference between leading a company, where the boss can dictate what he likes, compared to the complexities of the US system of government.

Reuters:  Trump, frustrated by Afghan war, suggests firing U.S. commander: officials

During a July 19 meeting in the White House Situation Room, Trump demanded that his top national security aides provide more information on what one official called “the end-state” in a country where the United States has spent 16 years fighting against the Taliban with no end in sight.

The meeting grew stormy when Trump said Defense Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford, a Marine general, should consider firing Army General John Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, for not winning the war.

“We aren’t winning,” he told them, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Some officials left the meeting “stunned” by the president’s vehement complaints that the military was allowing the United States to lose the war.

Trump seems to have a habit of firing if he isn’t ‘winning’.

CNN: Trump’s Russia statement proves he doesn’t understand separation of powers

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed the Russia sanctions bill that the Republican-led Congress had approved overwhelmingly. But he made sure everyone knew he wasn’t happy about it — and in so doing revealed, again, that he has either little understanding of or little care for the separation of powers built into the US government.

What makes Trump’s derision of the division of power between the executive, legislative and judicial branches different is both how brazen he is about it and how many times he has expressed sentiments in his first six-plus months in office that suggest he simply doesn’t understand the fact that everyone in the government doesn’t work for him.

And the latest leaks from Washington Post: The Post’s latest bombshell 

Produced by White House staff, the documents provide an unfiltered glimpse of Trump’s approach to the diplomatic aspect of his job, subjecting even a close neighbor and long-standing ally to streams of threats and invective as if aimed at U.S. adversaries.

With Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull:

The Jan. 28 call with Turnbull became particularly acrimonious. “I have had it,” Trump erupted after the two argued about an agreement on refugees. “I have been making these calls all day, and this is the most unpleasant call all day.”

Before ending the call, Trump noted that at least one of his conversations that day had gone far more smoothly. “Putin was a pleasant call,” Trump said, referring to Russian President Vladi­mir Putin. “This is ridiculous.” … “This is going to kill me,” he said to Turnbull. “I am the world’s greatest person that does not want to let people into the country. And now I am agreeing to take 2,000 people.”

With Mexican President Peña Nieto:

“On the wall, you and I both have a political problem,” Trump said. “My people stand up and say, ‘Mexico will pay for the wall,’ and your people probably say something in a similar but slightly different language.”

Trump seemed to acknowledge that his threats to make Mexico pay had left him cornered politically. “I have to have Mexico pay for the wall — I have to,” he said. “I have been talking about it for a two-year period.” …

Peña Nieto resisted, saying that Trump’s repeated threats had placed “a very big mark on our back, Mr. President.” He warned that “my position has been and will continue to be very firm, saying that Mexico cannot pay for the wall.”

Trump objected: “But you cannot say that to the press. The press is going to go with that, and I cannot live with that.”

Jennifer Rubin at WaPo: Why the leaked presidential transcripts are so frightening

It is shocking to see presidential conversations released in this way. Some in the executive branch, as Anthony Scaramucci aptly put it, are intent on protecting the country from Trump. This is a good thing, by the way. White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly has obviously failed to plug the flood leaks.

These transcripts may have been leaked before Kelly took over.

Trump is frighteningly obsessed with himself and his image to such an extent that he cannot fulfill the role of commander in chief. He cannot frame logical arguments based on public policy, and therefore comes across as, well, a fool to foreign leaders.

His desire to maintain his own image suggests he’d be more than willing to make the country’s interests subordinate to his own need for personal affirmations.

Trump’s narcissism leaves him open to flattery and threats (to reveal embarrassing material, for example). That’s the worry in the Russia investigation — namely, that Vladimir Putin has “something” on Trump, which compels Trump to act in ways inimical to U.S. interests.

Trump’s interests are paramount, so a cagey adversary can easily manipulate him.

There is no easy solution.

One cannot be impeached and removed for being an embarrassment to the United States or an egomaniac temperamentally unfit for the job (that was the argument for not electing him). Unless he really goes off the deep end, invoking the 25th Amendment is not a realistic option.

That leaves members of Congress and his administration with a few options.

And Trump keeps blaming everyone else. He recently tweeted:

But he can’t fire Congress, nor the Senate. He is stuck with the political and judicial system that the US has got. And the US is probably stuck with him until he throws a major hissy fit for not getting his own way and chucks the job in.

In the meantime it is likely that Russia, China, North Korea, and much of the Middle East will be trying to work out how they can exploit Trump’s ego.

With the amount of fire power available to lash out with this has to be a major concern.

One slightly reassuring thing – Trump seems to be relying more on generals to run his administration. They may be the best chance of keeping his flaws in check.

NZ First congress from the inside

This is one of the best political party insights I have seen – a journalist became a paid up member of NZ First and observed the people and the policies from the inside of their congress in the weekend.

Branko Marcetic at The Spinoff:  I joined NZ First and went to their conference to find out what they’re really up to

To its supporters, NZ First is the only party that truly gives a damn about the average Kiwi, and its policies are born of fairness and common sense. To its detractors, it’s a hotbed of racism and intolerance that threatens to bring Trump-like authoritarianism to New Zealand.

In an attempt to cut through the noise and get a sense of what the party truly is about in 2017, I decided to immerse myself, and look at the party as an insider. I paid the $10 fee to join the party, and signed up to attend the conference — my first for any party — as an observer. The intention was not to indulge in “gotcha journalism” or attempt to lampoon other attendees, but to engage with and better understand the men and women that make up a party so often defined by sensational headlines.

The weekend gave me an insight into a party that is almost universally expected to hold the balance of power come September 24.

Despite the party’s association with anti-foreigner sentiment, immigration was rarely touched on across the weekend. In fact, if there was a prevailing theme weaving through the various speeches, discussions and debates at the 2017 conference, it was a steadfast opposition to neoliberal economics, a belief that New Zealand had gravely erred in the embrace of deregulation and globalised trade since the days of Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson.

If you want to get an excellent insight into the NZ First party the whole article is worth reading.

Peters aside there are a lot of people who believe in the party and what it stands for.

More US sanctions against Russia

The US Senate has voted in favour of strengthening sanctions against Russia “in response to the violation of the territorial integrity of the Ukraine and Crimea, its brazen cyberattacks and interference in elections, and its continuing aggression in Syria,” said Republicans and Democrats on the committees.

ABC News: Tillerson warns against steps that cut off talks with Russia

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday the U.S. relationship with Russia is at an all-time low and deteriorating further, yet he cautioned against taking steps that might close off promising avenues of communication between the two former Cold War foes.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tillerson stopped short of registering his opposition to a new package of Russia sanctions the GOP-led Senate is considering in retaliation for Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its aggression in other parts of the world, including Syria and Ukraine.

Top lawmakers on two Senate committees — Banking and Foreign Relations — announced the sanctions deal amid the firestorm over Russia’s meddling in the presidential election and investigations into Moscow’s possible collusion with members of President Donald Trump’s campaign.

The plan calls for strengthening current sanctions and imposing new ones on corrupt Russian actors, those involved in human rights abuses and those supplying weapons to the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The package also would require a congressional review if a president attempts to ease or end current penalties.

Penalties also would be slapped on those responsible for malicious cyber activity on behalf of the Russian government.

A procedural vote on the Russia sanctions is expected Wednesday, and the measure is expected to get strong bipartisan support.

House and Senate committees are investigating Russia’s meddling and potential links to the Trump campaign, with testimony scheduled Tuesday from Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is conducting a separate probe.

So both Congress and the Senate are continuing investigations, strengthening sanctions, and making it harder for President Trump to “ease or end current penalties”.

And today (Tuesday US time) Sessions to face tough questions at public Senate hearing, in next round of Russia probe:

The Senate’s Russia probe will hit a new level of intensity Tuesday when Attorney General Jeff Sessions becomes the highest-ranking official to testify – in what Senate Intelligence Committee leaders confirmed will be an open hearing, in the spirit of last week’s dramatic session with James Comey.

The circumstances are different for Sessions’ appearance. While Comey was a witness scorned by President Trump and ready to dish on the leader who fired him, Sessions remains the top law enforcement official in the country, working for Trump’s administration.

But lawmakers – particularly Democrats – are preparing tough questions for Sessions both about Russia’s contact with Trump campaign associates and the circumstances of Comey’s firing.

Also from Fox News:  Mueller’s lawyer build-up raises flags for Trump allies

Special counsel Robert Mueller is said to be building out his investigative team with some of the country’s best legal minds, in a development that speaks to the seriousness of the Russia probe but also is raising red flags on the pro-Trump side.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, citing the hires, said “they’re setting up to go after Trump.”

“This is going to be a witch hunt,” Gingrich said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Not all Republicans feel that way, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., told “Fox & Friends” on Monday that Mueller just “wants to get to the truth.”

But recent hires show Mueller is building a formidable team, poised to either root out wrongdoing or prove the Trump team’s claims that there’s no ‘there there.’

Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney fired by Trump along with dozens of other holdover prosecutors earlier this year, tweeted that Dreeben is “1 of the top legal & appellate minds at DOJ in modern times.”

However, Bharara said Dreeben’s “loyalty is to the Constitution alone” and Mueller is looking to find the truth, apply the law “and yield a just result. Charge or no charge.”

It is important for the integrity of the US political system that as much of the truth is discovered as possible, charge or no charge.

Little speech: on Maori

In his ‘state of the nation’ speech in January Andrew Little didn’t mention Maori at all – see Maori 0f Little importance? – but since then Labour’s Maori MPs, candidates and votes have been talked about a lot.

In his Congress speech yesterday Little had to mention Maori, and he did.

And, get this, after the election, at least 1 in 4 Labour MPs will be Māori.

We are going to have the largest representation of Māori MPs of any party, ever, in New Zealand politics.

It’s common for opposition parties to talk in positives in their speeches, like ‘the next Prime Minister’ and from his speech “to all of our dedicated activists and organisers who are going to sweep Labour to government on September 23rd“, and likewise, claiming “at least 1 in 4 Labour MPs will be Māori” presumes all Labour’s electorate MPs will retain their seats and they will improve their share of the party vote. Neither are guaranteed.

Through all these policies and in every decision, Māori will be at the table.

If they have Maori party members and Maori MPs then yes, they will be at Labour’s policy table, but it doesn’t mean they will be influential. 1 in 4 is 25%, from from a majority vote.

Māori aspiration sits at the core of Labour’s vision for New Zealand.

That’s vague and means little in reality.

And that’s all on Maori in the speech. Nothing specific, no policies addressing Maori issues beyond “the Kiwi dream” generalities.

Two contentious Maori issues flared up last week, partnership schools and prisons. On schools:

Thank you for the policy you launched yesterday of health teams in all our schools, which is just one of the ways we’ll bring a fresh approach to our neglected mental health services.

On prisons – nothing.

On the Treaty of Waitangi – nothing.

If Little wants Maori voters to step up and tick Labour in September’s election then Labour may need to step up with some actual policies that will give them some incentive, and promises of policy rewards.