Manafort lied to prosecutors, McCabe ordered obstruction of justice probe of Trump

Two bits of major news on the ongoing ‘Russian collusion’ investigation and related legal issues relating to Donald Trump’s campaign and presidency.

Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort has been found by a judge to have “”made multiple false statements to the FBI, the OSC and the grand jury concerning matters that were material to the investigation.” This breaches a plea agreement he had made as he awaits sentencing on multiple charges.

And Andrew McCabe has revealed that as acting director of the FBI he had ordered an obstruction of justice probe into President Trump.  Trump later sacked McCabe, and as has become typical he has slammed McCabe via Twitter.

NY Times:  Manafort Found to Have Lied to Prosecutors While Under a Cooperation Agreement

A federal judge ruled on Wednesday that Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, had breached his plea agreement by lying multiple times to prosecutors after pledging to cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

The decision by Judge Amy Berman Jackson of United States District Court in Washington may affect the severity of punishment that awaits Mr. Manafort. Judge Jackson is scheduled to sentence him next month on two conspiracy counts, and he is also awaiting sentencing for eight other counts in a related fraud case.

After Mr. Manafort agreed in September to cooperate with the office of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, the judge found, he lied about his contacts with a Russian associate during the campaign and after the election. Prosecutors claim that the associate, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, has ties to Russian intelligence, and have been investigating whether he was involved in Russia’s covert campaign to influence the election results.

The judge also found that Mr. Manafort had lied about a payment that was routed through a pro-Trump political action committee to cover his legal bills, and about information relevant to another undisclosed investigation underway at the Justice Department.

Mr. Manafort joins a string of former Trump aides who have been found to have lied to federal investigators about their involvement with Russians or their intermediaries, including Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser; George Papadopoulos, a former campaign adviser; and Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s longtime fixer and lawyer.

I think it’s fair to wonder why so many of Trump’s associates have lied in the investigation into his campaign. Trump himself lies frequently and brazenly so those working for him could have been following his example, but lying to obstruct the investigation is legally a very serious matter – as Manafort is likely to discover when sentenced,

The judge’s ruling (CNN): Judge rules on Manafort plea deal

Meanwhile parts of a CBS Andrew McCabe interview: McCabe says he ordered the obstruction of justice probe of President Trump

Soon after speaking to President Trump about the firing of his boss James Comey, Andrew McCabe, who became the bureau’s acting director, began obstruction of justice and counterintelligence investigations involving the president and his ties to Russia. In his first television interview since his own firing, McCabe tells 60 Minutes’ Scott Pelley he wanted those inquiries to be documented and underway so they would be difficult to quash without raising scrutiny.

“I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground, in an indelible fashion. That were I removed quickly, or reassigned or fired, that the case could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace.”

“I wanted to make sure that our case was on solid ground and if somebody came in behind me and closed it and tried to walk away from it, they would not be able to do that without creating a record of why they made that decision”.

In typical fashion Trump attacked the messenger:

Disgraced FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe pretends to be a “poor little Angel” when in fact he was a big part of the Crooked Hillary Scandal & the Russia Hoax – a puppet for Leakin’ James Comey. I.G. report on McCabe was devastating. Part of “insurance policy” in case I won.

Many of the top FBI brass were fired, forced to leave, or left. McCabe’s wife received BIG DOLLARS from Clinton people for her campaign – he gave Hillary a pass. McCabe is a disgrace to the FBI and a disgrace to our Country. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!

A lot of irony in that.

These are the days of the lives of some of the world’s most powerful people.

Trump hasn’t attacked Manafort. It looks increasingly likely that Manafort is taking a fall for Trump to try to hide something.

Jennifer Rubin (Washington Post): Paul Manafort’s day in court spells trouble for Trump

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s lies caught up with him in federal court on Wednesday. The result was a decision that likely means, absent either a deal or a presidential pardon, he’ll spend the rest of his life in jail.

In previous court filings that were inadvertently released, we learned that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III had evidence that Manafort gave Kilimnik private polling data. This exchange, according to what federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann told a federal judge last week, went “to the heart” of the Mueller investigation.

“Manafort is either the most self-destructive, irrational liar in history, or he is still protecting a secret so dark that exposing it would kill his chance for a pardon,” former Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller tells me.

This, in short, was collusion — Trump’s top campaign official giving material to a suspected agent of a hostile foreign government that the campaign had already been warned was attempting to interfere with our election. Whatever you call it — direct or indirect evidence — this now is one link proven in court between the campaign and the Russians. We know of others, of course, including the Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 designed to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, Trump’s public call for Russia to go after Clinton’s emails, and more than 100 contacts between Russian figures and members of the Trump circle.

It’s difficult to think of an explanation for Manafort’s lying that doesn’t open new avenues for Mueller to explore. “There is no non-nefarious explanation for the chairman of a presidential campaign secretly meeting with a suspected Russian agent in the midst of an election that the Russians are actively trying to influence and then lying about it to the prosecutor after agreeing to cooperate.,” says Max Bergmann of the Moscow Project. “The only reason for Manafort to lie at this point is to cover up something truly devastating.”

Those speculating that Mueller is wrapping up soon better reset their clocks. With Manafort now under extreme pressure, he could for the first time tell us what exactly is the deep dark secret about Russia and the Trump operation that so many people have lied to cover up.

Perhaps, but up until now there has been no indication that Manafort will open up. Perhaps he sees no chance of anything other than a lifetime sentence regardless. Or perhaps he is banking on a pardon from Trump – but that would open up another big area of concern in the US.

 

Trump lies bigger than Texas

Donald Trump is well known for lying and making false claims, and he often keeps repeating them.

El Paso is on the US-Mexico border and has taken issue with comments Trump made in his State of the Union address last week.

The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime — one of the highest in the country, and considered one of our Nation’s most dangerous cities. Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities.
Simply put, walls work and walls save lives. So let’s work together, compromise, and reach a deal that will truly make America safe.

Simply put, Trump is making false claims again to try to get support for his wall.

El Paso Times – State of the Union: Facts show Trump wrong to say El Paso dangerous city until fence

President Donald Trump used El Paso as an example of a safe city to bolster his argument that the United States needs to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border during the State of the Union on Tuesday.

This isn’t the first time the White House has tried to make this argument about El Paso, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton shared a similar comment with Trump during his visit to Texas in early January.

They debunk Truimp’s claim in detail. And also similar claims by Trump spokespeople and associates.

Houston Chronicle editorial: Welcome, Mr. President. Here’s the truth about El Paso

At nearly every turn, Trump’s statements and actions before and after he took office two years ago have revealed an ignorance of even the most basic aspects of life in Texas. Recall when he talked, absurdly, about the thousands of pleasure-boating Texans during Harvey who had to be saved by the Coast Guard. In fact, they were braving storm-tossed waters to rescue neighbors.

Trump seems even more confused when he talks about the border. Take his recent comments about El Paso and the border fence completed there in 2009.

The quote from his SOTU speech as above.

That’s unequivocally wrong. All Texans know that El Paso lies directly across the border from Juarez, where murder and kidnappings have at times overwhelmed local authorities. We also know that El Paso itself has for decades been universally considered one of the safest cities in America.

The border fence completed in 2009 didn’t make that so. The crime rate, and especially the rate of violent crimes, had been falling for nearly 20 years before that fence was completed.

That El Paso has been safe for decades is borne out by more than FBI stats. Elected officials from both parties have called out Trump’s falsehood repeatedly in recent days.

Does any of any this really matter? We wish it didn’t. But sadly, Trump has a powerful hold on a significant swath of Americans — and their congressional representatives — who want so badly to believe his promises of greatness that they don’t bother to check the fine print. They believe quickly and blindly. And by the time the fact-checkers weigh in, Trump will have moved to the next rally.

But Trump bullshit isn’t in the fine print. He blares it all over Twitter.

More concerning perhaps is that his speech writers have presumably played a hand in his SOTU script, which is more bullshit.

MediaFiled:  Was The Media’s SOTU Fact-Check Fair?

Along with the typical suspects–like Snopes and FactCheck.org–most mainstream, reputable news sources took a deep dive into the logical fallacies and falsehoods they claimed the President espoused in his 82-minute-long speech.

Outlets like The New York Times took the time to break down substantive policy claims on international affairs, immigration, abortion and the economy with nuance, specifying whether a claim was true, false or misleading.

Forbes pushed back on Trump’s economic statistics, pointing out that he fibbed facts on created jobs, wage and economic growth. The El Paso Times clarified that saying their city’s violent crime rate makes a case for “walls working” is untrue. CNN refuted Trump on undocumented crime in general, with most point-by-point analyses painting Trump’s narrative as incorrect.

While most of these fact-checks weren’t partisan commentary, the sheer volume of articles published created a sense of anti-Trump bias for some. That’s without mentioning the sources that FOX interpreted as “nitpicking.”

The sheer volume of articles pointing out Trump lies has something to do with the number of times Trump lies.

Pundits like Brian Stelter went further in their defense, expressing frustration at “Trump’s [worsening] level of lying, of deceit” and calling for news organizations to be more equipped to tackle falsehoods during “the Super Bowl of fact-checking.”

But on the other hand, in an age where a whopping 75 percent of conservatives don’t feel like the media even understands them, nitpicking against conservative champions isn’t the best look.

Ah, having a president who is a compulsive liar isn’t the best look.

“The ‘fact-checkers’, Hell-bent to prove Trump wrong, have become just another tool of advocacy journalism.”

Fact checking what the president says is ‘advocacy journalism’? I would say it is a fundamental role of political journalism.

Just because some people that poor Donald is being unfairly criticised doesn’t negate the need for or validity of criticism.

David Harsanyi, Senior Editor of The Federalist, points out what seems to him to be partisan media hysteria, describing how fact-checking subjective assertions and talking points with hyper-precision can, itself, obscure information.

“There are plenty of legitimately misleading statements worthy of fact-checkers’ attention,” wrote Harsanyi in a column for the New York Post.

“Yet, with a veneer of impartiality, fact-checkers often engage in a uniquely dishonest style of partisanship.”

Whether you think that Trump compulsively lies or that the media’s narrative of him constantly lying has gone too far, it’s clear that the press need to hold government accountable now, as it always has.

But in order for it to do so, journalists must also hold themselves to a higher, objective standard and reflect on whether or not partisan biases are clouding their judgment.

It seems remarkable that fact checking journalists are being held to ‘a higher, objective standard’ (fair enough to call for that) because they keep pointing out how dishonest President Trump is. This suggests Trump’s tactic of diverting from his lies to the media reporting those lies has been in part successful.

 

Second Trump-Kim Yong Un summit announced, North Korea “will become a great economic powerhouse”

After the location for a second summit between Donald Trump and Kim Yong Un was announced (It will take place in Hanoi, Vietnam, on February 27 and 28) Trump tweeted that “North Korea, under the leadership of Kim Yong Un, will become a great economic powerhouse”.

NY Times: Trump says North Korea talks productive, summit will be in Hanoi

President Donald Trump said on Friday that U.S. diplomats had a “very productive meeting” with North Korean officials, and he announced his summit later this month with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would be held in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi.

“My representatives have just left North Korea after a very productive meeting and an agreed upon time and date for the second Summit with Kim Jong Un. It will take place in Hanoi, Vietnam, on February 27 & 28,” Trump said on Twitter.

“I look forward to seeing Chairman Kim & advancing the cause of peace!” he said.

Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, held three days of talks in Pyongyang to prepare for the summit, the State Department said on Friday.

In their talks in Pyongyang, from Wednesday to Friday, Biegun and Kim Hyok Chol “discussed advancing President Trump and Chairman Kim’s Singapore summit commitments of complete denuclearization, transforming U.S.-DPRK relations, and building a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula,” the State Department said.Its statement, which referred to North Korea by the acronym for its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, gave no indication of any progress in the talks.

While in the U.S. view North Korea has yet to take concrete steps to give up its nuclear weapons, it complains that Washington has done little to reciprocate for its freezing of nuclear and missile testing and dismantling of some facilities.

North Korea has repeatedly urged a lifting of punishing U.S.-led sanctions, a formal end to the war, and security guarantees.

Trump, eager for a foreign policy win to distract from domestic troubles, has been keen for a second summit despite a lack of significant moves by North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program. He and Biegun have stressed the economic benefits to North Korea if it does so.

One can only wonder what thoughts are behind this tweet.

Sideshow Don continues on Twitter, Burr explains Senate investigations

Donald Trump’s obsession with investigations into collusion and his obsession with being seen as great continue on Twitter:

Highly respected Senator Richard Burr, Chairman of Senate Intelligence, said today that, after an almost two year investigation, he saw no evidence of Russia collusion. “We don’t have anything that would suggest there was collusion by the Trump campaign and Russia.” Thank you!

Not only did Senator Burr’s Committee find No Collusion by the Trump Campaign and Russia, it’s important because they interviewed 200 witnesses and 300,000 pages of documents, & the Committee has direct access to intelligence information that’s Classified.

Now we find out that Adam Schiff was spending time together in Aspen with Glenn Simpson of GPS Fusion, who wrote the fake and discredited Dossier, even though Simpson was testifying before Schiff. John Solomon of

The mainstream media has refused to cover the fact that the head of the VERY important Senate Intelligence Committee, after two years of intensive study and access to Intelligence that only they could get, just stated that they have found NO COLLUSION between “Trump” & Russia….

Actually no, only one member of the Senate Intelligence Committee said “we don’t have anything that would suggest there was collusion by the Trump campaign and Russia” before a draft of their final report has been started, and before the Mueller investigation has concluded.

Burr: “”What I’m telling you is that I’m going to present, as best we can, the facts to you and to the American people. And you’ll have to draw your own conclusion as to whether you think that, by whatever definition, that’s collusion.”

I presume no facts have been presented to Trump yet, but he has been asserting ‘NO COLLUSION’ since the allegations and investigations began.

..It is all a GIANT AND ILLEGAL HOAX, developed long before the election itself, but used as an excuse by the Democrats as to why Crooked Hillary Clinton lost the Election! Someday the Fake News Media will turn honest & report that Donald J. Trump was actually a GREAT Candidate!

This relates to this from CBS News:  Richard Burr on the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation, 2 years on

The investigation into Russian intelligence activities by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence turned two years old, without fanfare, last month.

For almost as long, the inquiry, led by Republican Chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina and Vice Chairman Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, has been held up as the last bastion of bipartisanship in Washington.

After a parallel investigation divided the House Intelligence Committee last year, the Senate’s probe has been under intense pressure to offer a single set of findings.

Burr has spoken little about the probe he leads. But he thinks deeply about how its conclusions should be presented. And he acknowledges now that the investigation is broader, and perhaps more consequential, than it has long been thought to be.

For more than an hour, Burr detailed the committee’s work and findings to date, explained why its investigation will stretch beyond its second year, and addressed the potential of a partisan breakdown at its conclusion. He described the committee’s coordination with the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller, its plans for delivering a final report, and hinted at what kinds of questions it may, at least for now, have to leave unanswered.

He made clear that the investigation is not compiling the story of one pivotal election, but of something larger, more complicated and, from a counterintelligence perspective, more nefarious. The final report may be so highly classified, he said, that a meaningful portion may not be made public at all.

Burr said he felt vindicated by his decision to empower the committee’s staff to run the investigation. He said their access to highly classified intelligence from the agencies the committee is equipped to oversee often allowed them to know in advance what they needed to elicit from a witness.

“It also gave us tremendous insight to know when somebody was lying to us,” he said, adding that the committee had “not been shy” in referring individuals for criminal prosecution.

To date, the committee has interviewed more than 200 witnesses and reviewed more than 300,000 pages of documents; it has held more than a dozen public hearings and released two interim reports.

The first, on election security, was issued last March and found that the Department of Homeland Security’s response to Russia’s incursions was “inadequate.”

The second, released in May, included the initial findings of a review of the 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) on Russia’s active measures — an unclassified version of a more comprehensive report is still forthcoming.

“We see no reason to dispute the conclusions,” of the ICA, Burr said at the time, in a simple assertion that nevertheless generated headlines for its contrast with a finding by the House Intelligence Committee’s Republican majority.

Their final report cited “significant intelligence tradecraft failings” in the assessment made of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s intentions. On a bipartisan basis, the Senate committee substantiated the finding that Putin had developed a “clear preference” for Donald Trump.

Burr would only say that Steele remained of interest, but out of reach.

Burr has previously said it would be impossible to assess the credibility of the dossier without understanding who Steele’s sources and sub-sources were; failing to speak directly with Steele suggests that the committee has not, itself, come to a determination of the dossier’s reliability.

Was there collusion?

For now, Burr appears to have arrived at his answer. “If we write a report based upon the facts that we have, then we don’t have anything that would suggest there was collusion by the Trump campaign and Russia,” he said.

He told Fox News in September that the committee had found no “hard evidence” of collusion, though new information could still come to light.

He now doubled down, adding it was “accurate with everything we’ve accumulated since then.”

It was the first time the chairman sounded like he was not speaking for the entirety of his committee, given the disconnect between his view of a set of facts and that of the vice chairman. (Warner declined to be interviewed for this article.)

In January, Warner said the revelation that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort shared polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate of Manafort’s known to have ties to Russian intelligence, was the “closest we’ve seen” to collusion.

Burr did not use the word then and would not now. Manafort, he said, “shared polling data with a former partner of an effort to do campaign services in the Ukraine.” It was a “stretch,” Burr said, to call that collusion.

He argued that the underlying motivations behind some interactions were often hard, and sometimes impossible, to determine, and that what might look like collusion could have an alternative rationale.

“There’s an awful lot of connections of all these people,” he said. “They may not be connections that are tied to 2016 elections in the United States, but just the sheer fact that they have a relationship — it may be business. It may be Russian intelligence. It may be they’re all on the payroll of Oleg Deripaska,” he said.

“I have no belief that at the end of our process, people that love Donald Trump are going to applaud what we do. And I have no belief that people that hate Donald Trump are going to reverse and say, ‘Well, you know, this clears him.’ They are solidly in one camp or the other,” he said.

“I’m speaking to what I hope is the 60 percent in the middle that are saying, ‘Give me the facts that I need to make a determination in this one particular instance — what happened.’ And that’s what our focus is,” he said.

There is also the Mueller investigation.

Burr has often voiced his awareness that his committee’s report will be tested by the special counsel’s findings. He has said he’s comforted by it, in part because Mueller, by virtue of having more and better investigative tools, may provide answers that proved elusive to his team.

But he remained evasive as to whether Mueller’s final report should itself be made public — even if it could conceivably fill in some gaps within his own probe. “I’m going to leave that up to whoever the A.G. is at the time,” he said.

No overall findings yet.

How the committee will issue its overall findings, once it arrives at them, also appears to be an open question. Burr said a formal draft had not yet been started, and he could not make a prediction about how much of it, ultimately, would be declassified.

“What I’m telling you is that I’m going to present, as best we can, the facts to you and to the American people. And you’ll have to draw your own conclusion as to whether you think that, by whatever definition, that’s collusion,” he said.

“My only advice to you is, be careful. There are a lot of false narratives out there,” he said.

It is a highly complex issue, being investigated by the Senate, by Congress, and by Mueller.  None of them have come to final conclusions, and if they do they could remain classified.

Trump, the media and any of us don’t know anywhere near the full story – and we may never know it.

Will the investigations end up doing any good? Who knows?

Was Trump a great, or as he puts it, a GREAT Candidate? Many thought he was. Many thought he was terrible. He ended up getting fewer popular votes overall than another flawed candidate, Hillary Clinton, but his campaign was good enough to win the presidency under the electoral college system. Some voters would have thought neither candidate was great and voted for the least worst.

Will Trump end up being seen as a great president? It’s far too soon to judge that. There are and will be positives and negatives, it depends on how they all add up.

Was their collusion. That is up to both evidence and interpretation. But we shouldn’t be fixated on ‘collusion’, there are other bad practices, even illegal practices, that could be proven, or disproven, or neither.

Trump’s SOTU show

Donald Trump gave his State of the Union speech in the US yesterday. Written speeches like this are more PR exercises than anything, and nothing Trump says can be taken as set in stone. In fact he was typically contradictory, calling for unity as he continues to try to divide and conquer.

Trump asked for compromise but has shown little sign of wanting to compromise on his US-Mexico wall obsession.

“We must reject the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution — and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise and the common good”.

If Trump shows some sign of rejecting the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution then I might take those words seriously, but this sounds like are bizarre attempt at sounding grand by a speech writer that clashes with the image and acts of Trump.

From RealClear Politics:

For me political speeches like this don’t mean much other than providing a bit of carefully constructed rhetoric and theatre. It’s the actions of political leaders that matter.

From CNN: 5 key takeaways from Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech

The line likely to be quoted most — especially by Trump’s critics — from the speech was this one:

“If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way.”

It’s quite a line, given that Trump’s administration is in the midst of an investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller, his company is in the midst of an investigation by the Southern District of New York and House Democrats are preparing a series of investigations into, among other things, Trump’s Cabinet, his taxes and the firing of FBI director James Comey.

It’s also a line that evokes a less-than-ideal comparison for Trump.

“I believe the time has come to bring that investigation and the other investigations of this matter to an end,” said then-President Richard Nixon in his 1974 State of the Union speech. “One year of Watergate is enough.”

Trump doesn’t want it to work that way, but it is unlikely the Mueller investigation or any planned investigations by Congress will be deterred by Trump’s plaintive plea.

Russia suspends nuclear arms treaty after US threatens the same

In response to the US threatening to withdraw from the long standing Nuclear Forces Treaty if Russia didn’t comply with it, Russia has responded by withdrawing from the treaty.

I don’t know if this signals the reigniting of another nuclear arms race, or if Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are just playing some sort of brinkmanship.

Whatever it is, it looks like a sign of deteriorating relations between the US and Russia.

Reuters:  Russia suspends nuclear arms treaty after U.S. says to pull out

Russia has suspended the Cold War-era Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday, after the United States said it would withdraw from the arms control pact, accusing Moscow of violations.

The United States announced on Friday it will withdraw from the INF treaty in six months unless Moscow ends what it says are violations of the 1987 pact.

It would reconsider its withdrawal if Russia came into compliance with the agreement, which bans both nations from stationing short- and intermediate-range land-based missiles in Europe. Russia denies violating the treaty.

“The American partners have declared that they suspend their participation in the deal, we suspend it as well,” Putin said during a televised meeting with foreign and defense ministers.

Putin said Russia will start work on creating new missiles, including hypersonic ones, and told ministers not to initiate disarmament talks with Washington, accusing the United States of being slow to respond to such moves.

“We have repeatedly, during a number of years, and constantly raised a question about substantiative talks on the disarmament issue,” Putin said. “We see that in the past few years the partners have not supported our initiatives.”

During the meeting with Putin, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the United States of violating the INF and other arms deals, including the non-proliferation treaty.

Back to cold war style blaming each other for what they want to do themselves.

Trump seems to have had a night off Twitter so no response from him yet.

 

White House says SOTU will have unifying tone, while Trump attacks Pelosi

Donald Trump  seems to confuse greatness with grateness.

He is prone to contradictions and making odd statements, often out of step with his own officials and administration, and with his speech writers.

That continues as the White House has suggested his State Of The Union speech will have ‘a unifying tone’, at the same time as Trump attacks House leader Nancy Pelosi, and says he will call the Democrats to heal old wounds. It doesn’t sound like he is intent on healing growing rifts over immigration and his wall.

NY Times:  State of the Union Will Have Unifying Tone, White House Says

President Trump plans to use his State of the Union address on Tuesday night to outline a bipartisan and optimistic vision of the country, a senior administration official said on Friday.

It could be a difficult sell.

In the past few weeks, as he has tried to navigate his way out of a political standoff with Democrats, Mr. Trump has ramped up his anti-immigration messaging, stormed out of meetings with Democratic leaders and refused to accept any compromise that does not ultimately include funding for a border wall.

And while the White House said on Friday that the goal of the speech was to bring together a divided government and a divided nation, the official said immigration would emerge as the main theme.

The overarching theme of the speech, the official said, will be “Choosing Greatness,” and it will focus on issues where there is a possibility of bipartisan consensus: infrastructure, lowering health care and prescription drug costs, protecting American workers affected by what he described as “decades of flawed trade deals” and safeguarding national security.

‘Choosing Greatness’ seems to mean acknowledging Trump’s perception of his own greatness, which he seems to confuse with grateness.

The president will also call on Congress to replace what he described as the “Nafta disaster” with the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and discuss the trading relationship with China.

I thought that Trump scrapped NAFTA and renegotiated it. perhaps he didn’t get it all his own way as he expected with his great negotiating prowess.

But while the White House tries to talk up unity Trump continues to do his best to divide.

CBS:  Pelosi is “very bad for our country,” Trump says

Days before a State of the Union address in which he’s expected to stress unity, President Trump said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is “very bad for the country,” in an exclusive interview with CBS News “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan.

The president also suggested Pelosi “doesn’t mind human trafficking,” or she wouldn’t oppose funding his border wall.

“Well, I think that she was very rigid — which I would expect — but I think she’s very bad for our country,” the president said, when asked what he learned after negotiating with Pelosi in recent weeks. “She knows that you need a barrier. She knows that we need border security. She wanted to win a political point. I happen to think it’s very bad politics because basically, she wants open borders. She doesn’t mind human trafficking or she wouldn’t do this.”

Mr. Trump said Thursday he doesn’t think lawmakers will reach a deal to fund his border wall. Mr. Trump told Brennan that Pelosi is doing a “terrible disservice to our country.”

“She’s — she’s costing the country hundreds of billions of dollars because what’s happening is, when you have a porous border and when you have drugs pouring in, and when you have people dying all over the country because of people like Nancy Pelosi who don’t want to give proper border security for political reasons — she’s doing a terrible disservice to our country”.

Typically Trump is blaming Pelosi for the shutdown that he was largely responsible for.

NY Times on his SOTU speech:

“Together we can break decades of political stalemate, we can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions and unlock the extraordinary promise of America’s future,” Trump plans to say, according to the excerpt, which was read to reporters at a briefing on Friday.”

There didn’t seem to be much togetherness tone in his CBS  interview.

CBS:

Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff Drew Hammill responded to the president’s remarks, saying, “The president knows, bluster aside, that Democrats are committed to securing our borders while upholding our values as a nation. The president should stop undermining bipartisan efforts to do just that.”

“President Trump’s recklessness didn’t make us safer, it undermined our security with 35 days of border patrol agents, DEA agents, FBI agents and Homeland Security personnel missing paychecks. Democrats have put forward strong, smart and effective border security solutions in the bipartisan conference committee, while the President still refuses to take a second shutdown off the table”.

NY Times:

And although the president agreed to three weeks of negotiations to end the impasse, he said on Thursday that the talks are “a waste of time” and strongly hinted that he would declare a national emergency to bypass Congress and obtain wall funding.

Mr. Trump suggested on Friday that he would announce his decision on declaring a national emergency during the State of the Union speech.

“I don’t want to say,” he told reporters when asked if he was planning to do so. “You’ll hear the State of the Union and let’s see what happens,” he said.

White House officials have been warning him against the action, but they also view it as a potential last-ditch exit ramp if they cannot find another face-saving solution.

This is all business as usual for Trump. He is either ignoring his own White House, or is deliberately sending different messages.

I don’t think that speak out of both sides of his mouth will be very face-saving.

US Senate challenges Trump’s plans to withdraw from Syria

Donald Trump’s announcement and follow up statements about withdrawing US troops from Syria and Afghanistan were typically controversial, vague and contradictory. He surprised and alarmed people in the US, to the extent that his Defence Secretary James Mattis resigned immediately over Trump’s withdrawal proclamation last month.

The criticism continues.

Time: Trump’s Own Intelligence Chief Contradicted Him Several Times

The nation’s intelligence chief contradicted President Trump’s statements on North Korea, Syria and Russia while addressing the Senate on Tuesday, arguing that ISIS continues to pose a threat to the United States despite the Administration’s claims that it has been defeated.

Director of U.S. National Intelligence Dan Coats released the results of the Worldwide Threat Assessment, which describes the biggest international dangers facing the United States, and told lawmakers during the Senate hearing that the U.S. must “keep our eyes on” ISIS.

“While ISIS is nearing territorial defeat in Iraq and Syria, the group has returned to its guerrilla warfare roots while continuing to plot attacks and direct its supporters worldwide. ISIS is intent on resurging and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria,” Coats said.

As usual Trump thinks he knows best.

Does Trump know that Iran is closely linked to Syria? A US withdrawal from Syria would help Iranian interests there.

These tweets have been criticised – Bloomberg:  Trump Blasts U.S. Spy Agencies as Passive, ‘Weak’ on Iran Threat

Responding to Trump’s criticism, Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a tweet that “it is a credit to our intelligence agencies that they continue to provide rigorous and realistic analyses of the threats we face. It’s deeply dangerous that the White House isn’t listening.”

Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on Senate Intelligence, said in a tweet that “the President has a dangerous habit of undermining the intelligence community to fit his alternate reality. People risk their lives for the intelligence he just tosses aside on Twitter.”

Now the US Senate, led by a Republican majority, are pushing back against Trump’s plans (if you can call them plans, they are more like random proclamations).

CNN:  In rebuke to Trump, Mitch McConnell unveils proposal urging troops stay in Syria, Afghanistan

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pushing an amendment to a Middle East policy bill that would acknowledge “al Qaeda, ISIS and their affiliates in Syria and Afghanistan continue to pose a serious threat to us here at home,” a move seen as a sharp rebuke to President Donald Trump’s push to withdraw US troops from Syria.

“It would recognize the dangers of a precipitous withdrawal from either conflict and highlight the need for diplomatic engagement and political solutions to the underlying conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan,” McConnell said Tuesday from the Senate floor, announcing the amendment to the bill, which is currently being debated.

McConnell added that, “while it is tempting to retreat to the comfort and security of our own shores, there is still a great deal of work to be done…..we’re not the world’s policemen, but we are the leaders of the free world.”

The leader of ‘the leaders of the free world’ (that’s increasingly debatable under Trump’s isolationism) might have to do a lot more firing to get his Intelligence agencies onside with his way of thinking, but one president can’t vote out 100 senators.

The US risks becoming the joke of the free world, but given the international situations the lead joker is thrashing around in it is not really a laughing matter.

Another Trump associate arrested in Mueller inquiry

Roger Stone, closely associated with Donald Trump (and is also linked to Richard Nixon), is the latest to be arrested as a result of the Robert Mueller inquiry into Russian collusion, for witness tampering, obstruction and false statements – but there is no specific link to collusion in the indictment.

Vox:  Roger Stone’s arrest and indictment, explained

Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone was arrested in connection with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation early Friday morning at his home in Florida. He was indicted for obstruction, making false statements, and witness tampering. You can read the full indictment at this link.

The charges focus on Stone’s alleged lies to the House Intelligence Committee during 2017 about his statements about and efforts to get in touch with WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign. The indictment also conspicuously mentions that “a senior Trump campaign official was directed to contact Stone” about what WikiLeaks might have on Hillary Clinton.

The indictment does not, however, attempt to explain why Stone would lie about this or lay out a definitive story about what did happen between Stone and WikiLeaks back then. Stone also has not been charged with any criminal activity occurring during the campaign.

The hacking and leaking of Democrats’ emails has long been a central part of the Mueller investigation. Mueller has charged several Russian intelligence officers with the hacking.

Various statements by Stone, including many public ones, raised questions about whether he had some sort of inside knowledge about WikiLeaks or its plans. He has denied having any such knowledge — and claimed that anything he knew about WikiLeaks came through an intermediary, radio host Randy Credico.

Now Stone has been accused of lying about this to the House Intelligence Committee in 2017, and trying to tamper with a witness — Credico — so that he would stick to that false story.

He’s not the first Trump associate to be charged with lying to the Mueller investigation. Trumps ex-lawyer Michael Cohen has admitted (or at least claimed) it.

Fox News has mixed coverage of it.

The self-proclaimed “dirty trickster” is well-known for his political antics and hardball tactics. He’s been reveled as a Washington wheeler-dealer dating back to the Nixon administration. Stone has also pushed several conspiracy theories and was an early and vocal supporter of Trump’s candidacy.

In his leading role, Mueller took over an ongoing investigation into Paul Manafort’sfinancial dealings in Ukraine.

Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, and Richard Gates were indicted on Oct. 27, 2017, on multiple counts, including conspiracy against the U.S., conspiracy to launder money, false statements and failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts. Manafort and Gates initially pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Nearly four months later, on Feb. 22, the pair was hit with additional tax evasion and bank fraud charges and the amount of money Manafort was accused of laundering through offshore accounts increased to $30 million.

Gates pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy and false-statements charges on Feb. 23.

Manafort was found guilty of eight financial crimes on Aug. 21 in the first trial victory of the special counsel investigation into the president’s associates. He later pleaded guilty in a second case and agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s team.

Michael Flynn, the administration’s short-lived national security adviser, was charged in December 2017 with lying to the FBI about specific conversations he had with a Russian ambassador. He pleaded guilty.

Additionally, George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in 2017 to one count of making false statements to investigating FBI agents, according to court documents. He was later sentenced to 14 days in jail. Papadopoulos was a foreign policy adviser for Trump’s campaign.

Alex van der Zwaan, an attorney, pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about Gates in the Russia inquiry. In April, he was sentenced to 30 days in prison, making him the first to be sentenced in the investigation. He was released from prison on June 4 and turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

On Nov. 29, Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal attorney, pleaded guilty to making false statements before a Senate committee regarding a real estate project in Russia. He “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,” Mueller said.

Richard Pinedo, a California man who sold bank accounts to Russians meddling in the election, pleaded guilty in February 2018 to using stolen identities to set up the accounts. The U.S. government said Pinedo was not aware he was dealing with Russians when he sold the accounts. He was sentenced in October to six months in prison and six months of home confinement.

federal grand jury indicted three Russian entities and 13 Russian nationals on Feb. 16 for allegedly interfering in the election. Mueller’s case claims those involved had a sophisticated plot to wage “information warfare” on the U.S.

However, the Justice Department did not say the actions had an impact on the outcome of the election. Deputy Attorney Gen. Rod Rosenstein said, “There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity.”

The Justice Department on July 13 announced that 12 Russian intelligence officers were indicted for allegedly hacking the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign during the 2016 election.

Early Jan. 25, former Trump political adviser Roger Stone was indicted on charges of obstruction, making false statements and witness tampering — nothing directly related to Russian collusion. The White House has yet to officially comment on the indictment.

Of course Fox has some anti-investigation coverage:

On “America’s Newsroom” Friday, Dershowitz, a Harvard Law professor emeritus, said the indictment is full of “stories” of Russian collusion, but all the actual charges are a result of the investigation.

“This is typical of Mueller. He has found almost no crimes that occurred before he was appointed special counsel,” Dershowitz said, adding that’s Mueller was appointed to find such crimes and he’s “virtually failed” in that respect.

“Almost all of his crimes that’s he’s indicted people for are crimes that resulted from his investigation,” Dershowitz said.

He noted, however, the fact that Stone’s alleged crimes were generated by the Mueller probe does not make them any less criminal.

“But it really means that there’s been a failure to uncover the basic crimes for which he was appointed. Namely, before he was appointed, was there illegal collusion, illegal conspiracy with Russia?”

But we don’t know if “there’s been a failure to uncover the basic crimes that occurred before he was appointed special counsel”, because the investigation is continuing, and the arrests of people closely associated to Trump and his campaign keep happening.

Charging people with lying and covering up can be used to pressure them to be more forthcoming with the truth in an investigation, and this has worked with some, like Cohen.

Stone is staunch for now: Ex-Trump adviser blasts ‘politically motivated’ Mueller indictment, says he ‘will never’ turn on Trump

Former Trump adviser Roger Stone vowed during a dramatic press conference outside a federal courthouse in Florida on Friday afternoon to fight the charges of witness tampering, obstruction and false statements brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, calling the charges “politically motivated” while insisting he would not turn against President Trump.

“I will plead not guilty to these charges,” Stone told reporters, speaking over hecklers. “I will defeat them in court. This is a politically-motivated investigation.”

“There is no circumstance whatsovever under which I will bear false witness against the president, nor will I make up lies to ease the pressure on myself,” Stone said.

Stone, who once worked for former President Nixon and has a tattoo of the former president on his back, flashed the Nixon V-signs in front of cameras before he spoke.

Bringing Nixon into the situation seems a bit odd given the history with that president.

The indictment states that during the summer of 2016, Stone spoke to senior Trump campaign officials about WikiLeaks and information it might have had that would be damaging to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

It also said Stone was contacted by senior Trump campaign officials to inquire about future releases, and that Stone continued to communicate with members of the Trump campaign about WikiLeaks.

The 24-page indictment alleges that Stone worked to obstruct the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election by making false statements to the committee, denying he had records sought by the committee and persuading a witness to provide false testimony.

Making false statements to Congress is viewed as a very serious matter. And one could wonder why Trump associates have been lying to Congress in relation to the Russian collusion issue.

Persuading another witness to provide false testimony is probably even more serious.

Time will tell how this all pans out, but at the very least it indicates Trump has associated with a number of dishonest people who have been prepared to put themselves at risk of arrest through by being dishonest and obstructing justice.

What border crisis?

Donald Trump claims there is a border crisis, an immigration crisis, a crime crisis. He is holding out on a partial government shut down to get funding to build a wall – which ironically is hampering border security.

Is there a crisis? Or is the US-Mexico border more secure than it ever has been?

Fox News: Trump insists that a ‘border crisis’ is ravaging America – Here’s what numbers tell us

What’s missing from all of this wall talk, though, is the reality of the “border crisis” that President Donald Trump insists is ravaging our nation.

Border crossings by immigrants without visas have occurred for decades, and for a long time, border crossers were treated pretty loosely by a system that knew America was a better landing place for many people from other parts of the world – particularly for our neighbors to the south.

That ended in the post-9/11 world. By 2010, comparatively few immigrants were entering the U.S. without inspection. Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama were all enforcement-minded on immigration. President Clinton signed the most draconian immigration laws of the modern era. And President Obama was so tough on immigration that he became known as the “deporter-in-chief.”

Data is a stubborn thing. And today, the government’s own data isn’t working in favor of the Trump administration. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s 2017 Border Security Report, illegal border apprehensions have fallen 90 percent since the year 2000. The border has never been more secure than it is now.

This begs the question of whether we need to spend $5 billion building a wall. Historically speaking, walls have never really kept out “invading hordes.” Our current legal system and procedures are doing an effective job, according to the numbers.

The figures are clear. The numbers of illegal immigrants entering the country have dropped significantly in the last 10 years while the numbers of those overstaying their visas have risen. However, overstays only represented about 1 percent of those who lawfully travelled to the United States in 2017.

It’s not our borders that are the problem. They are statistically more secure than they have ever been.

Trump is the real problem.