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Kodi update to version 18 is here
at 11:27 31 Jan 2019

. . and it wiped everything on my main desktop installation; add-ons, sources, favourites, etc, all gone.

Just a warning, and a enquiry to see if anybody has a fix?
Schwarzenegger to marry prat:
at 11:39 14 Jan 2019
Trump Getting Ready to Shake Down NATO?
at 15:10 24 Dec 2018

Dismantling Nationalist Bullshit:
at 19:47 8 Dec 2018

The double life of Trumpian nationalism
By Edward Luce

FT, December 7, 2018

A pig is still a pig no matter how much lipstick you apply. The same goes for the law of the jungle with a diplomatic philosophy smeared on.

Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, is the latest of President Donald Trump’s officials to try. Other countries should adopt their own versions of Mr Trump’s America First approach, he argued this week. Anything that dilutes national sovereignty, such as treaties or global bodies, was a bad thing.

“Our mission is to reassert our sovereignty,” Mr Pompeo said in Brussels. “We want our friends to help us and to exert their sovereignty as well.”

Mr Pompeo’s pitfall was not his choice of venue — though no city than Brussels puts more faith in the multilateralism he was there to attack. Nor was it his lack of diplomacy — though describing Brexit as a “wake-up call” for taking back control was unlikely to endear him to a Brussels audience.

Mr Pompeo’s failing was that he tried to pull off the impossible. His task was to convince America’s allies that a new global liberal order would arise from the spread of America First imitations. The west should fear the rise of China and Russia, Mr Pompeo said. Yet each should nevertheless pursue their narrow self-interest.

The contradiction demands unravelling. There would be little point in Mr Pompeo — or Mr Trump — making the nationalist case in Moscow, Beijing or Pyongyang, for example. Their rulers already agree wholeheartedly. These are the countries that pose the biggest threats to the global order, according to Mr Pompeo. The best way to confront such adversaries is to abandon multilateralism, he said.

Bodies such as the EU, UN, World Bank and the IMF should be reformed or eliminated. They are fetters on our freedom of action. “The more treaties we sign, the safer we supposedly are,” Mr Pompeo said. “The more bureaucrats we have, the better the job gets done. But was that ever really true?”

Mr Pompeo’s answer was “no”. Rarely have so many straw men fallen victim to one rhetorical question.

Therein lay Mr Pompeo’s second insuperable obstacle: fitting the facts with his philosophy. The number of bureaucrats is not the issue. It is what they do.

With 32,000 employees, the European Commission is not huge. By contrast the US Department of Veterans Affairs employs more than 10 times that number, with 377,000 people. The US Department of Agriculture has 105,000. With just 10,000 employees, the World Bank is smaller than the US Department of the Interior. The same applies to the IMF, with 2,400 officials, and even the relatively bloated UN with 44,000. The EU deserves many criticisms, such as opacity and lack of accountability. Mr Pompeo did not advance any of these.

By the same token, few would argue that the quantity of treaties improves our security. That, too, was a straw man. People do make the case for robust international deals. Mr Pompeo did not propose any. Instead, he listed the ones the Trump administration has abandoned. These include the Paris deal on climate change, the Iran nuclear deal, the International Criminal Court, the UN Human Rights Council and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Range Forces Treaty.

The next target, he hinted, would be the World Trade Organization. China’s advance was the “poisoned fruit” of America’s global retreat. It is easy to quibble with that too. How did the US build global bodies when it was in retreat?

But that is beside the point. Mr Pompeo did the world a favour this week: he crystallised the dissonance that runs through the Trump administration. Mr Trump’s aim is to contain China’s global rise. He also wants to remove the tools with which to blunt China’s rise. He offers with one hand what he removes with the other.

Mr Pompeo called for a new global liberal order of “noble nations”. In the same breath, he called on them to pursue their go-it-alone destinies. Nowhere in his speech did the words “west” or “western” occur.

Countries that abandon mutual endeavours do not naturally see eye to eye. A good example is the WTO. Mr Trump sees it as a globalist plot. To his friends in Britain, the WTO is an ocean on which the UK should gloriously set sail. Common sense tells us that nationalists will find it harder to pursue mutual interests with their brethren in similar countries. Brussels received Mr Pompeo’s speech in silence. The audience would have leapt to its feet in Beijing.
Attn Elmo: US Equity Markets
at 09:18 11 Oct 2018

Next intermediate low projected just before the end of the month, with small caps leading down, and likely to bounce first.
Tax Dodgers Blacklisted For Gongs
at 10:22 1 Sep 2018

Tax avoiders blocked from honours in secret memo
HMRC ‘traffic light’ warnings seen for first time
By Dominic Kennedy, Investigations Editor

The Times, September 1 2018, 12:01am, The Times

Tax avoiders are being blacklisted by the authorities to prevent them from getting knighthoods and other honours, The Times can reveal.

Celebrities who use controversial schemes to reduce their tax burden are being quietly identified by the taxman to block them from awards for public services, new documents show.

The discovery will lead to speculation that figures such as the footballers Wayne Rooney and Gary Lineker and the singer Robbie Williams have been overlooked for honours because of their involvement with lawful schemes targeted by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Details of the confidential process can be revealed after a key document setting it out was obtained by The Times following a seven-month legal battle with the government. The document shows how nominees are rated by HMRC on their suitability for an honour.

The memorandum of understanding between HMRC and the Cabinet Office notes that “poor tax behaviour is not consistent with the award of an honour” and that HMRC’s reputation would be damaged if an award were given to someone who was later exposed in the media as a tax dodger.

Full story:
Lies, Damned Lies, and Brexit
at 10:32 11 Aug 2018

Why I’ve changed my mind on Brexit
Veteran BBC journalist GAVIN ESLER delivers an excoriating blast against broadcasters, Leavers and the lies that have left the country a more divided, poorer place.

10 August 2018 | UPDATED: 18:40 10 August 2018 Gavin Esler

When the facts change, rational people change their minds. It’s normal. It’s advisable. We do it every day. Thanks to Gareth Southgate I changed my mind about the England football team.

The facts about Brexit have most certainly changed over the past two years and I’ve now changed my mind about that too. When once I quietly accepted a democratic vote to make Brexit happen, I don’t any more.

The shambles of the government’s response, the predicted chaos of a hard Brexit or no deal, and the background of lies and cheating have made me think again. Above all, the facts about how we are receiving information about Brexit have also changed.

As the Conservative chairman of the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee Damian Collins put it, at the publication of a new report into ‘fake news’: “We are facing nothing less than a crisis in our democracy based on the systematic manipulation of data to support the relentless targeting of citizens without their consent by campaigns of disinformation and messages of hate.” That means journalists have to rethink entirely the very basis of what we do and how we do it.

I started work in the 1970s as a reporter at the Belfast Telegraph during the Northern Ireland Troubles and was instructed to be ‘accurate, fair, and balanced’. In my subsequent work for the BBC, the Scotsman, American journals, a Middle East newspaper and British publications ranging from the Mirror and Mail to the Telegraph and New Statesman, I have always tried to live up to those three pillars of journalism.

Like all reporters, I make mistakes, including the time on live television when I turned to Tony Benn and called him “Tony Blair”. He told me he had never been so insulted in all his life. But now – 2018 Brexit Britain – embracing all three pillars of journalism is increasingly difficult and maybe no longer desirable. The idea of supposed ‘balance’ when confronted by “campaigns of disinformation and hate” is especially problematic. In Belfast in the 1980s, even with the bombs going off, balance meant hearing from both unionists and nationalists, Protestants and Catholics. But more recently how can any news organisation ‘balance’ the overwhelming weight of worldwide scientific opinion about MMR vaccines or climate change with the crackpot anti-vaccine theories of Andrew Wakefield or of those who claim climate change is somehow ‘fake news’?

When Lord Lawson used to appear regularly on television to pontificate on the supposed lack of evidence on climate change to ‘balance’ the informed opinions of the best climate scientists worldwide, I wondered why anyone should take seriously the scientific wisdom of a not especially distinguished former chancellor of the exchequer. Would you trust Lord Lawson’s ‘expertise’ to fix your teeth after he read a couple of books on dentistry? So why did he become the go-to ‘balance’ guy for climate scepticism on television and radio?

But now, as the DCMS committee report suggests, in the post-Trump, post-Brexit information world, the pillar of journalistic ‘balance’ has cracked. Consider this dilemma. A journalist standing on the White House lawn seeks to be accurate and fair, but what does she do when the most powerful democratically-elected leader in the world lies – repeatedly, obviously and unashamedly? When Donald Trump tells us that he never made the statement that we have all just heard him make, is it necessary to ‘balance’ a public lie with some Trump loyalist telling us the president employs ‘alternative facts’?

Brave American journalists resist such disinformation. The New York Times, CNN and Washington Post report the president’s lies as, yes, lies. To offer ‘balance’ on disinformation and hate speech is to sound like the old Biffy Clyro lyrics: “I talk to God as much as I talk to Satan ‘cause I want to hear both sides.”

But we don’t ‘balance’ arguments on child protection by hearing advocates for paedophilia, nor do we confront anti-slavery campaigners with racists arguing that other people can be personal property.

The “crisis in our democracy” comes because maintaining quaint ideas of ‘balance’ in a world filled with ‘systematic disinformation’ is now an existential threat to the country we love, the Britain of the Enlightenment, a place of facts, science and reasoned argument.

That means we have to get serious about the lies about Brexit. What ‘balance’ is necessary in a media world in which secretive “campaigns of disinformation” sow hate through the ‘systematic manipulation of data?’ And do we really need to respect a vote taken in such circumstances?

In 2016 as I travelled around our country I was appalled by the worst British political campaign I had ever witnessed. Remain was rightly ridiculed for inept scaremongering. Voters lacked positive reasons to understand why a trading bloc of two dozen rich nations is a good idea. Instead we got ‘Project Fear’.

The Leave campaign was more effective, but shameless, offering a delusional ‘Project Fantasy’ – an easy Brexit, a future British Wonderland of advantageous trade treaties with grateful foreigners, controlled immigration and no serious economic dislocation.

The Leave disinformation campaign included the nonsensical idea that Turkey was about to join the EU, as if 75 million Turks, plus Iraqi and Syrian refugees, were moving in next door. Despite the lies, I accepted the result and hoped that British common sense might make Project Fantasy somehow work. It hasn’t. That’s because it can’t. Leave’s delusional pain-free Brexit is coming apart not because people oppose it but because it is simply impossible.

Why, given the background of leading Brexiteers, could it be anything else? Nigel Farage has served almost 20 years in the European Parliament – yet he has never implemented any significant policy, anywhere, ever. Boris Johnson is what the Americans call ‘all sizzle and no steak’. His Fantasy Projects are endless. Literally. He has repeatedly backed taxpayer-funded bridges to nowhere, a doomed Garden Bridge, imaginary bridges to France and Ireland, and a mudflats London airport somewhere in the ocean.

Johnson’s most notorious Project Fantasy is the post-Brexit extra £350 million a week bonus to the NHS. His colleagues Liam Fox and David Davis promised “easy” trade deals, but only Wakanda and Narnia appear ready to sign up. And then there is Jacob Rees-Mogg, who the German newspaper Die Zeit dismisses as ein lebendes Fossil, “a living fossil”. German humour is directed towards a United Kingdom once seen as a vital European partner, now the butt of jokes and seen as irrelevant.

Worse: here’s how the shameless Brexit Bunch plan to survive the mess they have created – by going overseas. John Redwood has recommended investors consider opportunities abroad. The Living Fossil Rees-Mogg is part of a financial operation expanding in EU-affirming Ireland. Lord Lawson, when not offering his expert opinions on climate change, premenstrual tension, or whatever else he claims to know about, is seeking French residency. Nigel Farage has been looking for German passports for his family. And Lord Ashcroft recommends that investors consider opportunities in Malta. How many of the 17 million Brexit voters have the same opportunities?

The Project Fantasy clichés have become simply inane. ‘Brexit means Brexit’ was never a policy. Now it’s merely a gag-line for topical comedians. ‘No deal is better than a bad deal’, is nonsensical. No deal is such a very bad deal that it is now useless even as a negotiating position. A more accurate slogan would be that ‘No Brexit is better than a bad Brexit’.

The more slow-witted Brexiteers do not even notice they are drowning in their own verbal human waste. The Conservative MEP David Campbell Bannerman suggested that any Briton strongly supporting the EU was committing treason and linked ardent Remainers to jihadi terrorists. The Conservative MP Andrea Jenkyns suggested that we must have a post Brexit “vision”. It’s a pity she didn’t think of this before we voted blindly for a visionless future in 2016.

Jenkyns also urged Brexiteers to “keep the faith”. What with her faith and her visions, clearly Brexit – always an incoherent policy – has now become an incoherent religion. As the former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt put it, a person who has ‘visions’ should go and see a doctor.

And then there’s the cheating. The Electoral Commission is clear. Vote Leave broke electoral law. Not an allegation. A fact. And yet in what once claimed to be the party of law and order a former Conservative government minister, Priti Patel, tried to organise a whip-round to help pay the legal fees of one of the lawbreakers. The Patel charity applies only to pro-Brexit lawbreakers, not Ordinary Decent Criminals.

In all this Theresa May is the scapegoat-in-waiting. Farage speaks of Brexit being “betrayed”, with May the betrayer-in-chief. Remarkably, Farage and others on the far right who speak of Brexit ‘betrayal’ sound like those on the far left who claim that communism is a brilliant idea, if only it had ever been tried properly and not ‘betrayed’ by the people who ever tried it.

All this marks an existential crisis for journalism too.

What is the purpose of truth and facts and news in a world of disinformation, where lying at the top has become normalised? The slippery concept of ‘balance’ needs to be rethought. Serious politicians and real experts cannot be ‘balanced’ by obscure talking heads whose main qualification is a university degree in blarney.

Take, for instance, the ubiquitous antipodean, an Australian called Chloe Westley. She was formerly with Vote Leave and is now a rising star in the so-called TaxPayers’ Alliance. Spokesmen and women from obscure pressure groups maybe occasionally worthwhile guests on television and radio, but Westley is now a regular fixture.

The clear message is that what she has to say must somehow be important and authoritative. But is it? Curiously for someone who knows everything there is to know about the golden post-Brexit future for 65 million of us, Westley claims not to know key details about who actually funds her salary.

When challenged on Radio 4 by the impressive Conservative MP Dr Sarah Wollaston about corporate and big business donations, the otherwise omniscient Westley was unable to confirm if, say, her opposition to a sugar tax is encouraged by funding from the sugar lobby or other big financial interests.

Private organisations are entitled to keep their funding secret. But when the TPA spokeswoman repeatedly comes into your home and mine on the public airwaves, their source of funding is a vital public interest matter. Organisations in our Disinformation Age need to come clean, or not be invited to come on television and radio programmes except very occasionally. ‘Come Clean Or Don’t Come On’ is a good principle for other supposedly ‘independent’ think tanks too, including the pro-Brexit Institute of Economic Affairs.

The IEA was recently exposed in a sting operation offering access for wealthy US potential donors to right-wing British politicians. Every dog should have a chance to howl. But since those who howl repeatedly on television are rewarded by broadcasters with a veneer of credibility, they need to come clean to deserve it.
So what can we do to minimise the damage?

First, continue to expose the Brexit fantasies, accurately and fairly assessing whether any of them are ever likely to work. Second, compare the promises of the Brexit Bunch with what they actually do with their own lives and finances. Third, we need to follow the money – the Leave campaign money, the money behind the curiously-funded Leave-supporting “think tanks”, and other organisations. And fourth, we need to keep an eye on those speculators for whom a chaotic few months until the Brexcrement hits the fan could prove remarkably profitable.

One final thought.

Hold journalists to account, sure. But most journalists – even ones you dislike – seek to debunk disinformation and expose lies. Instead of bashing decent journalists for the contortions demanded by the impossible ‘balancing’ act some are supposed to perform, let us encourage a re-think.

In the post-Trump post-Brexit world, how can we re-build trust unless we can point out lies when they occur? Broadcasters, especially, need to reflect a wide range of opinions. But confronting expert opinion and elected representatives on television with articulate know-nothing non-experts of dubious provenance financed by who-knows-what, is not ‘balance’. It is a disservice to our people, our country, and to facts, accuracy and fairness.

As for me, I have never joined any political party or any political campaign. But this is different. If – when – Project Fantasy finally falls apart, the sour atmosphere of the Brexit mess threatens to makes this great country of ours an even more divided and poorer place.

If that happens, at least I can look my children in the eye and say, “you know that pile of Brexcrement you’re saddled with? Some of us tried to clean it up.”

• Gavin Esler is a novelist, journalist, broadcaster and chancellor of the University of Kent; he worked for the BBC for around 20 years, including as a presenter on Newsnight
Look at all the stupid people
at 09:59 10 Aug 2018


Partial List:
Meanwhile in other unreported news:
at 22:19 3 Aug 2018

PS Mental Health Awareness Week #2: Narcissism
at 09:44 27 Jul 2018

The Narcissist, the Over Confident and the Inferior
By M.Farouk Radwan, MSc

What is Narcissism?

Narcissism is a personality disorder in which the person falls in love with himself. The narcissist has got an inflated sense of self worth, he thinks that he is better than most people, that he is a superior person and that he is invulnerable. If one of your friends is a narcissist you can easily identify him by his continues talk about his marvelous achievements, his outstanding intelligence or his breath taking beauty.

The following are the common symptoms that Narcissists have:

* Striving for Attention: Narcissists Fuel their self confidence by the complements they receive, by being in the center of attention and by knowing that people are talking about their superior talents. Without these sources of supply (called the narcissistic supply sources) the narcissist feels worthless and may even become depressed.

* Exaggerating their Worth: Narcissists think that they are omnipotent, invincible and superior. They constantly try to transfer this belief to those surrounding them in order to get their reward which is the narcissistic supply. The narcissist always talks about how good he is and how brilliant he is compared to others.

* Lacking Empathy: I hate to overgeneralize but most narcissists care only about their own feelings. They can take advantage of others or use them just to secure a source of narcissistic supply. They only care about their own emotions and they lack empathy when it comes to dealing with others.

* Obsessed With Fantasies of Unlimited Success: The Narcissist’s mind is obsessed with fantasies of unlimited success, superiority, ultimate achievements, tremendous strength and everlasting fame.

* Expects Others to Glorify him: The narcissist considers himself above the law and he expects others to deal with him according to his exaggerated valuation of his self worth.

. . .Getting over Narcissism

If you are a narcissist then most probably you will escape reading this section because you are going to think that you are superior to me and that my advice is useless to you ,However, if you decided to sacrifice your narcissism for the sake of personal balance then keep reading.

The first thing you should do is to know your enemy, you are trying to exaggerate your self worth because deep inside you there are feelings of inferiority. you should direct your efforts towards getting over this wound and not anywhere else.

For some reason you felt insecure and that’s why you have built this shield to protect your true self. This is the time where you should collect your courage to look beneath this shield. Even if you didn’t like what you will find there you should move on because it’s the only way to personal balance.

I know that part of your self worth is based on true achievements and on real life success and I know that you posses some special abilities and that’s why you should have no problem in facing your real self and in healing your wounded inner child.

So to summarize this all, explore your wounds, deal with them and let go of your shield.

. . .Dealing with the Narcissist

Contrary to common beliefs controlling a narcissist is as easy as using the Nintendo wee game console to play tennis ( I am assuming that you have at least 5 years of experience with video games :). Here are a few tips for dealing with narcissists

* Bothering Him Much or even depressing Him: Ignoring a narcissist or being indifferent to him can kill him. Although he will devalue you for doing it still it will cause him much pain . Of course I am not telling you this information to use it against narcissists but this is an article about narcissism so it should include real life facts about them

* Directing Him Somewhere: Just tell any narcissist that he can never learn Chinese and then leave him alone. Most probably you will find that he started Chinese courses few weeks later just to prove to you that he is superior and that you were wrong.

* Make him Love You: Complement him, show him that you are impressed by his skills and tell him that you believe that he superior and he will be your best friend. This of course wont be true friendship because he got closer to you as a result of considering you a new source of narcissistic supply

Impressing a narcissist is very simple. Just convince him that you can do something that is of importance to him better than him and he will become impressed. In my book How to make someone fall in love with you, i explained how you can make narcissists and arrogant people fall in love with you by making them believe that you are superior to them. The moment you make those people believe that you are more powerful than them they will stick to you like your shadow.

Full article:
[Post edited 27 Jul 2018 10:56]
Hollywood Uncovered
at 14:35 26 Jul 2018

He Slept With Cary Grant and Spencer Tracy—And Changed Hollywood History
Scotty Bowers ran a brothel out of a gas station and slept with dozens of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Inside his ‘Secret History of Hollywood’ and why we should believe his stories.

Daily Beast, 07.25.18 5:10 AM ET

[Post edited 26 Jul 2018 14:38]
A Cat Turd A Day Keeps the Fear Well At Bay:
at 13:58 25 Jul 2018

Here’s how a parasite may help us overcome our fear of failure
by Maggie Fox /

NBC, Jul.25.2018 / 12:01 AM ET / Updated 12:45 AM ET

A mind-controlling parasite found in cat feces may give people the courage they need to become entrepreneurs, researchers reported Tuesday.

They found that people who have been infected with the Toxoplasma gondii parasite are more likely to major in business and to have started their own businesses than non-infected people.

The parasite, which makes rodents unafraid of cats, may be reducing the fear of failure in people, Stefanie Johnson of the University of Colorado and colleagues said.

They haven’t actually shown that. But toxoplasmosis does get into the brain, and it’s been linked to a variety of mental effects in mice and people alike.

It has been linked to a greater risk of "car accidents, mental illness, neuroticism, drug abuse and suicide,” Johnson and her colleagues wrote in their paper, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

It might be affecting message-carrying chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters, or hormones such as testosterone, they wrote.

In particular, scientists have studied whether the parasite might increase risk-taking behavior.

Johnson is an associate professor of management at the University of Colorado and often told her students about the odd effects of the parasite, which travels to the brains of rodents and causes them to lose their innate fear of the smell of cat urine.

That benefits the organism, which reproduces in the bodies of cats. Cats are more likely to eat the unafraid infected mice, thus helping the parasite in its life cycle.

People can catch it from handling droppings from cats that are newly infected, but most people catch the parasite when eating poorly cooked meat, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

Pregnant women are warned to stay away from cat feces in litter boxes and raw meat because the parasite can cause miscarriages and birth defects.

Most people do not even know that they have been infected, the CDC says. “More than 30 million men, women, and children in the U.S. carry the toxoplasma parasite, but very few have symptoms because the immune system usually keeps the parasite from causing illness,” it says on its website.

Johnson said she liked to tell her students about the links between toxoplasma and neurotic behavior.

“There’s this crazy finding that if you get infected with this parasite, you could get neurotic and nobody wants to get more neurotic,” she told NBC News.

“I always talk about this, and one day I was talking to my husband about the study and he said, ‘I lecture on that same exact study all the time.' ”

Johnson’s husband, Pieter Johnson, teaches biology at the university.

“So we thought we should form a collaboration because how often do biologists and business professors get a chance to work together?” Stefanie Johnson said.

They set up a study testing students and people who attend seminars on entrepreneurship.

“We thought if all these things are true, maybe it predicts this behavior that is kind of risky, which is entrepreneurship,” Johnson said.

“It’s never a good idea to become an entrepreneur because the risks outweigh the rewards. Very few succeed.”

They gave a saliva test for antibodies to toxoplasma to nearly 1,500 students and to nearly 200 people attending seminars on how to start your own business.

Overall, 22 percent of the people they tested had antibodies to T. gondii, meaning that they had been infected at some point.

The students who were infected were 1.4 times more likely to be business majors and 1.7 percent more likely to have an emphasis in "management and entrepreneurship," the team found.

Among people going to entrepreneurship seminars, infected people were 1.8 times as likely to have started their own businesses.
Johnson said her team is going to continue testing the links. “Our next research is conservatism, whether toxoplasmosis affects conservatism,” she said.

She’d also like to test whether successful entrepreneurs are more or less likely to have been infected. “So what if all the businesses started by toxoplasma-positive people fail? What if that fear was a good thing? We want to know.”

Johnson says she is not infected, even though she has two cats. “I had, like, four cats growing up. I felt sure I would have it,” she said. But it makes sense, she added.

“Being a professor is literally the most risk-averse job you can do,” she said.
Russia Indictment 2.0: What to Make of Mueller’s Hacking Indictment
at 10:52 15 Jul 2018

Phew! Finally finished typing this out:
Russia Indictment 2.0: What to Make of Mueller’s Hacking Indictment
By Autumn Brewington, Mikhaila Fogel, Susan Hennessey, Matthew Kahn, Katherine Kelley, Shannon Togawa Mercer, Matt Tait, Benjamin Wittes

Lawfare Blog Friday, July 13, 2018, 10:01 PM

The indictment Friday morning of 12 Russian military intelligence officials in connection with the 2016 election hacks and the resulting distribution of purloined emails was not a total surprise. Observers of the Mueller investigation have been expecting it for a long time, particularly since the Feb. 16 indictment of 13 Russian individuals and three companies over the social media campaign conducted by the so-called Internet Research Agency.

But if the hacking indictment was generally expected, nobody seemed to see it coming this week before today’s announcement of an 11:45 am press conference. Special Counsel Robert Mueller moved with his usual combination of patience and strict operational security, and even though Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein briefed President Trump on the coming action before the Leaker in Chief left town, the matter held until Rosenstein disclosed it at a Justice Department press conference.

Before turning to what the indictment alleges, and what we can learn from it, it’s worth zooming out to an important macro point about the investigation that led to this action: This was the investigation over which the president of the United States fired James Comey as FBI director.

This is the investigation Comey confirmed on March 20, 2017, when he told Congress, “I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.”

This was also the investigation that multiple congressional committees have spent more than a year seeking to discredit—most recently Thursday, when two House panels hauled the former deputy assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Department, Peter Strzok, a career FBI agent who worked on the Russia probe, up to Capitol Hill for 10 hours of public, televised, abusive conspiracy theorizing. When the president of the United States derides the Mueller investigation as a “witch hunt,” and when congressional Republicans scream at FBI agents, this is the investigation they are trying to harass out of existence.

It is, therefore, fitting that this indictment comes less than one day after the astonishing display House Republicans put on in the Strzok hearing. If Mueller had been trying to remind the public of what the investigation is really about and what the stakes are in it, if he had been trying to make a public statement in response to the Strzok hearing, he could not have timed this action better.

But, to be clear, Mueller was not trying to make a press statement. We know that not merely because that’s not the way Mueller operates but also because Rosenstein said specifically at his press conference that he had briefed the president on the matter before Trump left town—days before the Strzok hearing yet also mere days before Trump has a scheduled meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The timing of the indictment given the upcoming Helsinki summit is a powerful show of strength by federal law enforcement. Let’s presume that Mueller did not time this indictment to precede the summit by way of embarrassing Trump on the international stage. It is enough to note that he also did not hold off on the indictment for a few days by way of sparing Trump embarrassment—and that Rosenstein did not force him to. Indeed, Rosenstein said at his press conference that it is “important for the president to know what information was uncovered because he has to make very important decisions for the country” and therefore “he needs to know what evidence there is of foreign election interference.” But of course Rosenstein and Mueller did not just let Trump know. They also let the world know, which has the effect—intended or not—of boxing in the president as he meets with an adversary national leader.

Put less delicately: Rosenstein has informed the president, and the world, before Trump talks to Putin one-on-one that his own Justice Department is prepared to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, in public, using admissible evidence, that the president of the Russian Federation has been lying to Trump about Russian non-involvement in the 2016 election hacking.

What the Indictment Alleges

The indictment alleges a detailed and wide-ranging conspiracy to hack into the computers of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and others and to reveal information in order to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The special counsel charges 12 officials of the Russian military intelligence agency (“GRU”) with targeting more than 300 individuals affiliated with the Democratic Party or the campaign and leaking tens of thousands of stolen documents.

Starting in March 2016, the indictment alleges, a unit of Russia’s GRU military intelligence organization began sending emails to dozens of employees and volunteers in the Clinton campaign. The conspirators engaged in “spearphishing,” or sending fraudulent emails with embedded links to GRU-created websites disguised to look like trusted entities, such as Google security notifications, ostensibly asking recipients to change their password but, in reality, tricking the targeted users into revealing their login credentials.

Using these stolen credentials, the hackers logged into the targeted users’ personal and campaign email accounts. Later that month, the hackers began researching the computer networks of the DCCC and DNC to identify technical vulnerabilities and connected devices. In April 2016, the conspirators hacked into the DCCC computer network and installed malware to spy on users and steal information.

According to the indictment, the Russians designed their hacking operation to use an overseas computer to relay communications from their malware via a GRU-leased server in Arizona. By June of 2016, the hackers monitored DCCC employees’ computer activity—logging keystrokes and taking screenshots—on at least 10 different computers and transmitted this information to the Arizona server. The conspirators used their access to the DCCC network to hack into Democratic National Committee in mid-April 2016. Overall, the hackers accessed about 33 DNC computers by the end of June using stolen credentials. As they had with the DCCC, they used malware to explore the DNC network and steal documents, the indictment claims. As they explored the networks and removed data, the indictment alleges, the Russians deleted computer logs and files to obscure evidence of their activities.

Still, the intrusions did not go unnoticed. In May 2016, both the DCCC and the DNC hired cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike to discern the extent of the invasions, and the following month, the indictment alleges, the company worked to remove the intruders. Even so, according to the indictment, malware remained on the DNC network until October. The Russians also accessed DNC data through a third-party cloud service in September, the indictment says.

On June 8, 2016—one day before the Trump Tower meeting at which Russian actors met with senior Trump campaign officials promising “dirt” on Hillary Clinton—the indictment alleges that the conspirators launched the website, which they labeled as being started by “American hacktivists.” That month, according to the indictment, the group began releasing materials it had stolen from individuals tied to the Clinton campaign as well as documents stolen from other operations dating to 2015, including emails from individuals affiliated with the Republican Party. The conspirators used cryptocurrency to pay for the site, the government asserts, and emails connected to the domain name were also used in spearphishing efforts against the Clinton campaign chairman, John Podesta. The group also created Facebook and Twitter accounts to promote the DCLeaks site, according to the indictment.

In mid-June 2016, when the Democrats publicly acknowledged that they had been hacked, the indictment alleges that the conspirators created the online persona Guccifer 2.0, which they described as a “lone Romanian hacker” to undermine claims of Russian responsibility for the hacks. Interestingly, the Guccifer 2.0 Twitter account followed one of this article’s authors on Twitter that summer:

While that particular fact does not appear in the indictment, the indictment does allege that beginning in August 2016, certain other U.S. persons began interacting with the GRU through the Guccifer 2.0 persona. In mid-August, Guccifer 2.0 allegedly received and responded to a request from a candidate for U.S. Congress for documents stolen from the DCCC related to the candidate’s opponent. Guccifer 2.0 also allegedly sent documents to a reporter regarding the Black Lives Matter movement. The indictment then, in more detail, describes contact between Guccifer 2.0 and “a person who was in regular contact with senior members” of the Trump presidential campaign. These people are not named in the indictment.

To release their stolen data, the conspirators did not stop with DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0, according to the indictment. It describes extensive interaction between the conspirators and an entity, called “Organization 1,” which the Washington Post and other news outlets have identified as Wikileaks. In late June 2016, Wikileaks allegedly solicited additional stolen information from Guccifer 2.0, saying that its release of the data “will have a much higher impact than what you are doing.” In early July, citing the upcoming Democratic convention, it allegedly messaged Guccifer 2.0 that “if you have anything hillary related we want it in the next tweo [sic] days” and that “we think trump has only a 25% chance of winning against hillary” so stoking conflict between Clinton and her rival Bernie Sanders “is interesting.”

On July 22, 2016, the government asserts, Wikileaks released more than 20,000 emails and documents stolen from the DNC network by the conspirators and “did not disclose Guccifer 2.0’s role in providing them.” The Democratic convention opened days later and was racked by protests from Sanders supports that led to the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz as DNC chairman. The activities continued through the fall: Between Oct. 7 and Nov. 7, 2016, the indictment contends, Wikileaks released approximately 33 tranches of the more than 50,000 documents stolen from John Podesta.

Based on these factual allegations, the indictment includes 11 counts. The first count, citing all of the facts summarized above, charges nine defendants with conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (18 U.S.C. §§ 1030(a)(2)(C), 1030(a)(5)(A), 1030(c)(2)(B), 1030(c)(4)(B), 371 and 3559(g)(1)). The defendants are specifically charged with:

“knowingly access[ing] a computer without authorization and exceed[ing] authorized access to a computer, and to obtain thereby information from a protected computer, where the value of the information obtained exceeded $5,000”;

“knowingly caus[ing] the transmission of a program, information, code, and command, and as a result of such conduct … intentionally caus[ing] damage without authorization to a protected computer, and … caus[ing] … loss aggregating $5,000 in value to at least one person during a one-year period from a related course of conduct affecting a protected computer, and damage affecting at least ten protected computers during a one-year period”; and

“knowingly falsely register[ing] a domain name and knowingly us[ing] that domain name in the course of committing an offense.”

The second count charges 11 defendants with aggravated identity theft in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1028A(a)(1) and(2). The indictment describes the offense as “knowingly transfer[ing], possess[ing], and us[ing], without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person during and in relation to” the commission of computer fraud. The count cites eight victims whose personal, DCCC or DNC email username and passwords the defendants allegedly stole between March 21 and July 6, 2016.

The 10th count charges the defendants with conspiracy to launder more than $95,000 in cryptocurrency with the intention of promoting unlawful activity in the United States in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h). The document outlines efforts the defendants made from roughly 2015 through 2016 to acquire and mine bitcoin for the purpose of funding their hacking activities, including the purchase of computer infrastructure, domain names and key accounts.

The last count charges two of the GRU officers, Aleksandr Vladimirovich Osadchuk and Anatoliy Sergeyevich Kovalev, with conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. The object of the conspiracy was to hack into and steal voter information stored on computers used by people and entities administering the 2016 election. The indictment alleges that in July 2016 Kovalev, along with others not named, hacked a state board of elections website and “stole information related to approximately 500,000 voters.” In August 2016, Kovalev and his co-conspirators allegedly used some of the same infrastructure to hack into a vendor that provided voter verification software. After the FBI issued an alert in August 2016 about the hacking of the state election board, Kovalev erased his search history, and he and his co-conspirators erased records from the accounts they used in hacking election boards and related entities, according to the indictment. In October, Kovalev and others targeted state and local election offices in Georgia, Iowa and Florida, seeking to identify their websites’ vulnerabilities. And in November 2016, the conspirators sent more than 100 spearphishing emails to state and local election officials in Florida.

What the Indictment Reveals About the Hacking Operation

This indictment provides a great deal of information about the extent and internal structure of the Russian government side of the 2016 hacking operation. It also confirms private-sector reporting about the DNC hack, the clean-up operation, the phishing of Podesta, and the operation to distribute stolen emails through Wikileaks and on social media.

Additionally, the indictment shows a massive, and successful, counterintelligence operation by the U.S. government against the Russian government. U.S. authorities do not rely merely on technical forensics for the conclusion that the hack and release of emails was a Russian operation; the indictment also lays out the departments within the Russian government that were behind it, specific individuals who were involved, which officers did what and when, the slang terms used internally, and the breakdown of responsibilities within the teams—down to identifying the specific officers with hands on keyboards.

The indictment describes a number of separate events associated with the 2016 operation, but let’s start with the hack of Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, Podesta, in March 2016 by GRU officer Aleksey Lukashev. This event had been traced back to the GRU in the fall of 2016. The indictment strongly supports those earlier attributions and adds additional detail—such as the name of the person allegedly at the keyboard.

Based on the public record and the new information in the indictment, here is what we now know happened leading up to the hack and release of John Podesta’s emails.

On March 19, 2016, Podesta received a spearphishing email, ostensibly from Google but actually from the GRU. We knew this even before Friday’s indictment, ironically, because Wikileaks published all of John Podesta’s stolen emails, including the spearphishing email itself. The indictment names GRU officer Aleksey Lukashev as the sender, but the email itself and its public attribution to the GRU are not new. From the phishing email in the Wikileaks archive, we are able to reconstruct what the spearphishing email looked like and the actions taken by Podesta that resulted in his emails dominating headlines in the final few weeks of the 2016 election campaign.

John Podesta spearphishing email (reconstruction)

Although this email was carefully crafted by Russian intelligence officers to look authentic, this email did not come from Google; there had been no genuine attempt to log in to Podesta’s email from Ukraine, and the link on “Change Password” led to a website operated by the GRU. Steps taken with this email include tricks like constructing the text “Someone has your password” using non-English variants of the letter “o” so as to evade automatic detection by Google’s spam filters.

It was also known before Friday what happened next: Podesta forwarded the email to members of his staff. They wrongly concluded that the email was genuine, and Podesta clicked on the link. We know this because this email chain is among the messages leaked by Wikileaks.

This much we already knew: the “Change Password” button on the phishing email took Podesta to a website controlled by the GRU, but first it bounced through the URL shortening service Unfortunately for the GRU, here the hackers screwed up. The Bitly link reveals a lot of information about the GRU operation, and using this information we can reconstruct what Podesta saw when he clicked the link:

Reconstruction of the John Podesta phishing page

The indictment confirms that although this website was designed to look like a login page for Google, it was, in fact, operated by the Russian government. But the GRU made a mistake that allowed private-sector researchers to tie the phishing of Podesta to the GRU even before Friday’s indictment. When shortening the spearphishing link to send to Podesta using URL-shortening service Bitly, the GRU officer running the operation was logged in. This error allowed private investigators to connect the Podesta phishing email to huge numbers of other phishing emails sent by the GRU. Mueller now adds that, the specific officer who was logged in was, in fact, Lukashev, and his account name was “john356gh.”

Although this attribution was previously known, the indictment makes public some previously unknown details. For example, it’s now clear that this phishing campaign wasn’t done merely on behalf of the GRU but was done internally by GRU officers directly. We now know which officers at the GRU were at the keyboard conducting the operation: Lukashev managed the spearphishing infrastructure, and another officer, Ivan Sergeyevich Yermakov, spent time researching the specific targets at the DNC who were sent the emails. All of this gives the lie to Russia’s claim Friday, in response to the indictment, that the charges are “mud-slinging” intended to “spoil the atmosphere” ahead of the Trump-Putin summit.

The indictment also sheds new light on the hack of the DNC and the DCCC. This is the intrusion that cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike was called in to clean up. In June 2016, Guccifer 2.0 claimed that this breach happened by means of a “zero-day vulnerabilty,” but we now know this is not true. The initial intrusion into the DCCC network took place on April 12, 2016, using the credentials of a DNC employee obtained by spearphishing. Using these stolen credentials, GRU officers Kozachek and Yershov implanted “X-Agent” malware on at least 10 DCCC computers, and using this access, the hackers stole passwords, monitored computer activity, and took documents from the DCCC network to distribute later.

This X-Agent malware was also known to the private sector before Friday’s indictment. X-Agent is a malware toolkit of APT28, one of the well-known Russian state hacker groups, and had been previously strongly attributed to the GRU by dozens of cybersecurity firms. Although not specifically mentioned in the indictment, the specific malware recovered from the DCCC network communicated with the same command-and-control infrastructure used by the GRU when APT28 hacked the German Bundestag in 2015.

But the indictment tells us something that wasn’t previously known about the extent of knowledge within the U.S. government of this specific operation. The U.S. was able to determine not merely that X-Agent was a GRU operative, and that GRU officer Yermakov was the man at the keyboard, but was able to see the actions Yermakov took as he performed target research against the DCCC and as he researched commands used to operate the malware and steal emails from the DCCC’s internal server.

The indictment also gives some additional details on how the emails got from the GRU to Wikileaks. Although no serious observers previously doubted the connection—Guccifer 2.0’s very first post openly announced that Wikileaks had been given documents—the indictment shows that the mechanism for this was an email from Guccifer 2.0 to Wikileaks containing an encrypted repository via email, entitled “wk dnc link1.txt.gpg.”

Finally, the indictment contains new information about the way the GRU paid for infrastructure to support the operation to hack and release documents. According to the indictment, the GRU made payments using the pseudonymous cryptocurrency Bitcoin. It should not be especially surprising that the GRU used Bitcoin—it allows payments to be made without a direct trail leading back to the Russian government—but the GRU officers were careful. Rather than just paying for Bitcoin with currency from an exchange and then trying to obfuscate through multiple Bitcoin wallets before spending it, the GRU also mined their own, allowing it to be anonymous from the start, as well as purchasing Bitcoin using prepaid cards in order to avoid direct connections between the GRU’s hacking infrastructure and the GRU itself. Still, the U.S. government was able to trace all these transactions back to the GRU.

In sum, the indictment confirms a great deal of reporting that was already public on technically attributing the 2016 hack and release of documents to the GRU. But it also shows a significant and successful U.S. counterintelligence operation that gives insights into the breadth and scope of U.S. attribution capabilities—technical, financial and intelligence-led attribution down to which individuals within the Russian government were behind aspects of the hack, their responsibilities within the organization, their communications and even the specific terms they searched for as they worked.

Identifying the Unknown

The indictment describes a number of interactions between the alleged conspirators, in the persona of Guccifer 2.0, and several unnamed U.S. persons and other entities whose identities the document obscures. Most of these individuals have already been publicly identified. The indictment, for example, mentions a “person in regular contact with senior members” of the Trump campaign, to whom the conspirators wrote on Aug. 15, 2016. As the indictment describes the interaction, Guccifer 2.0 wrote: “thank u for writing back ... do u find anyt[h]ing interesting in the docs i posted?” The indictment continues:

On or about August 17, 2016, the Conspirators added, “please tell me if i can help u anyhow ... it would be a great pleasure to me.” On or about September 9, 2016, the Conspirators, again posing as Guccifer 2.0, referred to a stolen DCCC document posted online and asked the person, “what do u think of the info on the turnout model for the democrats entire presidential campaign.” The person responded, “[p]retty standard.”

This person has been identified as Roger Stone—by Stone himself. Stone published the very exchange described in the indictment on his website, StoneColdTruth, in March 2017.

The indictment also briefly mentions an interaction between the conspirators and a reporter to whom they sent documents regarding the Black Lives Matter movement. Lee Stranahan of Breitbart News and Sputnik has publicly disclosed his interaction with Guccifer 2.0 and said Friday on Twitter that he is the journalist mentioned in the document. The special counsel also describes an exchange in which Guccifer 2.0 directly offers stolen emails from “Hillary Clinton’s staff” to a U.S. reporter. The Smoking Gun website has claimed to be this reporter.

The indictment describes a “state lobbyist and online source of political news” as having received 2.5 gigabytes of stolen data from Guccifer 2.0, including donor records and personal identifying information of more than 2,000 Democratic donors. The Wall Street Journal reported in March 2017 that this individual is Florida GOP operative Aaron Nevins. Nevins, who posted under the pen name Mark Miewurd on the website HelloFLA!, later described his interaction with Guccifer 2.0 in an interview with the Sun Sentinel.

There is one major U.S. interlocutor mentioned who remains something of a mystery. According to the indictment, on Aug. 15, 2016, Guccifer 2.0 received a request for stolen documents from a congressional candidate and sent documents to the candidate. While it is not immediately clear who the congressional candidate may have been, the New York Times in December 2016 reported on several Democratic congressional candidates who were victims of leaks of hacked DNC and DCCC information.

No Collusion?

In response to the indictment, the White House released a statement saying,

As Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said today:

There is no allegation in this indictment that Americans knew that they were corresponding with Russians.
There is no allegation in this indictment that any American citizen committed a crime.
There is no allegation that the conspiracy changed the vote count or affected any election result.
Today’s charges include no allegations of knowing involvement by anyone on the campaign and no allegations that the alleged hacking affected the election result. This is consistent with what we have been saying all along.

Leave aside the obvious falsity of the White House’s assertion that the indictment is “consistent” with the president’s prior statements, which have repeatedly questioned Russia’s involvement in election interference. Leave aside also the question of why the White House’s response to an indictment on this subject made no mention, at all, of the unprecedented attack by a foreign adversary on foundational elements of U.S. democracy and instead merely defended the president’s campaign as not having knowingly participated in it.

The statement is largely accurate, as is the Rosenstein statement on which it draws. This indictment does not charge or allege specific criminal misconduct by any American. And it is careful—as was the indictment in February—not to sweep broadly in its claims about people on this side of the Atlantic. That said, the indictment does not in any sense foreclose the possibility of substantial, knowing and even criminal involvement by Americans. And it actually moves the ball forward on possible collusion, which would likely take the legal form of criminal conspiracy, in important respects.

First, while the indictment does not charge any American with specific criminal conduct, it does describe conduct by Americans that, depending on further factual development, raises potentially serious questions. The most striking example of this occurs in paragraph 43(a): “On or about August 15, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, received a request for stolen documents from a candidate for the U.S. Congress. The Conspirators responded using the Guccifer 2.0 persona and sent the candidate stolen documents related to the candidate’s opponent.”

Soliciting stolen, hacked emails should be politically fatal to an aspiring—or possibly serving—member of Congress, particularly when the thief one petitions turns out to be an adversary foreign intelligence agency. It also raises questions about possible criminal liability for soliciting and receiving stolen information, at least to the extent that the government can prove that one knows the material is stolen. There is no indication that this American was involved with the Trump campaign. So to the extent that “collusion” is shorthand for collusion by individuals related to the Trump campaign, this incident many not meaningfully change the picture. The special counsel indictment announcement in February also named Americans unrelated to the Trump campaign as being dupes of the conspiracy, though those people were more clearly unwitting dupes.

Second, the indictment leaves open the possibility of conduct by Americans not described in this document. While the document does not allege any American who corresponded with these entities knew that they were part of the Russian conspiracy, it also does not say that they did not know or suspect these entities were part of a Russian operation. It leaves that question, about these actors and others, for another day. This document alleges that Americans—including at least one individual who was closely connected to the Trump campaign—had contact with the charged conspirators. Whether they did so with sufficient knowledge or criminal intent, and whether they took the necessary affirmative steps to create legal liability, is simply not addressed in this indictment. It clears no one, and it actually places publicly reported conduct in a more sinister light by clarifying that the individuals in question were, in fact, in contact with Russian conspirators, knowingly or otherwise.

Finally, the factual allegations in this document significantly improve the possibility of criminal conspiracy charges involving Americans. Until this action, there was little indication in the public record that the hacking operation persisted beyond the date the documents were released. While there were questions about whether the Trump campaign participated in some way in coordinating the release of these documents, the presumption based on public evidence was that the hacking scheme—that is, the violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which constituted the most obvious criminal offense—was complete. This left a bit of a puzzle for “collusion” purposes. If the crime was completed at the time the hacking and theft were done, what crime could constitute conspiracy? One year ago to the day, Helen Murillo and Susan Hennessey analyzed the possibility of conspiracy to violate the CFAA. At the time, they noted a stumbling block to the analysis even if individuals in the Trump campaign encouraged the release of documents or coordinated timing:

While the precedent isn’t entirely clear on the matter, it is possible prosecutors here would need to prove not just that a member of the Trump team was aware of the CFAA scheme when he or she took steps to support the tortious act or violation of another state or federal law, but also that the Russians had the intention of publishing the emails at the time they obtained the information in the first instance. It isn’t at all clear from the public record that the Russians initially obtained the emails for the purpose of publishing them. Indeed, there is some suspicion the original intrusion was just in furtherance or ordinary espionage and the plan to release the emails came later.

The Internet Research Agency indictment, in February, offered a potential legal solution to that puzzle.

This indictment, by contrast, offers a potential factual breakthrough. It tells us that the prior factual premise was wrong: the alleged conduct violating the CFAA continued to occur throughout the summer of 2016. That affects the earlier analysis in two ways. First, it makes clear that the Russians did intend to release the information at the time the hacking occured. Second, and perhaps more important, the indictment alleges that the criminal hacking conspiracy was ongoing at the time individuals in the Trump campaign were in contact with charged and uncharged Russian conspirators, raising the possibility of more straightforward aiding and abetting liability.

In other words, stay tuned. This indictment represents a tightening of the ring in the story of criminal prosecution for the 2016 election hacking. The government has now alleged that the social media manipulations by Russian actors constituted a criminal conspiracy. It has alleged as well that the hacking of Democratic Party and Clinton campaign emails were crimes conducted by officers of the Russian state. The question remains: Who, if anyone, helped?

Topics: Cybersecurity and Deterrence, Federal Law Enforcement, The Russia Connection, Cybersecurity: Crime and Espionage
Tags: Robert Mueller

Autumn Brewington is an editor at Lawfare and a freelance writer in Washington. She was an editor at The Washington Post from 2001 to 2014 and ran The Wall Street Journal’s Think Tank blog from 2014 through 2016. A graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, she also edits for the Texas National Security Review.
Trump Evilometer: How Low Can He Go?
at 09:28 9 Jul 2018

This story about Trump's war on healthcare is going to take some beating:
U.S. Opposition to Breast-Feeding Resolution Stuns World Health Officials
By Andrew Jacobs

The New York Times. July 8, 2018

A resolution to encourage breast-feeding was expected to be approved quickly and easily by the hundreds of government delegates who gathered this spring in Geneva for the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly.

Based on decades of research, the resolution says that mother’s milk is healthiest for children and countries should strive to limit the inaccurate or misleading marketing of breast milk substitutes.

Then the United States delegation, embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers, upended the deliberations.

American officials sought to water down the resolution by removing language that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding” and another passage that called on policymakers to restrict the promotion of food products that many experts say can have deleterious effects on young children.

When that failed, they turned to threats, according to diplomats and government officials who took part in the discussions. Ecuador, which had planned to introduce the measure, was the first to find itself in the cross hairs.

The Americans were blunt: If Ecuador refused to drop the resolution, Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid. The Ecuadorean government quickly acquiesced.

The showdown over the issue was recounted by more than a dozen participants from several countries, many of whom requested anonymity because they feared retaliation from the United States.

Health advocates scrambled to find another sponsor for the resolution, but at least a dozen countries, most of them poor nations in Africa and Latin America, backed off, citing fears of retaliation, according to officials from Uruguay, Mexico and the United States.

“We were astonished, appalled and also saddened,” said Patti Rundall, the policy director of the British advocacy group Baby Milk Action, who has attended meetings of the assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization, since the late 1980s.

“What happened was tantamount to blackmail, with the U.S. holding the world hostage and trying to overturn nearly 40 years of consensus on best way to protect infant and young child health,” she said.

In the end, the Americans’ efforts were mostly unsuccessful. It was the Russians who ultimately stepped in to introduce the measure — and the Americans did not threaten them.

The State Department declined to respond to questions, saying it could not discuss private diplomatic conversations. The Department of Health and Human Services, the lead agency in the effort to modify the resolution, explained the decision to contest the resolution’s wording but said H.H.S. was not involved in threatening Ecuador.

“The resolution as originally drafted placed unnecessary hurdles for mothers seeking to provide nutrition to their children,” an H.H.S. spokesman said in an email. “We recognize not all women are able to breast-feed for a variety of reasons. These women should have the choice and access to alternatives for the health of their babies, and not be stigmatized for the ways in which they are able to do so.” The spokesman asked to remain anonymous in order to speak more freely.

Although lobbyists from the baby food industry attended the meetings in Geneva, health advocates said they saw no direct evidence that they played a role in Washington’s strong-arm tactics. The $70 billion industry, which is dominated by a handful of American and European companies, has seen sales flatten in wealthy countries in recent years, as more women embrace breast-feeding. Overall, global sales are expected to rise by 4 percent in 2018, according to Euromonitor, with most of that growth occurring in developing nations.

The intensity of the administration’s opposition to the breast-feeding resolution stunned public health officials and foreign diplomats, who described it as a marked contrast to the Obama administration, which largely supported W.H.O.’s longstanding policy of encouraging breast-feeding.

During the deliberations, some American delegates even suggested the United States might cut its contribution the W.H.O., several negotiators said. Washington is the single largest contributor to the health organization, providing $845 million, or roughly 15 percent of its budget, last year.

The confrontation was the latest example of the Trump administration siding with corporate interests on numerous public health and environmental issues.

In talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Americans have been pushing for language that would limit the ability of Canada, Mexico and the United States to put warning labels on junk food and sugary beverages, according to a draft of the proposal reviewed by The New York Times.

During the same Geneva meeting where the breast-feeding resolution was debated, the United States succeeded in removing statements supporting soda taxes from a document that advises countries grappling with soaring rates of obesity.

The Americans also sought, unsuccessfully, to thwart a W.H.O. effort aimed at helping poor countries obtain access to lifesaving medicines. Washington, supporting the pharmaceutical industry, has long resisted calls to modify patent laws as a way of increasing drug availability in the developing world, but health advocates say the Trump administration has ratcheted up its opposition to such efforts.

The delegation’s actions in Geneva are in keeping with the tactics of an administration that has been upending alliances and long-established practices across a range of multilateral organizations, from the Paris climate accord to the Iran nuclear deal to Nafta.

Ilona Kickbusch, director of the Global Health Centre at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, said there was a growing fear that the Trump administration could cause lasting damage to international health institutions like the W.H.O. that have been vital in containing epidemics like Ebola and the rising death toll from diabetes and cardiovascular disease in the developing world.

“It’s making everyone very nervous, because if you can’t agree on health multilateralism, what kind of multilateralism can you agree on?” Ms. Kickbusch asked.

A Russian delegate said the decision to introduce the breast-feeding resolution was a matter of principle.

“We’re not trying to be a hero here, but we feel that it is wrong when a big country tries to push around some very small countries, especially on an issue that is really important for the rest of the world,” said the delegate, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

He said the United States did not directly pressure Moscow to back away from the measure. Nevertheless, the American delegation sought to wear down the other participants through procedural maneuvers in a series of meetings that stretched on for two days, an unexpectedly long period.

In the end, the United States was largely unsuccessful. The final resolution preserved most of the original wording, though American negotiators did get language removed that called on the W.H.O. to provide technical support to member states seeking to halt “inappropriate promotion of foods for infants and young children.”

The United States also insisted that the words “evidence-based” accompany references to long-established initiatives that promote breast-feeding, which critics described as a ploy that could be used to undermine programs that provide parents with feeding advice and support.

Elisabeth Sterken, director of the Infant Feeding Action Coalition in Canada, said four decades of research have established the importance of breast milk, which provides essential nutrients as well as hormones and antibodies that protect newborns against infectious disease.

A 2016 Lancet study found that universal breast-feeding would prevent 800,000 child deaths a year across the globe and yield $300 billion in savings from reduced health care costs and improved economic outcomes for those reared on breast milk.

Scientists are loath to carry out double-blind studies that would provide one group with breast milk and another with breast milk substitutes. “This kind of ‘evidence-based’ research would be ethically and morally unacceptable,” Ms. Sterken said.

Abbott Laboratories, the Chicago-based company that is one of the biggest players in the $70 billion baby food market, declined to comment.

Nestlé, the Switzerland-based food giant with significant operations in the United States, sought to distance itself from the threats against Ecuador and said the company would continue to support the international code on the marketing of breast milk substitutes, which calls on governments to regulate the inappropriate promotion of such products and to encourage breast-feeding.

In addition to the trade threats, Todd C. Chapman, the United States ambassador to Ecuador, suggested in meetings with officials in Quito, the Ecuadorean capital, that the Trump administration might also retaliate by withdrawing the military assistance it has been providing in northern Ecuador, a region wracked by violence spilling across the border from Colombia, according to an Ecuadorean government official who took part in the meeting.

The United States embassy in Quito declined to make Mr. Chapman available for an interview.

“We were shocked because we didn’t understand how such a small matter like breast-feeding could provoke such a dramatic response,” said the Ecuadorean official, who asked not to be identified because she was afraid of losing her job.
One born every minute:
at 14:50 3 Jul 2018

Mass Shooting at US Newspaper
at 07:28 29 Jun 2018

Are these things by any chance related?

Item 1:

Shooting at Maryland newsroom that killed 5 was a targeted attack, police say
By Emily Shapiro

ABC News, Jun 28, 2018, 10:24 PM ET

The shooting at a Maryland newsroom that killed five people was a targeted attack, according to local police.

Anne Arundel Police Department Bill Krampf said that the assailant, armed with a shotgun, looked for victims in the newsroom of the Capital Gazette, a daily newspaper in Annapolis, which is located in the first floor of a multi-office building.

"He looked for his victims as he walked through the lower level," Krampf said in a news conference Thursday evening.

Full story:

Item 2 (as an example):

Item 3 (as an example):

[Post edited 29 Jun 2018 7:28]
Calm Before The Storm?
at 10:48 22 Jun 2018

Markets might look calm, but they are behaving abnormally
The pessimistic view is years of loose monetary policy have made investors complacent
By Gillian Tett

FT, 21 June 2018

Do markets look a little weird right now? That is a question many investors might be asking. In recent weeks geopolitical tensions have intensified, and the monetary policy cycle is turning in both the US and Europe.

Equity markets quivered on Monday, which was the day after China said it would retaliate against new US tariffs by imposing tariffs of its own, but the jitters were modest. Indeed, the MSCI world equity index is up 10 per cent up for the past 12 months — never mind that pesky trade war.

This is odd. But what is more striking — and alarming — is that equity valuations are far from the only bizarre feature of today’s markets. If you peer into the weeds of global finance, you will see peculiarities sprouting all over the place.

Consider credit. These days, pundits often wail about the rising risks attached to corporate debt. A survey from Bank of America Merrill Lynch shows that 42 per cent of asset managers now think that developed world companies have borrowed too much money— beating a previous 2008 peak of 32 per cent.

No surprise there, perhaps: corporate borrowing has indeed soared, amid numerous leveraged buyouts and mergers, and almost half of all US corporate bonds issued this year carry a risky rating of triple B-plus, triple B or triple B-minus. What is startling is that investors are not running scared. Instead, demand for risky debt is so high that the spread between safe and hazardous corporate debt (bonds rated triple A and triple B respectively) is a wafer-thin 50 basis points. In 2012 it was 200bp.

The second puzzle is the so-called dollar “term premium”— the US Federal Reserve’s calculation of the extra compensation investors require to convince them to tie up their money in longer term bonds rather than rolling over a series of short-term ones. Normally this would be positive in this stage of the business cycle. The Fed is raising rates, inflation is edging up and the US government will sell lots more debt in the coming years, due to tax cuts and rising budget deficits. But the US term premium has been zero in recent months. More peculiar still, JPMorgan calculated that the global yield curve has recently inverted for the first time since 2007.

A third oddity is the lack of correlation between currencies and interest rates differentials. Derivative prices currently suggest that investors expect to see a widening gap between US, European and Japanese interest rates. Citigroup calculates that the spread between projected overnight rates for dollars and euros is 250 basis points, up from 25 basis points in 2016 and 100 basis points last year.

In past economic cycles this gap has led to a stronger dollar. That has recently appeared — a bit. On a trade weighted basis, the dollar is 5 per cent stronger than in February, but it is also 4 per cent lower than it was at the start of the year. The correlations seem to have broken down, as Catherine Mann, Citi’s chief economist, points out.

The list goes on — and on. Ms Mann thinks it is odd that house prices keep surging in countries such as Denmark, the Netherlands and Canada, even as the monetary policy cycle turns; and that investors keep rushing into US equity markets, even though valuations should favour non-US assets. Then there is the fact that gold prices have fallen 5 per cent in the past two months — even though geopolitical turmoil normally boosts the price of gold. And the Vix index (which reflects expected US equity market volatility) has recently fallen below 15, after rising above 30 earlier this year. That looks completely counter-intuitive given the geopolitical risk — and the fact that some investors holding Vix derivatives suffered big losses a mere four months ago, when this index gyrated.

So what explains these odd features? One optimistic explanation might be that investors are so wildly confident about global growth that they presume companies will tackle their debt and produce earnings that justify the share prices. Under this theory consumers would continue paying down their mortgages, as inflation remained low (perhaps because digital disruption will suppress labour costs). But there is another pessimistic explanation: years of ultra-loose monetary policy have made investors so complacent that they are mis-pricing risk.

I fervently hope the first explanation is true. But I fear the second is a more likely bet. Either way, the key point is this: don’t assume that markets look “normal” today even if they are (mostly) calm, especially not in a geopolitical world that looks anything but peaceful, let alone normal.
Happy Fathers Day:
at 15:57 17 Jun 2018

How Trump Came to Enforce a Practice of Separating Migrant Families
By Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Michael D. Shear

NYT, June 16, 2018

WASHINGTON — Almost immediately after President Trump took office, his administration began weighing what for years had been regarded as the nuclear option in the effort to discourage immigrants from unlawfully entering the United States.

Children would be separated from their parents if the families had been apprehended entering the country illegally, John F. Kelly, then the homeland security secretary, said in March 2017, “in order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network.”

For more than a decade, even as illegal immigration levels fell overall, seasonal spikes in unauthorized border crossings had bedeviled American presidents in both political parties, prompting them to cast about for increasingly aggressive ways to discourage migrants from making the trek.

Yet for George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the idea of crying children torn from their parents’ arms was simply too inhumane — and too politically perilous — to embrace as policy, and Mr. Trump, though he had made an immigration crackdown one of the central issues of his campaign, succumbed to the same reality, publicly dropping the idea after Mr. Kelly’s comments touched off a swift backlash.

But advocates inside the administration, most prominently Stephen Miller, Mr. Trump’s senior policy adviser, never gave up on the idea. Last month, facing a sharp uptick in illegal border crossings, Mr. Trump ordered a new effort to criminally prosecute anyone who crossed the border unlawfully — with few exceptions for parents traveling with their minor children.

And now Mr. Trump faces the consequences. With thousands of children detained in makeshift shelters, his spokesmen this past week had to deny accusations that the administration was acting like Nazis. Even evangelical supporters like Franklin Graham said its policy was “disgraceful.”

Among those who have professed objections to the policy is the president himself, who despite his tough rhetoric on immigration and his clear directive to show no mercy in enforcing the law, has searched publicly for someone else to blame for dividing families. He has falsely claimed that Democrats are responsible for the practice. But the kind of pictures so feared by Mr. Trump’s predecessors could end up defining a major domestic policy issue of his term.

Inside the Trump administration, current and former officials say, there is considerable unease about the policy, which is regarded by some charged with carrying it out as unfeasible in practice and questionable morally. Kirstjen Nielsen, the current homeland security secretary, has clashed privately with Mr. Trump over the practice, sometimes inviting furious lectures from the president that have pushed her to the brink of resignation.

But Mr. Miller has expressed none of the president’s misgivings. “No nation can have the policy that whole classes of people are immune from immigration law or enforcement,” he said during an interview in his West Wing office this past week. “It was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry, period. The message is that no one is exempt from immigration law.”

The administration’s critics are not buying that explanation. “This is not a zero tolerance policy, this is a zero humanity policy, and we can’t let it go on,” said Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon.

“Ripping children out of their parents’ arms to inflict harm on the child to influence the parents,” he added, “is unacceptable.”

Beyond those moral objections, Jeh C. Johnson, who as secretary of homeland security was the point man for the Obama administration’s own struggles with illegal immigration, argued that deterrence, in and of itself, is neither practical nor a long-term solution to the problem.

“I’ve seen this movie before, and I feel like what we are doing now, with the zero tolerance policy and separating parents and children for the purpose of deterrence, is banging our heads against the wall,” he said. “Whether it’s family detention, messaging about dangers of the journey, or messaging about separating families and zero tolerance, it’s always going to have at best a short-term reaction.”

And that view was based on hard experience.

When Central American migrants, including many unaccompanied children, began surging across the border in early 2014, Mr. Obama, the antithesis of his impulsive successor, had his own characteristic reaction: He formed a multiagency team at the White House to figure out what should be done.
“This was the bane of my existence for three years,” Mr. Johnson said. “No matter what you did, somebody was going to be very angry at you.”

The officials met in the office of Denis R. McDonough, the White House chief of staff, and convened a series of meetings in the Situation Room to go through their options. Migrants were increasingly exploiting existing immigration laws and court rulings, and using children as a way to get adults into the country, on the theory that families were being treated differently from single people.

“The agencies were surfacing every possible idea,” Cecilia Muñoz, Mr. Obama’s top domestic policy adviser, recalled, including whether to separate parents from their children. “I do remember looking at each other like, ‘We’re not going to do this, are we?’ We spent five minutes thinking it through and concluded that it was a bad idea. The morality of it was clear — that’s not who we are.”

They did, however, decide to vastly expand the detention of immigrant families, opening new facilities along the border where women and young children were held for long periods while they awaited a chance to have their cases processed.
Mr. Johnson wrote an open letter to appear in Spanish-language news outlets warning parents that their children would be deported if they entered the United States illegally. He traveled to Guatemala to deliver the message in person.

Opening a large family immigration detention facility in Dilley, Tex., he held a news conference to showcase what he called an “effective deterrent.”
The steps led to just the kind of brutal images that Mr. Obama’s advisers feared: hundreds of young children, many dirty and some in tears, who were being held with their families in makeshift detention facilities.

Immigrant advocacy groups denounced the policy, berating senior administration officials — some of whom were reduced to rueful apologies for a policy they said they could not justify — and telling Mr. Obama to his face during a meeting at the White House in late 2014 that he was turning his back on the most vulnerable people seeking refuge in the United States.

“I was pissed, and still am,” said Ben Johnson, the executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “I thought that he had a shocking disregard for due process.”

Before long, the Obama administration would face legal challenges, and be forced to stop detaining families indefinitely. A federal judge in Washington ordered the administration in 2015 to stop detaining asylum-seeking Central American mothers and children in order to deter others from their region from coming into the United States.

Under a 1997 consent decree known as the Flores settlement, unaccompanied children could be held in immigration detention for only a short period of time; in 2016, a federal judge ruled that the settlement applied to families as well, effectively requiring that they be released within 20 days. Many were released — some with GPS ankle bracelets to track their movements — and asked to return for a court date sometime in the future.

It was Mr. Bush, who had firsthand experience with the border as governor of Texas and ran for president as a “compassionate conservative,” who initiated the “zero tolerance” approach for illegal immigration on which Mr. Trump’s policy is modeled.

In 2005, he launched Operation Streamline, a program along a stretch of the border in Texas that referred all unlawful entrants for criminal prosecution, imprisoning them and expediting assembly-line-style trials geared toward quickly deporting them. The initiative yielded results and was soon expanded to more border sectors. Back then, however, exceptions were generally made for adults who were traveling with minor children, as well as juveniles and people who were ill.

Mr. Obama’s administration employed the program at the height of the migration crisis as well, although it generally did not treat first-time border crossers as priorities for prosecution, and it detained families together in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody — administrative, rather than criminal, detention.

Discussions began almost immediately after Mr. Trump took office about vastly expanding Operation Streamline, with almost none of those limitations. Even after Mr. Kelly stopped talking publicly about family separation, the Department of Homeland Security quietly tested the approach last summer in certain areas in Texas.

Privately, Mr. Miller argued that bringing back “zero tolerance” would be a potent tool in a severely limited arsenal of strategies for stopping migrants from flooding across the border.

The idea was to end a practice referred to by its detractors as “catch and release,” in which illegal immigrants apprehended at the border are released into the interior of the United States to await the processing of their cases. Mr. Miller argued that the policy provided a perverse incentive for migrants, essentially ensuring that if they could make it to the United States border and claim a “credible fear” of returning home, they would be given a chance to stay under asylum laws, at least temporarily.

A lengthy backlog of asylum claims made it likely that it would be years before they would have to appear before a judge to back up that plea — and many never returned to do so.

The situation was even more complicated when children were involved. A 2008 law meant to combat the trafficking of minors places strict requirements on how unaccompanied migrant children from Central America are to be treated.
Minors from Mexico or Canada — countries contiguous with the United States — can be quickly sent back to their home countries unless it is deemed dangerous to do so. But those from other nations cannot be quickly returned; they must be transferred within 72 hours to the Office of Refugee Resettlement at the Department of Health and Human Services, and placed in the least restrictive setting possible. And the Flores ruling meant that children and families could not be held for more than 20 days.

In October, after Mr. Trump ended Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era program that gave legal status to undocumented immigrants raised in the United States, Mr. Miller insisted that any legislative package to codify those protections contain changes to close what he called the loopholes encouraging illegal immigrants to come.

And in April, after the border numbers reached their zenith, Mr. Miller was instrumental in Mr. Trump’s decision to ratchet up the zero tolerance policy.
“A big name of the game is deterrence,” Mr. Kelly, now the chief of staff, told NPR in May. “The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever — but the big point is they elected to come illegally into the United States, and this is a technique that no one hopes will be used extensively or for very long.”

Technically, there is no Trump administration policy stating that illegal border crossers must be separated from their children. But the “zero tolerance policy” results in unlawful immigrants being taken into federal criminal custody, at which point their children are considered unaccompanied alien minors and taken away.
Unlike Mr. Obama’s administration, Mr. Trump’s is treating all people who have crossed the border without authorization as subject to criminal prosecution, even if they tell the officer apprehending them that they are seeking asylum based on fear of returning to their home country, and whether or not they have their children in tow.

“Having children does not give you immunity from arrest and prosecution,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a speech on Thursday in Fort Wayne, Ind.
“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government,” said Mr. Sessions, quoting Bible verse as he took exception to evangelical leaders who have called the practice abhorrent. “Because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.”
[Post edited 17 Jun 2018 15:57]
Trump Foundation Sued by New York Attorney Generral
at 18:37 14 Jun 2018

Trump Foundation, Accused of Sweeping Violations, Is Sued by New York Attorney General
By Danny Hakim

NYT, June 14, 2018

The New York State attorney general’s office filed a scathingly worded lawsuit on Thursday taking aim at the Donald J. Trump Foundation, accusing the charity and the Trump family of sweeping violations of campaign finance laws, self-dealing and illegal coordination with the presidential campaign.

The lawsuit, which seeks to dissolve the foundation and bar President Trump and three of his children from serving on nonprofit organizations, was an extraordinary rebuke of a sitting president. The attorney general also sent referral letters to the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission for possible further action, adding to Mr. Trump’s extensive legal challenges.

The lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, culminated a nearly two-year investigation of Mr. Trump’s charity, which became a subject of scrutiny during and after the 2016 presidential campaign. While such foundations are supposed to be devoted to charitable activities, the petition asserts that Mr. Trump’s was often used to settle legal claims against his various businesses, even spending $10,000 on a portrait of Mr. Trump that was hung at one of his golf clubs.

The foundation was also used to curry political favor, the lawsuit asserts. During the 2016 race, the foundation became a virtual arm of Mr. Trump’s campaign, email traffic showed, with his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski directing its expenditures, even though such foundations are explicitly prohibited from political activities.

Mr. Trump immediately attacked the lawsuit, characterizing it in a Twitter post as an attempt by the “sleazy New York Democrats” to damage him by suing the foundation, vowing not to settle the case.

The $10,000 portrait was one of several examples of the foundation being used in “at least five self-dealing transactions,” according to the attorney general’s office, violating tax regulations that prohibit using nonprofit charities for private interests.

In 2007, to settle a dispute between the City of Palm Beach and Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, the foundation paid $100,000 to the Fisher House Foundation, another charity.

In 2012, a man named Martin B. Greenberg sued the Trump National Golf Club after he made a hole-in-one at a fund-raising golf tournament that had promised to pay $1 million to golfers who aced the 13th hole, as he did. As part of a settlement, the charitable foundation paid $158,000 to a foundation run by Mr. Greenberg.

The foundation also paid $5,000 to one organization for “promotional space featuring Trump International Hotels,” and another $32,000 to satisfy a pledge made by a privately held entity controlled by Mr. Trump to a charitable land trust.

Full story:
Trump Becoming a Cultish Thing
at 18:16 13 Jun 2018

says Republican Senator. Too fcuking right, Bob.

This is a cult of personality and is exactly what Fascism looks like.
Corker: GOP becoming 'cult-like' on Trump
By Jordain Carney -

The Hill 06/13/18 11:21 AM EDT
GOP Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) warned on Wednesday that members of his party are becoming "cult-like" in their support of President Trump pointing to leadership's unwillingness to challenge the White House on tariffs.

"We are in a strange place. I mean, it’s almost, it’s becoming a cultish thing, isn’t it? And it’s not a good place for any party to end up with a cult-like situation as it relates to a president that happens to be of — purportedly, of the same party," Corker told reporters.

Pressed on whether he feels Republicans are currently in a "cult-like situation," Corker acknowledged that there are some GOP lawmakers who stand up to Trump and it would be "unfair to try to say" that "about every member."

"[But] is leadership in general not wishing to poke the bear? Absolutely, because it's all about the next election, right?" said Corker, who is retiring after 2018.
Corker's comments come after he was blocked from getting a vote on his bill to rein in Trump on tariffs. His bill, which is backed by roughly a dozen senators, would require congressional approval if Trump wanted to impose tariffs in the name of national security.

Corker added on Wednesday that leadership is "wary" of upsetting the president and "there's a definite fear there."

"It's not a good place for us to be. You know, I think about the things that we, generally speaking, have stood for ... sort of where the Republican Party has been traditionally and were it is today is quite divergent," Corker told reporters.

Trump sparked a backlash from GOP lawmakers with his decision to impose steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from the European Union, Canada and Mexico.

But GOP leadership, as well as many rank-and-file members, have shown little interest in legislation that would rein in Trump.

Such a move would set up a high-stakes showdown between the president and members of his own party months before a midterm election, and likely provoke Trump to lash out at individual members.

"There's no question that leadership in general is wary of doing anything that might upset the president. I mean, we're going to be here during recess, generally speaking, which is fine with me but, look, it's more about Trump being upset than it is about anything else," Corker said.

Corker's comments echo that of MSNBC's Joe Scarborough on Wednesday's "Morning Joe," with the former GOP congressman arguing that "primary voters in the Republican Party have devolved into a Trumpist cult."

"There is no more conservative person on protecting tax dollars, balancing the budget, paying down the debt," Scarborough said of GOP Rep. Mark Sanford (S.C.), who lost his primary on Tuesday night as his opponent labeled him a Trump critic. Trump also tweeted 11th-hour criticism of Sanford on Tuesday afternoon.
"But primary voters said no, we don’t care that he’s one of the most conservative people in Congress. He said one or two bad things about Trump," said Scarborough.

“Why don’t we just say it has devolved into a cult? Primary voters in the Republican Party have devolved into a Trumpist cult," the host added.
[Post edited 13 Jun 2018 18:16]
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