AP Explains: Mueller’s legal actions not overlooked by Trump
By CHAD DAY
Wednesday, September 19
WASHINGTON (AP) — Robert Mueller has been busy.
In just the last two weeks, the special counsel has secured the cooperation of President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, dispensed with the case of the campaign aide who triggered the Russia probe and signaled he’s squeezed all the information he needs out of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
All that activity has not gone unnoticed by Trump.
The president has continued to wage a public-relations war on Mueller, casting his investigation into Russian election interference and possible coordination with Trump associates as a politically motivated witch hunt. In his latest move, Trump is again using his executive power to declassify documents in the Russia probe that he says build a case that the investigation was tainted from the start by bias in the Justice Department and FBI.
Here’s where things stand:
DECLASSIFYING RUSSIA DOCUMENTS
Urged on by a small group of House Republicans, the president on Monday ordered the public release of any Russia investigation-related text messages of several FBI and Justice Department officials, including former FBI Director James Comey and former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe. He also declassified a portion of materials used to obtain a secret warrant to monitor the communication of former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.
Trump told reporters Tuesday he made the decision because he wants “total transparency.”
Trump and his allies believe the documents will show improprieties during the early days of the Russia investigation. They say the 21 pages show top Justice Department officials abusing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act process, particularly through the use of information gathered by ex-British spy Christopher Steele. The former spy’s Democrat-funded research into Trump ties to Russia was included in the FISA applications and later compiled into a dossier that was published in January 2017.
FISA applications and warrants are some of the most secret documents in the government. The warrants are supposed to be used to gather intelligence on people suspected of being agents of a foreign power.
Democrats and some former national security officials have criticized the declassification move, saying it could jeopardize intelligence-gathering sources and methods. They also say the president is abusing his power to serve his own interests.
It’s unclear when the documents will become public.
Paul Manafort held out through multiple indictments, months in jail and even a conviction on eight criminal counts — all until last week.
On Friday, the man who led Trump’s campaign for several crucial months pleaded guilty to two more felony charges and agreed to cooperate “fully, truthfully, completely and forthrightly.” Manafort’s deal came as he was facing a second trial that was to explore his efforts to secretly lobby in the U.S. for Ukrainian interests and to conceal the millions of dollars he funneled through offshore accounts as part of that work.
The focus now turns to what he knows.
Manafort, an eyewitness to a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer, could detail the actions of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., who was told in emails that it was part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign.
Manafort also headed the campaign while, court papers say, the Russian government was actively trying to influence the election. And his ties to prominent Russian and Ukrainian businessmen also offer prosecutors a wealth of information they can use for not only the Russia probe but also potentially other investigations.
That includes continued government scrutiny of law firms and Washington lobbying shops, such as Skadden Arps, Mercury Public Affairs and the now-defunct Podesta Group, which took part in Manafort’s unregistered lobbying work.
With Manafort’s deal, Mueller has now secured six guilty pleas and a trial conviction and has pending indictments against three companies and 26 individuals including 12 Russian intelligence officers. Two other investigations Mueller referred to other U.S. attorneys have also resulted in guilty pleas. That includes a probe of longtime Trump fixer Michael Cohen.
JAIL TIME FOR PAPADOPOULOS
While Manafort is just beginning his cooperation, former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos wrapped up his.
And prosecutors weren’t too happy with him. They recommended jail time because he didn’t provide “substantial assistance” and only begrudgingly helped them after his 2017 arrest. They also argued that Papadopoulos’ lies during the early days of the FBI’s Russia investigation irreparably damaged it.
Those false statements involved Papadopoulos’ contacts with Russian intermediaries during the 2016 campaign.
Before Russian hacking of Democratic organizations became public, one of the intermediaries, a Maltese professor, told Papadopoulos that the Russians had “dirt” on Democrat Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of emails. But when FBI agents confronted him in January 2017, Papadopoulos lied, and, prosecutors say, that deception resulted in them missing an opportunity to interview professor Joseph Mifsud while he was in the U.S. He hasn’t returned since.
A federal judge ultimately sentenced Papadopoulos, whose Russian contacts triggered the Russia probe, to 14 days’ incarceration.
DONE WITH FLYNN?
After months of delay, Mueller’s team says they’re ready for a judge to sentence Trump’s first national security adviser as early as Nov. 28.
Flynn, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general and a senior Trump campaign surrogate, has been waiting for the government’s sign-off since he pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials during the presidential transition.
Flynn has been seen as a key cooperator in Mueller’s investigation. But prosecutors have yet to say what he shared and whether it has led to possible criminal charges against others.
And a court filing Monday suggests the public will have to wait a little longer. Prosecutors are asking a federal judge to set a schedule that would keep the specifics of Flynn’s cooperation from becoming public until after the midterm elections.
Follow Chad Day on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ChadSDay
Amazon Is Making Workers Tweet about How Great It Is to Work There
They even get bathroom breaks, they say. Doesn’t sound suspicious at all!
By Jim Hightower | September 19, 2018
In Corporate World, when trouble pops up and things get sticky, CEOs don’t wring their hands and try to dodge the issue.
No-sir-ee, the chief gets paid the big bucks to step forward confidently and seize control… by ringing up the company’s PR consultants and having them try to dodge the issue.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is an expert at this.
The uber-rich online marketing colossus has been hit with a long string of exposés about the corporation’s nasty practices. From profiteering as a flagrant tax dodger and predatory killer of independent, local businesses to running a massive network of publicly subsidized warehouses with sweatshop labor, Amazon’s carefully-crafted image as a “cool” company is… well, getting fried in negative headlines and online chatter.
Thus, Bezos (known for thinking outside the cage), has hired a flock of tweety birds to counter the negativity. They’re former warehouse workers who now tweet full-time about how absolutely wonderful those warehouse jobs are.
The tweeters tell us that air circulation in the warehouses is “very good;” in a 10-hour shift, they assure us, lucky workers get not one, but two 30-minute breaks. And they’re even allowed bathroom breaks (within reason, of course).
Bezos has given his Twitter testifiers the title of Amazon “ambassadors,” and each of their Twitter accounts is branded to look alike, topped with the corporation’s happy smile logo. It’s claimed that the tweeters aren’t scripted or told what to write — but you can bet every tweet is monitored by corporate supervisors. And note that Amazon won’t let reporters interview any of them.
As Senator Bernie Sanders said of this PR gimmick: “If Amazon actually paid all its workers a living wage and treated them with dignity, they would not have to pay dozens of people to tweet all day.”
Jim Hightower, an OtherWords columnist, is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown. Distributed by OtherWords.org.
Future Generations Will Mourn What the EPA Did on 9/11
The White House wants to clear the way for frackers to release more methane, which poisons communities and torches the climate.
By Olivia Alperstein | September 19, 2018
September 11 is already an annual day of mourning. But while the nation grieved over victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency announced a plan future generations may well grieve as a tragedy in its own right.
While Americans attended memorial services, the EPA announced plans to roll back regulations on methane — a powerful greenhouse gas that damages the world’s climate and threatens human health.
Methane carries up to 36 times more warming potential than carbon dioxide.
More methane emissions mean more lethal heat waves, extreme storms, rising sea levels, drought, and floods. They mean worsening air quality, water quality, and crop damage. They mean certain crops will lose nutritional value, and pest- and waterborne diseases will spread.
Specifically, the White House wants to kill the Obama administration’s 2016 New Source Performance Standards, which require oil and gas drillers to limit emissions of methane during fracking and flaring (the process of burning off gas that won’t be captured and transported).
It’s yet another big present to the oil and gas industry. Meanwhile, ordinary working families will pay the price, and so will their health. Children, the poor, the elderly, and those with a weak or impaired immune system are especially vulnerable.
The EPA itself agrees: Its own analysis concludes that the new proposed rules could send hundreds of thousands more tons of methane into the atmosphere. The EPA acknowledges further this would hurt thousands of people and rack up a huge cost in health care and agricultural damage.
There are short-term threats, too. Both fracking and flaring pose serious risks to nearby communities, including possible methane leaks.
Methane leaks are frequently accompanied by volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are known to be toxic and/or carcinogenic to humans.
VOCs carry a boatload of negative health impacts. For example, when combined with particulate matter in the presence of sunlight and heat, VOCs form ground-level ozone, a pollutant that aggravates chronic lung diseases, pre-existing heart problems, and asthma.
Put simply, they’re terrible for the air you breathe and the water you drink and the ground you walk on.
Fracking itself poses a danger. This past March, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Concerned Health Professionals of New York released a report showing that fracking increases the risk of serious medical conditions such as asthma, birth defects, and cancer.
A study by the Environmental Defense Fund found that the U.S. oil and gas industry emits 13 million metric tons of methane from its operations each year — nearly 60 percent more than currently estimated by the EPA.
This attempt by the EPA to roll back the methane rule undermines the health and safety of families and communities. It flies in the face of scientific and medical evidence that methane poses serious hazards to our climate and health.
We need more regulation of methane, not less.
The EPA is directly tasked with creating policies that protect human health and the environment. It’s reckless and irresponsible to weaken a rule that directly fulfills that mission.
Olivia Alperstein is the Media Relations Manager for Physicians for Social Responsibility (www.psr.org). Distributed by OtherWords.org.
Opinion: Paying Interns Could Tap Vital Talent
By Michael McGrady
Both chambers of Congress announced that they reached an agreement over the first of three appropriations bills intended to fund the government and avert a partial shutdown in October. All that remains for this minibus to become law is President Donald Trump’s signature.
Despite the minutia associated with this spending package, new funds will be appropriated to the legislative branch to pay House and Senate interns. Matched with a pay freeze for members of Congress, these newly approved funds for intern salaries presents a set of unique opportunities.
Historically, congressional interns were mostly unpaid. Most interns worked for academic credit and potential prospects for work after their degree programs. Many have also accepted the prestige of such an experience as a return on their investment. Around 90 percent of all internship positions on Capitol Hill are unpaid postings. Individuals of great wealth and specific socio-economic demographics have long dominated the selection process for internships, as well.
Congressman Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, wrote a budget amendment that authorizes paychecks for House interns. “Because the bulk of congressional internships are unpaid, they are implicitly easier for individuals from privileged backgrounds to participate in and complete,” Ryan said in a news release. This budget amendment also follows a Senate initiative to pay interns spearheaded by Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland.
A total of $8.8 million for paying House interns and $5 million for paying Senate interns was appropriated in the final form of the bill. These numbers equate to $20,000 per House member office and $50,000 per Senate member office for annual intern budgets. According to proponents of this legislation, underrepresented populations will have better representation in internship positions on both sides of the aisle.
Internship programs and their competitiveness vary from member to member. Application processes, the popularity of a particular program, and the socio-economic demographics all affect intern selection. For example, Republican members are more likely to represent a district where constituents are predominantly white. Therefore their application pool is predominantly white. Conversely, a Democratic member is likely to serve an area where nonwhite individuals have a collective majority over white constituents. An application pool for an office like this is likely to be more diverse. But, there are still a few issues that remain.
The annual Vital Statistics on Congress report, released by the Brookings Institution, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Campaign Finance Institute, reveals that the vast majority of Congress is white.
Though there is little-documented correlation among the demographics of congressional members and their interns, these numbers are still significant to note.
Additionally, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that only 13.7 percent of all top House staffers are people of color. These same findings note that “both White Democrats and White Republicans hire overwhelmingly White top staff, even though their districts are surprisingly diverse.” Other trends in these findings show disparity and a lack of diversity in senior House workforces.
That said, bringing in paid interns creates a competitive environment that merits analysis of an individual’s academic, professional and personal achievement. This sentiment provides more scrutiny and equalizes this playing field in a capacity that isn’t built on nepotism or someone’s societal preferences. Plus, there is no denying the financial benefits this will provide for interns of all social and class identities willing to work on the national stage and set up shop in the expensive neighborhoods of D.C. for months at a time.
Paid internships could potentially be real investments in human capital development. Based on 2014 data by the National Association of College and Employers, 42 percent of all surveyed students who worked in a paid internship were offered full-time positions at the completion of their program. Most staffers on Capitol Hill started their careers as interns. The benefits of paid internship programs are also plentiful.
According to Heidy Rehman, in a column for Entrepreneur, paying interns guarantees organizations increased output. Rehman wrote: “As with anything if we don’t pay for it, we’re more likely to waste it.”
ABOUT THE WRITER
Michael McGrady, a political consultant, is executive director of McGrady Policy Research and an internationally published libertarian journalist. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
BROWN MEETS WITH VA SECRETARY, CALLS FOR BENEFITS FOR BLUE WATER NAVY VETERANS EXPOSED TO AGENT ORANGE
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Senator Also Pushes VA To Ensure All Patient Safety Guidelines Are Followed After IG Report On Chillicothe Death
WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) yesterday met with U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie to discuss the urgent need to pass legislation to aid Blue Water Navy veterans exposed to Agent Orange to receive care and benefits. Blue Water Navy veterans served aboard ships off the shore of Vietnam during the Vietnam War, where they were exposed to chemicals. In order to receive VA healthcare and disability benefits for conditions resulting from that exposure, currently Blue Water Navy veterans must meet a higher burden of proof than veterans who served on land, or on inland waterways.
Senator Brown’s office has been conducting veteran round-tables across the state this summer and has consistently heard from Blue Water Navy veterans regarding their eligibility for benefits. Brown is also a cosponsor of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017, introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), which would ensure these veterans are able to receive the health care benefits they need and deserve after their exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.
“All Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange deserve health care and benefits,” said Brown. “The Department of Veterans Affairs needs to expand these benefits to all Vietnam veterans, whether they served on the ground or at sea. I made that clear to Secretary Wilkie during our meeting.”
During their meeting, Brown also pressed Wilkie to ensure all patient safety guidelines are being followed across the VA, after an independent Inspector General investigation found that secured windows could have prevented the death of a patient at the Chillicothe Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Chillicothe VA has already made changes to adhere to the recommendations in the report, but Brown wants to ensure proper safety protocol is being followed throughout the entire VA.
“The VA must do everything it can to protect patients and save lives. Period,” Brown said.
Brown has long fought to secure benefits for veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and other toxic chemicals. During Wilkie’s confirmation hearing, Brown secured a commitment from then-nominee Wilkie to work with his office regarding Agent Orange presumptive conditions, Blue Water Navy veterans’ eligibility for benefits, and establishing a process to diagnose constrictive bronchiolitis, a condition cause by burn pit exposure at VA.
Following the death of a patient at the Chillicothe Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Brown joined Sen. John Tester (D-MT) in calling on Secretary Wilkie to ensure that the report’s recommendations are applied throughout VA’s health care system to protect patients. The VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted the inspection at Brown and Tester’s request. In the letter, Brown requests that Sec. Wilkie work with all VA facilities to ensure adherence to the Veterans Health Administration Center for Engineering and Occupational Safety and Health guidelines for windows in patient care areas. Brown also asked to be notified as recommendations in the healthcare inspection are completed.