Obstruction Replaces Collusion As Key Description Regarding Investigation Of Donald Trump

Although Robert Muller’s investigation to date has concentrated on money laundering and obstruction of justice, some in the media such as Rachel Maddow try to make this sound like it is more about collusion which altered the 2016 election result despite lack of evidence of this. It was good to see that this week most of the news media concentrated on talking about obstruction rather than collusion as there is a far stronger case for obstruction of justice.

One example of the conventional wisdom in the political press comes from Politico Magazine which writes, It’s Now Likely Mueller Thinks Trump Obstructed Justice:

Thursday’s explosive New York Times story that President Donald Trump ordered the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller last June renewed the public’s focus on the obstruction of justice investigation against Trump, which will soon culminate in Trump’s interview by Mueller. The case against Trump has grown stronger in recent months, and it now appears likely that Mueller will conclude that Trump obstructed justice…

Impeding or influencing an FBI investigation is a crime only if it is done with “corrupt” intent—in other words, the intent to wrongfully impede the administration of justice. In my experience, proving a defendant’s intent without direct evidence—that is, without statements by the defendant that directly reveal his or her intent—is challenging.

One could argue that Trump provided direct evidence when he told NBC’s Lester Holt that he was going to fire Comey regardless of the recommendations of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and that he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he did so. But Trump quickly followed up that comment by indicating that he thought the investigation was bogus, and his defense to obstruction could be that he genuinely believed the Russia investigation was meritless.

Before bringing a case, prosecutors anticipate defenses like that one and gather evidence to rebut potential defenses. We have since learned of very substantial additional evidence that would rebut that defense, or a defense that Trump didn’t understand the consequences of firing Comey. While that evidence is indirect, Mueller could argue that we can infer Trump’s intent from that evidence, which is how prosecutors typically prove a defendant’s intent.

For example, last spring, Trump reportedly asked Sessions if the government could drop the criminal case against former Sheriff Joseph Arpaio, whom Trump later pardoned. According to the Washington Post, Sessions told Trump that would be inappropriate, and Trump decided to let the case go to trial and pardon Arpaio if he was convicted. Mueller could argue that this suggests that Trump is serious about killing investigations of his friends. A pattern of behavior is always a stronger indicator of intent than a one-off action.

We also learned that, according to the New York Times, in March—two months before Trump fired Comey—he ordered White House Counsel Don McGahn to stop Sessions from recusing himself. When McGahn was unsuccessful, Trump reportedly erupted in anger, saying he needed Sessions to “protect him” and “safeguard” him, as he believed other attorneys general had done for other presidents. These are very odd statements by Trump that Mueller could argue indicate that Trump wanted Sessions to impede or even end the Russia investigation to “protect him.”

…As we learned Thursday in the New York Times, there was indeed a need to protect Mueller back in June, when Trump ordered the firing of special counsel due to “conflicts of interest” that were not actually conflicts and appear to be thinly veiled excuses to get rid of Mueller. Trump also considered firing Rosenstein and replacing him with Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, the No. 3 Justice Department official, so she could oversee Mueller. According to the Times, Trump has wavered for months about whether he wants to fire Mueller, which is an “omnipresent concern among his legal team and close aides.”

This is an important piece of evidence because it comes after Trump fired Comey and learned that he was under investigation for obstruction of justice. It should be easy for Mueller to prove that Trump read or viewed legal analysis discussing the possibility that Trump obstructed justice by firing Comey. Trump’s desire to fire Mueller despite knowing that firing a law enforcement official overseeing the Russia investigation could raise obstruction concerns is strong evidence that Trump’s intent was to obstruct the investigation. The excuses offered by Trump also bolster Mueller’s case, because they indicate that the president realized that firing Mueller to impede the investigation would be perceived as wrongful.

While we don’t know all of the evidence, Thursday’s revelation suggests it is likely Mueller will conclude that Trump obstructed justice. Some conservative legal commentators have argued that Trump’s constitutional authority to fire personnel and end investigations is so vast that he cannot obstruct justice as a legal matter. Most legal scholars find that argument unpersuasive, but it is an academic point—not one that is decisive—because Mueller has pressed forward in investigating the firing of Comey as obstruction of justice and the power of Congress to impeach Trump goes beyond the text of any statute.

Even if Mueller concludes that he could prove beyond a reasonable doubt in court that Trump was guilty of obstructing justice, I believe he will ultimately present the matter to Congress for potential impeachment instead. After all, according to the New York Times, former independent counsel Kenneth Starr possessed a legal memo concluding that he had the power to indict former President Bill Clinton but did not do so, ultimately choosing to present the matter to Congress. I think Mueller would likely do the same thing, because it’s the more prudential approach given that it’s an open legal question whether a sitting president can be indicted.

Many other publications have similar reports, such as Jeffrey Toobin writing at The New Yorker that The Answer to Whether Trump Obstructed Justice Now Seems Clear.

It has been clear for months that Mueller has been concentrating on money laundering and obstruction of justice based upon his indictments to date and the types of attorneys he has hired. We do know that Donald Trump’s son and son-in-law attended a meeting with Russians after being enticed with promises of information about Hillary Clinton, with no information actually available. This diminishes any claim from Trump that he was above collusion (assuming he was aware of the meeting), but no evidence of any actual meaningful collusion has yet to be presented, while much of the evidence obtained argues against this. Despite MSNBC repeatedly billing the investigation as one into Russian tampering with the election for over a year, Mueller has only hired a single prosecutor who specializes in cyber crimes, and this was not even done until earlier this month.

It would make a major change in the case if it could be proven that the Russians not only hacked the DNC computer but did so with collaboration from the Trump campaign, but there is zero evidence of this to date. Meanwhile, the information obtained through the Congressional hearings has shown that claims about Russian tampering with the election have been highly exaggerated. Similarly multiple media reports of Russian hacking were subsequently retracted as false. We definitely should be talking about obstruction of justice, and money laundering, if interested in a fact-based discussion of Trump’s crimes and the Russia investigation, rather than using Russia as an excuse for Clinton losing the 2016 election.

Hillary Clinton’s Third Sexual Harassment Scandal

Hillary Clinton recreated herself for the 2016 campaign as a feminist as part of a strategy to win the Democratic nomination by receiving support from women voters. As Truth-out pointed out during the campaign,”her record shows that in her many decades in public life, Hillary Clinton has done an excellent job of advancing the Clintons, and an abysmal job of fighting for women less powerful than herself.” It is not surprising that Hillary Clinton took advantage of women in such a manner considering her long history of helping to cover for sexual abusers including Bill Clinton, Harvey Weinstein, and today we learned of a third. The New York Times reports that Hillary Clinton had protected a member of her campaign accused of sexual harassment despite receiving advice to fire him. Not surprisingly, the staffer was her 2008 campaign’s Senior Adviser for Faith Based Operation. From The New York Times:

A senior adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign who was accused of repeatedly sexually harassing a young subordinate was kept on the campaign at Mrs. Clinton’s request, according to four people familiar with what took place.

Mrs. Clinton’s campaign manager at the time recommended that she fire the adviser, Burns Strider. But Mrs. Clinton did not. Instead, Mr. Strider was docked several weeks of pay and ordered to undergo counseling, and the young woman was moved to a new job.

Mr. Strider, who was Mrs. Clinton’s faith adviser, a co-founder of the American Values Network, and sent the candidate scripture readings every morning for months during the campaign, was hired five years later to lead an independent group that supported Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 candidacy, Correct the Record, which was created by a close Clinton ally, David Brock.

He was fired after several months for workplace issues, including allegations that he harassed a young female aide, according to three people close to Correct the Record’s management.

Mr. Strider did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Those familiar with the accounts said that, over the years, a number of advisers urged Mrs. Clinton to sever ties with Mr. Strider, and people familiar with what took place did not want to see Mrs. Clinton blamed for the misconduct of men she was close to…

This account was based on interviews with eight former campaign officials and associates of Mrs. Clinton.

They said that Ms. Solis Doyle, the campaign manager, and other senior campaign officials discussed the situation involving Mr. Strider and Mrs. Clinton’s response at the time. Some of them were troubled that he was allowed to remain on the campaign.

The complaint against Mr. Strider was made by a 30-year-old woman who shared an office with him. She told a campaign official that Mr. Strider had rubbed her shoulders inappropriately, kissed her on the forehead and sent her a string of suggestive emails, including at least one during the night, according to three former campaign officials familiar with what took place.

The complaint was taken to Ms. Doyle, the campaign manager, who approached Mrs. Clinton and urged that Mr. Strider, who was married at the time, be fired, according to the officials familiar with what took place. Mrs. Clinton said she did not want to, and instead he remained on her staff.

Ms. Doyle was fired shortly after that in a staff shake-up in response to Mrs. Clinton’s third-place finish in the 2008 Iowa caucuses. And Mr. Strider never attended the mandated counseling, according to two people with direct knowledge of the situation.

The woman who made the accusation against Mr. Strider in 2008 has not spoken publicly about it. She, like most campaign staffers, signed a nondisclosure agreement that barred employees from publicly discussing internal dynamics on the campaign, according to two people with direct knowledge of the contract. Reached by a reporter, she declined to comment.

This is hardly an isolated case for Hillary Clinton. Her defense of Bill Clinton is well known but it is an unusual situation in light of their marriage. Clinton’s conduct cannot be as easily excused in this third case, also noted by The New York Times:

Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy has been cited as an inspiration for the #MeToo movement, but she has not played a visible role in it. After several Hollywood actresses told The Times and The New Yorker that Harvey Weinstein, a longtime friend and donor to the Clintons, had harassed or assaulted them, Mrs. Clinton spoke out against his behavior, saying in a statement that she was “shocked and appalled by the revelations.”

Weeks later the actress Lena Dunham, one of Mrs. Clinton’s most visible celebrity supporters in her 2016 presidential bid, told the Times that she warned two Clinton campaign aides against associating with Mr. Weinstein. “I just want you to know that Harvey’s a rapist and this is going to come out at some point,” Ms. Dunham said she told the campaign.

Clinton subsequently received criticism for remaining quiet about Weinstein for a while after his actions did come out.

It is amusing today to see female Clinton supporters, who routinely accused anyone who opposed Clinton of sexism, defend her today. They argue that 2008 was a different time, as if sexual harassment was fine to them back then.

Sanders Holds Meeting To Consider 2020 Campaign

Politico reports that Bernie Sanders has met with advisers regarding a possible 2020 campaign:

Bernie Sanders convened his top political advisers in Washington on Saturday for a planning meeting that included a discussion of the feasibility and shape of a possible 2020 presidential campaign, half a dozen senior Democrats familiar with the gathering confirmed to POLITICO.

The top-line message the Vermont senator received from the operatives gathered during the government shutdown was a more formal version of the one they’ve been giving him regularly for months: You would be one of the front-runners for the Democratic nomination. And if you want to run, it’s time to start seriously planning accordingly…

Sanders regularly speaks with a close group of advisers and periodically brings top allies in to discuss his political maneuvers, but Saturday’s get-together included planning for the rest of 2018 as well as a specifically slated 2020 component, said Democrats familiar with the session, which was scheduled for the one-year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration. Part of the discussion included gaming out how the rest of the field might look, since 2016’s landscape — effectively pitting Sanders directly against Hillary Clinton — was far more straightforward than the expected 2020 free-for-all…

The senator, 76, has consistently refused to rule out running when asked over the past year, instead pivoting the conversation to other topics.

“The senator is extremely focused on making sure the Democrats win in 2018 and that is the primary goal right now: to retake the House and retake the Senate so we can stop this horrendous Trump agenda,” said Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ campaign manager and top political adviser.

As I noted in a post yesterday, Bernie Sanders continues to poll well and, despite a false narrative spread by the Clinton camp, this includes considerable support from women voters and minorities. Sanders has been listed as the front runner by multiple sources including The Fix and Vox. Politico also looked at Sanders’ preparations for a possible 2020 campaign in November.

Quinnipiac Poll Provides Further Evidence Debunking “Bernie Bros” Smears From Clinton Camp

Hillary Clinton ran her 2008 and 2016 campaigns based upon spreading a myth that her nomination and election were inevitable, and nobody else could win. Despite the evidence in both 2008 and 2016 of how weak a candidate Clinton actually was, I still see frequent comments from Clinton supporters claiming Sanders cannot win because of lack of support from women and minorities. This was not actually true during the 2016 campaign, which Clinton might have never won if not for multiple ways the party rigged the system to help her win the nomination. A recent poll also shows it is not true today.

A Quinnipiac poll conducted last week showed that Bernie Sanders was viewed favorably by 50 percent of women polled, exceeding his support from 46 percent of men. He also was seen favorably by 70 percent of blacks and 55 percent of Hispanics polled.

As  Cory Doctorow responded to this poll, “his approval ratings were highest among women and people of color, putting a lie to the stereotype of ‘Bernie Bros’ as young, middle-class white male political radicals who are oblivious to the more moderate preferences of others.” 

Glenn Greenwald also debunked the “Bernie Bros” smear from the Clinton camp two years ago:

The concoction of the “Bernie Bro” narrative by pro-Clinton journalists has been a potent political tactic — and a journalistic disgrace. It’s intended to imply two equally false claims: (1) a refusal to march enthusiastically behind the Wall Street-enriched, multiple-war-advocating, despot-embracing Hillary Clinton is explainable not by ideology or political conviction, but largely if not exclusively by sexism: demonstrated by the fact that men, not women, support Sanders (his supporters are “bros”); and (2) Sanders supporters are uniquely abusive and misogynistic in their online behavior. Needless to say, a crucial tactical prong of this innuendo is that any attempt to refute it is itself proof of insensitivity to sexism if not sexism itself (as the accusatory reactions to this article will instantly illustrate).

It’s become such an all-purpose, handy pro-Clinton smear that even consummate, actual “bros” for whom the term was originally coined — straight guys who act with entitlement and aggression, such as Paul Krugman — are now reflexively (and unironically) applying it to anyone who speaks ill of Hillary Clinton, even when they know nothing else about the people they’re smearing, including their gender, age, or sexual orientation. Thus, a male policy analyst who criticized Sanders’ health care plan “is getting the Bernie Bro treatment,” sneered Krugman. Unfortunately for the New York Times Bro, that analyst, Charles Gaba, said in response that he’s “really not comfortable with [Krugman’s] referring to die-hard Bernie Sanders supporters as ‘Bernie Bros’” because it “implies that only college-age men support Sen. Sanders, which obviously isn’t the case.”

Greenwald also cited polling data from the time which ran contrary to the Clinton narrative. What he said about the objective data then still applies:

But truth doesn’t matter here — at all. Instead, the goal is to inherently delegitimize all critics of Hillary Clinton by accusing them of, or at least associating them with, sexism, thus distracting attention away from Clinton’s policy views, funding, and political history…

The sexism charge is especially absurd considering that a very large percentage of “Bernie Bros” supported Elizabeth Warren before Sanders entered the race and Warren announced she would nor run. Most of those who voted for Sanders in the primaries voted for Clinton, and many of those who did not voted for Jill Stein instead. Far more Clinton supporters in 2008 crossed over to vote for McCain/Palin in the general election, often because of having a woman on the Republican ticket, and sometimes due to racism.

In the fantasy world of the David Brock/Peter Daou propaganda machine, if you supported Sanders your views are never taken seriously. Not only are you a sexist, they also believe you are likely to be a Russian bot.

John Kerry Criticizes Trump On Israel/Palestine And Raises Possibility Of Running For President In 2020

The Jerusalem Post has quoted comments from John Kerry in a conversation with “a close associate of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Hussein Agha, for a long and open conversation about a variety of topics.” (Photo with the article is of Kerry meeting with Abbas while he was Secretary of State in 2016). This included criticism of Donald Trump, and during the conversation Kerry said he was considering running for president again:

During the conversation, according to the report, Kerry asked Agha to convey a message to Abbas and ask him to “hold on and be strong.” Tell him, he told Agha, “that he should stay strong in his spirit and play for time, that he will not break and will not yield to President Trump’s demands.” According to Kerry, Trump will not remain in office for a long time. It was reported that within a year there was a good chance that Trump would not be in the White House.

Kerry offered his help to the Palestinians in an effort to advance the peace process and recommended that Abbas present his own peace plan. “Maybe it is time for the Palestinians to define their peace principles and present a positive plan,” Kerry suggested. He promised to use all his contacts and all his abilities to get support for such a plan. He asked Abbas, through Agha, not to attack the US or the Trump administration, but to concentrate on personal attacks on Trump himself, whom Kerry says is solely and directly responsible for the situation.

According to the report, referring to the president, Kerry used derogatory terms and even worse. Kerry offered to help create an alternative peace initiative and promised to help garner international support, among others, of Europeans, Arab states and the international community. Kerry hinted that many in the American establishment, as well as in American intelligence, are dissatisfied with Trump’s performance and the way he leads America. He surprised his interlocutor by saying he was seriously considering running for president in 2020. When asked about his advanced age, he said he was not much older than Trump and would not have an age problem.

In a report on the conversation, Agha said that Kerry appears to be “crazy about things,” very energetic, and someone who is yearning to help realize the dream of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Kerry explained, according to the report, that even in the Republican Party they do not know what to do with Trump and are very dissatisfied with him and that patience and breathing time are needed to get through this difficult period.

Considering the ages of other possible candidates including Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, Kerry’s age might not be a problem.

Trump’s First Year Was Terrible, But Things Could Have Been Worse

It is fitting that Donald Trump, who claimed that “I alone can fix it,” couldn’t make it through his entire first year without breaking the government. Donald Trump has been among the worst presidents ever. However, while the past year under Trump might have been the worst of times, it was not the worst of all possible times. Trump’s first year has been terrible, but we must also be appreciative all those spared from dying in Hillary’s wars over the past year.

Donald Trump and the Republicans have been terrible on many issues, including health care, race, and immigration. As I had previously predicted, Trump has been totally incoherent on foreign policy. He has escalated a potential nuclear crisis in North Korea, but we also must not forget that Hillary Clinton was largely responsible for the situation and peace would have probably have been impossible if she was in the White House. Clinton’s push to overthrow Muammar Qaddafi based upon lies after he surrendered his nuclear weapons, along with her joining with her neocon allies in lying us into the  Iraq war, have been cited by both Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin as reasons for their nuclear buildup and other foreign policy actions.

Donald Trump’s relations with Russia have been mixed, and evidence has grown of both a history of financial crimes and an attempt at a cover-up over the past year. At least Trump’s financial crimes are under investigation, while Democrats regularly make excuses for the influence peddling of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

The irony is that, after the risk of deterioration of relations with Russia and a return to a Cold War atmosphere was feared by many should Clinton become president, Clinton has managed to create hysteria over Russia without even being elected. While Trump is probably guilty of money laundering and a obstruction of justice, the evidence to date has contradicted conspiracy theories which appear to have been fabricated Clinton and the DNC to blame Clinton’s loss on Russia. With Clinton continuing to promote belligerence towards Russia even out of office, using conspiracy theories to get Democrats to embrace her neoconservative interventionism, it is of considerable concern as to how much greater harm Clinton could be doing in the White House.

Donald Trump has been terrible for civil liberties as president, including his attacks on the press. It must not be forgotten that even before the election Clinton had far right wing views on civil liberties which were not all that different from Trump’s.  Donald Trump has ignored the norms of a democratic society, but since the election Clinton has also continued her attack on civil liberties and has attacked the fundamental principles of democracy, including the legitimacy of election results. Both Clinton and Trump have cited fake news, which often means information critical of them, as justification to call for censorship.

While many Republicans have little respect for civil liberties, in the past year we have seen Democrats engage in McCarthyism as part of their anti-Russia hysteria.  The Democratic Party as a whole turned out to be worthless when faced with a vote to renew and expand warrantless surveillance as many joined with Republicans. If many Democrats were unwilling to stand up to Donald Trump on a fundamental civil liberties issue, I would expect even fewer to resist calls for increased powers by an authoritarian like Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump has been a terrible president, but at least his faults are widely recognized, and his falsehoods are regularly exposed. Donald Trump might have authoritarian tendencies, but if so he is a very weak authoritarian. He has brought about serious damage to the entire Republican and conservative brands, likely doing far less damage than Hillary Clinton would have been capable of.

Donald Trump On Women Working For Him, Foreign Policy, and Medicare For All

At the moment we are waiting in limbo for a couple of big stories to break. We don’t know yet if there will be a government shutdown. (If there is a shutdown, will drone attacks and NSA surveillance be halted? Unfortunately no.) One way to avert a government shutdown would be to tell Trump that McDonald’s will shut down if the government does.

The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee meets tomorrow to vote on the recommendations of the Unity Reform Commission–which are very limited and do not do enough. If the DNC rejects these recommendations the Democratic Party will be demonstrating a contempt for democracy which would make Thomas Jefferson, along with FDR, roll over in their graves. It could also be said that they already demonstrated this in 2016.

While waiting for the answers, I decided to go back and quote interesting passages from Michael Wolff’s recent book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. I previously noted some selections from the book here. There were further quotations regarding Wolff’s view that the Russia scandal is about money laundering, and not about collusion to affect the election 2016 election results, here. The question of Trump’s state of mind was reviewed here. Here are some additional items of interest.

It isn’t as crude as grabbing them by the pussy, but this aspect of Trump’s views is  rather demeaning to the women working for him:

While Trump was in most ways a conventional misogynist, in the workplace he was much closer to women than to men. The former he confided in, the latter he held at arm’s length. He liked and needed his office wives, and he trusted them with his most important personal issues. Women, according to Trump, were simply more loyal and trustworthy than men. Men might be more forceful and competent, but they were also more likely to have their own agendas. Women, by their nature, or Trump’s version of their nature, were more likely to focus their purpose on a man. A man like Trump.

Prior to the election I often compared the foreign policy views of Clinton and Trump. I noted that while Trump was not interested in neocon foreign interventionism like Clinton, his views on foreign policy were too incoherent to provide a better alternative. Wolff’s description of Trump’s foreign policy views goes along with my characterization of them as incoherent:

If the Trump White House was as unsettling as any in American history, the president’s views of foreign policy and the world at large were among its most random, uninformed, and seemingly capricious aspects. His advisers didn’t know whether he was an isolationist or a militarist, or whether he could distinguish between the two. He was enamored with generals and determined that people with military command experience take the lead in foreign policy, but he hated to be told what to do. He was against nation building, but he believed there were few situations that he couldn’t personally make better. He had little to no experience in foreign policy, but he had no respect for the experts, either.

While Hillary Clinton campaigned against Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All proposal, there was a surprising supporter of the plan in Washington–Donald Trump:

All things considered, he probably preferred the notion of more people having health insurance than fewer people having it. He was even, when push came to shove, rather more for Obamacare than for repealing Obamacare. As well, he had made a set of rash Obama-like promises, going so far as to say that under a forthcoming Trumpcare plan (he had to be strongly discouraged from using this kind of rebranding — political wise men told him that this was one instance where he might not want to claim ownership with his name), no one would lose their health insurance, and that preexisting conditions would continue to be covered. In fact, he probably favored government-funded health care more than any other Republican. “Why can’t Medicare simply cover everybody?” he had impatiently wondered aloud during one discussion with aides, all of whom were careful not to react to this heresy.

Of course this has no practical value, with Trump having no understanding of the details of health care legislation and no interest in really doing the work to promote a plan, allowing Congressional Republicans to push their agenda.

Collaborators, Not Resistance: Eighteen Senate Democrats Vote To Support Restrictions On Civil Liberties

After the House, with the support of fifty-five Democrats including Nancy Pelosi and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, blocked attempts to reform the FISA Act, Rand Paul and Ron Wyden attempted to filibuster FISA renewal in the Senate. They wrote this letter describing the civil liberties violations in the bill to renew and expand the FISA act for six years. The vote was close, with sixty votes required for the cloture vote. Cloture passed on a vote of 60 to 38, with  Democrat Claire McCaskill casting the deciding vote. Once again several Democrats voted to betray the Constitution and vote against civil liberties.

Eighteen Democratic Senators, along with independent Angus King of Maine, vote for cloture. The Democrats voting for cloture were: Tom Carper (Del.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Maggie Hassan (N.H.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Doug Jones (Ala.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Joe Manchin (W.V.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Mark Warner (Va.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.).

The following Republican Senators voted to support the filibuster, which would have provided an opportunity to debate and offer amendments to reform the law: Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Steve Daines, Cory Gardner, Dean Heller, Jerry Moran, and Lisa Murkowski. Yes, Ted Cruz was on the right side of this while eighteen Democrats were not.

The American Civil Liberties Union Tweeted this response: “Members of both parties who voted in favor of this legislation should be sharply rebuked for supporting a bill that is in flagrant violation of the rights enshrined in the Constitution.”

The final bill is expected to pass the Senate this week.

Reason described how the bill expands violations of civil liberties in the FISA Act:

This bill doesn’t just renew Section 702 for six years; it also codifies permission for the FBI to access and use data secretly collected from Americans for a host of domestic federal crimes that have nothing to do with protecting America from foreign threats. It has added some unusually worded warrant requirements that will protect some people—but only when they’re actually suspected and are being investigated for criminal activities.

Furthermore the bill will give the NSA permission to attempt to restart what are known as “about” searches, access to communications that merely reference a foreign target, not just communications to and from that target. The NSA voluntarily ended these types of searches once it became clear they were gaining access communications that they had no authority to be viewing. This bill will allow them to attempt to restart it unless Congress acts separately to stop it.

Once again many Democrats have acted as collaborators rather than as the resistance. Democrats who claim that Trump is a tyrant in cahoots with Putin have not been able to unite to oppose giving him increased powers to spy on Americans. Although they are a minority in both Houses of Congress, the presence of some Republicans supporting privacy rights, along with the requirement for sixty votes in the Senate, provided Democrats with the power to force changes.  A swing of one vote in the Senate or twenty-six Democrats in the House could have forced reforms to the law which allows warrantless surveillance of Americans as well as foreigners.

With The Outcry Over Trump’s Racist Comment On Shithole Countries Don’t Forget Hillary Clinton’s Role In Creating Shitholes Around The World

Donald Trump verified what we already knew about him with his comment about immigration shithole countries. He showed once again that he is racist, xenophobic, and has a shithole for a brain. Having Hillary Clinton speak out against this remark also served as a reminder of how often the United States is responsible for turning other countries into shitholes.

The long history of destruction in other countries by the United States is obviously too broad a topic for a single blog post, so for today I will just look at a couple of countries which Hillary Clinton helped turn into shitholes–Haiti (as it was mentioned by Trump), and Libya.

Current Affairs had one look at what the Clintons did to Haiti in a 2016 article. This includes suppressing the minimum wage in Haiti, as Wikileaks first revealed, with more at the Columbia Journalism Review.

When Haiti had problems recovering from a 2010 earthquake, the Clinton Foundation was happy to provide assistance, especially if “Friends of Bill” could get a piece of “the lucrative recovery effort.” ABC News reported:

In a series of candid email exchanges with top Clinton Foundation officials during the hours after the massive 2010 Haiti earthquake, a senior aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeatedly gave special attention to those identified by the abbreviations “FOB” (friends of Bill Clinton) or “WJC VIPs” (William Jefferson Clinton VIPs).

“Need you to flag when people are friends of WJC,” wrote Caitlin Klevorick, then a senior State Department official who was juggling incoming offers of assistance being funneled to the State Department by the Clinton Foundation. “Most I can probably ID but not all.”

The Washington Post notes that, “the Clintons’ image in Haiti has slipped in recent months as Haitians increasingly complain that Clinton-backed projects have often helped the country’s elite and international business investors more than they have helped poor Haitians.” Among those helped was Hillary’s brother, Tony Rodham, thanks to connections he made at a meeting of at a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative. The Washington Post describes the Clinton Global Initiative as “an offshoot of the Clinton Foundation that critics have long alleged invites a blurring of its charitable mission with the business interests of Bill and Hillary Clinton and their corporate donors.”

The country which was probably harmed the most by Hillary Clinton was Libya. Years after she voted for the war in Iraq, turning that country into a shithole, Clinton showed that the lesson she learned was how easy it is to lie the country into further wars. Clinton turned Libya into such a shithole that CNN found that Africans are being sold into slavery. Barack Obama has called the regime change in Libya, orchestrated by Hillary Clinton, the biggest mistake of his administration, and has called it a “shit show.” Last year Huffington Post had a story about how Hillary Clinton Turned a Stable, Developed Nation Into an ISIS Safe Haven:

As a brave crusader for all women – especially for women living in countries that she desperately wants to bomb – then-Secretary Clinton argued that the United States had a moral duty to intervene in Libya, stating that she was “deeply concerned” that Muammar Gaddafi’s troops were using rape as a weapon. (She was parroting a rumor started by Al-Jazeera which claimed that Gaddafi was handing out free Viagra to his soldiers so that they could rape 24/7.)

After Libya was flattened by NATO’s “no fly zone”, Amnesty International published a report which thoroughly debunked Hillary’s passionate plea for war:

Not only have we not met any [rape] victims, but we have not even met any persons who have met victims. As for the boxes of Viagra that Gaddafi is supposed to have had distributed, they were found intact near tanks that were completely burnt out.

The boxes of pristine Viagra found next to burnt-out tanks weren’t the only things planted in Libya. According to its report, Amnesty “failed to find evidence for these human rights violations [used to justify intervention] and in many cases has discredited or cast doubt on them. It also found indications that on several occasions the rebels in Benghazi appeared to have knowingly made false claims or manufactured evidence.”

The icing on the illegal war cake is that before Hillary started spreading rape rumors, Libya was considered a “high human development” country by the United Nations:

In 2010, Libya ranked 53rd in the UN’s Human Development Index among 163 countries. With life expectancy at birth at 74.5 years, an 88.4% adult literacy rate and a gross enrolment ratio of 94.1%, Libya was classified as a high human development country among the Middle East and North Africa region.

Libyans once enjoyed a higher standard of living than two-thirds of the planet. Now their country is terrorist stronghold ruled by competing warlords.

And as ISIS continues to lose territory in Syria and Iraq, Libya is increasingly seen as a fertile ground for jihadists. According to The Atlantic:

American intelligence officials estimate that the group’s ranks in Libya have grown to 6,500 fighters, more than doubling since the fall. ISIS first declared its intentions to establish a presence in Libya in 2014 and has been launching attacks ever since. The group is now thought to control 150 miles of Libyan coastline.

Hillary Clinton turned a stable, developed nation into an ISIS safe haven using tactics that would have made even William Randolph Hearst a bit queasy. To whip up support for the Spanish-American War (you’re probably too young to remember it), America’s favorite yellow journalist only managed to invent tame, PG -13 fairytales about Spanish soldiers fondling young Cuban damsels. If Hearst had reported that the Spaniards were having Havana Viagra parties, we could have marched all the way to Madrid. Hopefully President Clinton will remedy this missed opportunity. Pack your bags, ISIS. Next stop: Spain.

Forget Benghazi. Clinton is culpable in a far greater crime.

Besides turning Libya into a shithole country, Clinton’s decision to overthrow Qaddafi after he got rid of his nuclear weapons has been cited as a major reason for the current nuclear standoff with North Korea. If things go bad there, the entire planet could be turned into a shithole, with both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to blame.

Democrats, Including Nancy Pelosi, Help Republicans Block Civil Liberties Protections

The House has voted to renew the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program after previously failing to pass an amendment to place limitations on the program to help protect the rights of Americans. The New York Times reports:

The House of Representatives voted on Thursday to extend the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program for six years with minimal changes, rejecting a yearslong effort by a bipartisan group of lawmakers to impose significant new privacy limits when it sweeps up Americans’ emails and other personal communications.

The vote, 256 to 164, centered on an expiring law that permits the government, without a warrant, to collect communications of foreigners abroad from United States firms like Google and AT&T — even when those targets are talking to Americans. Congress had enacted the law in 2008 to legalize a form of a once-secret warrantless surveillance program created after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The legislation approved on Thursday still has to go through the Senate. But fewer lawmakers there appear to favor major changes to spying laws, so the House vote is likely the effective end of a debate over 21st-century surveillance technology and privacy rights that broke out in 2013 following the leaks by the intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden…

Before approving the extension of the law, known as Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, the House voted 233 to 183 to reject an amendment that proposed a series of overhauls. Among them was a requirement that officials get warrants in most cases before hunting for and reading emails and other messages of Americans swept up under the program.

Daniel Schuman of Demand Progress tweeted a list of the fifty-five Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi and Intelligence Committee Democratic Ranking Member Adam Schiff, who voted against the amendment introduced by Republican Justin Amash.

Schuman noted that the USA Rights amendment could have passed if twenty-six of these Democrats had supported it.

The Intercept described the effects of the bill which was passed:

The law serves as the legal backing for two mammoth NSA programs revealed by Edward Snowden: Upstream, which collects information from the internet junctions where data passes into and out of the country, and PRISM, which collects communications from U.S.-based internet companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Yahoo.

The programs rest on the notion that they are “targeting” foreigners, but they collect massive amounts of data on Americans as well, including wholly domestic communications. Amazingly, the intelligence community has never disclosed how much. Numerous members of Congress have requested an estimate since 2011, but both the Obama and Trump administrations have refused to provide one.

The bill also consolidates the FBI’s legal authority to search those communications without a warrant. Under current rules, the NSA shares certain kinds of information it collects under Section 702 with the FBI, whose agents can then search it in the course of investigating crimes unrelated to national security. In a secret court hearing in 2015, a lawyer for the Justice Department compared the frequency of those searches to the use of Google.

The American Civil Liberties Union issued this statement:

The House voted today to give President Trump and his administration more spying powers. The government will use this bill to continue warrantless intrusions into Americans’ private emails, text messages, and other communications.

No president should have this power. Yet, members of Congress just voted to hand it to an administration that has labeled individuals as threats based merely on their religion, nationality, or viewpoints. The Senate should reject this bill and rein in government surveillance powers to bring Section 702 in line with the Constitution.

Of course there is little chance of stopping this in the Senate either.  Rand Paul and Ron Wyden have sponsored a Senate version of the USA Rights Act.

There was one amusing aspect of this with Donald Trump again showing he has no understanding of the legislation before Congress. Trump initially put out a tweet opposing the bill after someone on Fox and Friends had said that the FISA Act had been used to justify surveillance of him based upon the Steele Dossier. He later reversed this after someone explained the position of his administration to him regarding the legislation.

This turned out to be only the second most stupid thing said by Donald Trump today. Later in the day this president with a shithole for a brain referred to Haiti and African countries as shithole countries.