Special Counsel Appointed 5/20/17

Article: "Deep breath, America"  

On May 17, former FBI Director Robert Mueller was appointed as special counsel to take over the FBI probe into Russian influence in the 2016 US Presidential election.

Some highlights: 
> In December 2016, US intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian government had interfered with the election. Trump denied this and denied any connection between his campaign and the Russian government.
> In January of 2017, Trump insisted on hiring Flynn as National Security Advisor despite multiple indications that he was deeply compromised. Trump would later fire Flynn.
> AG Jeff Sessions was found to have lied about contact with Russian ambassador Kislyak and had to recuse himself.
> Trump leans on FBI Director Comey to go easy on Flynn - “I hope you can let this go” - then fires Comey in May.

Comment from John McCain - the President’s scandals are of “Watergate size and scale.”


Election Meddling Investigation 4/1/17

Article: "Trump and Russia: the never-ending story   

A look at the investigations into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. As James Comey, director of the FBI, told Mr Nunes committee on March 20th, it is that individuals in Mr Trump’s campaign may have coordinated with the Russians in what, according to America’s intelligence agencies, was a bid to help him win the presidency. That would be a scandal whatever impact the Russian antics had.

A checklist of all the suspicious activities we know about so far:

> Michael Flynn misled Mike Pence, the vice-president, about his chats during the presidential transition with Sergei Kislyak, the Russian ambassador. Flynn said they didn’t discuss sanctions, but they did; since he was forced to resign as national security adviser, more details have emerged about his paid speechmaking for Russian companies (and lobbying for Turkish interests).

> Paul Manafort stopped being Mr Trump’s campaign manager amid consternation over his ties to Viktor Yanukovych, the disgraced ex-president of Ukraine who has been given refuge in Russia. According to the Associated Press, Mr Manafort was once retained by Oleg Deripaska, a tycoon close to the Kremlin, allegedly undertaking “to benefit the Putin government”.

> Roger Stone, a longtime associate of Mr Trump, seemed to have advance notice of Democratic emails published last year by WikiLeaks, the portal through which, according to Mr Comey and others, Russian hackers released their loot. Mr Stone has admitted being in indirect contact with Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’ founder, and exchanging messages with “Guccifer 2.0”, an online persona considered a front for Russian spooks.

> Carter Page, once named as an adviser by Mr Trump, made an interestingly timed trip to Moscow last July. And has been under investigation by the FBI since 2013 for his Russian connections.

> Jeff Sessions, the attorney-general, recused himself from all Russia-related inquiries after failing to disclose his own meetings with Mr Kislyak at his confirmation hearing.

> During the transition Jared Kushner met both Mr Kislyak and (it has emerged) Sergei Gorkov, the head of a Russian state bank placed under sanctions by Barack Obama’s administration.


Checks and balances on Trump 4/1/17

Article: ""Constrained"   

 > How can America’s checks and balances restrain the excesses of Trump? The Presidency has gained much power over the last fifty years (the “Imperial Presidency”). As Congress has descended into partisanship and dysfunction, the President (with a staff of hundreds of assistants and lawyers) has governed through executive orders. Still, restraints remain on Presidential power, including:

> The States: example: NY AG Eric Schneiderman (who also prosecuted Trump for his University) put together state-level legal defenses against Trump plans for increased deportations and reductions in climate change efforts. California is doing similar things, especially in regards to immigration.

> The Courts: Judge Robart blocked the Trump Muslim travel ban - and earned the “so-called judge” label from Trump.

> The Congress: Trump (and Speaker Ryan) were unable to get a ACA repeal bill through the House. There was opposition from radical Republicans like the House “Freedom Caucus”.

> The Media: both the NYT and the Washington Post released stories linking Flynn and Sessions to Russian contacts that were undisclosed. This led Flynn to resign and Sessions to recuse himself from the Russian investigation.   

> NGO’s: the ACLU has had some of its best fundraising after Trump’s election.