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  • White House spokesman offers bizarro explanation for Donald 'Lock Her Up' Trump's pardons
    by Jen Hayden on February 19, 2020 at 7:30 pm

    If you include the long, long campaign season, we are roughly five years into our Donald Trump hell. During that time, Trump has told thousands of lies. Layers upon layers of lies. And not only does he surround himself with people who do the same, but he demands it of them. Ask Sean Spicer, or ask Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who so struggled to answer for or repeat Donald Trump’s lies from the White House podium that she stopped having press conferences altogether.  Enter Hogan Gidley, principal deputy White House press secretary, a man with a penchant for delivering dizzying talking points in the White House driveway while standing under a $400 Burberry umbrella that matches his pocket handkerchief and his $2,000 raincoat. It’s a wonder these folks were able to convince a large swath of Americans that they represent blue-collar families, but I digress. Gidley hit the television network, the only one the White House talks to, to explain Donald Trump’s most recent head-scratching pardons, and he offered an equally head-scratching explanation of why he chose these particular people to pardon. âÂ�Â�The president is against aggressive sentencing,âÂ�Â� whether itâÂ�Â�s Alice Johnson or Rod Blagojevich, spokesman Hogan Gidley says on Fox News. pic.twitter.com/uxLnm6mFn4âÂ�Â� Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) February 19, 2020 “The president is against aggressive sentencing.” Excuse me, what? The man spent two years leading “Lock her up” chants about his political rival. He literally campaigned on aggressively sentencing his political opponent for the crime of … something something. It was only a week ago that Trump said he admired China for holding quick trials and executing drug dealers. His exact words: "Countries with a powerful death penalty, with a fair but quick trial, they have very little if any drug problem. That includes China." Wouldn’t the death penalty after a “quick trial” be the most aggressive sentence of all? That wasn’t the first time that Donald Trump has expressed support for executing drug dealers. He’s reportedly mentioned the idea to aides many times since taking office, citing the policies of Singapore and the Philippines.  Of course, what’s really at play here is yet another example of our two justice systems—one for powerful white men and their allies, and one for the rest of us. Defrauding people is just the cost of doing business to people like Trump. Prison and punishment are for the little people in $20 rain jackets, or political opponents they don’t like, not for Burberry men like themselves. Transactions like pardons and clemency are simply another form of currency for men like Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani. Expect to see Bernard Kerik return the favor by continuing to heavily praise and promote Trump on Fox News, something he’s been inexplicably booked to do in recent months despite his conviction on corruption charges, for peddling his influence as NYC’s top police officer for his own personal gain.  At the end of the day, it’s more lies, more shame, more of a stain on this nation and the idea of law and order.  UPDATE: Guess who will be praising Donald Trump on Fox News tonight? Inbox: Fox News Channel To Present Exclusive Interviews with Rod Blagojevich and Bernard Kerik TonightâÂ�Â� Nick Corasaniti (@NYTnickc) February 19, 2020 Trump suggests he'd like to model American criminal law on drug dealing on authoritarian systems like China, where dealers are executed: "Countries with a powerful death penalty, with a fair but quick trial, they have very little if any drug problem. That includes China." pic.twitter.com/9WprysjJAXâÂ�Â� Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 10, 2020

  • Julian Assange alleges Trump offered him a 'deal': Say Russia didn't hack DNC, get a free pardon
    by Mark Sumner on February 19, 2020 at 7:00 pm

    At a London pretrial hearing in the extradition case of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Wednesday, the court was informed that Assange will be calling a witness with explosive testimony. According to Assange’s legal team, that witness will report that Assange was approached while in exile and offered a pardon by the U.S. government if he would claim that Russia was not involved in the theft and release of documents from the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 election. The visitor bringing this offer, according to Assange’s attorney, was former California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher. But the claim is also that Rohrabacher was there on behalf of Donald Trump, to let Assange walk if he would only say that Russia was not involved.  Offering Assange a pass to say that Russia wasn’t involved seems more than a little odd, because that was what Assange was claiming all along. He was perfectly willing to help cover up his sources among Russian intelligence and to go along with theories that put the blame at someone else’s door—other nations, rival Democrats, Hillary Clinton, deliberately laying a snare for Trump. Why offer Assange something as huge as a pardon for what he was already doing on his own? On the other hand, the Rohrabacher connection is very real. It wasn’t just House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy’s famous claim, “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.” It was that consistently pro-Russia Rohrabacher suggested a deal that appeared to be exactly what Assange is now claiming. In 2017, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Republican representative had attempted to broker a deal with Assange: Assange would get a pardon, and in return, the paper said, he would “probably present a computer drive or other data-storage device that Mr. Rohrabacher said would exonerate Russia.”  According to the Journal’s reporting, Rohrabacher said, “He would get nothing, obviously, if what he gave us was not proof.” If Assange provided something and it failed to satisfy Trump’s need for proof that someone else was behind the hacking, the fact that a pardon didn’t come through seems reasonable. And since Russia definitely did do it, it’s hard to see what kind of proof Assange might have offered. There’s even the chance—in those days, before Attorney General William Barr wiped away the Mueller report and Senate Republicans made it clear that Trump was free to do as he pleased—that there might have been some concern over just how obvious it was to be handing Assange a pass. But The Wall Street Journal emphatically reported in 2017 that Rohrabacher did propose such a deal. The only thing that’s missing is the definitive proof that Trump was behind that offer. Which makes this April 2019 post from journalist Marcy Wheeler particularly interesting. In running through Trump’s written responses to Robert Mueller’s special counsel team, she noted one question where the response was … a little off. Question: Did you have any discussions prior to January 20, 2017, regarding a potential pardon or other action to benefit Julian Assange? If yes, describe who you had the discussion(s) with, when, and the content of the discussion(s). Trump: I do not recall having had any discussion during the campaign regarding a pardon or action to benefit Julian Assange. These “I do not recall”-type answers were the sort of response Trump gave to almost everything. However, in this case he qualified it by saying “during the campaign.” Which leaves out the period between the election and the inauguration. Rohrabacher’s efforts were still underway in September 2017, but it’s not clear when they began. That also neatly dodges a period in December 2016 when, The Atlantic reports, WikiLeaks was sending messages to Donald Trump Jr. saying things like, “Hi Don. Hope you’re doing well! In relation to Mr. Assange: Obama/Clinton placed pressure on Sweden, UK and Australia (his home country) to illicitly go after Mr. Assange. It would be real easy and helpful for your dad to suggest that Australia appoint Assange ambassador to [Washington,] DC.” It’s starting to seem that Assange’s extradition hearing might be a don’t-miss event.

  • Moscow Mitch makes it clear with opposition to prescription drug pricing bill: Mitch comes first
    by Joan McCarter on February 19, 2020 at 6:30 pm

    Impeached president Donald Trump has made lots of supportive noises about a bill with bipartisan support in the Senate to bring down drug prices, written by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden. Knowing that Democrats are going to be running hard on health care in all the states, some Republican senators—such as Arizona's Martha McSally, Iowa's Joni Ernst, and Maine's Susan Collins—would really like to have this pass. They need something to run on. Grassley says so: "Since the president stated [his support] in his State of the Union message, we've had a lot of Republicans express interest that probably wouldn't have." But one obstacle remains: Mitch McConnell has remained steadfast against it. He says it divides his conference, as there are some Republicans who don't like that it would cap price increases or force companies that raised prices above the cap to pay out rebates as their penalty. They say that amounts to price controls, so McConnell is pointing to that as a reason for his opposition. What he's not talking about is the massive haul his campaign fund has received in the past year from the drug industry. Please give $1 to our nominee fund to help Democrats and end McConnell's career as Senate majority leader. McConnell is the top recipient among all members of Congress for the 2019-2020 cycle from the pharmaceutical industry. The CEOs of these companies have been very generous to McConnell as well. Last summer, as the drug pricing bill was coming together, William Anderson, the CEO of Roche Pharmaceuticals, gave $15,600 to the McConnell for Majority Leader Committee, as did Bristol-Myers Squibb CEO Giovanni Caforio. The CEOs of Pfizer, AbbVie, Merck, and Sanofi all maxed out as well, while nearly a dozen officers of other companies and the pharmaceutical industry trade group PhRMA itself gave thousands. Trump supposedly supports it, though it might be his reward to McConnell for the impeachment cover-up to let this one drop. When it comes down to it, Trump needs McConnell right where he is—no one else would be quite so ruthless and effective at helping him get away with all the crime.

  • Top House Democrats condemn proposed ICE raids, say they're meant to 'instill fear in communities'
    by Gabe Ortiz on February 19, 2020 at 6:00 pm

    Top Democrats from the House Judiciary and House Homeland committees are demanding answers regarding the Trump administration’s plan to have “the SWAT team of the Border Patrol” assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement in mass raids across a number of major U.S. cities, saying "The committees have serious concerns over the utility of engaging these highly militarized units, which were never intended for routine immigration enforcement activities, in densely populated metropolitan areas.” The letter called on acting Homeland Security Sec. Chad Wolf to provide lawmakers with “a full briefing” on the proposed raids within a week, which will reportedly target San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston, Boston, New Orleans, Detroit, and Newark—all cities with significant Latino and immigrant communities. The New York Times reported last week that as many as 100 members of Customs and Border Protection’s “elite tactical unit known as BORTAC” would be deployed to assist ICE in separating families: “With additional gear such as stun grenades and enhanced Special Forces-type training, including sniper certification, the officers typically conduct high-risk operations targeting individuals who are known to be violent, many of them with extensive criminal records.” This is unnecessary and a politically motivated show of force to harass communities, lawmakers including Judiciary chair Jerry Nadler, Homeland Security chair Bennie Thompson, Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship chair Zoe Lofgren, and Subcommittee on Border Security, Facilitation, and Operations chair Kathleen Rice said. “This appears to be yet another retaliatory move aimed at cities that have opted to implement immigration policies with which the administration does not agree.” Lawmakers further cited the administration’s blocking New Yorkers from Trusted Traveler Programs in recent weeks, as well as a plan last year where “ICE and CBP were coordinating to transport and release detainees from facilities across the country into communities represented by the president’s political adversaries. Tactics such as these, which appear to be politically motivated and not grounded in national security, are unacceptable and do nothing more than punish residents and instill fear in communities,” the lawmakers continued. ICE’s raids often result in sweeps of people with no criminal record, and sometimes even people who weren’t a target at all but got detained because they were there at the time, which ICE crassly refers to as a “collateral arrest.” In 2017, ICE arrested a Dreamer during a raid targeting his dad, even though his status is supposed to protect him from deportation. Not only did ICE keep him detained for weeks, the agency was called out in court for making up gang ties in order to justify trying to deport him. Earlier this week, Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey called on the administration to halt the upcoming raids entirely, writing “The BORTAC deployment to Boston and other cities is unnecessary, unwelcome, and dangerous. But the specter of heavily armed, military-like personnel in our cities will accomplish one thing: provoke fear. Administration officials have reportedly said the BORTAC members are expected to ‘stand by as a show of force.’”

  • Undersecretary of Defense is out as purge of those who pushed back on Trump's Ukraine plot continues
    by Mark Sumner on February 19, 2020 at 5:30 pm

    Multiple sources are reporting that Undersecretary of Defense John Rood has been asked to submit his resignation. CNN says that Rood has “lost support among senior national security leadership,” but there may be a simpler reason for the undersecretary’s departure: Rood was the person who signed off on the Defense Department’s examination of corruption in Ukraine. That review said that Ukraine had met all the goals set forward in legislation to combat corruption and promote democracy and was eligible to receive military funding allocated to it by Congress. Throughout the impeachment hearings, members of the Defense Department, such as Laura Cooper, testified that investigations of Ukraine had found no reason to withhold military assistance funding. Subsequent letters revealed by filings under the Freedom of Information Act have made it clear that when Donald Trump’s demand to freeze the aid was passed to the Pentagon by officials in the Office of Management and Budget, those officials knew they were breaking the law. And now Rood is the next one to pay the price for being honest when Trump is in charge. Rood made another mistake when it comes to hanging around Washington in the Age of Trump. Shortly after Trump’s “perfect” call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Rood emailed his boss, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, to inform him that "placing a hold on security assistance at this time would jeopardize this unique window of opportunity and undermine our defense priorities with a key partner in the strategic competition with Russia." Rood also made Esper aware that a group of Pentagon officials were meeting to figure out how they could deal with Trump’s demands. So Rood both: Validated that Ukraine had met the required commitments to fighting corruption and supporting democracy that were the only test included in the legislation authorizing the military assistance. Made it clear that placing a hold on the assistance was a threat to the national security of both Ukraine and the United States. That’s not the kind of truth-telling that’s allowed in either the White House or the Pentagon under Trump. During the impeachment proceedings, Republicans in the House and the Senate repeatedly maintained that Trump had the right to place a hold on the assistance for any reason. He doesn’t. And they claimed that the hold did not represent a threat to Ukrainian security. It did. The purge of Rood from the Pentagon shows that the general housecleaning of anyone who dared to speak the truth during Trump’s impeachment is far from over. 

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