— Jordan Uhl (@JordanUhl) March 19, 2017
What the Heck Happened This Week?!?!
OMG! This week was insane! Anybody else feeling like we need to say, “Stop this ride, I want to get off!” Trying to decide what to include in this column has been really hard, because a lot of important and crazy stuff happened this week. But, without further ado, here it is, the week in politics:
Manafort, Russian Oligarchs, and Cyprus
The U.S. government investigation of President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, crossed the Atlantic earlier this year to the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus, once known as a haven for money laundering by Russian billionaires. Treasury agents in recent months obtained information connected to Manafort’s transactions from Cypriot authorities, according to a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to speak publicly. The request was part of a federal anti-corruption probe into Manafort’s work in Eastern Europe. The Cyprus attorney general, one of the country’s top law enforcement officers, was also aware of the American request. Manafort was Trump’s unpaid campaign chairman from March until August last year, during the critical run-up to the Republican National Convention. He’s been a leading focus of the U.S. investigation into whether Trump associates coordinated with Moscow to meddle in the 2016 presidential campaign… This week, the AP revealed Manafort’s secret work for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago. (Associated Press)
One noteworthy bit of this story is that bank that Manafort used for these transactions was the Bank of Cyprus, which is the bank that Wilbur Ross used to be the Vice-Chairman of. Now Wilbur Ross is Donald Trumps’ Commerce Secretary (who would have seen that coming, one of Trump’s cabinet picks have ties to Russia????). (The Guardian)
Nunes Taints the Investigation
Rep. Devin Nunes (R- CA), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee and who was also an official member of the Trump transition team, which seems like a conflict of interest to me, but hey, whose counting anymore? learned that US intelligence had incidentally collected information about people on the Trump transition team.
The raw intelligence that Nunes reviewed showed no evidence of a wiretap on Trump. Rather, it showed that the conversations had been intercepted incidentally under a court-ordered FISA warrant. In plain English, that means Trump officials had spoken to a foreign national whose communications were being monitored by US intelligence, so their conversations were picked up despite the fact that they weren’t targets of surveillance. Before taking this information to the FBI or the other members of the House Intelligence Committee, Nunes briefed his political boss, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Around midday on Wednesday, he went public, holding a press conference to announce that “the intelligence community incidentally collected information about US citizens involved in the Trump transition.” (Vox)
Nunes then took this information to trump at the White House. He has yet to give this information to the Committee which is investigating Trump and which is he is the head of, supposedly because he does not have actual copies of the information.
Comey, Rogers, and Only One Bathroom Break, Oh My!
On Monday, F.B.I. Director, James Comey, and National Security Agency Director, Michael Rogers, testified before Congress for five hours and twenty minutes (with only one bathroom break!). The two major take-aways of the hearing were that there was no evidence to back up President Donald Trump’s claim that he had been wiretapped last year by President Barack Obama and it was revealed for the first time that the FBI has been conducting a counterintelligence investigation since last July of contacts between Trump associates and Russia. The republicans did not seem at all concerned with the fact that the President of the United States may have colluded with Russians to alter the results of the presidential election. Instead, they steadfastly tried to steer the focus of the hearings to be about the leak that revealed that recently ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn had apparently lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his transition-period chats with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
At one point, Nunes even asked Comey about opening a new investigation into Hillary Clinton!
If this committee — or anyone else for that matter, someone from the public — comes with information to you about the Hillary Clinton campaign or their associates or someone from the Clinton Foundation, will you add that to your investigation? They have ties to Russian intelligence services, Russian agents — would that be something of interest to you? (ThinkProgress)
Adam Schiff Is the Democrat’s Knight in Shinning Armor
The one hero to come out of this investigation has been Rep. Adam Schiff (D – CA). He is not letting the Republicans have their way with this investigation. He appeared on a variety of media outlets during the week. At first he said there was only circumstantial evidence of members of the Trump team colluding with the Russians, but by Wednesday, he was saying there was now more than circumstantial evidence of collusion.
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) March 22, 2017
Before the actual questioning of Comey and Rogers began, Schiff gave a 15 minute speech, during which he laid out the entire Russian scandal timeline of publicly available information. (ThinkProgress)
Thursday, after the hearings on Gorsuch, Chuck Schumer, stated that the Democrats will be filibustering. Schumer said:
Judge Gorsuch was unable to sufficiently convince me that he’d be an independent check on a president who has shown almost no restraint from executive overreach.
Unfortunately, at this point in time, neither of Washington State’s senators, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, have gone on record that they will support the filibuster on Gorsuch.
1/ Sorry, Mr. President, that’s not how NATO works. The US decides for itself how much it contributes to defending NATO. pic.twitter.com/8svkzRBEQb
— Ivo Daalder (@IvoHDaalder) March 18, 2017
Check and Mate
Ivo Daalder, former US ambassador to NATO, explained how NATO and defense spending works after the president tweeted that Germany owes money to NATO and the U.S. for providing defense. (Twitter)
Another Handshaking Embarrassment
President Donald Trump, who made headlines for shaking hands with Japan’s prime minister in front of reporters for a full 19 seconds, seemed to ignore German Chancellor Angela Merkel when she suggested that they exchange the same courtesy during her White House visit Friday. (Politico) Honestly, Trump’s whole inability to just shake hands with anyone in a normal manner is just embarrassing.
Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, who refused to bring a reporter pool on his trip to Asia, ruled out on Friday opening any negotiation with North Korea to freeze its nuclear and missile programs and said for the first time that the Trump administration might be forced to take pre-emptive action “if they elevate the threat of their weapons program” to an unacceptable level. The secretary of state’s comments were the Trump administration’s first public hint at the options being considered, and they made clear that none involved a negotiated settlement or waiting for the North Korean government to collapse. (NY Times) Tillerson also announced that he will be missing his first meeting with NATO in April. He will be making time to visit Moscow though. (Reuters)
As always, there were many other stories that were important, but I can only fit so much in one column. I hope you all have a good week! Stay safe, stay sane, and stay strong!