When Michael D. Cohen admitted this past week to lying to Congress about a Russian business deal, he said he had testified falsely out of loyalty to President Trump. When he admitted this summer to lying on campaign finance records about payments to cover up a sex scandal during the campaign, he said it was at Mr. Trump’s direction.
Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, former senior Trump campaign officials, lied to cover up financial fraud. George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign aide, lied in hopes of landing an administration job. And Michael T. Flynn, another adviser, lied about his interactions with a Russian official and about other matters for reasons that remain unclear.
If the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has proved anything in his 18-month-long investigation — besides how intensely Russia meddled in an American presidential election — it is that Mr. Trump surrounded himself throughout 2016 and early 2017 with people to whom lying seemed to be second nature.
They lied to federal authorities even when they had lawyers advising them, even when the risk of getting caught was high and even when the consequences for them were dire.
Even more Trump associates are under investigation for the same offense. They are part of a group of people surrounding Mr. Trump — including some White House and cabinet officials — who contribute to a culture of bending, if not outright breaking, the truth, and whose leading exemplar is Mr. Trump himself.
Mr. Trump looks for people who share his disregard for the truth and are willing to parrot him, “even if it’s a lie, even if they know it’s a lie, and even if he said the opposite the day before,” said Gwenda Blair, a Trump biographer. They must be “loyal to what he is saying right now,” she said, or he sees them as “a traitor.”
Campaign aides often echoed Mr. Trump’s pronouncements knowing they were false. People joined the top levels of his administration with the realization that they would be expected to embrace what Mr. Trump said, no matter how far from the truth or how much their reputations suffered.
For Sean Spicer, the first White House press secretary, that included falsely insisting, on Mr. Trump’s first day in office, that his inaugural crowd was the biggest in history. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who replaced him, dialed back once-daily news briefings to once every few weeks as her credibility was increasingly battered.
For decades, such behavior was relatively free of consequence for those who aligned with Mr. Trump. The stakes in the real estate world were lower, and deceptive statements could be dismissed as hardball business tactics or just efforts to cultivate the Trump mystique.
But in Mr. Mueller, those in Mr. Trump’s orbit now confront a big-league adversary with little tolerance for what one top White House adviser once called “alternative facts.” He leads a team of prosecutors and F.B.I. agents who are methodically and purposefully examining their words and deeds.
Mr. Trump’s own lawyers, wary of how frequently their client engages in falsehoods, are trying to hold the special counsel at bay. Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s lawyers, has already been forced to pull back his own public remarks about an issue of concern to Mr. Mueller.
In a confidential memo to the special counsel, Mr. Trump’s legal team admitted that the president, not his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., drafted a misleading statement about a Trump Tower meeting in 2016 between a Kremlin-tied lawyer and campaign officials. That statement could figure in the special counsel’s scrutiny of whether the president obstructed justice.
Fearful of more deceptions, the president’s legal team has insisted that Mr. Trump answer questions only in writing. They delivered replies to some of the special counsel’s queries on Nov. 20 after months of negotiation. If unsatisfied, Mr. Mueller could try to subpoena the president to testify.
But the new acting attorney general, Matthew G. Whitaker, a vocal critic of Mr. Mueller’s inquiry who now supervises it, would have to sign off. And even if he did, the White House could still mount a legal battle to quash it.
Many witnesses or subjects of the inquiry lack the president’s negotiating power or resources. Some have been stunned by their encounters with prosecutors, who arrive armed with thick binders documenting their text messages, emails and whereabouts on any given date.
Sam Nunberg, a former longtime adviser to Mr. Trump, said he feared that the special counsel was creating the impression of a wide-ranging conspiracy among liars, when witnesses could have dispelled much of the suspicion simply by testifying truthfully.
“People are conspiring against themselves, and they are playing right into Mueller’s hands,” he said. “If Flynn had said he discussed sanctions, he could very well be national security adviser today,” he added. Instead, Mr. Flynn awaits sentencing for lying to F.B.I. agents about various matters, including his talks with the Russian ambassador over whether the new administration would lift sanctions against Russia.
The reasons for the lies vary, but, not surprisingly, people were most often trying to protect themselves. Mr. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s longtime fixer, said in federal court this past week that he had misled Congress about the details of a Trump hotel project in Moscow because he did not want to contradict the president’s own false characterizations of his business dealings in Moscow. He specifically cited his loyalty to Mr. Trump, referred to as “Individual 1” in court papers, as the reason for his crime.
“I made these misstatements to be consistent with Individual 1’s political messaging and out of loyalty to Individual 1,” Mr. Cohen told a judge. In a sentencing memo filed late Friday, Mr. Cohen emphasized that in the weeks before he misled Congress about the deal, he remained in “close and regular contact with White House-based staff,” as well as with Mr. Trump’s lawyers.
While the Moscow hotel was never built, Mr. Cohen’s court filing suggested that Mr. Trump at best minimized his knowledge of the proposed venture, both as a candidate and once he had been elected. Nearly two dozen times, Mr. Trump has publicly insisted that he had no business dealings in Russia.
But Mr. Cohen, who discussed the hotel project with the aide to a key Kremlin official in early 2016, said in Friday’s court filing that he kept Mr. Trump apprised of negotiations that continued through June of that year, just before Mr. Trump formally became the Republican nominee.
Mr. Manafort is accused of lying on top of lying. As part of a September plea deal, he acknowledged that he had lied to the Justice Department about his business dealings and that he had also tried to persuade witnesses to lie to investigators on his behalf. On Monday, prosecutors said that he continued to lie after he had agreed to cooperate with them, breaching his plea deal. His lawyers insist he told the truth.
Mr. Trump has been Mr. Mueller’s most vociferous critic, accusing his team of manufacturing lies by threatening witnesses with severe consequences if they refuse to agree with the special counsel’s narrative.
What prosecutors have called lies, Mr. Trump has insisted is truth. What they called truth, he has framed as lies.
Where all this is headed is unclear, but it appears that more allegations of lying are ahead. The Senate Intelligence Committee, which has also been investigating Russia’s interference in the election, has referred other cases to the special counsel’s office involving witnesses who may have lied.
Prosecutors are investigating whether two or more people, including a longtime friend of Mr. Trump’s, Roger J. Stone Jr., lied about WikiLeaks, the rogue organization that distributed Democratic emails and other documents stolen by Russian intelligence as part of Moscow’s campaign to influence the 2016 election. Mr. Mueller’s team has been trying to determine whether anyone with the Trump campaign conspired with WikiLeaks or the Russian government to bolster Mr. Trump’s chances of winning the White House.
Jerome Corsi, a conservative author, has cast doubt on whether Mr. Stone testified truthfully to Congress about what inspired a Twitter message he posted in the summer of 2016. In it, Mr. Stone predicted, with a missing verb, “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel.”
Mr. Corsi said he had helped Mr. Stone concoct a “cover story” for the message so that it would not appear Mr. Stone had advance knowledge that WikiLeaks planned to undermine Hillary Clinton’s campaign by releasing emails stolen from the computer of her campaign chairman, John D. Podesta. He said Mr. Stone then incorporated those falsehoods into his congressional testimony — an allegation that Mr. Stone vehemently denies.
But in a turnabout, Mr. Corsi said prosecutors had now accused him of lying to them about other communications he had with Mr. Stone regarding WikiLeaks. He claims his only crime is a faulty memory.
Analysis: Deval Patrick revives debate over ‘electability’
Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s late entry into the presidential race offers Democrats a fresh — and perhaps last — chance to reassess who they think is the strongest candidate to take on President Donald Trump.
It adds to the now months-long debate within the Democratic Party over “electability” less than three months before the first votes are cast. For a party that prides itself on diversity, the answers so far have been consistent and, to some, frustrating — a top tier dominated by white candidates, only one of whom is a woman.
But Patrick’s campaign is a reminder of the divergent paths to victory for presidential hopefuls. White candidates must prove they can win over black voters. Blacks and other minority contenders, however, must show they can build white support.
That type of multiracial coalition has eluded virtually everyone in the race except Joe Biden, who — for now — has deep support among black voters in addition to working-class whites. Those who assess that backing as soft, however, see an opening for a moderate candidate like Patrick, a black governor who made history winning in a majority-white state.
That, some strategists say, differentiates Patrick from Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey, the two other major black candidates whose past electoral success has come in more diverse states and who are lagging in the presidential polls.
“Kamala Harris and Cory Booker are well-funded, high-profile black candidates, but have not been able to rise during a cycle where appeals to black voters are central to who will be the eventual winner of the primary,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. He said the election will confront what stigma still exists with white voters toward black candidates in the post-Barack Obama era.
“We can make the assumption that Patrick will be the next black candidate to face this test, but his appeal is altogether different than Booker and Harris,” Payne said. “The Patrick candidacy is an appeal to moderation and to the center-left more than a direct appeal to black voters.”
In 2008, then-Sen. Obama was the lone black candidate in the Democratic primary field and didn’t begin to gain momentum until the final weeks before the Iowa caucuses, trailing Hillary Clinton and John Edwards for much of the contest. But Obama’s showing— winning an overwhelmingly white electorate — gave him momentum to convince black voters in South Carolina and across the Black Belt that he was viable.
Obama’s diverse coalition was a new blueprint in Democratic electoral mapmaking, earning him the party’s nomination and his history-making general election victory. Observers say it’s an electorate Democrats will have to replicate to win in 2020.
The trio of African Americans have taken different approaches in how they contend with the racial aspects of their candidacies.
Harris announced her candidacy on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and has unique status as an alumna of historically black Howard University, member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, and the lone black woman in the 2020 fray.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker announced during Black History Month. The former mayor of Newark touts his residency in an impoverished black neighborhood in the city but has also sought to cast himself as a bridge builder — pointing out his ties to a civil rights legacy that changed his family’s trajectory with intervention from progressive whites that helped him integrate his childhood neighborhood.
In a brief interview Friday, he encouraged voters to “pull the lens back on diversity.”
“We have women in this race, we have an openly gay person in this race, we have (a) biracial person in this race, African-Americans in this race,” he said. “It is an incredible moment in American history that our field is so diverse and that voters have such qualified folks to choose from.”
Patrick himself has made relatively few references to race since launching his campaign. But as he registered this week to appear on the ballot in the New Hampshire primary, he spoke of the “skepticism” he has experienced as a black man.
“He has demonstrated an ability to win over white voters in an overwhelmingly white state,” said Democratic strategist Doug Thornell. “The question is whether he has enough time, whether he can raise the money, and whether he can carve out a compelling narrative and identity that allows him to break through. That’s a lot to accomplish in two months, but it’s not crazy.”
His path would be a challenging one. Though Patrick is not a national name, he is fairly well-known in neighboring New Hampshire, where voters saw television ads for his gubernatorial campaigns.
A strong finish in the Granite State could provide momentum heading into South Carolina, disrupting the field and leaving no clear frontrunner heading into Super Tuesday, said Thornell.
“If you look at the African American candidates running, he might be the best positioned to pull that off,” Thornell said.
Patrick’s late entry is reminiscent of Gen. Wesley Clark’s 11th-hour bid in 2003. Clark was able to briefly break through after some among the electorate worried about then-Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s path to the nomination, or that former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean was too liberal.
As a prominent African American who can appeal to black and white voters, Patrick could appeal to soft Biden voters looking for an alternative to Booker or Harris, or who don’t like Sen. Elizabeth Warren or Sen. Bernie Sanders’ progressive agenda, said Democratic strategist Adrienne Elrod.
“He can create that ‘I’m more left than Biden, but not crazy like Warren/Sanders’ message,” Elrod said. “He could appeal to some of those voters who are on the fence and not satisfied with others in the field. He can say, ‘I can be your candidate.’”
— Errin Haines
White House beancounter defies Trump to tell impeachment inquiry about $400M in suspended Ukraine aid
A White House budget official defied President Trump and testified Saturday in the House impeachment inquiry about the controversial suspension of defense aid to Ukraine.
Mark Sandy, a career Office of Management and Budget official, told lawmakers that he raised questions about whether the decision by Trump acolytes to hold up $400 million in desperately needed military assistance violated laws mandating money allocated by Congress be spent, CNN reported.
The budget expert did not explain what reasons were given for the hold up in aid. He testified behind closed doors in a rare Saturday session as the impeachment investigation continues to deliver heavy blows to Trump.
Sandy acted on orders to put an initial hold on the aid in late July and the issue was later handed over to Trump political appointees.
The aid was already appropriated by Congress, meaning the White House would have had to offer a legally valid reason for withholding it.
It’s not known what explanation if any, was given for removing the suspension from Sandy’s purview.
Sandy’s testimony shone a harsh spotlight on Mick Mulvaney, who is both the OMB director and Trump’s acting chief of staff.
“Mulvaney not only has refused to testify, but actively worked to block others from complying with subpoenas,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Cal.) in a statement. “(He also) refused to provide Congress with documents relating to Trump’s suspension of Congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine.
Mulvaney admitted that Trump imposed an improper “quid pro quo” on Ukraine at a disastrous press conference although he later sought to walk back his admission. He has refused to testify to the impeachment probe.
A key contention of impeachment advocates is that Trump suspended the aid so he could use it as leverage to force Ukraine into launching bogus investigation of Trump’s Democratic rivals.
In fact, the suspension of aid shocked Ukraine officials and reportedly led them to consider announcing the corruption probes to get the cash flowing again.
By that time, in early September, the intelligence whistleblower complaint had hit the headlines, forcing the White House to reinstate the aid without getting the investigations announcement that Trump wanted.
In a statement Saturday, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, called out Mulvaney for refusing to testify.
“If Mulvaney had evidence that contradicted what we’ve already heard, he’d be eager to testify and provide documents. Instead, he’s hiding behind, and assisting in, Trump’s efforts to conceal the truth from the American people,” Schiff said.
Also on Saturday, impeachment investigators released the transcripts of depositions given by deputy assistant to the president Timothy Morrison, and Vice President Pence’s special adviser on Europe and Russia, Jennifer Williams.
In Morrison’s Oct. 31 deposition, he testified U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland told him he’d spoken with Ukrainian presidential aide Andriy Yermak about American military funding being conditioned on corruption investigations. “My concern was what Gordon was proposing about getting the Ukrainians pulled into our politics,” Morrison testified.
In Williams’ Nov. 7 deposition, she confirmed that Trump told Pence to not attend the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s inauguration in an apparent signal that he needed to pursue the corruption probes or be frozen out of the military aid.
“My understanding from my colleague—and, again, I wasn’t there for the conversation—was that the President asked the Vice President not to attend,” she testified.
By DAVE GOLDINER
Social networks have been weaponized for the impeachment hearings
Impeachment hearings got underway in the House of Representatives this week, as you likely noticed from the wall-to-wall coverage. The process involves the sort of high-stakes, highly partisan events that naturally dominate social feeds. What television was to impeachment in the 1970s and 1990s, Facebook and Twitter — and YouTube and maybe TikTok — will be to impeachment in 2019.
The hearings on President Donald Trump’s apparent attempted bribery of Ukraine won’t be the first time a president has had to contend with, or benefit from, a hyper-partisan media. Conservative talk radio and Fox News were in full swing when Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998, even if their rhetoric looks quaint by today’s standard. But the World Wide Web was in its infancy, and the world was then still innocent of algorithmically sorted news feeds, partisan bot armies, and state-sponsored meme warfare.
Not anymore. If the first day of hearings is any indication, social networks promise to play a powerful role in shaping the way that impeachment hearings are understood by Americans. They are also playing a powerful role in shaping the hearings themselves.
As Ryan Broderick documented at BuzzFeed, Republican lawmakers used their time during Wednesday’s hearing to promote discredited conspiracy theories that are popular on right-wing message boards:
There is one America that believes what was in former FBI director Robert Mueller’s report, that there was coordinated Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, which helped the Trump campaign. But there is a second America that believes that in the summer of 2016, the Democratic National Committee colluded with Ukrainian nationals to frame the Trump campaign for collusion with Russia, implicating a Ukrainian American DNC contractor, Alexandra Chalupa, in the collusion and the California-based cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike in the subsequent cover-up.
This unfounded theory has been propped up by a 2017 Politico story; reporting from right-wing political commentator John Solomon published earlier this year in the Hill; Attorney General Bill Barr’s summer travels; the yearlong personal investigation into Ukraine conducted by Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer working for Trump; and coverage from Fox News and conservative news sites. All of that came into play during Wednesday’s hearing, sometimes implicitly and sometimes explicitly.
After Republican members of Congress promoted these various smokescreens, right-wing media universally dismissed the hearing — either as an absurd exercise led by clowns, or as an outrageous abuse of power. Brian Stelter described the atmosphere on cable news:
Here’s what else I heard: Wednesday’s hearing was a bust. It was all just hearsay. It was a “disaster” for the Democrats and a “great day” for the Republicans. Impeachment is “stupid.” Impeachment is “fake.” There’s nothing impeachable here. There’s no reason to hold hearings. This inquiry needs to stop right now.
The message was one-sided and overwhelming. Every host and practically every guest said the Republican tribe is winning and the Democrat tribe is losing. I’m sure the president loved watching every minute of it. That’s one of the reasons why this right-wing rhetoric matters so much — because it is reassuring and emboldening Trump.
Meanwhile, if you’re reading the New York Times or watching CNN, you’re getting the sense that the case against Trump is a slam dunk, with multiple people having heard the president directly pressure his ambassador to the European Union to pursue a bribery plot. As Ezra Klein wrote recently, this impeachment is “the easiest possible test case for can our system hold a president accountable.” And yet with something like 40 percent of the country living in an alternate media universe, the basic, actual facts of the case may never penetrate into their reality.
Of course, that fear was one of the best reasons for Democrats to initiate impeachment proceedings in the first place: Show people real witnesses answering important questions over a long enough period of time — train everyone’s eyes on the same set of facts — and maybe a greater consensus will emerge.
Time will tell if they succeed. In the meantime, impeachment has proven to be big business on Facebook — where politicians are taking out highly partisan ads consistent with their respective worldviews. Emily Stewart and Rani Molla have a thorough walkthrough of how impeachment is playing out on Facebook, with Trump and Sen. Elizabeth Warren using ads to fire up their base and build their donor rolls; Tom Steyer using impeachment as a signature issue to promote his presidential candidacy; and a spice company buying tens of thousands of dollars worth of pro-impeachment advertising because they spread farther on Facebook than non-impeachment ads, resulting in a better return on investment.
Much of the debate about whether Facebook should allow political advertising noted that it represents a small fraction of the company’s business. But as the Vox writers note, that doesn’t mean it’s an insignificant business:
Facebook itself has grown into a formidable political platform in recent years, with campaigns and outside groups spending $284 million on the platform during the midterm elections, according to a report by Tech for Campaigns, a nonprofit that helps political campaigns with digital tools. While that’s just a small share of Facebook’s overall ad revenue, it’s a growing chunk of what campaigns are spending to reach constituents.
As impeachment hearings intensify, it seems likely politicians’ spending on Facebook ads will increase. And a good number of those ads, like so much about impeachment in 2019, will seem to have been created in a parallel world. In many ways, they were.
read more theverge.com
By Casey Newton
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