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John Kerry’s two-state solution speech is a fitting end for his quixotic term as Secretary of State.

Kerry’s speech has rightfully been portrayed as “the latest salvo in a final conflict” between Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama, who have never quite trusted each other, even as the United States has increased aid to Israel. It will push back at Israel’s version of the events that led to the United States refusing to veto a non-binding UN resolution calling for an end to Israeli settlement-building in occupied Palestinian territory. Since that vote five days ago, Israel has lashed out at the United States, which it has accused of “orchestrating” the resolution, and at many of the countries that voted for it, including New Zealand and Ukraine. (On Tuesday, it was reported that the United States discussed the resolution with Palestinian representatives before the vote, something the U.S. strongly denies.) According to an official who spoke to the New York Times, Kerry plans on making the case that Obama “did not blindside Israel,” and that there was “complete international consensus” against settlements.

But according to reports, this is also a speech that Kerry has also wanted to give for years, one that will outline his vision or a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace deal—something that Kerry nearly orchestrated two years ago before it fell apart. In this sense, it is a fitting end for Kerry’s time as secretary of state. A recent CNN profile described Kerry as “an indefatigable optimist, a warrior—occasionally quixotic, always gung ho—who refuses to stop until he’s made every last phone call, bent every last ear, appealed to every last world leader who might help him in his quest.”

That’s a tad purple, but it rings true: In an era of diplomacy that is increasingly defined by incredibly cynical actors—Israel under Netanyahu certainly falls under this category, but so do Iran and Russia, two other countries that Kerry has had extensive dealings with. Rex Tillerson, the incoming secretary of state, comes from ExxonMobil, which is perhaps the most cynical corporation in the country—it treats itself as a global company, not an American one, and treats its home country as one of many persnickety countries it has to work with to make money. But Kerry is, in many ways, a throwback—someone who believes that compromise and careful diplomacy can find common ground between self-interested actors. Kerry’s speech may provide a broad outline of what he would like the future to look like, but it will be hard not to see it as a kind of capstone: The end of one era of U.S. diplomacy before the return of a more cynical version.

December 07, 2018


Neo-Nazi declared guilty of murdering Charlottesville protestor.

The Associated Press is reporting that James Alex Fields Jr., age 21, has been convicted by a Virginia jury of first-degree murder for ramming his car into a group of protestors during the Unite the Right rally on August 12, 2017, killing one protester, Heather Heyer, and injuring 40 others.

As The New York Times notes, “Friday’s verdict provides some closure in a case that cast a national spotlight on Charlottesville, the scene chosen by racists and anti-Semites to rally for their cause, near a Confederate monument that some city leaders were trying to remove. The August 2017 Unite the Right rally was marked by violent clashes between counterprotesters and white nationalists, some of whom were convicted earlier this year.”

On the day of the murder, Fields’s mother had texted to him “be careful.” He responded “We’re not the one[s] who need to be careful.” That text was accompanied by a photo of Adolph Hitler.

Additional evidence showed that Fields’s act was an outgrowth of his neo-Nazi ideology. “Prosecutors also showed the jury a cartoon that Mr. Fields had shared months earlier on Instagram of a car ramming into a crowd, with the words, ‘You have the right to protest but I’m late for work.’” The New York Times observes. “Other evidence included recordings of conversations that Mr. Fields had with his mother after his arrest, in which he described the counterprotesters at the rally as a ‘violent gang of terrorists,’ and derided Ms. Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, as an ‘anti-white liberal’ who should be viewed as an enemy.”

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Federal prosecutors recommend “substantial” jail time for Michael Cohen despite his cooperation with the Russia investigation.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan told a federal court on Friday that President Donald Trump’s former legal counsel should receive a “substantial term of imprisonment” after he pleaded guilty to charges related to tax evasion, fraud, and campaign-finance violations in August. But in a separate filing, special counsel Robert Mueller praised Cohen’s cooperation with his own office’s investigation and recommended leniency.

Cohen previously told the court that he cooperated with the investigations out of a sense of “personal resolve.” But federal prosecutors disputed that characterization, noting that Cohen only reached out to the special counsel’s office in August when he realized he was about to be indicted by the Manhattan office. “As such, any suggestion by Cohen that his meetings with law enforcement reflect a selfless and unprompted about-face are overstated,” the Manhattan office told the court. They recommended that he serve roughly three-and-a-half years in prison.

Two of the offenses to which Cohen pleaded guilty involved hush-money payments aimed at suppressing accounts of Trump’s extramarital affairs with two women. Those payments, prosecutors said, violated federal campaign-finance laws by exceeding donation limits. The Manhattan office directly linked those payments to the president in Friday’s filing, telling the court that Cohen “acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1,” the prosecutors’ pseudonym for Trump. (Cohen himself made a similar assertion during his plea hearing in August.)

The special counsel’s office, on the other hand, offered a more laudatory account of Cohen’s cooperation with the Russia investigation. Cohen pleaded guilty last month to lying to Congress about his role in negotiating Russian real-estate deals for the Trump Organization during the 2016 campaign. Mueller told the court on Friday that Cohen had taken “significant steps to mitigate his criminal conduct” and provided “credible and consistent information” to investigators over the course of seven meetings.

Mueller offered few clues about what the president’s former lawyer offered in the Russia investigation. Friday’s filing asserted that Cohen gave “useful information concerning certain discrete Russia-related matters core to its investigation that he obtained by virtue of his regular contact with Company executives during the campaign.” The special counsel’s office also said that Cohen “provided relevant and useful information concerning his contacts with persons connected to the White House during the 2017–2018 time period.”

Those vague descriptions may prompt a wave of unease among members of Trump’s inner circle, many of whom have already given their version of events to federal investigators and congressional committees. Among those under the most intense scrutiny is Donald Trump Jr., a high-ranking Trump organization executive. California Representative Jackie Speier, a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters on Friday that she believed the president’s son may have lied to Congress twice about Russia-related matters. She did not specify what she believes he lied about.

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Secretary of Veterans Affairs once promulgated a neo-Confederate interpretation of Civil War.

CNN is reporting they’ve uncovered the transcripts of a 1995 speech in which Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie advocated a “Lost Cause” view of the Civil War in which the Confederates were tragic heroes. “Today marks the 187th anniversary of the birth of Jefferson Davis; planter, soldier, statesman, President of the Confederate States of America, martyr to ‘The Lost Cause,’ and finally the gray-clad phoenix,” Wilkie said at an event organized by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. “An exceptional man in an exceptional age.”

Wilkie linked the politics of Jefferson Davis with contemporary conservatism, saying, “America is searching for a better way. Walker Percy urged us to look South to recover community, stability, and sense of place in God’s order which we have regrettably lost. That is a tall proposition but it is certainly one Jefferson Davis would understand and certainly one for which he would fight.”

The event took place at the statue of Jefferson Davis, who Wilkie describes as having “contempt for the radical abolitionists of the Republican Party” because “they would violate any law and abridge any freedom to impose their idea of the just society on others.” Wilkie seemed to share those views since he characterized the radical abolitionists in Congress as being as “mendacious as the Jacobins of Revolutionary France.”

During his confirmation hearings Wilkie distanced himself from neo-Confederates, saying their events had become “part of the politics that divide us.” He added that he no longer attended them and his critics were focused on events that happened 25 years ago. Wilkie spoke to a division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans as recently as 2009.

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Trump says his former secretary of state was “dumb as a rock” and “lazy as hell.”

On Friday afternoon, President Donald Trump tweeted:

The president seems to be responding to an interview former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gave on Thursday. In that interview, Tillerson described the president as someone who is “pretty undisciplined, doesn’t like to read, doesn’t read briefing reports, doesn’t like to get into the details of a lot of things, but rather just kind of says, ‘This is what I believe.’”

In essence, Tillerson was saying Trump is stupid and lazy, so Trump was echoing back these words. This is classic Trump. When accused of being a Russian puppet by his rival Hillary Clinton, Trump responded, “No puppet, no puppet. You’re the puppet.”

Previously, Trump has used the phrase “dumb as a rock” to describe several people including Don Lemon, Glenn Beck, Mika Brzezinski, and Rick Wilson. Trump uses the insult “lazy” less often. He’s applied it to Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

When Trump fired Tillerson in March 2018, he praised the outgoing Secretary of State for his “intellect” and said he “got along well with Rex.”

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A $34,000 debt links Republican candidate to possible election fraud in disputed North Carolina race.

The New York Times is reporting that the campaign of Mark Harris, who ran for Congress as a Republican in a still unsettled race in North Carolina’s 9th district, has an outstanding debt to a consulting firm accused of illegally collecting, and possibly tampering with or misdirecting, absentee ballots. According to the newspaper, the Harris campaign “listed an obligation of $34,310 for ‘reimbursement payment for Bladen absentee, early voting poll workers; reimbursement door to door,” owed to the Red Dome Group. “Red Dome Group, in turn, contracted with L. McCrae Dowless Jr., a Bladen County political operative who has been accused of collecting absentee ballots from voters in a potentially illegal effort to tip the election toward the Republican nominee.”

This news intensifies doubts about the legitimacy of the election. On Thursday, Democratic candidate Dan McCready withdrew the concession he had previously made, saying in a statement, “I didn’t serve overseas in the Marines to come home to NC and watch a criminal, bankrolled by my opponent, take away people’s very right to vote. Today I withdraw my concession and call on Mark Harris to end his silence and tell us exactly what he knew, and when.”

In a setback for Harris, Republican leaders in the state have indicated they are open to holding a new election. If there is a new election, it would have the same slate of candidates unless one of them died or moved out of state. As Gerry Cohen, a former special counsel for the North Carolina General Assembly, explained to The New York Times, if Harris didn’t want to be on the ticket he could “move to Rock Hill, S.C. or to a country with no extradition treaty.”

Rich Lowry, editor of the conservative National Review, wrote in an opinion piece Friday that “Republicans won’t like it, but they should probably want to start over, for the sake of the integrity of their own nominating process, if nothing else.” But he also saw the story as evidence that Republican concern about voter fraud—an anxiety which Democrats tend to dismiss as cover for voter supression—is legitimate: “Rules should be rigorous, and it’s insane that the sort of vote harvesting that Dowless engaged in—i.e., a private party collecting the ballots of voters—is perfectly legal in California.”

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Will Trump’s pick for attorney general protect the Justice Department or the president?

Confirming initial reports on Thursday, the president told reporters on Friday that he would nominate William Barr to lead the Justice Department. The announcement came one month to the day after the ouster of Jeff Sessions, who held the post for the first two years of Trump’s administration.

Barr will be a familiar face at the Justice Department: He previously served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993 under President George H. W. Bush. During that tenure, he carved out a reputation as a tough-on-crime conservative with an expansive view of executive power, making him a natural choice for a president who favors stark, unilateral policy decisions.

As attorney general, Barr will wield enormous influence over the machinery of federal law enforcement, its criminal-justice policies, and the nation’s immigration courts. But he may ultimately receive the most attention for his handling of the Russia investigation under special counsel Robert Mueller. Barr’s full views on the inquiry itself are not yet known. However, he will likely receive intense scrutiny from senators for a Washington Post op-ed he wrote last year defending Trump’s decision to fire then-FBI Director James Comey.

Since the Watergate crisis, the Justice Department has traditionally kept a degree of independence from the White House and its political operations. Trump has frequently challenged this norm, asserting in public and in private that he would be willing to take personal command of the department’s investigative functions and use them to pursue his political opponents. Whether Barr will safeguard the Russia investigation and the Justice Department’s nonpartisanship will be a key question in his confirmation hearings. Under the precedent set by Attorney General Elliot Richardson during Watergate, senators have every right to demand his sworn pledge to maintain the department’s independence before elevating him to the post.

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Rex Tillerson found it hard to work for a president who “doesn’t like to read.”

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gave a rare public interview in Houston Thursday, during which he confirmed many critiques of his former boss. Speaking with CBS News’s Bob Schieffer, Tillerson said, “What was challenging for me coming from the disciplined, highly process-oriented Exxon Mobil corporation to go to work for a man who is pretty undisciplined, doesn’t like to read, doesn’t read briefing reports, doesn’t like to get into the details of a lot of things, but rather just kind of says, ‘This is what I believe.’”

As Secretary of State, part of Tillerson’s job seemed to include pushing back against Trump’s desire to do illegal acts: “So often, the president would say, ‘Here’s what I want to do, and here’s how I want to do it,’ and I would have to say to him, ‘Mr. President, I understand what you want to do, but you can’t do it that way. It violates the law.’”

When Tillerson was fired as Secretary of State in March 2018, he reportedly learned the news from reading Donald Trump’s Twitter feed. Not surprisingly, Tillerson doesn’t seem to be a fan of social media. In the interview, Tillerson credited Trump’s rise in part to his ability to communicate via Twitter.

“I will be honest with you, it troubles me that the American people seem to want to know so little about issues, that they are satisfied with a 128 characters,” Tillerson said.

But he also added that his remarks weren’t directed at Trump but about the larger role of social media. “I don’t want that to come across as a criticism of him,” Tillerson emphasized. “It’s really a concern that I have about us as Americans and us as a society and us as citizens”

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Corey Lewandowski continues tradition of near-brawls.

Politico is reporting that Lewandowki, who was once Donald Trump’s campaign manager and continues to be an important crony of the president, had a near altercation with some Florida politicians at the Trump International Hotel in Washington on Wednesday. The dispute arose when Lewandowski felt that Florida Senate President Bill Galvano and Florida state Senator Jeff Brandes weren’t appreciative enough of the impact of Trump’s campaigning in Florida in the midterms: “Lewandowski became more aggressive, witnesses said, prompting Brandes to stand up and wag his finger at Lewandowski. One witness saw Galvano instinctively clench his fist at his side; two others said they heard him make a polite request of his wife: ‘Hold my scarf.’”

Lewandowski is no stranger to overheated public confrontations. In March 2016, while serving as campaign manager, Lewandowski grabbed a female reporter, Michelle Fields, by the arm. The case was investigated by the police but charges were not pursued. On February 2018, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly got into a scuffle with Lewandowski. As The New York Times reported, “As Mr. Kelly walked toward a hallway leading back to his office, he called to someone to remove Mr. Lewandowski from the building. The two then began arguing, with Mr. Lewandowski speaking loudly. Mr. Kelly grabbed Mr. Lewandowski by his collar, trying to push him against a wall, according to a person with direct knowledge of the episode.”

In October 2018, Kelly got into a profanity-laden argument with National Security Advisor John Bolton. As Bloomberg reported,  “The shouting match was so intense that other White House aides worried one of the two men might immediately resign.”

In November 2017, Kelly reportedly got into a near fistfight with an ICE official who the president had invited into the White House. 

Trump himself seems to encourage this behavior by the rhetorical sanction he gives to violence—as when he seemed to give his stamp of approval to Congressman Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte for bodyslamming a reporter.

December 06, 2018

President Trump at his Bedminster golf course. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

Report: Trump National Golf Club helped undocumented immigrants get fake papers.

The New York Times has published a detailed profile of Victorina Morales, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala who has worked since 2013 at the president’s golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey. Morales maintains that management knew about her immigration status when she was hired and on one occasion helped her acquire fake documents.

Morales entered the United States in 1999. When Morales was hired in 2013, she told her supervisor she didn’t have “good papers.” She was told to just bring the papers she used for her previous employment. In 2017, after Donald Trump had won the presidency running on a nativist campaign, Morales and other employees where given a new handbook saying that if they were found with improper documents they could lose their jobs.

That same year, a manager told her she needed a new green card and social security number since the ones she had given before had problems. Morales told her manager, “I don’t know where to get them.”

As The New York Times relates her story:

The manager, she said, suggested she speak with a maintenance employee who he said knew where to acquire new documents. When the maintenance employee told her that the new papers would cost $165, Ms. Morales told the manager that she did not have the money. “He said, ‘don’t worry. I will lend you the money,’” she said.

Ms. Morales said the maintenance worker drove her to a house in Plainfield, N.J., where she waited in his car while he met with someone inside. Ms. Morales said that she had no record or recollection of the address.

The next day, she said, the maintenance worker brought her a new Social Security card and a realistic-looking green card to replace the one that had “expired.” She said the manager made copies of them for files kept at the club’s administrative headquarters.

Morales’s manager may have been trying to help her out, but the actions of the organization stand in sharp contrast to Donald Trump’s fierce anti-immigrant rhetoric, which goes after not just undocumented immigrants but also calls for cutting back on legal immigration.

Since Trump entered politics in 2015, Morales has been appalled by his xenophobia. “We are tired of the abuse, the insults, the way he talks about us when he knows that we are here helping him make money,” Morales told The New York Times. “We sweat it out to attend to his every need and have to put up with his humiliation.”

The New York Times piece contains multiple anecdotes from Morales and others showing their close and largely cordial interactions with Trump during his stays at the golf club.

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The White House isn’t ready for the Mueller report or, indeed, much of anything else.

The Trump administration is in a strange post-midterms limbo, with many senior posts going unfilled, staff uncertain about their future as they wait a promised shake-up, and no real response being prepared for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s pending report. As Politico notes, the administration has no United Nations ambassador and deputy National Security Advisor while the posts of attorney general and administrator of the Environmental Protection agency are being done by acting heads that have not been confirmed. The fate of Chief of Staff John Kelly remains up in the air.

“The result is an administration in a holding pattern,”Politico concludes. “Trump has offered almost nothing in the way of a legislative vision for 2019 beyond approval of a new trade deal and vague references to infrastructure. His only clear priority is enforcing border security. The White House has even sent mixed signals about its desire to fight for a criminal justice reform bill that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, played a key role in shaping.”

Writing in The Atlantic, Elaina Plott makes a parallel point about the White House’s lack of any systematic strategy for handling the Mueller probe. “Nobody knows how the White House plans to respond to the Mueller report—including the people who work at the White House,” Plott observes. “The lack of planning for potential outcomes of one of the highest-stakes investigations of the past two years illuminates many of the key operating principles of this White House—a follow-the-leader approach, a frequent resort to denial, and a staff constantly in flux. Many of those tactics have allowed Trump to maintain favor with his base, but Mueller’s report will represent the biggest test yet of how they fare against legal, rather than political, challenges.”

A source told Plott, “It’s like, ‘Jesus, take the wheel,’ but scarier.”

One symptom of this lack of a ready response is the failure of Rudy Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, to deliver on his promised a “counter-report” to the Mueller investigation. As Jonathan Chait notes in New York, from July until the present, Giuliani has reneged on his promised response. At this point, in Chait’s words, Giuliani might as well just say, “The Dog Ate My Counter-Report to Mueller.”