The Mercers will spend millions to try to save Trump’s presidency.

Bloomberg reported this morning that the Mercer family, the cat-loving billionaires who helped get Trump elected to the White House, are reaching into their deep, deep wallets to try to bail Trump out. (If you want to know more about the Mercers, Jane Mayer’s latest is a must-read.) Making America Great, the non-profit run by Rebekah Mercer, the Mercer daughter dubbed “First Lady of the alt-right,” is reportedly spending $1 million in TV ads and $300,000 in digital campaigns to boost Trump. According to Bloomberg, they are focusing their money in D.C., along with “ten states Trump carried in the presidential election where a Democratic senator is up for re-election in 2018.”

The ads run through his purported accomplishments: the new job numbers, reducing EPA regulations, Keystone XL, and withdrawing from TPP. Health care, of course, is not mentioned.

With an impressively low approval rating of 36 percent, the president needs all the help he can get. It only looks like it’s going to get worse for the biggest boy in the land—the hole that the administration has dug with Russia is getting deeper, not helped by Devin Nunes’s latest bungles. And, staring down the barrel of a potential government shutdown next month, Trump might have to stall on plans to build the wall, his other big campaign promise to his voters.

The Mercers have their work cut out for them. But don’t underestimate the power of literal bags of money. After all, last time the Mercers invested in politics, they pulled off the biggest dark money swindle this country has seen and put Trump—along with Mercer buddies Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway—into the Oval Office.

August 22, 2018

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Michael Cohen’s lawyer says his client is “more than happy” to talk to Robert Mueller.

On Tuesday, Rachel Maddow on her MSNBC show interviewed Lanny Davis, who represents Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen. The interview was more unwelcome news for the president. Davis said that Cohen feels “liberated to tell the truth, everything about Donald Trump he knows.”

Elaborating on this point, Davis said “Mr. Cohen has knowledge on certain subjects that should be of interest to the special counsel and is more than happy to tell the special counsel -- [not just] the obvious possibility of a conspiracy to collude and corrupt the American democracy system in the 2016 election which the Trump Tower meeting was all about but also knowledge about the computer crime of hacking and whether or not Mr. Trump knew ahead of time about that crime and even cheered it on.”

The president and his supporters took comfort in the fact that today’s conviction of Cohen and former Trump campaign CEO Paul Manafort were not directly connected to Russian collusion. “Where is the collusion?” The President asked at a rally on Tuesday. “You know, they’re still looking for collusion! Find some collusion!”

Davis’ words suggest ways that collusion could in fact become visible.


In a subdued rally, Trump says very little about conviction of former associates.

The president is still capable of surprises. After a roller coaster day which saw his former campaign chairman convicted on eight counts of financial crimes and his former lawyer pleading guilty to eight counts including campaign finance violations that implicate Trump himself, the president was widely expected to go off the rail at a rally in West Virginia.

Instead, Trump only made glancing reference to the day’s legal news and gave a subdued but lengthy performance where he hit many of his familiar talking points.

Trump praised coal. He mocked Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Maxine Waters. He demonized “illegal aliens.” He falsely claimed the Mexican border wall was being constructed. He praised ICE. He derided NATO allies. He led chants of “lock her up” and “drain the swamp.” He described West Virginia Governor Jim Justice as “the largest, most beautiful man” and “6-foot-11.” (Justice is 6-foot-7). He teased Justin Trudeau. In short, a medley of Trump’s greatest hits, a mixture of lies, blarney and bravado.

At one point he did sneer at “the fake news” media for concentrating on Russian collusion. “Where is the collusion?” He asked. “You know, they’re still looking for collusion! Find some collusion!”

But as Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale noted, this was actually less reference to the Mueller investigation than is the norm for Trump. The names Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen went unmentioned.

The Mueller investigation may or may not be on Trump’s mind, but it’s not on Trump’s lips, at least when he talks to his supporters.

August 21, 2018

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Manafort’s guilty conviction doesn’t change Trump’s ‘witch hunt’ tune.

Reacting to news Tuesday evening that his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort had been convicted on eight counts of financial crimes, the president reiterated familiar talking points.

“Paul Manafort is a good man,” Trump said. “He was with Ronald Reagan. He was with a lot of different people over the years. I feel very sad about that. It doesn’t involve me but I still feel, you know, it’s a very sad thing that has happened. This has nothing to do with Russian collusion. This started as Russian collusion. This has absolutely nothing to do. This is a witch hunt and it’s a disgrace. This has nothing to do with what they started out, looking for Russians involved in our campaign. There were none.” The president also added,  “we continue the witch hunt.” 

Asked about his former lawyer Michael Cohen pleading guilty to eight charges, including those involving paying hush money on Trump’s behalf and at his request, the president turned away from reporters and didn’t answer. 

The business headquarters of Christopher Steele, Leon Neal/Getty

Judge dismisses defamation suit over the salacious 2016 Trump dossier.

On Tuesday, DC Superior Court Judge Anthony C. Epstein dismissed a suit brought against former British spy Christopher Steele over claims made in his controversial 2016 dossier on Russian connections to President Donald Trump. The suit had been brought by three Russian billionaires: Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven, and German Khan. All three own a stake in the Alfa bank. The Russian businessmen disputed the claim that they were in any way involved with Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Judge Epstein’s dismissal was based that the businessmen were public figures, which means the suit had to meet the high threshold of proving that Steele made false claims with malicious intent, rather than just negligently (the threshold for ordinary citizens). The ruling has a wider political significance because while the judge by no means affirmed the factuality of the Steele Dossier he did acknowledge its public interest value. “The Steele dossier generated so much interest and attention in the US precisely because its contents relate to active public debates here,” Judge Epstein noted. This decision will make it harder for others to pursue legal cases against Steele in the United State. At least one libel case against Steele is pending London, England, where libel laws are stricter and make fewer allowances for public interest.

Lawyers for the Russian billionaires said they would pursue an appeal.

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Think tanks targeted by Russian intelligence are also in the shadow of the Mueller investigation.

The New York Times is reporting that “conservative American think tanks that have broken with President Trump” seem to be victims of hacking attacks by Russian military intelligence. According to the newspaper, “a report scheduled for release on Tuesday, Microsoft Corporation said that it detected and seized websites that were created in recent weeks by hackers linked to the Russian unit formerly known as the G.R.U. The sites appeared meant to trick people into thinking they were clicking through links managed by the Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute, but were secretly redirected to web pages created by the hackers to steal passwords and other credentials.”

But aside from the fact that both the Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute are critical of President Donald Trump’s push for friendlier ties to Russia, these two think tanks also have another significant commonality. Both have ties to individuals caught up in the Mueller investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

George Papadopoulos, the former Trump foreign policy advisor who pled guilty to lying to the FBI, worked for the Hudson Institute between 2011-2015. Konstantin Kilimnik, the Russian national who has been indicted Special Counsel Robert Mueller, once worked for the International Republican Institute while also serving as a fixer for Paul Manafort, the former Trump Campaign chairman who is currently on trial.

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GOP candidate Kris Kobach spreads white nationalist disinformation on his website.

Media Matters is reporting that Kobach, who is running for Governor of Kansas as a Republican, features on his website a column with the claim that “75 percent of those on the most wanted criminals lists in Los Angeles, Phoenix and Albuquerque are illegal aliens.” The problem here is twofold. The stated fact is wrong, and the source for the claim is Peter Gemma, a white nationalist agitator.

Gemma has extensive ties to racist movements. In 2005, he organized an event for David Irving, a notorious Holocaust denier. Gemma has in the past worked for the Council of Conservative Citizens, a group whose “Statement of Principles” affirms the belief that “the American people and government should remain European in their composition and character” and opposition to “all efforts to mix the races of mankind.”

In early August, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that political consultants claimed that Kobach’s campaign hired three white nationalists to work on the campaign.

The Republican Party has been increasingly hospitable to open and avowed racists in the 2018 election cycle. “In at least five state and national races across the country, the Republican Party is dealing with an uncomfortable problem,” Vox noted in July. “Their party’s candidates are either a card-carrying Nazi, a Holocaust denier, a proud white supremacist, or all of the above.”

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Trump’s EPA admits the dire human impact of its own climate rule.

The proposed Affordable Clean Energy Rule—or “ACE rule”—is “a better alternative” to the Obama administration’s aggressive greenhouse gas regulation of the coal industry, Environmental Protection Agency acting administrator Andrew Wheeler said Tuesday on a press call. But it will also cause more hospitalizations, asthma attacks, and deaths, according to the EPA’s own numbers, as first reported by The New York Times.

It’s hard to know what exactly will happen under the new rule because it allows individual states to come up with their own carbon reduction plans and goals. But under the most likely scenario—weak regulation of the coal industry—the EPA admits the ACE rule would lead to up to 1,400 premature deaths annually, compared to Obama’s regulations, because of increases in air pollutants like particulate matter and ozone. The agency says that its proposed ACE rule could also cause the following to occur annually by 2030:

  • 120,000 new cases of exacerbated asthma
  • 48,000 new missed days of school
  • 48,000 missed work days
  • 760 non-fatal heart attacks
  • 690 emergency room visits for asthma
  • 300,000 “minor-restricted activity” days

The Trump administration argues that the rule change is necessary because the Obama administration was not legally allowed to impose such strong reductions in coal-plant emissions. “An important part of what we’re doing here is getting us back in our lane,” said Bill Wehrum, a former industry lawyer who currently leads the EPA’s clean air office, on the press call.


Asia Argento denies sexually assaulting a 17-year-old actor.

On Sunday, The New York Times reported receiving evidence that Argento, an actress and director, had paid $380,00 to Jimmy Bennett, an actor and musician, in exchange for an agreement not to talk about her sexually assaulting him when he was 17 years old (which is a year short of the age of consent in California, where the incident allegedly took place).

On Tuesday, Argento issued a strong denial, saying the payment came from her boyfriend, the late Anthony Bourdain and that she did nothing wrong. In the original New York Times story, the newspaper claims they were sent a selfie showing Argento and Bennett in bed together.

“I am deeply shocked and hurt having read the news that is absolutely false,” Argento said in a statement. “I have never had any sexual relationship with Bennett.”

The allegations against Argento have sparked a wide-ranging debate about the scope of the #MeToo movement, which Argento became a public voice for after she became one of the many actresses who alleged that she was assaulted by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

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A new study links Facebook use to racial violence.

Violence against refugees in Germany correlates to increased Facebook use, according to a new study. The New York Times reported on Tuesday that researchers Karsten Müller and Carlo Schwarz of the University of Warwick studied 3,335 cases of anti-refugee violence and found one common link:

Their reams of data converged on a breathtaking statistic: Wherever per-person Facebook use rose to one standard deviation above the national average, attacks on refugees increased by about 50 percent.

And the solution isn’t quite as simple as a blanket ban on obvious hate speech. The researchers also found that Facebook’s algorithms reshape a user’s reality:

That algorithm is built around a core mission: promote content that will maximize user engagement. Posts that tap into negative, primal emotions like anger or fear, studies have found, perform best and so proliferate.

That is how anti-refugee sentiment — which combines fear of social change with us-versus-them rallying cries, two powerful forces on the algorithm — can seem unusually common on Facebook, even in a pro-refugee town like Altena.

The problem resembles another crisis, in Myanmar: Human rights researchers say that hate speech published on Facebook helped fuel bloody violence against the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority. Reuters reported on August 15 that though Facebook technically bans hate speech, it doesn’t employ anyone in Myanmar and only hired two Burmese speakers to monitor the problem in 2015.

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Trump tells Reuters he could “run” Mueller investigation if he wanted to.

Reuters is releasing excerpts from an interview with the president. One notable statement is Trump’s claim that he has the power to supervise the Mueller investigation. “I’ve decided to stay out,” Trump said. “Now, I don’t have to stay out, as you know. I can go in and I could... do whatever, I could run it if I want.”

It’s not clear what the president means by this, since the special counsel is supposed to be, by definition, independent of the president. It’s true that Trump could order Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to end the investigation. But so far, Trump has hesitated to take this radical step, which could spark a constitutional crisis.

The president also indicated he was afraid that special counsel Robert Mueller is preparing a “perjury trap” for him.