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Hysteria rules Donald Trump’s White House.

Trump has repeatedly lambasted the ongoing investigation into Russia’s involvement into the 2016 election as a partisan witch hunt intended to bring down his administration, as an excuse for Democrats upset that they lost the election, and, more broadly, as a hysterical response to his presidency.

This narrative omits quite a lot. It omits that Russia did try to tip the scales in his favor, something that Trump never acknowledges. It omits the fact that he is the person who is most responsible for the widening of the investigation (it was his firing of James Comey that forced the Department of Justice to bring in Robert Mueller as a special prosecutor and that brought him under investigation for obstruction of justice. And, perhaps most of all, it omits the fact that Trump is the hysterical one.

On Friday morning, The Washington Post reported the lengths to which the White House is trying to calm the president down about this investigation, which will likely run for months. Every morning at 6:30 a.m. he vents to his attorneys about the Russia investigation. The goal is to get Trump to rant in private so that he refrains from ranting in public:

The calls — detailed by three senior White House officials — are part strategy consultation and part presidential venting session, during which Trump’s lawyers and public-relations gurus take turns reviewing the latest headlines with him....

By the time the president arrives for work in the Oval Office, the thinking goes, he will no longer be consumed by the Russia probe that he complains hangs over his presidency like a darkening cloud. It rarely works, however. Asked whether the tactic was effective, one top White House adviser paused for several seconds and then just laughed.

This is completely bonkers, but it’s useful insofar as it shows how concerned Trump’s own aides are about his temperament—and how damaging they know Trump’s tweets have been. The tweet that raised the possibility that Trump was secretly taping his conversations with Comey is a case in point. On Friday, Mike Allen reported that Trump has told aides that he knows that it “hastened the chain of events that led to the appointment of special counsel Bob Mueller, who’s expected to delve into the business affairs of the president and his family.” And yet, for some reason, he’s still trying to publicly spin this tweet as proof that he’s a political genius.

But this doesn’t show that Trump is a genius. Instead it implies that James Comey was telling the truth about his interactions with Trump when he testified before Congress, something that Trump and his lawyers have vigorously denied. Trump may be venting to his lawyers every morning, but that hasn’t stopped him from making the hole he’s in even deeper.

July 13, 2018

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Congressional Republicans are pushing for the impeachment of Rod Rosenstein.

In announcing charges against 12 Russian officials today, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein tried to frame the ongoing investigation into 2016 election meddling as a non-partisan issue that all Americans should care about. “When we confront foreign interference in American elections, it is important for us to avoid thinking politically as Republicans or Democrats and instead to think patriotically as Americans,” Rosenstein said. “Our response must not depend on which side was victimized.”

If Rosenstein was hoping to get bipartisan buy-in for the Mueller investigation, he isn’t having much luck. Even as Rosenstein made his statement, House Republicans were ramping up efforts to impeach him.

“House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, in fact, had the impeachment document on the floor of the House at the very moment that Rosenstein spoke to reporters and TV cameras Friday,” Politico reports. “Conservative GOP lawmakers have been plotting to remove Rosenstein for weeks, accusing him of slow-walking their probe of FBI agents they’ve accused of bias against President Donald Trump.”

The fact that congressional Republicans are willing to go after Rosenstein after the new indictments might be an indication that they fear the outcome of the Mueller investigation.

Yet Rosenstein’s efforts to win over Republicans wasn’t a complete failure, especially if we look outside Congress. National Review writer David French used the indictments to make a strong argument in support of the investigation. “As Mueller reveals more facts about Russian interference and indicts more individuals for troubling crimes uncovered as part of his entirely legitimate investigation, it’s time for the GOP to tell the president that the hunt needs to continue, because the witches are very real,” French wrote.

Given these disparate responses, it’s likely that as the Mueller investigation proceeds there will be a widening rift on the political right between die-hard Trump loyalists and those willing to follow the evidence where it leads.

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Scarlett Johansson won’t play a trans man after all.

After a week of recriminations and one over-hasty public response, Scarlett Johansson has withdrawn from the role of Dante “Tex” Gill in Rupert Sanders’ movie project Rub & Tug. The film was to have been a biopic of Gill, the late proprietor of a massage parlor and prostitution business in Pittsburgh. Gill’s cousin, Barry Paris, has confirmed that Gill “definitely” identified as a man, although many news stories over the years have used female pronouns for him.

Trans people and allies condemned the casting announcement across social media. Not only would Johansson be playing the kind of role that ought to be given to a trans actor, many felt, her public identification as a woman would inevitably undercut the movie’s characterisation of Gill as a man. Filmmaker Jen Richards has become a prominent voice against casting cis actors in trans roles. In an oft-cited 2016 tweet, she clearly laid out the problem with “disguising” cis people as trans: such decisions “exacerbate the cultural belief that trans women are really men, which is the root of violence against us,” with the point standing for cis women playing trans men.

The business of acting is about pretending to be somebody whom you are not. But the odds are so heavily stacked against trans actors that casting across gender-identification lines becomes a real-world political problem, not a silver screen challenge.

Johansson’s messaging around this media crisis has been an interesting story itself. An unidentified representative told Bustle that Johansson would like to direct her critics “to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.” This was no doubt the product of frustrations accreted throughout the backlash over her character’s whitewashing in Ghost in the Shell. Why did Jared Leto earn so much praise for his turn in Dallas Buyers’ Club, only for this news to cause a media storm?

There’s no doubt that the Rub & Tug casting news compounded doubts about Johansson’s ability to make wise decisions about the roles she takes. And the same director lying behind both movies makes it all seem like a bit too much to be a coincidence.

Johansson today issued a wide-ranging, fulsome apology to OUT: “While I would have loved the opportunity to bring Dante’s story and transition to life, I understand why many feel he should be portrayed by a transgender person, and I am thankful that this casting debate, albeit controversial, has sparked a larger conversation about diversity and representation in film.”

Response to the news has been positive, not least as it has left Johansson’s social media critics feeling as though their voice is heard, or at least their movie-going dollars valued, by the Hollywood studios. The question remains of why Tambor and Leto—not to mention Eddie Redmayne, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his 2016 performance in The Danish Girl—have remained so garlanded in praise, despite doing precisely the same thing that Johansson would have done. It may be that cis men inhabiting femininity is still perceived as such a radical, brave choice that any man who “acts” trans has accomplished a rare feat.

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New indictments complicate the Trump-Russia relationship.

On the cusp of President Donald Trump’s planned meeting with Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin, Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, released indictments with profound implications for relations between the two countries. As The New York Times reports, Rosenstein “announced new charges against 12 Russian intelligence officers accused of hacking the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton presidential campaign.”

The indictments go counter to alternative narratives put forward by both Trump and his supporters that the hacking could have been done by parties other than the Russian state.

“I don’t believe [Russia] interfered,” Trump told Time in December of 2016. “It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.”

The indictments name the hacker Guccifer 2.0 as a Russian agent. Roger Stone, a longtime informal advisor to Trump who had contact with Guccifer 2.0 in 2016, has repeatedly argued against this view.

“I have some news for Hillary and Democrats—I think I’ve got the real culprit,” Stone wrote in Breitbart in August 2016. “It doesn’t seem to be the Russians that hacked the DNC, but instead a hacker who goes by the name of Guccifer 2.0.”

If the indictments hold up, then the attempts by Trump and Stone to suggest non-Russian sources for the hacking can be dismissed.

Although the indictments do not charge any Americans, they do describe several Americans as interacting with the Russian government hackers.

One of those Americans is a congressional candidate:

On or about August 15, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, received a request for stolen documents from a candidate for the US. Congress. The Conspirators responded using the Guccifer 2.0 persona and sent the candidate stolen documents related to the candidate’s opponent.

Another person who interacted with Guccifer 2.0 was someone who had contact with the Trump administration:

The Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, also communicated with US. persons about the release of stolen documents. On or about August 15, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, wrote to a person who was in regular contactwith senior members ofthe presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump, “thank u for writing back . . . do u find anyt[h]ing interesting in the docs i posted?” On or about August 17, 2016, the Conspirators added, “please tell me if i can help u anyhow . . . itwould be a great pleasure to me.” On or about September 9, 2016, the Conspirators, again posing as Guccifer 2.0, referred to a stolen DCCC document posted online and asked the person, “what do u think of the info on the turnout model for the democrats entire presidential campaign.” The person responded, “[p]retty standard.”

These individuals are unnamed and not charged with any crime. But they have every reason to be nervous.

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The Washington Post worries Strzok hearings were bad for democracy.

The editorial board of The Washington Post is unhappy with Thursday’s joint meeting of two House oversight committees, where FBI official Peter Strzok was grilled about whether his political bias shaped the investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election. “With all its yelling and interruptions, the hearing was a fitting coda to the hyperpartisan farce of an investigation that House Republicans have conducted into the FBI and Mr. Mueller’s Russia probe,” The Post complained. The headline ran, “The Strzok hearing damaged our democracy.”

This is a dubious argument to make about the hearings—one that necessarily involves a very limited view of democracy.

True, there were moments of embarrassment in the hearing, as when Congressman Louie Gohmert tried to smear Strzok’s private life. But even those moments of silliness and bad faith arguments served a higher purpose. They showed how bad the case was that the Republicans were trying to make.

The hearings were an inquiry and they helped settle the question of whether the GOP narrative of bias was valid or not. Peter Strzok more than held his own under tough interrogation. Moreover, the Democrats were able to effectively rebut many Republican talking points, notably by calling attention to the fact that Strzok’s dim view of the GOP was shared by many Republicans in the past.

Implicit in The Washington Post editorial is a view that democracy functions best when you have lawmakers working together in a bipartisan and civil spirit. But that’s an idealized view of democracy. You can’t have politics without dispute. Democracy functions when competing partisan factions are allowed to make their best case, and the public can decide the results. The Strzok hearings were democracy in action.

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Trump’s press conference in Britain was incredibly awkward.

The president and Theresa May had a difficult task at their joint press conference on Friday morning at Chequers, the British prime minister’s country retreat. Trump had humiliated May in an interview with The Sun where he lamented the fact she had not listened to his advice on Brexit. Trump also suggested that Boris Johnson, May’s rival within the Conservative Party, would make a good prime minister.

Trying to paper over the difficulties he had created, Trump relied on hyperbole and lies. Asked if Britain and the U.S. still had a special relationship, he said it was the “highest level of special.” He also attacked The Sun interview as “fake news.” In fact, the newspaper had taped the interview and the transcription was accurate. Trump’s objection was that the positive things he said about May hadn’t been highlighted.

Trump also attacked a more familiar target, CNN:

The president’s “fake news” schtick might play well with his domestic followers. It is unlikely to smooth over relations with America’s allies.

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Donald Trump humiliates Theresa May at a moment of vulnerability.

The American president is a disruptive guest in England since his presence is provoking massive protests, including the flying of a giant inflated pig.  Not content with the existing controversy, Trump has decided to throw more oil into the fire in an interview with The Sun

Trump’s remarks were particularly harmful to British Prime Minister Theresa May, who is an difficult political spot trying to navigate a Brexit compromise while dealing with the resignation of major figures like Boris Johnson, who quit his post as foreign secretary earlier this week.

In this difficult environment, Trump naturally criticized May’s handling of Brexit. “I would have done it much differently,” he told The Sun. “I actually told Theresa May how to do it but she didn’t agree, she didn’t listen to me. She wanted to go a different route. I would actually say that she probably went the opposite way. And that is fine. She should negotiate the best way she knows how. But it is too bad what is going on.”

The president also took the opportunity to praise May’s main rival within her party. “I have a lot of respect for Boris,” Trump gloated. “He obviously likes me, and says very good things about me. I was very saddened to see he was leaving government and I hope he goes back in at some point. I think he is a great representative for your country.” 

Queried about Johnson’s prospects, Trump asserted, “Well I am not pitting one against the other. I am just saying I think he would be a great Prime Minister. I think he’s got what it takes.”

Trump also waded into the issue of immigration. “Allowing the immigration to take place in Europe is a shame,” he claimed. “I think it changed the fabric of Europe and, unless you act very quickly, it’s never going to be what it was and I don’t mean that in a positive way. So I think allowing millions and millions of people to come into Europe is very, very sad. I think you are losing your culture.”

Amid the talk of European politics, Trump did have time to comment on his favorite topic: himself. “You know, a poll just came out that I am the most popular person in the history of the Republican Party—92 per cent,” he marveled. “Beating Lincoln. I beat our Honest Abe.”

July 12, 2018

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The House Judiciary hearings into Russia investigation have become a circus.

Republican lawmakers were hoping to score points off FBI agent Peter Strzok by interrogating him on text messages where he disparaged President Donald Trump. The intent was to show that Strzok, was involved in the Russia investigation until a year ago, was biased, and that the investigation itself is a political witch hunt. Unfortunately for the Republicans, Strzok turned out to be an unflappable witness and impressively made the case that his personal beliefs about Donald Trump’s fitness for office, which were widely shared by Republicans as well as Democrats, did not influence the investigation.

As the hearings proceeded, Republicans became angrier and angrier. The low point of the afternoon came when Texas congressman Louie Gohmert started delving into Strzok’s private life. “I can’t help but wonder, when I see you looking there with a little smirk, how many times did you look so innocent into your wife’s eyes and lie to her about....” Gohmert was here cutoff. Democrats started yelling out that this was shameful and a harassment of the witness. Democratic Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman told Gohmert, “You need your medication.”

It’s hard to imagine, watching the bizarre episode, that these hearings will produce much value for understanding the Russia investigation.

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Gawker was just bought by one of its frequent targets.

Gawker.com and its archives were sold to Bryan Goldberg, the founder of Bustle and Bleacher Report, for $1.35 million in a closed-door auction. The initial bidding was led by a $1.13 million offer from marketer Kevin Lee, who intended to turn the site into what he called “Gawker for Good,” a celebrity-driven site that would donate half of its net advertising revenue to charity. Gawker stopped publishing in 2016, after a lawsuit brought against the company by Hulk Hogan and funded by Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel forced it to declare bankruptcy.

Given that his career has been based on creating content farms, Goldberg’s reputation in media circles is, to put it lightly, not great. He was the subject of a lacerating 2013 New Yorker profile, and described as a “notable mansplainer” in The Atlantic. He was also singled out repeatedly for criticism by Gawker. In a series of posts on Gawker and ValleyWag, Goldberg was skewered as a “self-serving misogynist” and “not a smart man ... who mocks himself better than his critics ever could.”

This is not a good sign for the site’s archives. Heading into the auction there appeared to be few—if any—good possible outcomes. But, with the exception of being purchased by Thiel himself (who pulled out of the bidding in April), this is about as ominous as it gets.

Paul Manafort loses VIP amenities in a new jail.

On Wednesday, Federal Judge T.S. Ellis ordered Paul Manafort, former campaign chairman for Donald Trump, to be moved from Northern Neck Regional Jail in Warsaw, Virginia, to an Alexandria, Virginia detention facility. Manafort is in jail pending his trial for a variety of money laundering charges. He was denied bail because of attempted witness tampering.

In ordering the move, the judge wrotethe professionals at the Alexandria Detention Center are very familiar with housing high-profile defendants including foreign and domestic terrorists, spies and traitors.”

Manafort’s time at Northern Neck Regional Jail was controversial. The government claimed in filings that Manafort, a key figure in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, was enjoying VIP amenities:

Among the unique privileges Manafort enjoys at the jail are a private, self-contained living unit, which is larger than other inmates’ units, his own bathroom and shower facility, his own personal telephone, and his own workspace to prepare for trial. Manafort is also not required to wear a prison uniform. On the monitored prison phone calls, Manafort has mentioned that he is being treated like a “VIP.”

The filings also accuse Manafort of exploiting these privileges by using his laptop to smuggle emails out of jail:

Although the jail does not allow prisoners to send or receive emails, Manafort appears to have developed a workaround. Manafort has revealed on the monitored phone calls that in order to exchange emails, he reads and composes emails on a second laptop that is shuttled in and out of the facility by his team. When the team takes the laptop from the jail, it reconnects to the internet and Manafort’s emails are transmitted.

Both the court and the special counsel seem to have lost patience with Manafort’s antics. He’ll be more restricted at his new digs.

The Emmett Till case has been reopened.

The Associated Press reports that due to “new information,” the Justice Department is reinvestigating the black teenager’s murder in Money, Mississippi, in 1955.

Two white men kidnapped, beat, and shot Till, then dumped his body in a river. Carolyn Donham, one of the men’s wives, had claimed that Till whistled at her outside of a store, and then proceeded to make crude verbal and physical advances towards her. She testified in court that the 14-year-old said he had been “with white women before.” The two men were acquitted, but later confessed in a magazine interview. They were never retried, and have since died.

In a book published last year, The Blood of Emmett Till, Duke University scholar Timothy B. Tyson revealed that in 2007, at age 72, Donham admitted that Till had not whistled at her, and she said couldn’t remember the rest of the incident.

Last month, senators Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, and Tim Scott introduced legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime. As The New York Times noted, “Nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in Congress from 1882 to 1986. None were approved.” But this bill seems stand a better chance, as it has the support of the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell.

“I thought we did that many years ago,” McConnell said in a radio interview in June. “I hadn’t thought about it, I thought that was done back during L.B.J. or some period like that.” He added, “If we need one at the federal level, I certainly will support it.”