James Comey Moves the Pendulum

On May 18 Trump was asked: “Did you, at any time, urge former F.B.I. Director James Comey, in any way, shape or form, to close or to back down the investigation into Michael Flynn?” The president’s response: “No. No. Next question.”

Comey, in his statement to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, says that in a Feb. 14 Oval Office meeting Trump did precisely what he denies.

.. a president who had already tried through a veiled threat to establish a “patronage relationship,”

.. No doubt Mueller is also wondering what possible benign motive could lead Trump to clear the Oval Office before asking the F.B.I. director to spare Flynn.

.. “Trump’s business is infecting the people around him. To show loyalty you have to engage in the corrupt or mendacious behavior he engages in. So he’s a form of contagion — and Comey did not want the investigation infected.”

.. if Mueller suggests the president could be indicted, impeachment proceedings will be hard to resist — and then, as Burbank put it, “what we might colloquially call ‘obstruction of justice’ might be deemed a high crime or misdemeanor even if it would not violate federal criminal law.”

Megyn Kelly saw an aggressive, peeved Vladimir Putin. That behavior could hurt him.

Russians probably liked Putin’s combative performance: That’s part of his brand, and he’s indisputably popular at home. But the day’s events also showed how allegations of Russian meddling abroad, though they’re seen here as evidence of Russia’s revived power, also cloud Putin’s efforts to lure more foreign investment and expand Russia’s global role.

 .. Kelly questioned Putin bluntly and repeatedly about hacking and other controversial topics. This drew various pained responses, including an exasperated jab at “hysterical” critics: “Maybe someone has a pill that will stop this.” At another point, he said that the U.S. media should “stop this idle prattle” about Russia, which was harming diplomacy.
.. “Institutions are not well developed,” said Andranik Migranyan, a politics professor and former government official. “It’s a highly personalized system,” which Putin feels he must steer “manually.” And Russia is still too dependent on energy exports, even though Putin said in his speech Friday that the export share of other industries is rising.
.. Corruption also remains a big problem, despite talk here of more independent and dependable legal institutions. Sergey Karaganov, the director of Russia’s Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, addressed this issue head-on in a conversation earlier this week in Moscow: “I would agree that institutions are weak” and that contracts often go to “those who play the game.” The problem, he said, was that in 1991, “we introduced capitalism without the rule of law.”
.. That’s Putin’s problem, in essence. His tough-guy, strongman style has certainly helped him to govern Russia. But it may also obstruct his desire to move the country to a more advanced and prosperous state at home and in global markets.
Video: Putin says that accusing Russia of hacking was like Anti-Semitism and that the hack was invented.
In another video, he conceded that a hack could have happened, but was done by Russian freelancing patriots.
This is similar to the argument that the Russian troops fighting in Ukraine were patriotic freelancers.

White House Moves to Block Ethics Inquiry Into Ex-Lobbyists on Payroll

The Trump administration, in a significant escalation of its clash with the government’s top ethics watchdog, has moved to block an effort to disclose the names of former lobbyists who have been granted waivers to work in the White House or federal agencies.

The latest conflict came in recent days when the White House, in a highly unusual move, sent a letter to Walter M. Shaub Jr., the head of the Office of Government Ethics, asking him to withdraw a request he had sent to every federal agency for copies of the waivers. In the letter, the administration challenged his legal authority to demand the information.

.. Dozens of former lobbyists and industry lawyers are working in the Trump administration, which has hired them at a much higher rate than the previous administration. Keeping the waivers confidential would make it impossible to know whether any such officials are violating federal ethics rules or have been given a pass to ignore them.

.. Ethics watchdogs, as well as Democrats in Congress, have expressed concern at the number of former lobbyists taking high-ranking political jobs in the Trump administration. In many cases, they appear to be working on the exact topics they had previously handled on behalf of private-sector clients — including oil and gas companies and Wall Street banks — as recently as January.

When Will Republicans Stand Up to Trump?

In office less than four months, Mr. Trump has already undermined the rule of law in myriad small ways.

He allowed his daughter and son-in-law to work in the White House in arguable violation of an anti-nepotism statute.

  1. He did not divest himself of his business holdings and
  2. did not release his tax returns.
  3. His sons have continued pursuing deals with jillionaires closely linked to unsavory foreign regimes.
  4. He and his daughter have accepted valuable trademark protections from China.
  5. His son-in-law’s family sought to trade on their connections to sell American citizenship to rich Chinese.

.. The president made clear his intent to shut down the investigation on Monday when he tweeted, “The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?”

.. Mr. Trump himself now links his decision to fire Mr. Comey to his conviction that “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story.”