What We're Reading

Daily Reads: Mueller Charges Michael Flynn; Late-Night Chaos Around Senate Tax Bill

A roundup of stories we're reading at BillMoyers.com HQ...

Mueller Charges Michael Flynn

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They’re really bad at this –> The tax bill that was supposed to fly through the Senate, and which the public has still not seen, hit a few snags Thursday night. First the parliamentarian ruled that an automatic “trigger” that would raise spending if GOP supply-siders’ optimistic growth targets aren’t met can’t pass with a mere 51 votes. And then at least one Republican balked when the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) came out with an analysis of the bill that found it would add $1 trillion to federal deficits over the next ten years. It’s hard to overstate how unusual it is for lawmakers to be drafting major legislation on the floor just before a vote, after having held no hearings or done any markups in committee. They’ll try again today. Jim Newell has more details at Slate.

With the last-minute arrival of the JCT’s analysis, the Senate was still awaiting a much-anticipated Treasury study of the bill — a study that was supposed to justify Republican claims that the cuts would unleash tons of economic growth. Now Jim Puzzanghera reports for the Los Angeles Times that “the Treasury Department’s inspector general has launched an inquiry into whether the department hid an analysis of the Republican tax bill — or even did one at all.”

And Sam Baker reports for Axios that if Republicans are successful in their quest to repeal Obamacare’s individual mandate, “insurance markets will begin to feel the effects quickly, leading to almost immediate nationwide upheaval that will be impossible to ignore — especially in an election year.” This would force the GOP to take another crack at health care, which they’ve also proven to be pretty bad at.

Trump-Russia –> According to Jeremy Herb at CNN, “special counsel Robert Mueller has charged former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn with ‘willfully and knowingly’ making ‘false, fictitious and fraudulent statements’ to the FBI regarding conversations” with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Flynn was scheduled to appear at a plea hearing this morning. Herb writes that “the charge against Flynn is the first in Mueller’s probe that has reached someone in the Trump White House and is the latest sign that the special counsel investigation is intensifying.”

Meanwhile, The New York Times reports that “President Trump over the summer repeatedly urged senior Senate Republicans, including the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to end the panel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, according to a half dozen lawmakers and aides. Mr. Trump’s requests were a highly unusual intervention from a president into a legislative inquiry involving his family and close aides.” Sound familiar?

And in an interview with Jake Tapper, Sen Lindsey Graham (R-SC) tried to blame the media for portraying Trump as an erratic “kook.” It really didn’t go well…

Relatedly, Vox’s habitually temperate Ezra Klein makes a lengthy, serious case that the time has come to have a national discussion about impeaching this president.

More legislative problems –> We mentioned yesterday that Republican leaders were considering a hardline approach to upcoming negotiations with Democrats to keep the government running. Now Politico reports that “their own members upended that strategy almost immediately,” and they’re now “scrambling to come up with a plan to avert a government shutdown.”

At Vox, Ron Pollack explains that the Dems, who have been entirely shut out of the legislative process, will now have some real leverage for the first time during Trump’s presidency. “There’s a fresh opening for Democrats to enact policies including extending immigration protection for DREAMers, stabilizing health insurance marketplaces under the Affordable Care Act, extending funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and community health centers — and possibly more,” he writes.

Conservatives apoplectic –> Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, a homeless and possibly mentally ill undocumented immigrant, found a gun and accidentally fired a shot that ricocheted off a sidewalk and killed Kate Steinle, a tourist visiting San Francisco. Her tragic death became a central talking point in Donald Trump’s invective against immigration during the 2016 campaign. On Thursday, a jury found Zarate not guilty of murder and manslaughter charges, convicting him instead of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Vivian Ho reports for the San Francisco Chronicle that conservatives, including Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, are not taking the verdict well.

Red alert –> Aram Roston reports for Buzzfeed that the Trump administration is in discussions with a private contractor that could potentially “undertake intelligence and covert operations,” possibly including the rendition of suspected terrorists overseas. An unnamed intelligence official told Roston that the plan the contractor is pitching “is absurd on its face” and “is not going anywhere.”

Speaking of spies –> According to The New York Times, the White House is likely to shift senior officials around, jettisoning Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, filling his job with current CIA Director Mike Pompeo and then appointing Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) to head the intelligence agency.

While it’s not clear that Cotton, who has presidential ambitions, would take the job, the possibility is raising concerns. Spencer Ackerman reports for The Daily Beast that the notably partisan Cotton is “an advocate of waterboarding, sweeping surveillance powers, jailing journalists, and conflict with Iran,” and predicts that his appointment wouldn’t go over well within the agency.

And Mother Jones’ Dan Friedman writes that Trump’s probably leaning toward Cotton because he “has taken the president’s line in denying the Russia scandal,” another position that would put him at odds with intelligence officials.

Related –> Lawfare’s Susan Hennessy shares her prepared testimony before Congress this week on the need to harden our election infrastructure against cyber-attacks. She writes that the “enduring attention” on last year’s elections “presents a remarkable opportunity to take long-overdue steps toward securing federal and state elections.”

A uniter, not a divider –> Donald Trump has managed a rare feat: Uniting British politicians from across the political spectrum in outrage over first his retweet of a white supremacist’s anti-Muslim tweets and then his follow-up attacks on PM Theresa May. Stephen Castle has that story for The New York Times.

#ThemToo –> Congress secretly paid out $100,000 to settle harassment allegations against Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), according to Justin Fishel at ABC News. Yesterday, Conyers said he would not seek re-election, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for resignation.

And there have been multiple stories claiming that the millennial-oriented media company Vice is tainted by an organization-wide culture of misogyny. CNN’s Brian Stelter reports that three people have been fired as a result of an internal investigation sparked by a handful of employee complaints.

Smoke ’em if you got ’em –> Kate Irby and Emily Cadei report for McClatchy that “Attorney General Jeff Sessions hinted Wednesday that the Justice Department may take a tougher stance on recreational marijuana in the near future, a change in policy that would have a significant impact on the five states that already allow the drug to be sold for more than medicinal purposes.”

This should inspire some sober discussion on social media –> “Dogs, it turns out, have about twice the number of neurons in their cerebral cortexes than what cats have, which suggests they could be about twice as intelligent.” Before you cat people send us hate mail, that’s the result of a study by researchers from six different universities in the US, Brazil, Denmark and South Africa, and reported by Sarah Gibbens at National Geographic.

Daily Reads was compiled by BillMoyers.com staff and edited by Kristin Miller.



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