What We're Reading

Daily Reads: Special Counsel Appointed; More Undisclosed Contacts Between Team Trump and Russian Officials

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

Special Counsel Appointed

Robert S. Mueller III speaks during a memorial service for the Pan Am Flight 103 at Arlington National Cemetery on Dec. 21, 2011. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

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Stakes have been raised –> Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is scheduled to address the Congress today, appointed former FBI head Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate potential ties between Trump and Russia. The New York Times reports that Trump was told of the move late in the day, and appeared “calm, determined to push his agenda and uncharacteristically noncombative” when he heard the news.

The staff at Lawfare Blog have some initial reactions to the report, and offer some insight into the scope of Mueller’s mandate. They also raise questions about his work at a law firm that represents some of the central figures in the investigation.

18 more undisclosed contacts –> In an exclusive for Reuters, Ned Parker, Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel report that “Michael Flynn and other advisers to Donald Trump’s campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race.” The previously undisclosed contacts “form part of the record now being reviewed by FBI and congressional investigators probing Russian interference in the US presidential election.”

And according to McClatchy’s Vera Bergengruen, before Trump was sworn in, Michael Flynn, his first national security adviser, demanded a halt to a planned military action against ISIS that Turkey opposed. The catch: Flynn hadn’t disclosed that he’d been paid $500,000 to represent the interests of the Turkish government. Bergengruen writes, “Some members of Congress, in private conversations, have even used the word ‘treason’ to describe Flynn’s intervention…”

Koch brothers ready major push on tax “reform” –> TIME’s Philip Elliott writes: “Coming soon to your television, smart phone, front door, mailbox and landline: a multimillion-dollar push for tax reform, courtesy of the political and policy network backed by the billionaire Koch brothers.” According to the report, their push will largely echo Trump’s outline, and is based on the premise that “government has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.”

But her emails –> A joint investigation by ProPublica and Gizmodo found that the cyber security at Mar-a-Lago, President Trump’s “southern White House,” was virtually nonexistent. The authors write, “security lapses are not uncommon in the hospitality industry, which — like most industries and government agencies — is under increasing attack from hackers. But they are more worrisome in places where the president of the United States, heads of state and public officials regularly visit.”

An unlikely resistance” –> Nikhil Swaminathan reports for Grist that “the Trump budget would tear down the entire US environmental protection apparatus,” but “by targeting specific regional efforts alongside more general environmental justice funding, the Trump administration might have inadvertently given opponents a means to fight back — and sparked unlikely alliances,” which include some Republicans.  

Meanwhile, budget documents reviewed by Axios reveal that the Trump administration will ask Congress to slash funding for renewable energy by 70 percent. Amy Harder reports that it’s unlikely Congress would grant such a request, but it nonetheless “shows how extreme the administration wants to go with its budget cuts in policy areas” that don’t line up with its priorities.

Exempt from the standard ethical safeguards” –> At The American Prospect, David Dayen writes about Keith Noreika, a corporate lawyer who went from “advising bank clients on evading regulatory enforcement” to serving as “the second-most important banking regulator in the federal government” as interim head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. The key point in the story is that the administration used a procedural maneuver which “not only enables a Trump loyalist to direct OCC without Senate confirmation, but it sidesteps the traditional ethics process.”

A win –> In deep-blue Philadelphia, Democratic primaries are de facto elections, and on Wednesday Philly voters chose Larry Krasner to be the city’s next district attorney. But Krasner isn’t a prosecutor, he’s a veteran civil rights attorney and reformist. Joseph Bullington writes at In These Times that Krasner’s win is a victory for the progressive movement and the anti-Trump resistance.

Trump agenda’s moving forward in one way –> While Congress has been brought to a crawl by all the chaos swirling around the White House, Trump’s making good on one campaign promise. Oliver Laughland and Mona Chalabi report for The Guardian that immigration arrests are up significantly in the first months of 2017 compared to the same period last year. They note that the numbers are still below the high-water mark under Obama, but “the sharpest increase in arrest rates were among those suspected undocumented immigrants with no criminal history.”

According to Fox News –> While most of the political world was focused on James Comey’s firing, Fox News was hyping what’s widely seen as a conspiracy theory linking Wikileaks with Seth Rich, the young DNC staffer who was shot to death in the capital last year in an attempted robbery. The story was first spun by Fox’s Washington, DC affiliate; Rich’s family has said that the story is false and is causing them emotional distress —
and has requested that they retract it. But Travis Waldron reports for HuffPost that both the station and the network “are standing by their conspiracy-mongering reports…even as those stories fall apart.”

That was a bad date –> A Texas man is suing a woman with whom he went on a blind date for $17.31, which represents the price of a movie the two attended, alleging that she kept texting during the flick. According to the petition, “the defendant’s behavior is a threat to civilized society.” The woman is filing a protective order, which seems like a good idea. More details at the Austin American-Statesman.

Daily Reads was compiled by Bill Moyers staff and edited by Kristin Miller.

We produce this news digest every weekday. You can sign up to receive these updates as an email.