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Daily Reads: US Media Barred From Trump-Russia Meeting; Did Comey Outrage Hand Environmentalists a Victory?

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

Daily Reads: US Media Barred From Trump-Russia Meeting

Three of a kind: Donald Trump, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left), and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak meet at the Oval Office, May 10, 2017. (Photo by Russia Foreign Minister Press Ofice /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

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Russian media granted access to Trump; American media denied –> The morning after firing James Comey, Trump met with Russia’s foreign minister (picture above). “The White House declared the meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to be closed press, meaning that reporters couldn’t attend and cover independently,” Michael Calderone reports for HuffPost. “But one outlet did get in: TASS, a Russian state media organization.”

Comey disaster, day three –> Comey was fired in response to Trump’s mounting anger over the Russia investigation and leaks relating to it, not — surprise — over his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. “At his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump groused over Comey’s latest congressional testimony, which he thought was ‘strange,’ and grew impatient with what he viewed as his sanctimony, according to White House officials,” The Washington Post reports. “Comey, Trump figured, was using the Russia probe to become a martyr.”

The White House repeatedly claimed that Trump had decided to fire Comey only this week, after reviewing a memo by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. But The Post reports that Trump summoned Rosenstein and his boss, Jeff Sessions, to his office on Monday and told them to devise a rationale he could use to fire Comey. Rosenstein wrote up a memo about Comey’s handling of the Clinton emails, but, after the White House tried to place the blame for Comey’s firing squarely on Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general threatened to quit.

Trump’s decision to fire Comey also came after Comey requested more funding for the Russia investigation, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal report. “If President Donald Trump orchestrated the decision to fire the Director of the FBI to subvert or undermine the integrity of investigations into the Trump campaign’s possible coordination with Russia, it may amount to an obstruction of justice,” Ryan Goodman writes for JustSecurity. “If Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others knowingly participated in such a plan, they too would be in legal and political jeopardy.”

Renewed calls for a special prosecutor: “Trump’s presidency is deeply corrupted, our democracy is compromised, and the system of checks and balances is failing us,” write Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, renewing their call for a nonpartisan special prosecutor to look into Trump’s Russia ties.

Most Republicans, meanwhile, are trying to ignore the issue; they’re worried that getting to the bottom of Trump’s Russia ties will “distract from efforts to pass healthcare legislation and tax reform through the Senate,” Alexander Bolton reports for The Hill. The New York Times has compiled a list of how lawmakers are reacting. What’s your member of Congress got to say about all this?

A surprise win for the environment –> Republicans have been using a little-known rule called the Congressional Review Act to repeal regulations put in place during the last six months of the Obama administration (more on that here). Their deadline to use it was May 10, yesterday, and Senate leaders tried to squeeze through one last vote, to get rid of an Obama regulation that cracked down on leaks of methane — a very potent greenhouse gas — from natural gas operations.

The vote failed. Two Democrats who tend to support fossil fuel interests — Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) — joined with two relatively environment-friendly Republicans — Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Susan Collins (R-ME) — to oppose the bill. But the swing vote came from John McCain (R-AZ). At The Intercept, David Dayen theorizes that Heitkamp and Manchin’s spines were steeled after the Comey firing — and that McCain also chose to sink the legislation out of anger with Trump. Dayen observes that before the vote, McCain denounced the Comey firing on CNN and was seen angrily yelling at his colleagues in the Senate. “After yelling at them for close to a minute, McCain goes over to the Senate clerks and gives a thumbs down to record his vote. He then storms out of the chamber, as [Sen. John] Cornyn [R-TX] raises his arms in mild protest.”

But: The Department of the Interior will now take aim at the bill. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke may not be as much of a friend to the fossil fuel industry as some in his party, but he’s also no critic. Under his watch, Corbin Hiar and Kellie Lunney report for E&E News, the department may succeed in gutting methane regulations where Congress failed.

Census in crisis –> The director of the Census Bureau is resigning in the face of funding cuts — an unexpected move as the 2020 Census approaches. “The decennial count typically requires a massive ramp-up in spending in the years immediately preceding it, involving extensive testing, hiring and publicity,” Tara Bahrampour reports for The Washington Post. “However, in late April Congress approved only $1.47 billion for the Census Bureau in the 2017 fiscal year, about 10 percent below what the Obama administration had requested. And experts say the White House’s proposed budget for 2018, $1.5 billion, falls far below what is needed.” The Census, of course, is key to the work researchers and journalists.

The Census also dictates how we elect our politicians. “The decennial census is critical to ensuring that Americans are fairly represented in Washington, since it’s used as the basis for Congressional redistricting,” Jordan Weissmann writes for Slate. “A mishandled census could undercount poor and minority populations, putting some states and many cities at a demographic disadvantage. That alone makes the possiblity that Trump might appoint a political hack to replace Thompson frightening.”

Wage theft is worse than property theft –> A new report from the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank, finds that workers are cheated out of $15 billion a year by being paid less than the minimum wage. Wage theft disproportionately affects women, immigrants and people of color. David Cooper and Teresa Kroeger, the report’s authors, write, “It is worth noting that this number, $15 billion, exceeds the value of property crimes committed in the United States each year: according to the FBI, the total value of all robberies, burglaries, larceny, and motor vehicle theft in the United States in 2015 was $12.7 billion.”

Anti-net neutrality robots attack –> FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is attempting to get rid of net neutrality rules, which prevent our internet service providers from controlling what we see on the internet and how quickly we see it. Libby Watson writes for Gizmodo that comments are pouring in to the FCC about Pai’s proposal “Like last time, many of the comments are in favor of the net neutrality rules. But a few days ago, a curious thing started happening: Thousands of identical anti-net neutrality comments came flooding in… Even more concerning, however, is that the names and addresses attached to those comments may not belong to whoever filed them.”

Watson, along with reporters at other outlets, managed to get in touch with a few of the people who left net neutrality comments under their name and address— only to learn that they had not left the comments, and, in some cases, didn’t even know what the concept of net neutrality was.

Daily Reads was compiled by John Light and edited by Kristin Miller.



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