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Manafort Monday Turns Into a Very Bad Day for Trump—and Mike Pence

The technical term for what we do and what law firms, associations and professional groups do is lobbying. For purposes of today, I will admit that in a narrow sense, some people might term it influence peddling,” Paul Manafort admitted in 1989, when he testified regarding his role in a Reagan-era scandal at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Throughout his long career as a Republican Party fixer and influence peddler on behalf of what the Center for Public Integrity termed “the torture lobby”—a global cadre of dictators and strongmen who wanted to make sure the United States did not hold them to account—Manafort has been one of most troublesome creatures in the Washington “swamp” that Donald Trump decried as a presidential contender. Yet Manafort has also worked, from the 1980s on, for his client “Donald”—the New York billionaire who relied on Manafort to help clear hurdles for gambling and real-estate endeavors.

When “Donald” ran for the Republican presidential nomination, he needed influence peddlers to help him close the deal and organize a functional party convention in Cleveland. So he brought in the torture lobbyist and his associate Rick Gates to manage the campaign.

Manafort managed things for several months, while Gates remained on the Trump team as a key figure in the campaign, the transition process, and the planning of the new president’s inauguration. Manafort also maintained a relationship with “Donald,” reportedly continuing to talk with his longtime associate through the remainder of the campaign and into the transition process.

Now that Manafort and Gates have been indicted on 12 counts of money laundering involving at least $18 million, setting up secret overseas bank accounts through which $75 million flowed, lying to federal authorities, and operating as unregistered foreign agents for the government of a Ukrainian leader who is linked with the Russians, and now that it has been revealed that George Papadopoulos (a foreign-policy adviser to Trump who urged the candidate meet with Russian officials) has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, the word from the White House is that Trump barely knows these guys and that the indictments by special counsel Robert Mueller have focused on figures who had only “limited” contact with the Trump team.

That sounds like the sort of “I-know-nothing” spin that Manafort counseled his clients to employ back in the day when he was working for the cruelest—and most criminal—dictators in the world. They should be recognized as the self-serving lies that they are.

Trump led the lying project with Monday-morning tweets that announced, first, “Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????” and, second, “Also, there is NO COLLUSION!”

The truth is that Manafort’s role in the Trump campaign was not “limited.” It was definitional. When Manafort was in charge of making sure that the Republican platform-writing process and convention went smoothly, the party suddenly became dramatically friendlier to Russia—to such an extent that the headline on an analysis piece published in The Washington Post just before the convention read: “Trump campaign guts GOP’s anti-Russia stance on Ukraine.”

There will be many attempts to deny and dissemble. But one thing is certain: Manafort definitely put one man in the West Wing of the White House (and the adjoining Eisenhower Executive Office Building): Mike Pence.

It was Manafort who brought Pence, the scandal-plagued and politically vulnerable governor of Indiana, who had backed Texas Senator Ted Cruz in that state’s Republican primary, into consideration as a vice-presidential prospect for Trump. Referring to Trump, Manafort explained last summer that “I brought him in to meet Pence.” That manipulation, said Manafort, fostered the notion that Pence “had value to Trump as a potential VP nominee.”

But the Manafort-Pence connection was about more than just introducing Trump to a Republican stalwart the fixer had known for many years. Veteran Republican strategist John Weaver says, “Remember, Manafort selected the VP and was therefore the most important person on the campaign team.”

Most indications going into the 2016 Republican National Convention were that Trump wanted New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to be his running mate, and that Christie was ready to take the gig.

But, according a CBS report on the negotiations, “Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager at the time, allegedly had another idea in mind.”

The report explained that

Manafort had arranged for Trump to meet with his first choice for the job on July 13: Indiana Governor Mike Pence. Afterwards, the plans was for Trump and Pence to then fly back to New York together and a formal announcement would be made, a campaign source said of Manafort’s thinking:

What had previously been reported as a “lucky break” by the New York Times was actually a swift political maneuver devised by the now fired campaign manager. Set on changing Trump’s mind, he concocted a story that Trump’s plane had mechanical problems, forcing the soon-to-be Republican nominee to stay the night in Indianapolis for breakfast with the Pence family on Wednesday morning.

Swayed by Pence’s aggressive pitch, Trump agreed to ditch Christie and make Pence his VP the following day, according to a source.

It should be understood that Manafort had allies, especially Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who was in the anyone-but-Christie camp because the New Jerseyan had, as a federal prosecutor, sent Kushner’s dad to jail.

But the Manafort-Pence connection ought not be underestimated. Indeed, when CNN reported in December that Manafort had“reemerged as a player in the fight to shape the new administration,” the network explained that “with Pence firmly entrenched in Trump’s inner circle…Manafort—who keeps a home in Trump Tower—has a direct line to top decision-makers.”

Pence ran the transition team, which populated the Trump administration with scandalous figures who have been accused of serious wrongdoing, including ousted White House national-security adviser Mike Flynn. After Flynn exited the administration under a cloud, Pence adopted his own “I-know-nothing” stance. But then it was revealed that Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, had informed Pence in a November 18, 2016, letter that he was concerned about ethical issues that could arise from “Lt. Gen. Flynn’s involvement in advising Mr. Trump on matters relating to Turkey or Russia—including attending classified briefings on those matters…”

Cummings said Pence and the transition team had “17 or 20 red lights” regarding Flynn, yet Flynn got security post.

There is a fantasy that suggests that Mike Pence is a mere spectator—and an ignorant one, at that—when it comes to the scandals associated with the Trump campaign, the Trump transition, and the Trump administration. That has never been true. Pence has often been at or near the center of things. And, as attention turns toward Manafort, it must also turn toward Pence.

That does not mean that Vice President Pence’s connections, statements, and actions are of more concern that those of President Trump. But it does mean that Trump will not be the only member of the 2016 Republican ticket who faces serious scrutiny in 2017 and beyond.

John NicholsTWITTERJohn Nichols is The Nation’s national-affairs correspondent. He is the author of Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: A Field Guide to the Most Dangerous People in America, from Nation Books, and co-author, with Robert W. McChesney,

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Sgt. La David Johnson’s Widow: Trump ‘Couldn’t Remember My Husband’s Name’

That’s what made me upset and cry even more because my husband was an awesome soldier,” Myeshia Johnson said.

Myeshia Johnson, wife of U.S. Army Sergeant La David Johnson, who was among four special forces soldiers killed in Niger, kisses his coffin at a graveside service in Hollywood, Fla., Oct. 21, 2017. / REUTERS

Sgt. La David T. Johnson was one of four U.S. Army soldiers killed on Oct. 4 in an attack in Niger. In an interview Monday morning on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” his widow, Myeshia Johnson, addressed the controversy surrounding President Donald Trump’s condolence phone call.

Johnson explained that she was in a limo with her family on Tuesday headed to Miami International Airport to receive her husband, who was flown in from Dover Air Force Base. That’s when she received a phone call from the president.

We were literally on the airport strip getting ready to get out,” she told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos. “And [Trump] called Master Sgt. Neil’s phone.”

Johnson said she then asked Master Sgt. Neil to put his phone on speaker “so my aunt and uncle could hear as well.”

The president said that ‘he knew what he signed up for, but it hurts anyway,’” Johnson said.

And it made me cry because I was very angry at the tone of his voice and how he couldn’t remember my husband’s name.

The only way he remembered my husband’s name is because he told me he had my husband’s report in front of him and that’s when he actually said La David. I heard him stumblin’ on trying to remember my husband’s name and that’s what hurt me the most, because if my husband is out here fighting for our country and he risked his life for our country why can’t you remember his name.

And that’s what made me upset and cry even more because my husband was an awesome soldier.”

She went on to say that it took her husband less time than most soldiers to achieve an E-5 Army rank.

It took my husband three years to make E-5 — it takes other soldiers five to six years just to make E-5.”

She said that if her husband was alive he’d be on his way to an E-6 or E-7 ranking.

My husband had high hopes in the military career,” Johnson said.

Stephanopoulos asked her, “What did you say to the president?”

I didn’t say anything. I just listened,” Johnson responded.

She said she was “very upset and hurt” when she got off the phone.

According to Politico, there was a public statement of condolence drafted and circulated by the National Security Council for Trump to make “almost immediately after a deadly ambush of U.S. soldiers in Niger earlier this month.”

The statement was circulated among NSC officials as well as Defense Department officials,” Politico reports. “But it was never released, and it was not immediately clear why.”

And two weeks later, Trump made the phone call to Johnson.

Trump denies on Twitter that he made the comment to U.S. Army Sgt. La David T. Johnson’s widow in a phone call.

Last week, Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) first spoke of Trump’s condolence call. The president denied making the comment that Johnson knew what he signed up for.

Whatever Ms. Wilson said was not fabricated,” Johnson’s widow said. “What she said was 100 percent correct. It was Master Sgt. Neil, me, my aunt, my uncle and the driver and Ms. Wilson in the car, the phone was on speakerphone. Why would we fabricate something like that?”

Johnson said Wilson “has been in our family since we were kids,” and her husband was in the congresswoman’s 5,000 Role Model program.

When Johnson, 25, was killed, he was beginning a deployment with the U.S. team of “Bush Hogs” from the 3rd Special Forces Group. He and his team were ambushed in the Republic of the Niger.

In the interview with Stephanopoulos, Johnson’s widow also said that the military has told her little about what happened in West Africa, and she is upset that she has not been allowed to see her husband’s body.

They won’t show me a finger, a hand,” she said. “I know my husband’s body from head to toe.”

She said of her husband’s coffin, “I don’t know what’s in that box, it could be empty for all I know.”

On Oct. 6, Nigerian troops recovered his body for a return of remains ceremony Oct. 7 at the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, according to ABC 10.

Johnson’s funeral took place Saturday afternoon. He was buried at the Hollywood Memorial Gardens cemetery.

Shortly after Johnson’s interview aired on “Good Morning America,” Trump tweeted the following:

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

I had a very respectful conversation with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, and spoke his name from beginning, without hesitation!”

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There’s a New Lawsuit Against Trump’s Election Commission

Publishers Corner

Clifton Harris, Publisher of The San Bernardino AMERICAN News, Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

It aims to halt the commission’s controversial collection of data on all American voters

By: Pema Levy

President-elect Donald Trump and Kris Kobach in New Jersey last November. Peter Foley/ZUMA

President Donald Trump’s controversial election integrity commission is facing yet another lawsuit, this time from a watchdog group alleging that it violated federal law when it requested comprehensive information about every voter in the country.

At issue is the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA), a little-known 1980 law that requires the government to go through specific procedures before it requests large amounts of data. Those procedures include creating a clear goal for the collection and plan for its use, soliciting public comment and gaining approval from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The group filing the lawsuit, United to Protect Democracy, founded in February by Obama administration alumni, alleges that the commission’s chaotic and controversial data request is precisely the kind of situation the law intended to prevent.

“If the commission wants to seek that information, the Paperwork Reduction Act says it’s got to give an account of why and how it’s going to do so responsibly, and it’s got to give the public a chance to respond,” says Larry Schwartztol, an attorney for the group who filed the lawsuit in federal court in Washington, DC. “So we are going to ask the court to issue an order saying that the commission cannot undertake this data collection until it does those things.” The lawsuit requests that the court halt the data collection and require the commission to destroy or safeguard the information it has already acquired until it complies with the PRA.

The commission, led by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, was created in response to the president’s unfounded claim that millions of people had voted illegally in the 2016 election. Voting rights advocates have warned that the commission is part of the administration’s plan to push voter suppression laws. It became a front-page story in June when Kobach issued a broad request to all 50 states and the District of Columbia for personal information on every registered voter, including name, birth date, address, criminal history, party affiliation, and Social Security number. The commission did not clarify how the data would be used, transmitted, or securely stored. Nearly all states refused to comply with the request at least in part, and civil rights and watchdog groups filed lawsuits in response.

Shortly after the request went out, United to Protect Democracy and the Brennan Center for Justice, a progressive research and litigation shop, sent a letter to OMB asking its director, former Republican Rep. Mick Mulvaney, to halt the commission’s data collection until it complies with the law. The PRA requires the office to respond to such requests within 60 days, but both groups say OMB never replied to the letter. The complaint includes a claim that OMB is also in violation of the statute because of its failure to respond. OMB did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

At the time of the data request, numerous experts voiced concerns that the commission’s data request likely violated the PRA. In response, a spokesman for Pence argued that the commission is not subject to PRA requirements. “The Paperwork Reduction Act only applies to information collections by agencies,” the spokesman, Marc Lotter, told the Hill newspaper at the time. “The Commission is an entity that ‘serves[s] solely to advise and assist the President,’ and is not, therefore, an agency subject to PRA.”

But Schwartztol says his group is confident that the PRA applies to the commission. The act does say it applies to agencies, but it defines agencies very broadly, stating that they include “any executive department…or other establishment in the executive branch of the Government (including the Executive Office of the President).” The act lists four very specific exceptions, but none is for presidential advisory commissions. “I don’t think the commission can make a case it fits under any of” the exceptions, says Stuart Shapiro, a professor at Rutgers University who worked on PRA requests during his five years at OMB. Shapiro first argued in a July blog post that the commission’s request was illegal because it ignored the PRA.

“I think this is a very strong claim,” agrees Wendy Weiser, who works on voting rights and government reform at the Brennan Center and signed the original letter to OMB on the issue. “This particular document request was, I think, a textbook example of exactly why the Paperwork Reduction Act was passed.” The request, issued on June 28, drew rebukes from states and the public, prompted thousands of voters to remove themselves from the rolls, and was the subject of multiple lawsuits alleging violations of ethics and privacy laws. It was ultimately paused by the courts, and then reissued. And while the commission created a new portal for states to submit the requested information, the new request did not ally advocates’ concerns about privacy or how the data would be used. “The disastrous rollout of their request for voter data is a great argument for the provisions put down in the Paperwork Reduction Act,” says Weiser.

Multiple other lawsuits against the commission and its activities, winding their way through the courts, have thus far failed to stop the commission’s activities. In one case, the federal district court in Washington declined a request to immediately halt the commission’s data collection because it found that the commission did not meet the definition of an agency under the Administrative Procedure Act, one of the federal laws at issue in that case. That decision is currently being appealed. But Schwartztol says his group’s challenge faces good odds because the PRA defines agencies more broadly. If the courts ultimately decide that the commission is not subject to the law that would create a loophole in the PRA, essentially allowing the executive branch to engage in massive data collection without oversight.

United to Protect Democracy is led by attorneys who previously oversaw Obama administration compliance with federal rules and regulations. The group’s goal is to make sure that the Trump administration does not flout norms and rules that prevent the politicization of the executive branch and guard against a slide toward authoritarianism. The group has filed multiple cases pending over the disclosure of government information under the Freedom of Information Act. In July, the group filed a suit against the Trump campaign and Trump confidant Roger Stone on behalf of victims of the Russian hack on the Democratic National Committee, alleging that the campaign and Stone conspired with Russia, leading to the release of confidential information that became public when Wiki Leaks published the hacked information online.

“The idea that they can do an end-run around [the PRA] by establishing a presidential commission is pretty unsettling,” says Schwartztol. “It would be really unusual and harmful to set the precedent that there’s sort of an ungoverned space here that the commission can operate in.”

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