No vote for security
Both former special counsel Robert Mueller and former FBI Director Christopher Wray warned in Capitol Hill testimony this week that foreign election interference presents a clear and present danger to America's democracy.
It's just not Russia. The Washington Post reports Iran is behind influence and disinformation operations that have used thousands of fake social media accounts. Unlike the Russians, the Iranians typically target Donald Trump.
U.S. election systems were also a target in 2016. But efforts in Congress to pass new election security legislation is stalled, The Associated Press writes. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell halted a bipartisan effort to beef up state election systems ahead of the 2018 vote. On Thursday, he blocked Democrats from pushing forward a House-passed bill to authorize $775 million in grants to the states.
The Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, called inaction a "disgrace." McConnell said the House-passed bill "was not a serious effort" coming from the same side that spent two years "hyping" Mueller's investigation.
Trump, ever sensitive to questions about the 2016 election, hasn't displayed much public interest in the issue other than to blame the 2016 problems on former President Barack Obama. White House deputy press secretary Steven Groves told NPR in an interview that Trump is "concerned," but it's "elusive" to find a nationwide fix when election systems are "very decentralized" through the 50 states.
A bipartisan report issued Thursday by the Senate Intelligence Committee says the Russian government directed "extensive activity" against U.S. election systems ahead of the 2016 presidential election. The report says states weren't appropriately warned of the threat against their systems and that many of them still have outdated voting machines.
The nation's intelligence chiefs say Russia attempted to breach the election systems of all 50 states in 2016, though there is no evidence any vote tallies were changed. But the vulnerabilities remain. Even if Congress were immediately to send funds to states for new voting equipment that produces a paper record of each ballot as a backstop, it would be extremely difficult to make substantial upgrades in time for the 2020 elections, AP found.
A real Russia hoax
Something was off about the presidential seal projected on a screen behind Trump when he addressed the Turning Point USA teen summit on Tuesday.
The eagle had two heads — a symbol that resembles the seal of the Russian Federation — instead of one. Its talons, rather than clasping 13 arrows, appear to clutch a set of golf clubs.
Turning Point said Thursday it had fired a member of its video team. It may have been a case of a careless web search that led to a spoof image instead of the real one.
Janison: Swamp gas
Trump's 2016 promise to "drain the swamp" remains bogged down. Newsday's Dan Janison offers some recent examples:
This week, former national security adviser Michael Flynn's business partner was convicted of lobbying illegally at Turkey's behest.
Trump's former Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, who left amid ethics probes, now has consulting clients in industries such as mining and drilling that his former department regulates.
And Trump's 800-acre Doral luxury golf resort in Florida, struggling with an occupancy rate below its competitors, is among the finalists for a Trump-hosted G-7 leadership summit next year.
Fraud case vs. Trumps goes forward
Before taking office, Trump disposed of the Trump University fraud suit against him with a $25 million settlement. Now another civil case is emerging as the 2020 elections approach.
U.S. District Judge Lorna Schofield in Manhattan ruled that Trump, his company and three of his children must face a class-action lawsuit in which people claim they were scammed into spending money on fraudulent, multilevel-marketing ventures and a dubious live-seminar program to teach Trump’s “secrets to success” in real estate.
While she dismissed a racketeering claim, the judge let stand accusations of fraud, unfair competition and deceptive trade practices, Bloomberg News reports.
The plaintiffs charge the Trumps ripped off thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs.
Trump plays race card on Sweden
Brushing off appeals from Trump, Swedish prosecutors formally charged American rapper A$AP Rocky with assault for an incident in Stockholm last month. The president, who was asked to intercede for Rocky by Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West, fired off angry tweets at Sweden that raised race as an issue.
"Very disappointed in Prime Minister Stefan Löfven for being unable to act. Sweden has let our African American Community down in the United States," Trump said. "I watched the tapes of A$AP Rocky, and he was being followed and harassed by troublemakers. Treat Americans fairly!" Video also shows Rocky throwing a person to the ground. He says it was self-defense.
A follow-up Trump tweet said, "Give A$AP Rocky his FREEDOM. We do so much for Sweden but it doesn't seem to work the other way around. Sweden should focus on its real crime problem!" In the past, Trump has charged Sweden's immigration policies were responsible for crime and even a fictional terrorist attack.
Before Rocky was charged, Trump offered to "vouch" for bail to get him released. Sweden doesn't have a bail system. In response to Thursday’s tweets, Sweden reiterated that it has an independent judiciary insulated from political interference.
Duel with de Blasio
Trump tweeted that recent incidents of NYPD officers getting doused with water while on patrol are a "disgrace" and called upon New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to "STAND UP for those who protect our lives and serve us all so well."
It wasn't a direct insult on the level of Trump calling de Blasio "the worst mayor in the U.S.," but the bottom-tier 2020 presidential candidate seized the opportunity to tweet back.
First, de Blasio said, “Crime’s gone down year after year in New York City and it’s not just because you finally left town.” But the mayor's follow-up tweet — zinging Trump's work habits — had boomerang potential. "He should get off Twitter and stick to what he’s good at: watching TV when he claims to be working," de Blasio said.
What else is happening:
- Trump is slated to sign the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund bill into law on Monday, surrounded by first responders, including several from Long Island, who have been invited to the White House, Newsday's Figueroa reports.
- The House passed the Trump-backed two-year, $2.7 trillion budget deal hammered out with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on a 284-149 vote. Trump pushed for GOP support, but about two-thirds of House Republicans voted against it.
- The State Department appealed to North Korea to avoid "more provocations" after it test-fired two new short-range ballistic missiles.
- Attorney General William Barr directed the Bureau of Prisons to carry out the first federal executions since 2003. He set execution dates in December and January for five death row prisoners convicted of murder and other crimes.
- The Mueller hearings Wednesday drew under 13 million TV viewers — fewer than watched Trump-era hearings featuring former FBI Director James Comey (19.5 million), Trump ex-lawyer Michael Cohen (15.8 million) and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh (20.4 million), according to the Nielsen ratings.
- While lawyering for free for Trump, Rudy Giuliani says he has been so strapped for cash that he had to borrow $100,000 from another Trump lawyer to pay taxes. He said he hasn't been able to hit up his joint bank account with estranged wife Judith Nathan Giuliani during their bitter divorce proceedings.
- A Fox News poll found 56% of all voters said Trump's tweets that four leftist congresswomen should "go back" to other countries were racist. A Politico/Morning Consult poll found 58% of voters believed the "send her back" chants against Rep. Ilhan Omar at a Trump rally last week also were racist.