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House Democrats Demand Investigation of Trump’s National Security Adviser

Mother Jones

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On Monday night, all 17 Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform sent a letter to Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the committee chairman, requesting that he either initiate a full investigation of Michael Flynn—President Donald Trump’s national security adviser who was caught misrepresenting conversations he had with the Russian ambassador—or “step aside and allow the Committee to vote on conducting basic oversight going forward.”

Flynn has been under fire since the Washington Post reported last week that he had discussed “US sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador to the United States during the month before President Trump took office,” despite claims to the contrary from Trump administration officials, including White House press secretary Sean Spicer and Vice President Mike Pence. Flynn, too, had previously denied discussing with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislya the sanctions levied by President Barack Obama in response to Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 election during a series of conversations in late December. But a spokesman for Flynn told the Post on Thursday that “he couldn’t be certain that sanctions never came up.”

On Monday, Kellyanne Conway, a senior White House adviser, said Flynn “does enjoy the full confidence of the president.” Less than an hour later, Spicer issued a statement saying that Trump was “evaluating the situation.” Monday night, the Post reported that then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates told the White House in late January that she believed “Flynn had misled senior administration officials about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador.” The paper noted that she had “warned that Flynn was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail.”

The House Democrats’ letter to Chaffetz notes that Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, has repeatedly asked Chaffetz to investigate Flynn’s contacts with the Russian government and put forward the case for an investigation:

Grave questions have been raised about the fitness of General Flynn to serve as National Security Adviser and to continue having access to classified information. It has now been reported that General Flynn took payments of an undisclosed amount to travel to Moscow to dine with Vladimir Putin and celebrate RT, which US intelligence officials warn is the “Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet”; that he potentially failed to obtain the consent of Congress to receive those funds in violation of the Constitution; that he communicated repeatedly with Russian officials while that nation was engaged in an attack on our democracy and our presidential election; that he secretly discussed with the Russian ambassador, in possible violation of the Logan Act, sanctions imposed by President Obama in response to these Russian attacks; and that he may have lied about these discussions not only to the American people, but to his own White House colleagues, including the Vice President.

If you are not willing to initiate this investigation…then we ask that you not prevent us from calling up this matter at the next business meeting so we may request a vote on this and other proposals going forward on this matter.

Chaffetz, who was eager to investigate Hillary Clinton’s email controversy, has come under pressure from Democrats on the committee and his own constituents for going soft on Trump and not launching inquiries regarding Trump’s financial conflicts of interest. Cummings and other Democrats have previously asked Chaffetz for a committee investigation of contacts between Trump associates and Russia—and he has ignored these requests.

Read the full letter below:

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House Oversight Democrats Letter to Chaffetz Feb. 13 (PDF)

House Oversight Democrats Letter to Chaffetz Feb. 13 (Text)

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House Democrats Demand Investigation of Trump’s National Security Adviser

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Chronic Marijuana Use Is Up In Colorado

Mother Jones

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A new report from the Colorado Retail Marijuana Public Health Advisory Committee tells us that among 18-25 years olds, 13 percent report using marijuana daily or near-daily. Mark Kleiman is taken aback that this has gotten hardly any attention:

We know from other studies by Beau Kilmer and his group at RAND that daily/near-daily smokers consume about three times as much cannabis per use-day as less frequent smokers, enough to be measurably impaired (even if not subjectively stoned) for most of their waking hours….The National Survey on Drug Use and Health finds that about one-half of daily or near-daily smokers meet the diagnostic criteria for Substance Use Disorder. That’s a frightening share of users, and of the total population, to be engaging in such worrisome behavior.

….More and more people using cannabis more and more often is a trend that pre-dates legalization and is not restricted to states that have legalized….What is clear is that lower prices…make it easier for users to slip into heavy daily use. Indeed, that’s the main — some of us would say the only significant — risk of legalization. That risk could be reduced by using taxes to prevent the price collapse. So a report on the effects of legalization that neglects heavy use is like a review of the last performance of “Our American Cousin” that doesn’t mention John Wilkes Booth.

That sounds like a lot. On the other hand, if half of daily marijuana users typically have substance use disorders, that about 6.5 percent in Colorado. Here are the national figures for the past decade:

The Colorado figure is higher than than the national figure, but not hugely higher. It’s probably not a reason to panic, but it does bear watching.

The kind of people who read this blog are probably in favor of marijuana legalization—as I am—largely because they’re the kind of people who use it occasionally and don’t see a lot of harm in it. But like alcohol, there’s a certain share of the population that will fall into addiction, and that share is likely to increase as marijuana prices come down. There’s never a free lunch.

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Chronic Marijuana Use Is Up In Colorado

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Petraeus Warns That Divisive Actions on Muslims Strengthen Extremists

Mother Jones

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President Donald Trump has faced criticism from across the political spectrum after signing an executive order last Friday restricting travel from seven majority-Muslim countries. On Wednesday, one of Trump’s favorite military minds appeared to add his voice to the public condemnation.

General David Petraeus, a finalist for secretary of state in the Trump administration despite his disgraced exit from the CIA, told the House Armed Services Committee that broad-brush statements from Trump and others in his administration about Islam and Muslims complicate the fight against groups like ISIS.

“We must also remember that Islamic extremists want to portray this fight as a clash of civilizations, with America at war against Islam,” Petraeus said at a hearing on national security threats and challenges. “We must not let them do that. Indeed, we must be very sensitive to actions that might give them ammunition in such an effort.”

Trump’s executive order grew out of his campaign promise to implement a “Muslim ban.” It followed reports that the Trump administration was considering reopening CIA black sites, based on a draft executive order that replaced phrases like “global war on terrorism” and “jihadist” with “radical Islamic terrorism” and “Islamist.” This weekend, Trump also elevated adviser Steve Bannon by giving him a seat on the National Security Council’s Principals Committee. Bannon has said that Islam is a “religion of submission” and frequently hosted and praised guests on his radio show who disparaged Islam.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Petraeus also pushed back on Trump’s suggestions that NATO alliances might be weakened and Russian aggression tolerated. Trump has called NATO “obsolete” and has worried leaders across the world with his seemingly soft stance on Russia.

“Americans should not take the current international order for granted,” the retired general said. “It did not will itself into existence. We created it. Likewise, it is not naturally self-sustaining. We have sustained it. If we stop doing so it will fray and eventually collapse. This is precisely what some of our adversaries seek to encourage.”

Petraeus told the committee that “conventional aggression” may get US adversaries like Russia “a bit of land on its periphery,” but the real fight is more fundamental. “The real center of gravity is the political will of the major democratic powers to defend Euro-Atlantic institutions like NATO and the European Union,” Petraeus said. “That is why Russia is working tenaciously to sow doubt in the legitimacy of these institutions and our entire democratic way of life.”

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Petraeus Warns That Divisive Actions on Muslims Strengthen Extremists

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Read the US Intelligence Report on Russian Hacking

Mother Jones

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The Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Friday released its declassified report on Russia’s efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 election by hacking Democratic outfits during the campaign.

The report comes a day after top intelligence officials, including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the issue. During the hearing, Clapper said the intelligence community has grown more “resolute” in its assessment that Russian intelligence was involved in the hacks aimed at the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. On Friday, Clapper, Rogers, FBI Director Jim Comey, and CIA Director John Brennan briefed President-elect Donald Trump on the classified evidence linking Russia to the hacks and the leaking of the swiped emails. After the briefing, Trump released a statement noting that Russia is one of many actors that try to hack US targets, but the statement did not acknowledge the US intelligence community conclusion that Moscow had mounted the cyberattack against the United States as part of an operation to help elect Trump president.

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Read the US Intelligence Report on Russian Hacking

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Democrats Turn Up Pressure on Republicans for Russian Hacking Investigation

Mother Jones

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At Thursday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Russian hacking of Democratic targets during the 2016 campaign, it was obvious that most Republicans don’t want to get involved with a matter that puts them on the wrong side of Donald Trump, who has repeatedly questioned the intelligence community’s conclusion that Moscow meddled in the election in order to help him win. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chair of the committee, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), did each decry the Russian intervention and called for a thorough investigation. Yet the other GOPers on the panel were largely mute. This silence suggested that Rs on the Hill are generally not eager to dig into this touchy (for Trump) subject. And that explains why McCain has so far failed in his effort to persuade Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to set up a special select committee to conduct a probe. Instead, McConnell prefers to leave most of this work to the (naturally) overly secretive Intelligence Committee, on which neither McCain nor Graham, the two loudest Republican voices on this front, sit. These machinations demonstrate that politics is shaping how congressional Republicans are reacting to a fundamental threat to American democracy and electoral integrity. And that makes all the more relevant a revived Democratic push to create an independent commission to investigate Russian intervention in the election.

Last month, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the House Government Oversight Committee, and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, introduced a measure to create a bipartisan commission—much like the highly praised 9/11 commission—to probe the Russian hacking. Their proposal did not gain a great amount of attention. Even top Democrats on Capitol Hill who supported the idea were not loudly demanding a robust investigation. But on Friday afternoon, Cummings and Swalwell reintroduced the bill, and this time more than 150 of their fellow House Democrats, including the top Democrat on every House committee, were co-sponsoring the proposed legislation.

The bill would establish a 12-member commission with the authority to interview witnesses, obtain documents, issue subpoenas, and receive public testimony. The panel would examine attempts by the Russian government to influence, interfere with, or undermine trust in last year’s US elections. And the commission would have to issue a report with recommendations within 18 months.

With this move, House Democrats are upping the ante, just as the Obama administration is completing its review of the Russian intervention in the election and Trump keeps tweeting positively about Vladimir Putin and suggesting the story has been hyped to taint his election. This week, a bipartisan collection of former senior intelligence and defense officials—including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and former Acting Director of Central Intelligence Michael Morrell—issued a letter urging Congress to create this sort of commission to “understand fully and publicly what happened, how we were so vulnerable, and what we can do to protect our democracy in future elections.”

It’s unlikely that many, if any, Republicans on the Hill will embrace this proposal. But Dems are attempting to generate political pressure. “There’s overwhelming agreement across America that our democracy was attacked this past presidential election,” Swallwell says. “Now everyone’s asking what our nation’s leaders will do about it.” For most Republicans, the answer seems to be: not much.

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Democrats Turn Up Pressure on Republicans for Russian Hacking Investigation

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