Tag Archives: information

Trump Policy on Visitor Logs Provides Hint to How He Governs

Mother Jones

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So much for visitor logs:

The Trump administration announced Friday that it would not follow former president Barack Obama’s policy of voluntarily disclosing the names of most visitors to the White House complex….White House communications director Mike Dubke said Friday that Trump has taken several steps to ensure the government “is both ethical and accessible to the American people.” Among those he mentioned were new restrictions on lobbyists and allowing journalists to participate remotely in White House briefings via Skype.

Given the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, the White House Office will disclose Secret Service logs as outlined under the Freedom of Information Act, a position the Obama White House successfully defended in federal court,” Dubke said in a statement.

One theory about Trump is that the best predictor of his policy views is “whatever Obama did, do the opposite.” Those of you who subscribe to this theory can take a victory lap. The rest of us need to update our priors.

“Grave national security risks.” Yes indeedy.

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Trump Policy on Visitor Logs Provides Hint to How He Governs

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Sean Spicer Keeps Trying to Mislead the Press About Donald Trump’s Bogus Wiretap Claims

Mother Jones

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On Thursday, mere hours after Chairman Devin Nunes apologized to fellow members of the House intelligence committee for his wild stunt the day before, White House flack Sean Spicer defended Nunes, mischaracterized what he’d revealed, and tried to perpetuate his boss’ bizarre claim that President Barack Obama had ordered “tapps” on his Trump Tower phones during the election season.

In case you missed it, Nunes, a California Republican who was on Trump’s transition team, called a press conference Wednesday to announce that he’d seen intelligence reports indicating that communications of Trump associates—maybe even Trump himself—may have been intercepted in the course of lawful intelligence-gathering on foreign targets after the election. Nunes was so “alarmed” by this that he briefed House Speaker Paul Ryan, reporters (twice), and Trump himself before he shared the information with the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee, which is investigating possible Trump-Russia collusion.

That Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, was incensed. In a statement Wednesday, Schiff said he’d expressed his “grave concerns” to Nunes, and told him that “a credible investigation cannot be conducted this way.” Did Nunes intend to lead the Trump-Russia probe, Schiff said, “or he is going to act as a surrogate of the White House. Because he cannot do both.”

“The reality is that Nunes made a decision,” Spicer said at Thursday’s White House press briefing. “He briefed the press first…I don’t hear too much crying about that.”

Spicer said there was absolutely nothing wrong with Nunes going to Trump because the information had “nothing to do with Russia.” He then proceeded to mischaracterize that information, saying: “It was helpful for the president to know that the investigation as he had asked for was starting to bear fruit.” Spicer was referring to Trump’s March 5 request for Congress to investigate the president’s baseless wiretapping tweets. “What Chairman Nunes said is that there was evidence of surveillance that occurred during the election, and I think that’s important to note.”

As his boss might say: Wrong! Nunes never indicated that any Trump associates were under surveillance prior to the election. What Nunes said was that they might have been caught on tape incidentally during the transition—after the election. Nunes’ revelations in fact undermine the claim that Obama ordered Trump’s phones tapped. Ordering the illegal wiretap of an American citizen would be a serious crime. And Trump and Spicer, of all people, should know that falsely accusing someone of a serious crime is defamatory at best—if done with malicious intent, it’s also libelous.

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Sean Spicer Keeps Trying to Mislead the Press About Donald Trump’s Bogus Wiretap Claims

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Spicer Is Spinning Flynngate As a "Matter of Trust, Pure and Simple"

Mother Jones

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From the White House briefing room:

The answer turns out to be January 26. That’s three weeks ago.

Spicer is insisting that Trump fired Flynn due to an “erosion” of trust. “It was a matter of trust, pure and simple,” he’s said over and over. And yet, oddly enough, Trump’s trust in Flynn didn’t crater when he was told about Flynn’s lies. It apparently cratered only after the Washington Post made Flynn’s lies public. Funny that.

Now Spicer is trying to blame the Obama Justice Department for withholding its information about Flynn for 13 days. Nice try, Sean.

Oh, and Spicer says the real story here is all the leaks. Sure, Flynn is a story, but the press should consider the source. They should investigate that. Oddly, back when all those hacked Russian emails were gnawing away at Hillary Clinton’s campaign, nobody on the right thought that was an issue. All that mattered was that this information was becoming public. I guess that’s no longer operative.

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Spicer Is Spinning Flynngate As a "Matter of Trust, Pure and Simple"

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Trump Loosens Sanctions on Russian Security Service

Mother Jones

Two years ago the Obama administration issued an executive order that allowed the Treasury Department to sanction any organization engaged in “cyber-enabled activities…that are reasonably likely to result in, or have materially contributed to, a significant threat to the national security, foreign policy, or economic health or financial stability of the United States.” (This was after the Sony hack.)

In late 2016, in retaliation for the Russian interference with the US election, Obama issued another executive order. This one added the Russian security service (FSB) and several other Russian actors to the list of sanctioned organizations.

Today, the Trump administration loosened these sanctions:

All transactions and activities otherwise prohibited pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13694 of April 1, 2015…are authorized that are necessary and ordinarily incident to….

(1) Licenses, permits, certifications, or notifications issued or registered by the FSB for the importation, distribution, or use of information technology products in the Russian Federation….

(2) Complying with law enforcement or administrative actions or investigations involving the Federal Security Service; and

(3) Complying with rules and regulations administered by the Federal Security Service.

What does this mean? Payments are limited to $5,000 per calendar year, so the payments themselves are not what’s important. Nor does this order allow the sale or export of goods to the FSB itself. What it does is allow payments to the FSB for the licenses required to sell IT equipment in Russia.

How big a deal is this? What kinds of exports have been held up because it was illegal to pay for the FSB permits that were required? Is this just a minor fix for an unanticipated side-effect of the sanctions, or is it the first small step in loosening other sanctions on Russia? Good question. Perhaps some Russia expert will weigh in on this.

UPDATE: For what it’s worth, conservative sanctions expert Eric Lorber says this is probably just a benign fix to an “unintended consequence” of the original sanctions ordered by Obama.

UPDATE 2: Last year Russia passed a law requiring that metadata for all communications be stored for 3 years (by phone companies) and 1 year (by internet providers). In addition, the content of all communications must be stored for 6 months, and decryption keys have to be provided to the state security authorities. The new rules take effect in 2018.

A reader emails to say that the problem with the Obama sanctions is that they prevent Western companies from engaging with the FSB to understand exactly how the new law will be interpreted. I don’t entirely understand why that requires any money to change hands, but hey. It’s Russia. So maybe this wrinkle is what the easing of the sanctions is really about.

UPDATE 3: I’d sure be interested to hear from the folks who drafted the Obama sanctions. Did they deliberately want to cause Russia pain by preventing the import of IT equipment, or was this just an oversight? Who was responsible for writing and reviewing this stuff, anyway?

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Trump Loosens Sanctions on Russian Security Service

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Why Dylann Roof’s Death Sentence May Never Be Carried Out

Mother Jones

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On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof entered a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, and shot and killed nine worshippers after reading Bible verses with them. As it was later revealed, the 22-year-old Roof was a white supremacist. After an eight-day trial in the Charleston federal district court, on December 15 the jury found Roof guilty of all 33 federal counts—including hate crimes and obstruction of exercise of religion—18 of which carry the federal death penalty. This week, after less than three hours of deliberation, the jury sentenced Roof to death, making him the 63rd person who will be held on federal death row.

Federal law classifies the jury’s decision as a binding “recommendation,” which means, according to Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, “there’s likely a decade worth of appeals.” Roof could be well into his 30s before he is executed.

He likely will not be executed at all, because a federal death sentence often does not result in a lethal injection. To be eligible for federal death row, the defendant’s crime has to have a national angle, such as bombing a federal building. Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death in 2015 for his role in the 2013 attack, but his appeals process is likely to extend for years. Today, 23 people on death row have exhausted their appeals and are eligible to be executed. Three co-defendants who have been on federal death row for the longest period of time were convicted in a series of drug-related murders: Richard Tipton, Corey Johnson, and James H. Roane Jr. have been awaiting execution since 1993.

Contrast this with executions on the state level. Between 1988, when the federal death penalty was reinstated, and 2016, the government only put three inmates to death. States have carried out 1,439 executions since the Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that capital punishment does not violate the Constitution. Gulf War veteran Louis Jones Jr. was the last person to be executed by the government, in 2003, for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of 19-year-old Tracie McBride. His was a federal case because the 1995 crime took place on the federal property of a US Air Force base.

There have been no federal executions during President Barack Obama’s two terms. Obama’s efforts to reduce the federal prison population during his presidency and his discomfort with the death penalty, which he described as “deeply troubling,” coincided with the long appeals process and recent questions about the efficacy of lethal injection drugs. The effect was a halt to federal executions. Nationwide support for capital punishment has been dropping steadily over the last two decades. Today, only 49 percent of Americans support the death penalty for murderers, down from 80 percent in 1994. Among Republican voters, however, 72 percent support the death penalty for violent murderers.

President-elect Donald Trump is one of those death penalty supporters. On the campaign trail in December 2015, Trump announced that as president, he would sign an executive order mandating the death penalty for convicted cop killers. As attorney general, Jeff Sessions—who has supported the death penalty—could move this pledge forward by addressing a number of institutional and practical problems that have been obstacles to federal executions.

“It takes a long time and it takes a lot of money to execute folks,” says Monica Foster, a lawyer whose clients include defendants on federal death row. The average cost of defending a federal death penalty case is $620,932. Inmates typically spend more than a decade in the appeals process before entering death row and awaiting execution.

Opponents of capital punishment believe that it’s immoral, racially biased, and not a deterrent for crime. Sixty-two percent of those awaiting death in federal prisons are nonwhite. “The federal death penalty reflects the state penalty system’s problems of racial bias, poor lawyering, and unreliable evidence,” says Miriam Gohora, a law professor at Yale Law School. But Trump’s pick for attorney general disagrees. At a 2001 congressional hearing on racial and geographic disparities in the federal death penalty, Sessions stated he was against a moratorium on the federal death penalty for several reasons, one of them being that “the death penalty deters murder, as studies as recent as this year have found.” A 2008 Death Penalty Information Center survey published in 2009 found that 88 percent of criminologists do not consider the death penalty a deterrent to violent crime.

“I would expect that the incoming administration would be more aggressive in seeking the federal death penalty,” says William Otis a professor of law at Georgetown law school.

If the Trump administration wanted to aggressively pursue the death penalty and carry out more executions, it would have to address the issue of lethal injection drugs. In 2011, the only American manufacturer of lethal injection drugs, Hospira, announced it would no longer produce sodium thiopental, a key ingredient in the serum used to carry out executions. The company originally intended to resume production at its Italian plant, but Italian officials refused to export the drug if it were to be used for executions. Other companies followed suit, leading to a massive shortage. Many states and the federal government were left with no method of execution, forcing a lull in carrying out capital punishments.

Some states sought to use different drug combinations that haven’t been widely tested. In Oklahoma, a new drug combination led to the botched execution in 2014 of Clayton Lockett, who writhed and moaned during the procedure. In the wake of this incident, Obama announced that the government, through the Department of Justice, would be reviewing its death penalty protocols leading to an effective moratorium. The move was considered a victory for opponents of the death penalty.

The state of Texas recently sued the Food and Drug Administration over the withholding of a shipment of lethal injection drugs that the FDA maintains are illegal to import because they haven’t been tested for safety. “Drugs used in executions are not supposed to be safe—they’re supposed to be lethal,” Otis says, adding that the safety requirements would likely be one of the first areas the Trump administration might seek to change.

In death penalty cases like Dylann Roof’s, where there is no question about guilt or innocence, opponents of capital punishment believe that a life sentence without the chance of parole would provide justice. Roof wanted to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, but federal officials rejected the offer. Many family members of the victims opposed the death penalty for Roof. The morning after the jury decided on its verdict, Judge Richard Gergel formally sentenced Roof to death, saying, “This trial has produced no winners, only losers.”

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Why Dylann Roof’s Death Sentence May Never Be Carried Out

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