One wacky week with wacky Trump

Warning: It is a nutty week. This blog is “extended today”.

In a signed letter, Donald Trump informed [former] FBI Director James Comey that he was “hereby terminated and removed from office, effective immediately,” explaining that he reached the conclusion that Comey is “not able to effectively lead the bureau.” Trump was praising Comey during and after the election. 5 months later, Trump had a change of heart?

The White House said that Comey was fired based on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In a separate letter, Rosenstein laid out the reasons for Comey’s firing, arguing that it was his transgressions over the Clinton email investigation that were the cause of his dismissal. Errr. Trump didn’t even meet him. Comey was in Los Angeles.

In his letter to Comey firing him, Trump thanked him for telling him three times “that I am not under investigation.” The FBI has not confirmed that Comey ever made those assurances to the president. Former FBI agents said such a statement by the director would be all but unthinkable.

Comey reportedly thought his removal was a prank. Trump had been planning to oust Comey for at least a week Attorney General Jeff Sessions had been charged with finding a good pretext.

Then Trump tweeted “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.”

Days before he was fired by Trump, Comey requested more resources to pursue his investigation into Russia’s election meddling and the possible involvement of Trump associates, U.S. officials say, fueling concerns that Trump was trying to undermine a probe that could threaten his presidency. That same type of action help bring down Richard Nixon.

Trump said that he was going to fire Comey with or without Rosenstein’s memo criticizing the director. Meanwhile White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said “…the rank-and-file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director.” Sure Sarah. Took a poll?

Seems Trump was also jealous that Comey was getting more of the spotlight than him saying he was a show-off, agreed about Obama’s surveillance and would not exonerate him in the Russia mess. White House officials said Trump’s confidence in Comey had been eroding for months and Trump was persuaded to take the step by Justice Department officials and a scathing memo, written by Rosenstein, criticizing the director’s role in the Clinton investigation.

Andrew McCabe, top deputy to ex-FBI Director Comey, could be a contender for the Director’s role. He is now acting director. But McCabe’s actions are among the decisions being scrutinized in an ongoing Justice Department inspector general probe of the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. One issue is whether McCabe should have recused himself from the Clinton case after his wife [running for senate] received large campaign contributions from the political action committee of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a close Clinton ally.

As well, Trump may kill the press briefings [what will Sean “Garlic” Spicer do?] by releasing press releases to keep the answers accurate. This maybe because deputy WH press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders contradicted some things Trump said.

Garlic literally hid in the bushes to avoid press after Comey was fired. Didn’t know what to do. Maybe unrelated, Spicer is spending his week at the Pentagon for Navy reserve duty for the rest of the week. Huckabee-Sanders replaced him.

“When James Clapper himself, and virtually everyone else with knowledge of the witch hunt, says there is no collusion, when does it end?” Trump tweeted. Clapper, however, qualified his remarks by saying he had been unaware of an FBI investigation into the matter until Comey announced it to the public at a House hearing in March. So Trump using more outdated information.

President Barack Obama warned then-President-elect Trump in November against hiring retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as his national security adviser during their Oval Office meeting on November 10, former Obama administration officials confirmed to CNN.

Trump’s travel ban is back in the spotlight with a high-stakes legal battle in front of a dozen federal judges in Richmond, Virginia. Normally, such an appeal from a district court’s decision would be heard by a randomly assigned panel of three judges, and the losing party may ask for it to be reheard by the full court. Yet in this case, the judges on the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals decided it should be heard by the full court — otherwise known as “en banc” — in the first instance. Ten of the 15 active judges on the court are either Clinton or Obama appointees.

“Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care,” said Raul Labrador, the Republican congressman in response to a statement by a woman that the “lack of health care was essentially asking people to die.” The Democrats confirmed with this quote that they are out of touch with the average person and simply don’t understand (or don’t care) about the real-world implications of their policy proposals.

Canada may retaliate against Trump’s softwood [a.k.a. house] lumber by either adding stiff tariffs to Oregon plywood, wine, flooring, wood chips and packaging materials [a congressman from there was one of the hawks in the lumber tariffs] or maybe coal from Washington state [which is shipped through harbors in British Columbia] to Asia [Trump wants to increase coal productivity. Another option is to lean heavily on 35 states that trade quite a bit with Canada. While none of the tariffs would affect Canadians as much, it would affect 2 US industries. The Trump administration says it won’t be pressured by trade threats from the Canadian government. I guess they don’t care who gets hurt.

Several American companies that rely on Canadian softwood say thousands of American jobs are at risk unless the U.S. Department of Commerce exempts them from hefty duties imposed on imported softwood lumber.

In an interview, Trump said “Oh, at some point I’ll release them. Maybe I’ll release them after I’m finished because I’m very proud of them actually. I did a good job.” This won’t stop him for being prosecuted if he said something that contradicted his tax returns such as owning property in Russia.

Revelations that the sister of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, promoted a program offering a path to U.S. citizenship to Chinese backers in a Kushner family project bring new scrutiny to a foreign investor visa program. Marketing materials for the event promoted Nicole Kushner Meyer as Jared’s sister, and cited the Kushner family’s “celebrity” status. Yes, celebrities like in one of Trump’s shows. The project promoted by Meyer in Beijing is a 79-story apartment building called Kushner 1.

As part of such deals, investors typically accept below-market investment returns to qualify for a visa, allowing the developer to pocket the savings on financing costs. After as little as two years, participants can apply for a fast-track green card and later U.S. citizenship.

Meanwhile, after seeing advertisements for what was described as a “Kushner event featuring Jared’s sister,” in Beijing a Canadian reporter decided to attend. Then she was asked to leave. The Beijing-based correspondent for the Washington Post, was seated apart from her colleague, who faced similar resistance from the hosts. Some of her colleague’s video and audio was deleted by the event organizers on the Chinese side. “I later heard from another reporter — who tweeted a picture — that there was indeed a picture of President Trump … on a slide that said ‘key decision makers.'” Seems that Nicole Kushner Meyer has now been removed of her duties.

In signing an omnibus bill, Trump said in a statement: “My administration shall treat provisions that allocate benefits on the basis of race, ethnicity, and gender … in a manner consistent with the requirement to afford equal protection of the laws under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment.” This could be code wording for “Unlike previous administrations, I won’t give historically black college financing, Native American housing block grants and minority business development anything more than what is required by law.” [i.e. Bare minimum.] I am assuming someone wrote this because I’m not sure how much of the constitution he knows and it doesn’t sound like him.

Maybe Trump finally did something right. The recently signed cybersecurity executive order requires federal agencies to adopt the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (Cybersecurity Framework; the agency heads have 90 days to prepare a report describing how they will implement the Framework. The previous administration had encouraged adoption of the framework, but did not make it a requirement.

Don’t you just love Trump? “[Former Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper reiterated what everybody, including the fake media already knows- there is “no evidence” of collusion w/ Russia and Trump.” Except Clapper said that he was unaware of evidence suggesting there was any.

Then he said “Biggest story today between Clapper & Yates is on surveillance. Why doesn’t the media report on this? #FakeNews!” Except the idea that the surveillance story is a bigger deal than Russia having compromising information about the national security adviser is nonsense.

Steve Munoz, a political appointee hired by the Trump administration for a significant State Department role was accused of multiple sexual assaults as a student several years ago at The Citadel military college. Five male freshmen alleged that Munoz used his positions as an upperclassman, class president and head of the campus Republican Society to grope them. So he fits in well with Trump’s crowd.

Ivanka Trump was reportedly reduced to tears by her father after he refused to issue a full apology for his comments about groping women. But according to the New York Times [one of the “fake news” outlets – so Papa will not accept it!], Ivanka repeatedly attempted to convince him to offer a full apology for the comment, but he had only agreed to say sorry for any offence he caused.

Another court loss for Trump: A US federal court has declined to rehear a case in which telecommunications companies seek to overturn net neutrality rules established during the Obama administration by the FCC.

If Trump were an officer in the Air Force, with any connection to nuclear weapons, he would need to pass the Personnel Reliability Program, which includes thirty-seven questions about financial history, emotional volatility, and physical health. (Question No. 28: Do you often lose your temper?) “There’s no doubt in my mind that Trump would never pass muster,” said a researcher.

Ivanka Trump, at a Berlin conference on women called W20 Summit, drew scattered groans and hisses for describing Trump as “a tremendous champion of supporting families.” “Some attitudes toward women your father has publicly displayed in former times might leave one questioning whether he’s such an empoweree for women,” said the moderator of the summit. Ivanka responded saying the media continues to bring that up. Then she said “I grew up in a house where there was no barrier to what I could accomplish beyond my own perseverance and my own tenacity.” Of course, if you are a daughter of a billionaire, there are few barriers.

 

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FBI cracks terrorist’s cell without Apple’s help

As you may have read, the FBI used a security company called Cellebrite [if the story is true] to break into the iPhone used by the San Bernardino terrorist. So an anticipated showdown between Apple and the FBI have been put on hold.

If you recall, it had FBI claiming that they needed to get into the iPhone to see if there was any evidence [but they don’t know if there was any] and Apple claiming a privacy issue – not for the dead terrorist but in future battles like this.

Because of these actions, Magistrate Sheri Pym won’t be ruling on whether a centuries-old law, known as the All Writs Act, provided legal authority for compelling Apple’s assistance.

Some in the tech industry believe at one point the FBI will go after a smaller company that doesn’t have the legal army and money that Apple has, get a favorable ruling and then go after Apple or others.

If the case would of moved forward, Apple would have to rewrite its iPhone software that would make all iPhones less secure and open the door to more demands from government authorities, both in the United States and other countries [especially some that don’t have the proper laws and “checks” that the US has].

Now there is talk that Apple, Google, Microsoft and others will make it even more difficult to hack into a smart phone the way Cellebrite did.

One does wonder regarding some smartphone data as most data is either synced with the cloud or also stored on the manufacturer’s or carrier’s servers [who and when called, search information, etc.].

The US [and other countries] also need to modernize some of the laws such as the All Writs Act which was out long before any modern technology was available.

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors have appealed a court ruling that said Apple doesn’t have to help them extract data from another iPhone in a New York drug case. In at least a dozen pending cases, the government has cited the same All Writs Act as legal authority to compel Apple’s co-operation.

A slippery slope between Apple and the FBI

The US government are at odds with Apple. The FBI got a judge in the Federal District Court for the District of Central California to order Apple to bypass security functions on an iPhone 5c used by Syed Rizwan Farook, who was killed by the police along with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, after they attacked Mr. Farook’s co-workers at a holiday gathering in December 2015.

The judge ordered Apple to build special software that would essentially act as a skeleton key capable of unlocking the phone.

But Apple CEO Tim Cook announced Apple’s refusal to comply citing to protect the privacy of its users – even terrorists. [You can’t cherry pick them.] First there will be this issue, then there will be others. When will it stop.

The FBI says that by withholding access to the phone’s information, it is hampering the continuing investigation. Police and prosecutors want the companies to build what would be considered a master key that can be used to get around the encryption.

The Justice Department had secured a search warrant for the phone, owned by Mr. Farook’s former employer, the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health.

Blackberry was in the same dilemma but with foreign countries such as Pakistan where Pakistan wanted a master key to unencrypt any conversation or mail between two parties.

One needs to wonder whether Pakistan would go after solely what they would describe as terrorists or maybe even after those the government consider subversive such as protesters.

The same could apply in this Apple case – but hopefully at least the US government can be a bit more open.

In 2014, Apple and Google announced that they had re-engineered their software that encrypts the devices used by their operating systems, and therefore could no longer unlock their own products as a result.

[I had this issue with my Android phone about a month ago. Don’t ask me why, but my boot encryption password didn’t working after 2+ years. I had to force a device wipe.]

Not surprising, Republican Presidential nominee is in favor of the master key concept. [Wonder how he would like it if the FBI investigated him and asked for his phone.]

Known treason tech guy, Edward Snowden, has asked why Apple is policing something the FBI should be doing.

This is going down a slippery slope. If Apple is forced to hand the FBI the keys to the castle, when will it stop? Clearly Mr. Farook was a terrorist, but can a warrant be issued to look at the phone of a politician? A celebrity? The person across the street?

If Apple [and Google] are forced to put something in future operating systems, will consumers ignore upgrading to the operating systems that the government can access?

 

Freedom of speech or illegal

A man from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania has his case going to the US Supreme Court because whether it is free-speech rights of people who use violent or threatening language on Facebook and other social media.

The man was sentenced to nearly four years in prison for posting graphically violent rap lyrics on Facebook about killing his estranged wife, shooting up a kindergarten class and attacking an FBI agent.

His wife feared for her life after seeing the comments on Facebook. A female FBI agent went to his home to investigate and after she left he posted violent comments about the agent.

Some may say comments on Facebook, Twitter and other social media can be hasty, impulsive and easily misinterpreted. They point out that a message on Facebook intended for a small group could be taken out of context when viewed by a wider audience. But to do so on multiple occasions?

The man said he was just venting his anger over a broken marriage and never meant to threaten anyone. Lawyers for the man argue that the government must prove he actually intended his comments to threaten others. The man also claims that rapper Eminem also used similar language in his songs.

A jury convicted the man of violating a federal law that makes it a crime to threaten another person. A federal appeals court rejected his claim that his comments were protected by the First Amendment.

The Supreme Court has said that “true threats” to harm another person are not protected speech under the First Amendment – but distinguished between this type of speech and protected speech.

If I am corrected about US law, if you utter a death threat to someone directly, what would be the difference between that or saying the same thing on Facebook or twitter – where way more people could see the threat.

Interesting to note that in Quebec, a politician threw his hat into the ring recently. Shortly after he received what was considered by some as a death threat from a man on Facebook and Twitter. Provincial police are investigating. Canadian laws do differ from the US. We’ll see what the outcome of this one is.

But clearly the man from Bethlehem is not “playing with a full deck” [i.e. missing a few screws].