On Friday the Justice Department dropped some huge shoes in the Russia investigation. First a pair of memos from special prosecutor Robert Mueller and the Southern District of New York involving the criminal sentencing of Michael Cohen, President Trump's former lawyer and fixer. Then a filing on Paul Manafort's failed cooperation with the Mueller probe (it said he lied).
The memos were terse and in spots heavily redacted, but it was clear enough to former federal prosecutor Elie Honig that the evidence of federal crimes-in-plain-sight was pointing to Trump. "We still do not know everything Mueller knows," Honig wrote, but we do know it's a lot. "The contours of a broad scheme by the administration to conspire with Russia -- to the personal benefit of Trump and the detriment of the United States -- are now coming into sharper focus."
"It is increasingly clear that Trump had deep financial and political incentives to curry favor from Russia as the 2016 election approached," Honig wrote. "Mueller's recent filings have begun to answer the 'why?' question."
Earlier in the week, Mueller issued another heavily redacted sentencing memo recommending zero prison time for admitted felon and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, primarily because of Flynn's "substantial assistance to the government"—including 19 meetings with the special prosecutors team. "The investigations in which he has provided assistance are ongoing," the memo said. "Translation," says Honig: "people are going to get charged based on Flynn' s information, but not just yet."
CNN's Peter Bergen unpacked what he called Flynn's precipitous "fall from grace" -- how an admired Army Special Operations officer came to be a failed White House aide who peddled conspiracy theories, led chants of "lock her up" and lied to federal investigators. Officers who served with Flynn were dismayed by his rancorous performance at the GOP convention in 2016, Bergen wrote. "The angry man on stage didn't seem like the Mike Flynn they knew."
Kevin Hart just doesn't get it
The comedian and actor Internet-ed himself out of his Oscar hosting job this week. First, Twitter posters pointed out his anti-gay and racially offensive tweets from a few years ago, then Hart posted a complaining non-apology on Instagram ("stop looking for reasons to be so negative") ... before finally withdrawing from the Oscars and tweeting a proper apology. Clay Cane said it was a shame Hart bowed out instead of stepping up to a teachable moment -- particularly since some on the right are using his case to justify their own intolerance.
The comedian owes his success to his black fans, many of them LGBTQ, says Cane. "A message for Hart and for all of us: What you find funny and what you believe people are 'too sensitive' about speaks volumes about your character."
The Oscars are "much better off without him," wrote the Verge's Casey Newton, noting Hart's defensiveness. "Apparently, in Hart's world, it's OK for a man to love a man -- as long as that man is yourself."
Cut him a break, wrote Susan Fowler in the New York Times: "We cannot expect to make progress if we do not allow people the chance to grow with us...Can you name a person who has not lied, said something inappropriate or hurt another? I can't."
America is paying an awful price for Trump
The President tweeted about his "wonderful and very warm dinner" with Chinese President Xi at the G20, touting major concessions on tariffs. And the stock market turned up. Then China's state-controlled media chimed in: there's "no confirmation from Beijing" on car import tariffs -- and the Dow dropped like a rock. "The rest of the world is not a MAGA rally," warned Frida Ghitis. "The President's chronic practice of saying and doing what he thinks is good for him is making the country itself less trusted by its allies, less fiscally sound and less respected around the world. America and its people are already paying, and the costs will continue to mount."
Meanwhile, David Andelman was astonished at the "stunningly ill-timed" arrest, in Canada, of a prominent Chinese tech executive, Meng Wanzhou -- even as Trump was meeting with Xi in Argentina. The US Justice Department was reportedly investigating the company over possible violation of sanctions against trading with Iran. "What exactly is more important for President Trump?" Andelman asked. Is it ending a debilitating trade war with China that is "threatening the livelihood of millions of American farmers, factory workers and imperiling just about anyone owning a 401(k) retirement plan"? Or just scoring points in the administration's battle with Iran?
Soaring national debt? Who cares?
According to a Daily Beast report, Trump's reaction to the news from senior officials early last year that the national debt would skyrocket by the end of his possible second term in office was: "Yeah, but I won't be here." "The Simpsons called it," tweeted Republican pollster Frank Luntz, posting a YouTube clip in which President Lisa Simpson realizes her predecessor, President Trump, has left the country penniless.
None of this should surprise us, wrote Matt Welch in Reason, noting that "voters prefer candidates who never charge current taxpayers anything close to the cost of government." "If George W. Bush could double the national debt, Barack Obama could double it again, and Trump could win on a platform that was estimated to double it once more, you can see the thought bubble forming over his head: Fiscal responsibility is for losers."
Mariska Hargitay: Rape kit destruction is an outrage
A CNN investigation revealed that in some 400 cases across the country, police had thrown away rape kits before the statute of limitations on the crimes had expired—an "outrageous, careless, wrongheaded, uneducated, ill-informed, dangerous, willful" expression of the country's attitude toward sexual-assault survivors, wrote the actor Mariska Hargitay, who founded the Joyful Heart Foundation to help heal and empower survivors. She said the destroyed backlog sends "a devastating and inexcusable message to survivors: You don't matter."
Eric Trump parachutes into the Conway war
On Monday, the President's son, Eric Trump, tweeted a scathing slap-down at George Conway, the Washington lawyer, ferocious critic of Donald Trump -- and husband of Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway. Conway was showing "utter disrespect" for his wife's career, Eric Trump wrote. Then George Conway trash-retweeted back. Enough, wrote Kara Alaimo: "Eric Trump is in the right. It is inappropriate to publicly attack your spouse's employer...both Kellyanne Conway and the Trump administration have a right to expect better behavior."
Not really, argued Michael D'Antonio. It's reasonable to assume that the Conways, who have four children, try to uphold certain basic moral values, like honesty, respect, doing right, not wrong -- all tricky to do when a spouse's employer tells thousands of lies and hires people who commit crimes, he wrote. "George Conway is speaking up because he wants his wife to leave the 'sh-- show' [George Conway's term] and escape the dumpster fire. He has her interest, and the country's stability, at heart and he's doing the right thing."
With election moves, GOP shows what it thinks of democracy
"What a pathetic moment," lamented Jill Filipovic. North Carolina is facing a growing scandal over reports that absentee ballots in a House race were fraudulently handled. The Republican candidate has claimed victory but elections officials have refused to certify the results. The veil is lifted, says Filipovic: Republicans have long used claims of voter fraud as a rallying cry, but what they really want is to make it "harder for black people to vote, while happily ignoring credible accusations of electoral fraud when the alleged fraud works to their benefit," she says.
Meanwhile in Michigan and Wisconsin, Republicans worked to pass measures to limit the power of the newly elected, incoming Democratic governors, attorneys general and (in Michigan) secretary of state. They are not fighting for freedom, or for voters, they are fighting for themselves -- and undermining democracy, wrote LZ Granderson. To paraphrase Walter White, the protagonist in "Breaking Bad," "Republicans are not in danger, they are the danger," he says.
"Timberwolf" is laid to rest
America's 41st president, George H.W. Bush, was buried in College Station,Texas, this week, beside his wife, Barbara, and daughter, Robin. And his passing got former Secret Service agent Jonathan Wackrow to reminiscing about the president whose protective call sign was "Timberwolf" and who was for many reasons "arguably the agency's most beloved protectee."
Example? Bush's renunciation of his National Rifle Association membership when the NRA circulated a fundraising letter after the Oklahoma City bombing portraying federal agents as armed terrorists killing law-abiding citizens. "To attack Secret Service agents or A.T.F. people or any government law enforcement people...is a vicious slander on good people," Bush wrote then. He was part of the Secret Service family, noted Wackrow: "Each day, he led by example, teaching us how to live with dignity and respect."
Facebook better worry
Documents released in the UK's Parliament paint a dark picture of the way Facebook operates, and the giant social media platform had better take the resulting uproar very seriously, warned Alexander Urbelis.
Among other things, the files appear to "reveal Facebook routinely rewarded friendly companies with access to users' data while withholding it from other organizations that were seen as potential threats." (Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the documents were misleading.) More scrutiny over mounting reports of the company's questionable practices is coming, Urbelis wrote. MP's were put out when Zuckerberg blew off an international hearing in British Parliament last month. "When a Parliamentary committee acts so aggressively, you know they have it out for Facebook and will stop at nothing to unearth the truth."
The fantastic audacity of Priyanka Chopra
Actress Priyanka Chopra's marriage to Nick Jonas reveals the kind of ambitious feminist she is, wrote Rafia Zakaria. "Hers is a feminism of not giving a damn, grabbing all the power you can, marrying the younger man, wearing the crazy veil and broadcasting for the world to see. In our global moment of reckoning on women's rights, such fantastic audacity is welcome." Some have slammed Chopra for a "get-ahead-how-you-can feminism," but that critique is misplaced and limiting. "Chopra is not perfect," Zakaria observed, "but she is a representative of what is possible for women if they set about using everything they have to get everything they want."