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Vox Sentences: James Comey has receipts

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Trump shared Israeli intel with Russia, and that’s not even the worst misconduct of his to come to light today.


Don’t call it a Comey back

FBI Director James Comey has receipts Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
  • The New York Times reports that on February 14, a day after National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was fired over covering up contact with Russian officials, President Trump asked then-FBI Director James Comey to close the active FBI investigation into Flynn. [NYT / Michael S. Schmidt]
  • According to a memo Comey wrote right after the meeting (quoted by the Times), Trump told him: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go,” because Flynn “is a good guy.”
  • The White House issued a statement denying that Trump ever asked for an investigation to be closed. But it was unsigned — leaving reporters to wonder why, even in an administration that’s been known to say untrue things to protect the president, no one appeared willing to attach their name to this. [Shane Goldmacher via Twitter]
  • Comey (whom Trump fired last week, drawing accusations that he was trying to chill the FBI’s ongoing investigation into contact between the Trump campaign and Russian officials) was known for taking careful and exhaustive notes when in circumstances he was worried would provoke later controversy — providing a paper trail to tell his side of the story. [Matthew A. Miller via Twitter]
  • And while it’s not clear who leaked the existence of the memo to the Times, it wouldn’t be surprising if the leak came from within the FBI — which has a history of reacting extremely badly to any perceived threat to its independence, and a lot of ways to make politicians’ lives hell. [Vox / Zack Beauchamp]
  • Some legal experts have argued that simply by firing Comey, Trump could have committed obstruction of justice — a federal crime. If he did suggest that he “hoped” Comey would close an active investigation, that would be a clearer violation. [The Hill / William Yeomans]
  • Presidents can’t be charged with crimes while in office. But they can be impeached. And normatively, Vox’s Dylan Matthews argues, there’s already evidence that Trump has done at least as much as Richard Nixon did to merit impeachment. [Vox / Dylan Matthews]
  • In practice, though, there’s no automatic trigger for impeachment. It’s a process that requires a majority of the House (and removing an impeached president requires two-thirds of the Senate). So unless Republicans decide that this is the violation that’s going to shake them from their support of Trump, the newest revelations won’t change anything. [Vox / Dylan Matthews]
  • Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr (R-NC) certainly isn’t inspiring confidence that this will be the thing that breaks Republicans. Asked about the memo — which his committee has the power to subpoena! — Burr shrugged that it was on the Times to produce it. [Elana Schor via Twitter]
  • Given that, according to the Times story, Trump suggested that Comey throw some reporters in jail for publishing leaked information right before asking him to let Flynn off the hook, that’s a very big risk that Burr is asking the Times to take in lieu of exercising his own power. [NYT / Michael S. Schmidt​]

Mossad, my God

Trump holds a press conference Tuesday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Kayhan Ozer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
  • So you know how Trump revealed super-classified information about an ISIS plot to the Russian government last week, maybe inadvertently? It turns out the information came from Israel. [NYT / Adam Goldman, Matthew Rosenberg, Matt Apuzzo, and Eric Schmitt]
  • Given that Russia is close allies with Iran, Israel’s greatest regional rival, and that it could have easily passed along this intel to Tehran, the Israelis are not exactly thrilled. An Israeli intelligence official told BuzzFeed that the leak was Israel's "worst fears confirmed. … We have an arrangement with America which is unique to the world of intelligence sharing. We do not have this relationship with any other country." [BuzzFeed / Sheera Frenkel]
  • Another Israeli intel officer told BuzzFeed that Israel had shared "specific intelligence with the US regarding an active threat to US-bound planes," and said that the US-Israeli intelligence-sharing agreement might be in jeopardy.
  • (Flashback: In February, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that "there is no greater support for Israel or the Jewish State than President Donald Trump.") [Haaretz / Barak Ravid]
  • One of the scandal’s main casualties so far is the dignity and reputation of H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser and a highly decorated and respected Army lieutenant general. He issued a non-denial denial Monday night, saying that Trump had not shared "sources and methods" (which was never in dispute), and then on Tuesday morning he defended Trump's leak as "wholly appropriate," and done for “humanitarian” reasons. [Vox / Dara Lind]
  • What happened between those two statements? Well, Trump tweeted, of course. “As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety,” he wrote in a series of tweets. “Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.” [@realDonaldTrump]
  • McMaster first made his name with his 1997 doctoral dissertation turned book, Dereliction of Duty, which contained withering criticism of senior military and foreign policy aides for not challenging Lyndon Johnson on his reckless decision-making in Vietnam. Makes you think. [Task and Purpose / Adam Weinstein]
  • By the way, the idea that Russia is doing much of consequence to fight ISIS is optimistic bordering on delusional. "Whatever they do against ISIS is done to protect themselves or to support Assad," Jim Townsend, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Obama, said. [Vox / Alex Ward]
  • Ultimately, whether the scandal (or the Comey firing, or any other matter) leads to an independent prosecutor, let alone Trump's removal from office, is up to Congress. And so far, Republicans in Congress are expressing concern but not committing to take any concrete action. [Politico / Rachael Bade, Burgess Everett, and Seung Min Kim​]

“No cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid”

Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, both on the Republican health care working group. Mark Wilson/Getty Images
  • The American Health Care Act, as passed in the House of Representatives on May 4, would have cut at least $880 billion from Medicaid over 10 years, kicking 14 million people off the program and making them uninsured (mostly working poor people), slashing funding below pre-Obamacare levels, and allowing states to impose work requirements to kick yet more people off. It also would've allowed states to take a "block grant," allowing them to reduce services covered, impose enrollment caps and waiting lists, and otherwise cut the program in ways the current law doesn't allow. [Vox / Dylan Matthews]
  • So naturally, some Senate Republicans have looked at that legislation and concluded, “This doesn’t slash Medicaid nearly enough.”
  • Mike Lee and Ted Cruz, who are both on the working group crafting the Senate's health reform plan, want to phase out Obamacare's Medicaid expansion more quickly, and use a different inflation formula to slash Medicaid funds even more than the House bill would, resulting in dramatically less funds going to the plan than happened before the Affordable Care Act. That, inevitably, means fewer people and procedures will be covered. [WSJ / Stephanie Armour and Kristina Peterson]
  • Not every Senate Republican is on board; Rob Portman, for example, is pushing back against the prospect of further Medicaid cuts. [Vox / Dylan Scott]
  • Also pushing back are Republican state governors, notably John Kasich in Ohio, who expanded Medicaid and argued it was a moral imperative. [NYT / Robert Pear]
  • I know this is kind of old hat at this point, but remember that Trump explicitly, on multiple occasions, promised to never cut Medicaid. Supporting the House bill violated that promise, and backing Cruz and Lee’s efforts would be an even greater violation. [Vox / Andrew Prokop]
  • The conservative efforts are occurring as GOP moderates Susan Collins and Bill Cassidy are convening meetings with like-minded Republicans as well as some Democratic moderates (Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin, Joe Donnelly) to brainstorm health ideas. These kinds of moderate policymaking attempts are rarely successful (and when they do produce concrete proposals, party leaders rarely embrace them), but the Democrats’ willingness to talk is notable. [AP / Alan Fram]
  • Hardline Republicans, meanwhile, are also brainstorming ways to push through aggressive cuts and insurance deregulation without running afoul of arcane Senate budget reconciliation rules, which limit what you can do without 60 votes. Lee, Cruz, and Rand Paul want to ignore the Senate parliamentarian, a nonpartisan staff member who typically decides which provisions have to be stripped out for violating the rules, and instead have Vice President Mike Pence determine all those decisions. Presumably, he'd say that nothing senators are trying to do violates the rules. [Politico / Jennifer Haberkorn and Seung Min Kim]
  • A lot of other senators, though, aren't as aggressive as Lee, Cruz, and Paul, and want to maintain the normal procedure. That’s fine, but it could lead the provisions that convinced House conservatives to support the bill in the first place — like weakening protections for people with preexisting conditions — to be stripped out by the parliamentarian. [Vox / Sarah Kliff​]

Miscellaneous

  • Republicans love to talk about the importance of leaving decisions to local governments. So why are Republican-run states barring cities and towns from raising their minimum wages? [New Republic / Clio Chang]
  • Rich people are likelier to donate to lifesaving charities if donating is framed as an individual achievement ("You = Life-Saver") than as a communal exercise ("Let's Save a Life Together"). [NYT / Ashley Whillans, Elizabeth Dunn, and Eugene Caruso]
  • The good news: Australia is shutting down the infamous Manus Island refugee detention center. The bad news: It’s telling the refugees still there that they simply have to find another place to go. [The Guardian / Helen Devidson and Ben Doherty]
  • On the war between Israeli billionaire diamond magnate Beny Steinmetz and liberal hedge funder George Soros, whom Steinmetz accuses of orchestrating a "grand plan worth billions of dollars" to nail Steinmetz for bribing Guinean officials in a bid to loot the country's mineral wealth, all because Soros disagreed with Steinmetz on Israel. [The National / Joseph Dana]
  • (The real story seems to be that Steinmetz totally bribed Guinean officials in an attempt to steal Guinea's mineral wealth, that he’s being, correctly, prosecuted for this, and that Soros is helping bring him to justice.) [New Yorker / Patrick Radden Keefe]

Verbatim

  • “After my mother died of leukemia, in 1999, Lola came to live with me in a small town north of Seattle. I had a family, a career, a house in the suburbs — the American dream. And then I had a slave.” [The Atlantic / Alex Tizon]
  • “Is being like wine of month club. Each month peoples can be paying membership fee, then getting members only data dump each month.” [Shadow Brokers via Washington Post / Brian Fung]
  • “David T. Hobbs is an expert in the complicated chemistry of nuclear waste management. He’s studied nuclear waste materials, radiochemical separations, and complex chemical environments for more than three decades. But three years ago, when an accident in a New Mexico repository brought disposal of U.S. defense nuclear wastes to a standstill, he was called to investigate a different kind of material — cat litter.” [c&en / Jessica Morrison]
  • “Between ages 25 and 45, the gender pay gap for college graduates, which starts close to zero, widens by 55 percentage points. … Much of that happens early in people’s careers, during women’s childbearing years.” [NYT / Claire Cain Miller]
  • “The 25 best-paid hedge fund managers earned a collective $11 billion in 2016. … Nearly half of the top-25 earners made single-digit returns for their investors, a lackluster sum in a year when the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index was up 12 percent, accounting for reinvested dividends.” [NYT / Alexandra Stevenson]

Watch this: Why every American graduation plays the same song

We're all familiar with “Pomp & Circumstance,” the graduation song that's the official soundtrack of almost every commencement. But how did it get so big? [YouTube / Phil Edwards]


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