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WikiLeaks Posts CIA's Hacking Tools

WikiLeaks has obtained and posted supersecret software written by the CIA that is used to hack computers and smartphones and turn them into tools for spying on their owners. In all, there will be 9,000 files posted when the dump is complete. Experts who have looked at the information say that it is probably genuine. Among other things, it allows the CIA to insert viruses and other malware into users' devices, which lets them capture data and audio before it is encrypted, rendering the encryption used by WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram useless.

The damage to U.S. intelligence could be immense. The makers of the computers and smartphones are going to fix the vulnerabilities that allow the CIA's viruses to get in, making the tools useless. Possible targets are now alerted to how vulnerable they are and may look for alternative ways to communicate or protect their messages. The damage to President Donald Trump could also be immense, because in the past he has praised WikiLeaks (when it posted emails hacked from the DNC and Hillary Clinton's campaign manager) and attacked the CIA. If Trump continues to praise WikiLeaks, the CIA is going to be furious with him. If he changes his tune and now condemns WikiLeaks, he will look like a complete hypocrite. In either case, the first time there is an international crisis of some sort—for example, a threat by North Korea to launch a nuclear missile against an ally such as Japan—and he asks the CIA: "Can they do it" he will not be pleased if the answer is: "We have no idea."

An interesting question to which we don't have an answer is: "How did WikiLeaks get the information?" This is not the kind of material sitting on the reception desk at Langley for visitors to help themselves to. It is exceedingly closely-guarded material. If it was an insider attack, for example, provided to WikiLeaks by a rogue employee or contractor, it is clearly treason. If the Russians did the hacking and provided it to WikiLeaks, what is their goal here and why did they do it? No doubt people are going to start asking questions like this later this week. (V)

Lewandowski Approved Trump Adviser's Trip to Moscow in July

Donald Trump has steadfastly maintained that no one associated with him had any dealings with Russia during the campaign. However, Politico is now reporting that last July, then-campaign-manager Corey Lewandowski approved a trip to Moscow by Carter Page. At the time, Page was a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign. When asked by Politico whether he approved the trip, Lewandowski said he didn't remember. Others in the campaign said "no comment" when asked about the trip and what Page was doing there.

Two weeks later, at the Republican National Convention, Page talked to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, who seems to have talked to quite a few people involved in Trump's campaign while he was in Cleveland. A few days after Page and Kislyak talked, WikiLeaks released thousands of emails stolen from the DNC. Was this a coincidence? No one seems to know. Also, no one is talking about who Page spoke to in Moscow and what they talked about. If Congress is serious about investigating the Trump-Russia connection, the committee might want to consider having Page and Lewandowski, among others, answer some questions under oath. (V)

Russian Billionaire's Jet and Trump's Jet Met Five Days before the Election

In 2008, Donald Trump sold a Palm Beach mansion to Russian billionaire and fertilizer magnate Dmitry Rybolovlev for $95 million. This is about $60 million more than Trump paid for it, and Rybolovlev bought it during the height of the financial crisis, when real estate values were collapsing. Five days before the November election, Rybolovlev's jet was parked next to Trump's jet at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Trump was there for a rally. Rybolovlev's spokesman, who has ties to Breitbart News, has refused to say what the plane was doing in North Carolina. He did say that Rybolovlev did not meet with Trump then, so it must be one of those strange coincidences. (V)

Some Republicans Are Rejecting the ACA Replacement

It took 7 years for the Republican leadership to draft an actual bill that the House could vote on and a fair number of Republicans don't like it. Many conservatives have panned it because, like the ACA it is slated to replace, it offers subsidies to poor and middle-class people to buy health insurance and it is going to have to tax rich people one way or another (to be determined later) to pay for it. What conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus would have liked is a bill whose first sentence was: "The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PL-111-148) is hereby repealed." That sentence is not only not first, it isn't in the bill at all and for a very good reason. While such a bill might be able to pass the House, the Democrats in the Senate would kill it by filibustering it. The only conceivable way the 52 Republicans in the Senate can ram a bill through is using the budget reconciliation process, which constrains the bill to deal only with items that affect the federal budget. The authors of the bill had to take this into account from day one, no matter what the Freedom Caucus might like. In addition, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has enough political sense to realize that a too radical departure from what tens of millions of people have gotten used to could cost the Republicans the House majority in 2018 and cost him his job as speaker.

Some of the items the Freedom Caucus despises most are:

  • Insurance companies can't refuse to cover sick people or charge them more than healthy people
  • Insurance companies can't impose annual or lifetime limits on payouts
  • All plans must cover 10 categories of benefits, including preventive care, rehabilitation, and maternity care
  • The caps on how much a customer can be forced to pay annually through deductibles and co-payments

Nevertheless, there are things that the conservatives like in the replacement:

  • The hated mandate to buy health insurance is gone
  • The bill tries to get healthy people to buy insurance using a carrot (subsidies) rather than a stick (mandate)
  • The subsidies are not focused so much on poor people
  • Old people can be charged up to 5x as much as young people for the same insurance package
  • Medicaid expansion is phased out

If the 40 Republicans in the Freedom Caucus all vote against the bill, it will fail to pass the House and will die a horrible death, followed closely by the death of Ryan's speakership. However, if Ryan tries to make the bill harsher (fewer subsidies and worse coverage) it will never pass the Senate. In fact, four Republican senators have already said that if Medicaid expansion is phased out in the final bill, they will vote against it.

It currently appears that Ryan's plan is to ram it though the House before the opposition can get organized. In particular, he wants it passed before the Congressional Budget Office has a chance to analyze it to see what it will cost and how many people currently insured will lose their insurance. If his plan works, when the CBO comes in with cost estimates, the conservatives will scream bloody murder, but will be faced with either finding something to tax to pay for it or blow a gigantic hole in the budget, neither of which they are going to like.

The bill got a big boost yesterday when Donald Trump said: "I'm proud to support the replacement plan released by the House of Representatives." While few of the members of the Freedom Caucus are suddenly going to be convinced that the new plan is terrific, they may fear a poisoned tweet aimed at them and in the end support it. He's already threatened that Republicans will suffer a "bloodbath" in 2018 and 2020 if the effort fails, so he's clearly all in. However, some big players outside Congress have also announced their opposition to what they call "ObamaCare Lite," including Heritage Action, the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity, the Club for Growth, and FreedomWorks. Convincing these groups that the plan is A-OK is going to require all of Trump's negotiating skills.

Oh, did we forget to mention the hospitals? Sorry. Yesterday the American Hospital Association announced its opposition to the new plan. The hospitals have a long list of items they don't like, including reduced payments to hospitals. One consequence of the plan that they are surely keenly aware of is that millions, maybe tens of millions, of people will lose their insurance as a result of it. Many of these people are going to avoid getting medical help for small problems until they become big problems—life-threatening problems. Then they will go to hospital emergency rooms asking for care. Under federal law, hospitals are required to provide such care for free if the patient can't pay. Needless to say, the hospitals see this coming down the road and don't like it one bit.

But surely the right-wing Websites strongly support getting rid of ObamaCare? Well, er, not exactly. In an article entitled "Trump Owns TrumpCare" on we find the sentence: "Here's Mike Pence daring Republicans to reject this excrement sandwich." (RedState is a classy site and doesn't use dirty words.) How about The Resurgent (Erick Erickson's new Website)? The lead article today has the headline: "It Would Be Better for Republicans to Do Nothing Than to Pass Their Swampcare Plan." Not so encouraging.

So what happens next? According to Jonathan Chait, the House bill will go directly to the Senate floor for a vote. This is a major deviation from normal procedure in which the Senate passes its own bill and then a House-Senate committee works out the differences between the two bills. Clearly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is in a big hurry to get the bill passed before the opposition from his own party has time to gear up. It is a high-stakes gamble. If it fails, the Republican base is not going to be happy. For 7 years the Republicans have been saying that ObamaCare is a disaster for the country and now that they control everything they can't repeal it. The next couple of weeks should be interesting, to say the least. (V)

Hawaii Will Sue over Travel Ban

When v1.0 of the Muslim travel ban was announced, it was Washington and Minnesota who got their lawsuits in first. For v2.0, on the other hand, the state at the front of the line is going to be Hawaii. Sometime today, state attorneys will request a stay of the new order, arguing that it, "suffers from the same constitutional and statutory defects" as the previous one. They will also request that the courts fast-track the case, so that it will be resolved before the order is scheduled to take effect on March 16. So the odds are, in the next week, that we will learn two important things: (1) If states have standing to challenge the new ban, and (2) If the new ban actually does have the same defects as the previous one. (Z)

Franken Says Sessions Perjured Himself

After it became clear that then-Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III was not being truthful when he testified during his confirmation hearings that he had never met with the Russians, we and many others rapidly concluded that he was guilty of perjury. The man who asked the question, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), was more cautious, however, committing only to saying the testimony was "misleading."

Not any more, though. Franken was waiting for the additional information that Sessions promised to produce in written form. Those documents were received on Monday; on Tuesday the Senator said that he's read them, and that they are "ridiculous." Consequently, Franken says, "It's hard to come to any other conclusion than he just perjured himself." That insight may not matter much, since Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has said he will not call Sessions for further testimony. On the other hand, each cabinet member appears before the Senate once a year for an oversight hearing, so Franken, et al. may just keep this in their pockets until then. (Z)

White House Plagiarizes...from ExxonMobil

On Monday, the White House wanted to crow about the fact that ExxonMobil had agreed to invest billions in infrastructure that will be used to extract oil from the Gulf Coast. The extent to which Donald Trump is responsible for this development is open to question, since it's not like oil production can be outsourced to India or automated. Nonetheless, the White House issued a statement lauding the news and claiming credit. One small problem, though: The White House statement lifted substantial portions verbatim from ExxonMobil's statement on the same subject.

It's hard to say which aspect of this is more concerning. On one hand, in school, plagiarism is the most serious of crimes. After graduation, however, it's mostly just an embarrassment. This being the case, the worst part of this story is probably that the relationship between ExxonMobil and the White House is so tight that they are literally issuing the same press releases. This is, of course, about as far from "draining the swamp" as it gets. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar07 Muslim Ban v2.0 Is Announced
Mar07 Is Trump Confusing the Alfa Bank Investigation with a Wiretap?
Mar07 GOP Releases ACA Replacement
Mar07 Senate Judiciary Committee to Hold Hearings on Deputy Attorney General Today
Mar07 Trump University Case May Not Be Closed Yet
Mar07 Ben Carson is Back at it Again
Mar06 Comey Asked Justice Dept. to Reject Trump's Wiretap Claim
Mar06 New Travel Ban Coming Soon
Mar06 Reince Priebus' Time May Be Short
Mar06 About the Economy, Mr. President...
Mar06 The Battle of the Wall Is Starting
Mar06 2020 Is the End of the Line for Boomer Dominance
Mar06 Politics Meets Geometry
Mar06 Oprah 2020?
Mar05 Trump Was Furious about Sessions Recusing Himself from Russia Probe
Mar05 Trump Accuses Obama of Ordering Wiretaps
Mar05 Russia Problem Is Not Going Away Any Time Soon
Mar05 Obama's First Address Watched by More People than Trump's
Mar05 Trump is Already Doing Fundraising for 2018
Mar05 Democrats Are Using a New Tactic to Get Trump to Release His Tax Returns in 2020
Mar05 White House Considering Use of Military Force Against North Korea
Mar04 New Version of ACA Replacement Leaked
Mar04 Trump Mocks Schumer for Eating Donuts with Putin
Mar04 Evidence Against Sessions Mounts
Mar04 Pence: "No Comparison" Between My E-mails and Hillary's
Mar04 So Far, Tillerson Is an Invisible Secretary of State
Mar04 Trump Working to Raise Money for 2020
Mar04 How Midterms Differ from Presidential Elections
Mar03 Sessions Recuses Himself from Investigating Sessions
Mar03 Pence Used Private E-Mail Account
Mar03 The Fight for Trump's Brain
Mar03 Supreme Court Weighs In on Gerrymandering
Mar03 Yemen Raid Yielded No Intelligence
Mar03 Ohio Secretary of State Said that 82 People Voted Illegally
Mar03 McMaster Was Rebuked by the Army in 2015
Mar02 Sessions Looks to Be in Deep Trouble
Mar02 Handicapping Trump's Promises
Mar02 NYT: Five Takeaways from Trump's Speech
Mar02 CNN: Six Takeaways from Trump's Speech
Mar02 The Hill: Five Takeaways
Mar02 USA Today: Six Takeways
Mar02 Response to Trump Speech is Largely Positive
Mar02 Graham Wants a Law Requiring Presidential Candidates to Release Their Tax Returns
Mar02 Conway Looks Likely to Get Off Scott Free
Mar01 Trump Addresses a Joint Session of Congress
Mar01 Trump Signals Openness to Amnesty
Mar01 Betsy DeVos Steps in it Again
Mar01 Banning Reporters from a Press Conference May Be Illegal
Mar01 FBI Was Going to Hire Christopher Steele
Mar01 Trump's Management Style Is Unchanged