Get More Smarter on Monday (May 22)

Happy Victoria Day! It’s time to Get More Smarter! If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► President Trump is in the midst of his first major overseas trip since he took office (or as Trump calls it, “my big foreign trip“). Trump is in Israel today after spending the weekend in Saudi Arabia, where he put his hands on a glowing orb and generally enjoyed not talking about scandals involving Russia.

But then, Trump being Trump, he made sure to bring up “that Russia thing” in a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As Chris Cillizza explains for CNN:

“Just so you understand, I never mentioned the word or the name ‘Israel’,'” Trump told reporters in Jerusalem. “Never mentioned it during that conversation. They were all saying I did. So you had another story wrong. Never mentioned the word ‘Israel’.”

The story Trump was reacting to was this one, which ran a week ago in the Washington Post. And the thing about that story is that, well, the word “Israel” is never mentioned. Not one time…

Trump is the denying an allegation that, literally, no news organization made. He’s also implicitly confirming that, yes, he did talk to the Russians about classified information. [Pols emphasis] While the president has total freedom to de-classify material, the White House has urged media organizations — including CNN — not to report on the specific information Trump passed along due to how highly sensitive it is.

In a separate story, Cillizza also notes that Trump is regularly contradicting himself on foreign policy. The Washington Post notes the same phenomenon.

 

► Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is expected to invoke his fifth amendment right to not incriminate himself in response to queries from the Senate Intelligence Committee regarding his interactions with Russian officials. From the Associated Press:

Attorneys for Michael Flynn say that a daily “escalating public frenzy against him” and the Justice Department’s appointment of a special counsel have created a legally dangerous environment for him to cooperate with a Senate investigation.

That’s according to a letter obtained by The Associated Press that was written on behalf of the former national security adviser under President Donald Trump. The letter, sent Monday by Flynn’s legal team to the Senate Intelligence committee, lays out the case for Flynn to invoke his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination and his decision not to produce documents in response to a congressional subpoena.

The letter says that the current context of the Senate’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election threatens that “any testimony he provides could be used against him.”

 

► The Supreme Court has ruled that Republicans in North Carolina illegally disenfranchised African-American voters in the state’s last round of redistricting. From the Washington Post:

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature unlawfully relied on race when drawing two of the state’s congressional districts.

The decision continued a trend at the court, where justices have found that racial considerations improperly predominated in redistricting decisions by Republican-led legislatures in Virginia, Alabama and North Carolina. Some involved congressional districts, others legislative districts…

…In the split decision, Justice Clarence Thomas joined the liberal justices in saying race improperly predominated the drawing of the district. New Justice Neil M. Gorsuch was not on the court when the case was heard, and took no part in the decision.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

Hickenlooper Pardons Rene Lima-Marin While Brauchler Fumes

UPDATE: Bad news via 9NEWS’ Marshall Zelinger:

—–

Gov. John Hickenlooper.

The Denver Post’s Kevin Simpson reporting, Gov. John Hickenlooper took swift action this afternoon to prevent the deportation of Rene Lima-Marin, a Cuban immigrant whose criminal case became a cause célèbre for state legislators before they realized he was subject to deportation:

Gov. John Hickenlooper said Friday he has issued an extraordinary pardon for Rene Lima-Marin, who was mistakenly released early from a long prison sentence only to be sent back after he had forged a productive new life as a husband and father.

Lima-Marin was freed from his Colorado prison sentence earlier this week and then held by federal immigration authorities. State lawmakers, Lima-Marin’s family and others had urged the governor to act quickly to prevent what they feared would be imminent deportation to his native Cuba…

“We thought it through well,” Hickenlooper said, pointing to bipartisan unity in the state legislature resolution that called for clemency. He added that it would be a “terrible symbol” to snatch away Lima-Marin’s freedom once again.

Asked what he hopes happens to Lima-Marin now, the governor said: “I hope he doesn’t get deported.”

The governor added that with the pardon, he has done everything he can at this point to stop deportation.

We noted yesterday how at least one GOP lawmaker was still fighting for Lima-Marin’s freedom even after it came out that he was subject to deportation for the crime he originally committed–though we were waiting to hear from others to know if this was as unanimous as the original resolution calling for Lima-Marin’s release was.

Post-pardon, GOP gubernatorial candidate George Brauchler is making it painfully clear he does not approve:

So…we assume there’s a big disagreement here between Brauchler and the entire Republican caucus in the Colorado General Assembly? That’s what we have to assume until we see some more statements from Republican lawmakers. It’s going to be difficult for Brauchler to make much political hay out of this unless a bunch of silent Republicans who were in support of Lima-Marin’s freedom come out with a different opinion now.

As for Gov. Hickenlooper, it’s true that he has now done everything he can. If President Trump wants to make a political martyr of a man who has already been through a bizarre and painful mistake in the criminal justice system, it’s his fire to play with.

And now, George Brauchler’s too.

Report: Ultra-conservative Wisconsin foundation takes aim at Colorado public education, labor unions

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R).

Recent reports have revealed that the Wisconsin-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation has quietly descended on Colorado in an effort to undermine teachers unions and public education.

The information comes from documents that were swiped from the foundation’s servers by international hackers last year.

In Wisconsin, the Bradley Foundation has helped bolster Gov. Scott Walker’s conservative agenda, including dramatic cuts to public education and the passage of the state’s anti-union “Right to Work” law. Now, Bradley is apparently looking to expand that success in swing states, starting with Colorado and North Carolina.

Reports from the Center for Media and Democracy and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel show that the Bradley Foundation has funneled $1.45 million to the Independence Institute, a conservative Denver think tank, in recent years. A chunk of the money was specifically allocated for “aggressive education reform,” which includes “neutralizing the power of Colorado’s teachers’ unions by defunding them at the local school district level,” according to a 2015 Independence Institute grant proposal record obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy.

With the help of Bradley’s contribution, the Independence Institute has assisted the Douglas County school board in enacting a series of measures to put an end to collective bargaining, teacher tenure, and automatic dues deductions for teachers unions. In 2016, the board attempted to implement a countywide school voucher program for private and religious schools, but the program was struck down in court.

The Independence Institute did not return a call for comment.

Sam Gilchrist, Executive Director of the pro-union Colorado AFL-CIO, said in a press release that “wealthy corporations and the organizations that serve them need to stop rigging our political system against hardworking people like the teachers who keep our public education system running,” and he called the Bradley Foundation’s efforts “disgusting.”

In addition to funding anti-union and school choice advocates, the Bradley Foundation gives financial support to conservative non-profits nationwide.

Beneficiaries include the Competitive Enterprise Institute, an adversary of environmental regulations, and the Ruth Institute, which, according to its website, seeks to “[help] young people avoid the poisonous personal consequences of the Sexual Revolution” and address “the crazy behaviors encouraged on campuses” and “young people’s unwillingness to get married.”

Get More Smarter on Friday (May 19)

The sun will come out tomorrow, according to weather forecasters. It’s time to Get More Smarter! If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► President Trump leaves the country today for his first big overseas trip as Commander in Chief. The Washington Post has a preview of Trump’s jaunt to the Middle East and Europe:

President Trump’s learning curve on matters of foreign policy and national security was steep even before the bombshell report this week that he had blurted secrets to Russian diplomats.

Trump’s first foreign trip as president, which begins in Saudi Arabia this weekend, is a test of the lessons he has learned about geopolitics as well as whether he can reset his chaotic administration…

…Trump will also visit the West Bank and is expected to again tout his efforts to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Trump has backed away from a decades-old U.S. commitment to a sovereign Palestinian state, but held a warm meeting at the White House with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

From there Trump goes to Europe, for the NATO summit, a protocol-laden visit to see Pope Francis at the Vatican, and a gathering of the Group of Seven economic powers in Italy.

Meanwhile, longtime Washington D.C. observers can’t help but notice the historical parallels with a foreign trip taken by former President Richard Nixon in the midst of the Watergate scandal:

Those of us with long memories can’t forget President Richard Nixon making a similar trip to the Middle East in early June, 1974, at the very time the Watergate special prosecutor was in court seeking the actual White House tapes of presidential conversations and Congressional committees were looking into his possible impeachment.

Back then, ironically, Nixon visited leaders in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Israel in an unsuccessful attempt to strengthen the ceasefire agreement that halted fighting in the Yom Kippur, Arab-Israeli war.

Nixon returned home to challenge and lose his Supreme Court argument over the tapes that set him down the path to resigning the presidency.

 

► Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made another visit to Capitol Hill on Friday to brief lawmakers on his decision to appoint Robert Mueller as a special counsel for investigating allegations of collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign for President. But as the Washington Post notes, Rosenstein has left many important questions unanswered:

Rosenstein had briefed senators on Thursday at an event that left several key questions unanswered, including what Trump said to Rosenstein when he told him Comey would be fired and to what degree congressional investigators will maintain access to witnesses and documents given the appointment of Robert S. Mueller III as special counsel.

These matters did not appear to be resolved on Friday.

Here at Colorado Pols, we’ve added a new feature to keep you updated on the latest news involving the Trump/Russia scandal: “The Daily D’oh!”

 

► Attorney General Cynthia Coffman again demonstrated her loyalty to the oil and gas industry in Colorado by ignoring Gov. John Hickenlooper’s order to NOT appeal a court ruling requiring protection of public safety, health and the environment by the state as a precondition before allowing oil and gas drilling.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

Hick Declines Oil and Gas Lawsuit Appeal; Coffman Goes Rogue

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

Important news today from the Denver Post’s Bruce Finley, Gov. John Hickenlooper has come out against an appeal of an important recent court court decision obliging the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to stop issuing drilling permits pending a review to ensure their activity doesn’t impact he environment, public health, or climate change:

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has ordered state authorities not to fight a court ruling requiring protection of public safety, health and the environment by the state as a precondition before allowing oil and gas drilling…

Hickenlooper late Wednesday sent an e-mail message to Deputy Attorney General Laura Chartrand instructing state attorneys not to proceed with an appeal of the ruling, which reinterprets the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, according to a letter sent Thursday to Hickenlooper by Coffman.

The COGCC on May 1 decided to fight the ruling. Hickenlooper contends that decision, based on a unanimous vote, was “only advisory” and that the COGCC lacks statutory authority to challenge a court’s interpretation of its mission.

But in a twist we might have seen coming, Colorado’s Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman isn’t going to cooperate with Gov. Hickenlooper’s request:

[Attorney General Cynthia] Coffman now is arguing that Hickenlooper is legally incorrect in trying to stop the COGCC, whose members he appointed…

“I understand that sentiment runs high surrounding oil and gas development in our state, even more so in the wake of the tragic house explosion that claimed two lives,” she wrote. “This appeal is not intended to be a statement on complex energy policy issues. Rather it is a legal challenge to a court decision that stands to have a profound effect on regulation and administrative decision-making by government entities.”

It’s a significant development for Hickenlooper to override a unanimous decision by the COGCC and recommend this case not be appealed. And since energy-friendly Gov. Hickenlooper is no “fracktivist” seeking to halt oil and gas extraction in Colorado, we have to assume that his recommendation to not appeal the decision means there would be a path for the industry to comply with the ruling and whatever remedy it prescribes.

Unless, of course, the industry has an even more energy-friendly Republican AG they can turn to! In the wake of the recent home explosion in Firestone blamed on neglected oil and gas well pipelines, Coffman’s stubbornness could be as politically damaging to her as it is beneficial to Hickenlooper to not be a part of it.

Get More Smarter on Thursday (May 18)

Snow? Again? What is this, Russia? It’s time to Get More Smarter! If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

Mueller!

It is not difficult to picture a sullen President Trump shaking his fist and softly mumbling the name of  former FBI Director Robert Mueller, the man who will lead a special investigation into potential Trump ties with Russia. The White House issued a bland statement last night in response to the news of Mueller’s appointment, but it wasn’t long before President Twitter took to social media to vent his rage.

From the New York Times:

President Trump lashed out on Thursday, saying he was the target of an unprecedented witch hunt, a day after the Justice Department appointed a special counsel to investigate ties between his presidential campaign and Russian officials.

In a pair of early morning tweets, Mr. Trump cited, without evidence, what he called the “illegal acts” committed by the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and the campaign of his former opponent, Hillary Clinton — and said they never led to the appointment of a special counsel.

“With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special councel appointed!” Mr. Trump wrote, misspelling counsel.

Moments later, Mr. Trump added, “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”

And yet, the bell tolls.

As Chris Cillizza summarizes for CNN:

Republicans — from Donald Trump on down — will now live or die by what Mueller finds out.  Full exoneration is now possible. But so too is full guilt or blame.  Republicans’ political fate — in 2018 and perhaps 2020 as well — is now largely in Mueller’s hands.

► Oh, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy reportedly expressed concern last summer that Trump was on Russia’s payroll. From the Washington Post:

A month before Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination, one of his closest allies in Congress — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy — made a politically explosive assertion in a private conversation on Capitol Hill with his fellow GOP leaders: that Trump could be the beneficiary of payments from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, according to a recording of the June 15, 2016, exchange, which was listened to and verified by The Washington Post. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is a Californian Republican known in Congress as a fervent defender of Putin and Russia.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) immediately interjected, stopping the conversation from further exploring McCarthy’s assertion, and swore the Republicans present to secrecy.

 

► Colorado Republican officials had been largely quiet about President Trump as his administration unravels, but the appointment of Robert Mueller as special prosecutor appears to have finally shaken many of their media malaise. As Jason Salzman writes, Trump talk is also dominating the Republican gubernatorial primary.

 

► The oil and gas industry is directing millions of dollars to Colorado Republicans as concerns grow about the safety of drilling practices near communities. According to a new report, the amount of money pouring into GOP coffers from O&G interests provides the industry with enormous political clout — much more than had been previously considered.

 

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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REPORT: Anadarko, O&G Industry Funneling Massive Amounts of Money to Colorado Republicans

The remains of a home in Firestone following a massive explosion on April 17.

Anadarko Petroleum said on Tuesday that it is permanently disconnecting several oil and gas pipelines around the Firestone area, where a home exploded in late April killing two people and seriously injuring two others. But as a staggering new report from the International Business Times details today, Anadarko is spending obscene amounts of money to ensure that Colorado Republican lawmakers disrupt legislative attempts at regulating the oil and gas industry in Colorado:

Days after a gas line linked to an Anadarko Petroleum well ignited a deadly home blast in Colorado, the company’s chief executive said the “terrible tragedy has left all of us with heavy hearts.” But even asinvestigators were picking through the wreckage, the company moved to fight a new bill that would have forced it to tell Colorado homeowners how close they live to oil and gas operations.

State records show that while CEO Al Walker said “the families and their loved ones are in our thoughts and prayers,” Anadarko was deploying its lobbyists to press Colorado lawmakers to block a transparency measure as it pursued plans for hundreds of new wells in the northeastern part of the state.

After Anadarko’s lobbying blitz, Republican legislators filibustered the bill, which would have required energy companies to disclose maps documenting the locations of their gas lines and wells. The GOP lawmakers killed the legislation a few months after Anadarko donated to a group backing their election campaigns. [Pols emphasis]

The sequence of events that unfolded after the Colorado explosion demonstrates the political power of the Texas-based company, which is Colorado’s largest oil and gas producer and has flooded Colorado politics with campaign cash. An International Business Times/MapLight review of campaign finance records found the firm gave more than $7.2 million to political groups operating in the state during the 2016 election cycle — an average of roughly $10,000 every day for two years. [Pols emphasis]

Rep. Lori Saine and Sen. Vicki Marble represent the Firestone area.

The April 17 explosion in Firestone created a new urgency to debates over drilling safety in Colorado — even longtime fracking advocates like Gov. John Hickenlooper demanded changes. Republican lawmakers killed off a proposal earlier in the 2017 session intended to increase minimum setback requirements for drilling locations, but the Firestone tragedy prompted a late-session bill (HB-1372) to provide more public disclosure of “flowlines” in and around residential areas. Despite the public outcry, Republicans were able to successfully filibuster that bill to its death.

Before the “flowlines” legislation was squashed, we noted in this space the disgusting indifference to transparency suggestions from Firestone Republican Rep. Lori Saine. Given the extraordinary amount of money that Anadarko and the O&G industry are directing toward Colorado Republicans, it’s hard not to be cynical about Saine and her upper-chamber counterpart, Sen. Vicki Marble. Let’s go back to today’s story from the International Business Times:

On the surface, state records suggest Anadarko’s contributions to Senate Republicans have been relatively modest. In 2016, the company gave only $50,000 to the Senate Majority Fund, the primary fundraising apparatus of the Senate GOP. But those records do not detail Anadarko cash that has flowed to “dark money” organizations, or nonprofits that are not required to disclose their donors. [Pols emphasis]

For example, the Colorado Economic Leadership Fund (CELF) played a pivotal role in helping Senate Republicans retain their majority in the 2016 election — and little-noticed corporate filings reviewed by IBT/MapLight show Anadarko gave generously to CELF…

…CELF spent more than $372,000 to help re-elect Jack Tate, R-Centennial, and elect Kevin Priola, R-Henderson. The two senators represent swing districts seen as critical to preserving the Senate Republican majority that provided the votes to kill the regulatory bills. The fund also spent $37,500 to help State Sen. Randy Baumgardner in his 2016 re-election race. Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, is the vice chairman of the specific Senate panel that quashed the setback bill, which lost in committee by a single vote.

While it is impossible to know how much of CELF’s total operating money came from oil and gas companies, Anadarko and Noble Energy in 2016 together gave the group $535,000 — or 75 percent of the total amount that CELF spent on Colorado elections in 2016. [Pols emphasis]

Colorado Republicans would almost certainly not have a one-seat majority in the State Senate without these massive financial commitments. Money from the O&G industry isn’t just a piece of the pie for Colorado Republicans; without this cash infusion, there is no pie.

Every election cycle, tens of millions of dollars are spent by various groups with their own agendas — benefitting both Republicans and Democrats. But as the International Business Times demonstrates today, no other industry in Colorado so thoroughly dominates political spending on one side of the aisle like the the oil and gas lobby. The industry may have every right to exert such financial influence on the state legislature…but Colorado voters have every right to wonder whose interests Republican lawmakers are truly protecting.

Get More Smarter on Tuesday (May 16)

Greetings, comrades! Let us commence with today’s lesson plan. It’s time to Get More Smarter! If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

President Trump’s administration is crumbling faster than Cory Gardner can flee a constituent. As Chris Cillizza writes for CNN, news that Trump passed highly-confidential information to the Russians just might be the proverbial back-breaking straw on this here camel:

In a number of conversations Monday evening with Republican House members and GOP strategists, there was a widespread feeling that this time Trump might have gone too far…

…consider the following five things Trump has done since coming into office: 1) Twice failed to enact a travel ban 2) Engaged in an extended argument over crowd size at his inauguration 3) Falsely accused then-President Barack Obama of wire-tapping Trump Tower during the election 4) Took 18 days to get rid of national security adviser MIchael Flynn after being informed Flynn was compromised by the Russians 5) Fired Comey, even as he was overseeing the Russia investigation.

Any ONE of those are the sort of thing that would be a major slip-up in any other administration — and might lead to defections from within the president’s own party.  All five of them — plus the new revelations regarding classified information being shared with two top Russian officials — is something close to an avalanche of political malpractice.

How much more can — or will — congressional Republicans take?

If you’re looking for answers as to why Trump would have divulged such sensitive information to the Russians, there aren’t a lot of plausible answers.

If you’re looking for a response to this growing crisis from Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma)…well, good luck with that. But Gardner has certainly painted himself into a corner with his previous bold declarations about national security.

Actually, if you’re looking for a response from any Colorado Republicans, you’re not alone.

 

► Things would have to improve at the White House before you could even begin to use the word “disarray.” From the Washington Post:

This time it did not even take 24 hours for Donald Trump to throw his staffers under the bus and contradict their denials.

The president revealed highly classified (code word) information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador during an Oval Office meeting last week, potentially endangering a coveted intelligence asset, compromising a crucial alliance and undermining the war effort against the Islamic State.

After The Post broke the story, senior White House aides quickly denied it. “I was in the room. It didn’t happen,” said national security adviser H.R. McMaster. “This story is false,” added Dina Powell, his deputy.

Then, on Twitter this morning, Trump essentially acknowledged that The Post’s reporting is accurate, defended his decision to share the information and complained about the leak that allowed what he’d done to get out.

Working for Trump at the White House certainly appears to be nothing short of awful. It can’t help that Trump’s approval ratings continue to drop and the public is demanding a special prosecutor to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia.

 

► Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, also the second-longest-serving Attorney General in Colorado history, is apparently no longer on a short list to become the next FBI Director. We’re sure Suthers is absolutely (not) despondent to learn that he won’t be next in line to manage this particular shit show.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Firestone GOP Lawmakers Plan Oil and Gas Apologetics Tour

Sen. Vicki Marble (R).

Via the Longmont Times-Call’s John Fryar:

State Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, and Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone, are initiating a set of summer “energy summits to address oil and gas pipeline safety,” Marble announced in a news release this morning.

Both lawmakers represent the Firestone area, where a house explosion last month killed two people. Investigators have concluded the explosion was caused by gas that entered the basement through a cut flow line near the home.

After investigators confirmed that the home explosion in Firestone was indeed caused by a disused oil and gas production flowline connected to an improperly shut off well, Democratic representatives from Boulder County introduced House Bill 1372–a bill to require energy companies to map their pipelines, one of the suggestions made by a task force convened by Gov. John Hickenlooper to look at energy policy in the state.

Republicans including Rep. Lori Saine of Firestone opposed this legislation, claiming the bill was “a spiking of the political football.” House Republicans were able to kill HB17-1372 by running out the clock at session’s end before it could reach the Colorado Senate.

With that in mind, these should be lively “energy summits”–assuming real Firestone residents are allowed in.

Get More Smarter on Thursday (May 11)

Humpty Dumpty done fell off the wall. It’s time to Get More Smarter! If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

President Trump and White House officials are falling all over themselves trying to explain away Tuesday’s surprise firing of FBI Director Jim Comey. As Greg Sargent writes for the Washington Post:

For all the talk about the unusual nature of President Trump’s decision to fire James Comey, it actually fits comfortably into a well-established pattern that has defined this presidency from its very first day. Trump makes an emotional, impulsive assertion or decision — and then his underlings are forced into a wild scramble to produce a rationale or justification for it.

In this pattern, the decision or assertion often originated in the same place — deep in the recesses of Trump’s entangled megalomania and sneaking dread of the illegitimacy of his presidency. And the Comey firing, it turns out, may not be an exception to this.

This conclusion is bolstered by some great new reporting this morning on the Trumpian thought processes (if you can call them that) leading to the firing of the FBI director. The reporting reduces the White House’s original spin on the firing — that Trump decided to fire Comey after Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy, Rod J. Rosenstein, presented a case rooted in his handling of Hillary Clinton’s emails — to a pile of smoking rubble. [Pols emphasis]

Meanwhile, media accounts are increasingly portraying President Trump as isolated and trapped in his own “cable TV news bubble,” which is probably not good.

Here’s another indication of how bad this thing has become: Press Secretary Sean Spicer is literally hiding in the bushes outside of the White House.

 

► Arizona Sen. John McCain said after the Comey firing that he expected “more shoes to drop,” and the footwear indeed appears to be falling. As Politico and other news outlets are reporting, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made a surprise appearance on Capitol Hill today:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was seen arriving at the Senate Intelligence Committee’s secure office spaces Thursday afternoon. Sources told POLITICO Rosenstein had requested to meet with the Intelligence Committee leaders, Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.), who both hastily left an open, televised committee hearing for what Burr said was a meeting “we can’t push off.”

Rosenstein’s request for the meeting came after President Donald Trump unceremoniously fired FBI Director James Comey, citing a three-page letter from Rosenstein questioning the director’s fitness to serve. It also came amid reports that Rosenstein, a well-regarded federal prosecutor, was furious over the White House’s characterization of his apparent recommendation and even threatened to quit.

That sound you hear is the collective tightening of sphincters at the White House. It’s hard to see how this entire situation doesn’t get worse for Trump and defenders like Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma). At the very least, Comey’s firing has sucked all of the oxygen out of the room for Republicans trying to talk about anything else.

 

► The 2017 Colorado legislative session is complete. Er, finished. You know what we mean. As John Frank and Brian Eason report for the Denver Post:

The bipartisan agreements included measures to preserve the hospital provider fee program, avert potentially catastrophic cuts to rural hospitals, find new money for highway construction, increase per-pupil education spending, and make it harder to sue for construction defects.

For each bill, the final result is less than what lawmakers hoped to accomplish but represented significant progress after failing to reach accords for years.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Winners and Losers of the 2017 Colorado legislative session

THE WINNERS

Rural Colorado

After years of debate, a crisis over funding for rural hospitals and Medicaid recipients brought Republicans to the bargaining table to fix a small but important glitch that could have cost Colorado hundreds of millions of dollars. Thanks to a bipartisan compromise brokered by House Majority Leader KC Becker and Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman that took most of the session to hammer out, rural hospitals are safe.


House Speaker Crisanta Duran (D)

2017 needed a leader who knew how to negotiate with the other side effectively, and Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran was more than up to the challenge. Colorado’s first Latina House Speaker successfully navigated through numerous thorny issues that had plagued the General Assembly for years, from construction defects to the rural hospitals and transportation. And she stopped dozens of terrible bills from the GOP-controlled Senate from becoming law.


Senators Don Coram and Larry Crowder (R)

An outbreak of bipartisan good faith and cooperation this year helped lawmakers accomplish more than expected from a divided legislature. Rural Republican Senators like Don Coram of Montrose and Larry Crowder of Alamosa pushed back against right-wing ideologues and special interests, and proved instrumental in getting key bipartisan agreements through the Colorado Senate. More like this, please.


First-time homeowners

Thanks to the dedication of patient negotiators like Rep. Alec Garnett, a deal was forged on the issue of construction defects in condo construction that might solve yet another issue Colorado has wrestled with for years. Bad proposals from developer lobbyists sought to take away homeowner rights to sue over defects in construction. Rep. Garnett kept all parties at the table until a deal that protected homeowners while alleviating industry concerns was hammered out.


Everyone with lungs

Lawmakers have tried for several years to pass a law outlawing “rolling coal,” or modifying a diesel truck to spew giant clouds of toxic smoke on purpose. Democratic Rep. Joann Ginal teamed up with GOP Sen. Don Coram to try again this year—and after their first bill died, the second try made it through.


Sen. Kerry Donovan and Rep. Barbara McLachlan (D)

Colorado’s Western Slope is so fortunate to have two of the very best representing them at the state capitol: Sen. Kerry Donovan, who helped fight for public lands and rural broadband, and Rep. Barbara McLachlan, who worked tirelessly this year on addressing the critical shortage of teachers in our state.


Senator Leroy Garcia (D)

Sen. Leroy Garcia of Pueblo continued to be Pueblo’s champion in the Colorado legislature. In 2017, Sen. Garcia worked on expanding passenger rail service along the Front Range—an important issue as Pueblo works hard to bring Amtrak service to the city. Sen. Garcia bucked his party occasionally, questioning fee hikes on hunters and fishermen. Garcia remains a great representative for all the people of Pueblo.


Connect for Health Colorado

With uncertainty in Washington about the future of health care reform and polls showing public opposition to dismantling President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform law, Colorado Republicans plowed ahead with an ill-advised attempt to repeal the Connect for Health Colorado insurance marketplace. Running into a buzzsaw of opposition, Republicans were forced to postpone the bill repeatedly until finally killing it at the end of the session—great news for thousands of Coloradans who depend on the marketplace for their health coverage.


Far-right obstructionists

It was a successful legislative session, but many important issues were left unaddressed—mostly because of intense pressure from far-right advocacy groups like the out-of-state-billionaire-backed Americans for Prosperity. Because of their endless attacks on any attempt to raise revenue, or find legitimate fixes to our budget mess, Colorado won’t even get the chance to vote this year to improve our state’s outdated transportation system. The far right won that battle, but the rest of Colorado lost.


Senate President Kevin Grantham (R)

After years of obstruction under former Colorado Senate President Bill Cadman, a ray of hope emerged from the less combative, more thoughtful style of leadership shown by Kevin Grantham in 2017. While by no means perfect, Grantham’s willingness to engage across the aisle with Speaker Duran produced several of the session’s biggest wins. Grantham also fought bravely against Americans for Prosperity and intransigent lawmakers in his own party for a deal on transportation funds, but was not successful in persuading his caucus to go along.


 

THE LOSERS

Business and transportation lobbies

In 2016, business interests spent lavish amounts of money to elect Republican members of the Colorado General Assembly. In return, Republicans shot down one of the business community’s most important priorities: a deal to fund transportation infrastructure. A healthy business climate is more than just low taxes, and “pro-business” lawmakers do more than just say no.


Working families and needy Coloradans

Although the legislature hammered out some tough compromises this year, some of the battles won were not necessary to fight at all—and many good bills died because of the one-seat right-wing control of the Colorado Senate. The deal to save rural hospitals included painful fee increases on the poorest Medicaid patients at the insistence of Republican lawmakers. Another bill to provide family medical leave died in the Senate after receiving overwhelming public support and passing the Colorado House.


Senator Tim Neville (R)

State Sen. Tim Neville’s run for the U.S. Senate last year fell flat, and Neville set himself up poorly for a difficult re-election in 2018 after sponsoring some of the worst legislation to be introduced in Colorado this year. Tim Neville supported legislation to ban abortion, weaken common-sense gun safety laws, and even to make it easier for unvaccinated children to attend Colorado public schools.


Representative Phil Covarrubias (R)

During debate on legislation to oppose unconstitutional roundups and other actions by the Trump administration, freshman Rep. Phil Covarrubias made national headlines when he defended the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Covarrubias later apologized, but the incident once again tarnished Colorado’s reputation on a civil rights issue of national importance.


Senator Beth Humenik (R)

Sen. Beth Humenik of Adams County represents a closely-divided swing suburban district, but in 2017 she caved to the extremists in her caucus pushing legislation to support the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda. At the same time, Humenik crossed her own party on a number of key votes—ensuring she lost friends on both sides of the aisle. Bewilderingly, Sen. Humenik voted against the much lauded and bipartisan Hospital Provider Fee deal, essentially printing mail pieces for her opponents in the 2018 election.


Representative Dave Williams (R)

In 2016, Rep. Gordon “Dr. Chaps” Klingenschmitt repeatedly brought shame on the state of Colorado with his bizarre, hateful diatribes. Unfortunately, Klingenschmitt’s successor in House District 15 Rep. Dave Williams, is, if anything even worse. Williams sponsored some of the worst anti-immigrant legislation of the year—bills that would make Donald Trump himself blush. Williams, who represents Colorado Springs, even tried to insert an amendment into the budget concerning fetal tissue—the same false charge that provoked the tragic mass shooting at Colorado Springs’ Planned Parenthood clinic.


LGBT and West Slope Coloradans

Just before the session ended, the Colorado Senate killed the re-appointment of the chair of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission on a party-line vote. This highly unusual move threw a highly qualified LGBT representative and the Commission’s only representative from the Western Slope off the body that oversees workplace discrimination complaints.


Firestone, Colorado

After a massive explosion caused by disused oil and gas flowlines near a Firestone home killed two people, Republicans in the state legislature filibustered and killed a bill to require such lines be mapped and the data made public—including Firestone’s own representative in the Colorado House, Rep. Lori Saine. Even after tragedy, oil and gas profits come first to the industry’s political supporters.


Senate President Kevin Grantham (R)

Both a winner and a loser in 2017, Senate President Kevin Grantham’s fiery speech to his caucus in favor of legislation to put a tax question on the ballot to fund transportation projects will be remembered as a great moment of bipartisan cooperation. Unfortunately, thanks to the efforts of out-of-state attack groups like Americans for Prosperity, Grantham’s words fell on deaf ears. Colorado needs more than ideological rhetoric to solve our long-term challenges, and Grantham knows it—but he can’t do anything about it.


Petition forgery artists

After a scandal rocked the Republican U.S. Senate primary in 2016 when ProgressNow Colorado uncovered forged petitions submitted by Jon Keyser, the legislature passed a law this year requiring that ballot petition signatures be verified by the Secretary of State’s office before a candidate qualifies for the ballot. It won’t help Keyser, who moved out of Colorado after the petition fraud scandal wrecked his campaign—but it closes a loophole that may have been exploited by unscrupulous campaigns for years.


Get More Smarter on Wednesday (May 10)

It’s still early, but President Trump hasn’t fired anybody today. It’s time to Get More Smarter! If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► President Trump on Tuesday fired the man in charge of the investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. If you’ve watched, read, or heard any news since last evening, you are probably aware that FBI Director James Comey is out of a job. As the Washington Post reports, Trump’s decision to fire Comey is backfiring bigly:

To put it mildly, the optics of firing Comey are terrible. Trump looks like he does not actually want to get to the bottom of Russia’s interference in the U.S. election and the potential wrongdoing of his own staffers.

In one of the hastily-arranged damage-control interviews, deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made an especially revealing statement that underscored why so many people are worried. Asked by Tucker Carlson on Fox News how Comey’s termination will impact the Russia investigation, she replied: “I think the bigger point on that is, ‘My gosh, Tucker, when are they gonna let that go?’ It’s been going on for nearly a year. Frankly, it’s kinda getting absurd. There’s nothing there.” “It’s time to move on,” she added. “Frankly, it’s time to focus on the things the American people care about.”

As Sanders pretended on Fox that the Russian probes have found nothing, CNN reported that federal prosecutors – as part of the ongoing Russia probe – have now issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

President Trump is apparently steaming mad about all of this. Trump supporters have been busy trying to spin Comey’s firing as totally-not-a-scandal, though nobody is really buying what they’re selling (see: Anderson Cooper with Kellyanne Conway on CNN Tuesday night):

cooper-eyeroll

 

► Colorado Democrats, including Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Denver), are calling for a special prosecutor to take over Comey’s Russia investigation. Colorado Republicans, meanwhile, have been relatively quiet about Comey’s firing. Senator Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) finally issued a statement Wednesday morning that was almost entirely focused on finding the next FBI Director. From the Denver Post:

Gardner, a Republican, thanked Comey for his service and said there were thousands of immensely qualified FBI agents.

Uh, okay…but how about the fact that Trump just fired the man in charge of investigating him? Anything on that, Senator?

Congressman Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) also declined to call for a special prosecutor/investigator, but did manage to admit that the timing of Comey’s ouster is a little weird while pointing out that the sky is blue and the grass is green:

“I think it may create the appearance that Comey was fired due to his role in the investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.”

“I think it may create the appearance…” You figured this one out all by yourself, eh?

 

► The Colorado legislature has reached the end of the 2017 session. We’ll have plenty of wrap-up coverage on the legislative session here at Colorado Pols, including rundowns on charter school funding, the Hospital Provider Fee, and who is pointing fingers at whom.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Senate Defeats Attempt To Scuttle Obama Methane Rule

Sen. Cory Gardner.

A big surprise out of Washington, D.C. this morning–and we mean that in a good way for a change–as the Washington Post reports:

The U.S. Senate narrowly voted down a resolution on Wednesday to repeal an Obama-era rule regulating methane emissions from drilling on public lands — with three Republicans joining every Democrat to preserve the rule.

The 51 to 49 vote marked the first time since Trump’s election that Republicans have failed in their attempt to use the Congressional Review Act to overturn Obama-era rules.

Thirteen earlier resolutions, based on the 1996 law that allows Congress to overturn rules within 60 days of their adoption, all succeeded…

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) unexpectedly voted no against a motion to proceed with consideration of the resolution, along with GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.). Two Democrats who had considered backing the rule’s elimination — Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — voted against the motion as well.

In a floor speech after the vote, Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), said “the very first victory” lawmakers have had in beating back a Congressional Review Act bill this year came from a combination of Democratic unity and a few Republicans’ willingness to buck their leadership. “Thank you so much for coming forward and seeing the common sense nature of this issue,” Udall said, referring to Collins, Graham and McCain.

Conservation Colorado celebrates in a statement today–and slams Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado for his vote to repeal the federal Methane Rule:

This is an incredible day for the environment and for citizens across the country who have been telling their members of Congress to vote for clean air. The vote should have been an easy one for the oil and gas lobby to win, but the power of citizen activism has broken through the political morass.

With that said, we are deeply disappointed in Senator Gardner’s vote. Despite more than 10,000 emails and calls from Coloradans and multiple protests at his offices on this issue, Senator Gardner managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by voting against Colorado’s clean air in what amounted to a futile vote for him. [Pols emphasis]

It’s obvious from this vote that Senator Gardner is much more interested in joining the Washington, D.C. political club rather than representing the values of Coloradans. This is not the leadership that Colorado needs, and we will double down on our efforts to make sure that Coloradans of all stripes know what a threat Senator Gardner’s voting record poses to clean air and environment.

Colorado already has rules requiring that methane be captured instead of wasted–beneficial both to air quality and our bottom line since royalties are paid on the energy that isn’t wasted here. Even though we have this protection already, air pollution doesn’t respect state boundaries. The federal Methane Rule the Trump administration wanted overturned via the controversial Congressional Review Act is based on Colorado’s rule.

All told, this is a huge win against the Trump administration’s campaign to roll back President Barack Obama’s legacy. Sen. Gardner, who pays so much lip service to being a conservation-minded “different kind of Republican,” had a golden opportunity today to join other Republican Senators in doing the right thing, show independence from Trump, and uphold the values on this issue of the state he represents.

And he didn’t.

Sirota Uncovers Lanny Martin’s Colorado GOP Quid Pro Cash

Denver GOP donor and oilman J. Landis “Lanny” Martin.

A story from local investigative journalist David Sirota in the International Business Times is provoking a lot of discussion today–not just for its content, but the fact that a large out-of-state media outlet is calling attention to donations and wealthy local donors that local media can’t be bothered to report on:

A top fossil fuel industry official poured $40,000 into the Colorado Republican Party’s super PAC on the same day the state’s legislature began considering a bill to limit the oil and gas industry’s fracking and drilling near schools, according to state documents reviewed by International Business Times. Soon after the contribution from Halliburton board member J. Landis Martin, Republican lawmakers lined up against the legislation. They eventually killed it — days before a deadly blast at a home near an oil well in Northeastern Colorado…

Martin’s March 14th donation was one of the single largest individual contributions in the Colorado Republican Party’s modern history, and the second largest ever given to the party’s super PAC, according to data from the National Institute on Money In State Politics.

Colorado is one of 29 states with campaign finance laws designed to discourage fundraising during legislative sessions. Martin’s contribution, however, appeared to legally flow around that statute because it went to the Colorado Republican Party’s independent expenditure committee, which supports legislators — but not directly to the legislators themselves.

Martin told IBT the donation was unrelated to the setback bill, which would have clarified that the 1,000 foot limit between schools and new oil and gas wells started at the edge of school property, not at school buildings themselves…

“I don’t really follow the state legislature there,” said Martin, who is a prominent philanthropist in Colorado. He also told an interviewer in 2013 he moved to Denver in 1981.

Some of our readers will recall the name J. Landis “Lanny” Martin as the wealthy local oilman who held an under-publicized fundraiser at his Denver Art Museum penthouse for Jeb! Bush in the fall of 2015 starring former President George W. Bush. Noteworthy to us was the fact that local press actually colluded with the organizers to conceal the location of this fundraiser–which didn’t stop a lively contingent from Occupy Denver from shaking the windows of Martin’s penthouse for the whole event.

Martin’s donation to the Colorado Republican Party’s independent expenditure committee is not illegal, but the large size of the donation definitely makes it noteworthy. With so much scrutiny in the media on the opponents of oil and gas development in Colorado, not nearly enough attention is paid to the proponents and the lavish amounts of money they give their (mostly) Republican political allies.

Of course, it’s extremely difficult to say with certainty that any individual donation is in response to or exchange for any vote, but the reliability with which Colorado Republicans protect the energy industry in Colorado doesn’t leave much to ponder. Lanny Martin doesn’t need to know bill numbers to know exactly what he’s paying for. And with the issue again taking center stage in the wake of the Firestone home explosion, these kinds of “transactions” matter–no matter how jaded the local media may be.

Sirota and the IBT are reportedly not done either, so stay tuned.

Get More Smarter on Tuesday (May 9)

Golfball-sized hail is just God cleaning out his ice maker. It’s time to Get More Smarter! If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► Legislation introduced last week that would seek to compel oil and gas companies to provide public records of “flowlines” — pipelines that carry natural gas from wellheads to a collection point — has been defeated in the state legislature after a Republican filibuster. House Bill 17-1372, sponsored by Reps. Mike Foote (D-Lafayetter) and Steve Lebsock (D-Thornton), was essentially killed when House Republicans extended their arguments toward a midnight deadline for the bill to move along to the State Senate.

 

► State Sen. Jim Smallwood (R-Parker) officially killed his own legislation intended to eliminate the Colorado Health Exchange. As Ed Sealover reports for the Denver Business Journal:

The move was met by applause from Democrats on the Senate floor and groans from Republicans.

Smallwood said afterward that he wanted to spend the summer working on the bill in ways that could bring meaningful change to the state-chartered exchange, which has struggled financially. That could mean finding a way to garner bipartisan support for the measure, or it could mean finding a way for Connect for Health to attract more insurers and to make more significant steps in slowing the growth of health-care costs in Colorado, he said.

Senate Bill 3 was introduced early in the 2017 legislative session as a priority for Senate Republicans, but the GOP made little effort to actually move forward with the bill after encountering still opposition from vocal Coloradans amid Congressional blundering on repealing Obamacare.

 

► The Director of the FBI, James Comey, has apparently stepped in the mud (again). As CNN reports:

FBI Director James Comey erroneously told Congress last week that former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin “forwarded hundreds and thousands” of emails to her husband’s laptop — and the bureau is looking for a way to clean up his error, according to officials familiar with the matter.

According to Comey, Clinton’s emails had been forwarded to the computer of Abedin’s husband, former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner. But US officials told CNN last fall the majority of the thousands of emails reviewed by the FBI got to Weiner’s computer via a backup system for Abedin’s phone.

In Comey’s testimony, however, he suggested “hundreds and thousands” of emails had been deliberately sent directly from Abedin to Weiner’s computer. While some of those emails may have been sent directly from Huma in order to be printed, officials told CNN, the number was far fewer than the amount Comey described.

 

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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