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Pentagon investigation into Flynn; French election hacking; NAFTA renegotiations.


…And now the Pentagon is investigating Michael Flynn

Members Of The House Oversight Cmte Deliver Remarks To Press Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images
  • Earlier this week, the House Oversight Committee announced that Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn might have broken federal law by failing to disclose payments from Russian entities in White House paperwork. [CNN / Tom LoBianco, Manu Raju]
  • Now he’s under investigation by the Pentagon. The two causes for concern: the payment he received from Russia’s RT TV in 2015 for a speech, and belatedly filing paperwork declaring himself a “foreign agent” (due to his lobbying work on behalf of Turkish interests here in the US). [New York Times / Emmarie Huetteman]
  • The crux of the issue, from the Pentagon’s perspective, is that Flynn is a retired officer of the military — and as such, he was required to obtain approval from the Pentagon to accept money from foreign groups. Because he could hypothetically be recalled to the military at any time, he is subject to the emoluments clause of the Constitution, which bars top officials from getting money or favors from foreign governments. [Washington Post / Dan Lamothe, Ed O’Keefe, Sean Sullivan]
  • (As it turns out, the Defense Intelligence Agency actually warned Flynn about this in 2014, as he was retiring.) [CNN / Manu Raju, Jim Sciutto, Tom LoBianco]
  • Flynn’s lawyer maintains that Flynn did brief the DIA “extensively” about his RT speech in particular. But in a letter released today, the DIA indicated that it found no records “referring or relating” to Flynn receiving payment from a foreign source. [Politico / Austin Wright]
  • It might feel like Flynn’s got about 99 Russia-related legal problems at this point. Not quite. He has committed a lot of shady conduct (some of which involved lying to the vice president), but legally speaking, Vox’s Zack Beauchamp identifies four issues related to Russia and Turkey combined: the possibility that Flynn lied about his status as a foreign agent; that he took office while being a foreign agent; that he lied on his security clearance paperwork in January 2016; and that he took foreign money as a retired officer without permission. [Vox / Zack Beauchamp​]

Remember when Putin promised not to meddle in the French election?

Presidential Candidate Emmanuel Macron Hosts A Meeting At Parc Des Expositions In Paris Photo by Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images
  • A new report from the Tokyo-based cybersecurity firm Trend Micro says that Russian hackers — possibly the same group infamous for interfering in the US election — are targeting the presidential campaign of centrist Emmanuel Macron as he heads to a runoff with far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. [Washington Post / Rick Noack]
  • It’s too early to definitively pin recent cyberattacks against Macron on the Russian group known as (among other aliases) “Pawn Storm” and “Fancy Bear.” The perpetrator here could be a mere imitator. But targeting Macron would be consistent with “Pawn Storm’s” methodology: The Trend Micro report, reviewing two years of the group’s attacks, concludes that “the group has become more adept at manipulating events and public opinion through the gathering and controlled release of information.” [Trend Micro / Feike Hacquebord]
  • And as Vox’s Zeeshan Aleem writes, “It’s clear that the attacks converge with Russian interests. If Macron were to face damaging leaks the way Hillary Clinton did during the campaign, it would hurt the chances of a candidate who supports the EU and France’s traditional stance toward Russia.” [Vox / Zeeshan Aleem]
  • Macron supports European Union sanctions on Russia, while Le Pen wants to leave the EU and develop a better relationship with Moscow. Vladimir Putin, for his part, has been generally warm toward nationalist movements outside his desired “sphere of influence” (especially when they rise up in NATO countries) and particularly friendly toward the far right in France, and toward Le Pen. [Vice / Alec Luhn]
  • It was during a Le Pen visit to the Kremlin in March, in fact, that Putin assured her, “We do not want to influence events in any way” — which was taken at the time as an assurance that Russia wouldn’t meddle in the French campaign. The release of the Trend Micro report makes that assurance, already sketchy, seem downright suspect. [The Guardian / Shaun Walker and Kim Willsher]
  • In the wake of the report, the Macron campaign has banned both the Russian state-funded news agency Sputnik and RT TV from campaign events; a spokesperson for Macron called them a propaganda-spewing “two-headed entity.” [Reuters / Andrew Osborn, Richard Balmforth]
  • The Kremlin has denied the hacking allegations, and the editor-in-chief of RT tweeted of Macron’s actions, “So this is how gracelessly freedom of speech ends in a country which prides itself on its freedoms almost more than it prides itself on its Camembert and brie.” [Guardian / Reuters]
  • Here’s why this matters: This week, Macron dipped below 60 percent in voting intention polls for the first time since March 17. Le Pen saw a boost from 40 percent to 41 percent. [Independent / Andrew Callus​]
  • Which is to say that while Macron is still likely to beat Le Pen, the populist underdog’s best hope would be something drastic — something like, say, a massive and embarrassing leak of hacked information.

NAFTA lives another day

Secretary Of State Tillerson Meets With Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
  • Early Wednesday, it was leaked that the Trump administration was considering a draft of an order to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has been in effect since 1994. [New York Times / Mark Landler, Binyamin Appelbaum]
  • By Wednesday night, however, Trump had been persuaded to attempt to renegotiate the deal instead — thanks to calls from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (twice!) and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. [Reuters / Ayesha Rascoe, David Lawder]
  • The urgency was real. The Mexican peso plummeted overnight on the mere rumor that Trump might pull out of the agreement. [NPR / Morning Edition]
  • Trudeau apparently had to explain NAFTA’s importance to Trump. The Canadian Press reports, “The prime minister said he pointed out that a lot of jobs and industries were developed under NAFTA — if the deal were cancelled, it would create too much disruption.” [Huffington Post Canada / The Canadian Press]
  • Indeed, NPR reports that “NAFTA covers nearly 500 million consumers,” and yet “When NAFTA hit its 20th anniversary in 2014, a number of economists assessed its impact. Most concluded that NAFTA had a relatively small impact on the economy.” Trump’s rhetoric that NAFTA is the “worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere” seems to be, predictably, totally overblown. [NPR / Marilyn Geewax]
  • And analyses of NAFTA’s economic impact have been, for the most part, positive. A report from the Wharton School reads, “Supporters of NAFTA estimate that some 14 million jobs rely on trade with Canada and Mexico combined, and the nearly 200,000 export-related jobs created annually by NAFTA pay an average salary of 15% to 20% more than the jobs that were lost, according to a PIIE study. Furthermore, the study found that only about 15,000 jobs on net are lost each year due to NAFTA.” [University of Pennsylvania / Knowledge@Wharton]
  • A Wilson Center paper found that in the US, roughly 5 million jobs are dependent on trade with Mexico. “This means that one out of every 29 U.S. workers has a job supported by U.S.-Mexico trade,” writes the paper’s author, Christopher Wilson. [Wilson Center / Christopher Wilson]
  • Even the industries that often get pegged as losers in trade deals, like manufacturing, haven’t suffered due to NAFTA, despite decades of predictions and complaints that they have. [Vox / J. Bradford DeLong]
  • As with any deal, though, there are winners and losers. Mexico is still struggling to grow a middle class — and the maquiladoras (factories) that cluster near the US border to make goods for export certainly haven’t helped. [McClatchy / Tim Johnson]
  • In the US, meanwhile, one analysis estimated that high school dropouts in industries that benefited from pre-NAFTA tariffs (like textile manufacturing) saw their wages grow 17 percent less than they would have if NAFTA hadn’t been put in place. (Of course, it’s always hard to speculate about counterfactuals.) [UVA / John McLaren]
  • It’s on behalf of workers like those that Trump appears committed to renegotiating NAFTA. Today he said withdrawing “would be a pretty big shock to the system.” But he also said, “If I’m unable to make a fair deal … for the United States, meaning a fair deal for our workers and our companies, I will terminate NAFTA. But we’re going to give renegotiation a good strong show.” [Reuters / Ayesha Rascoe, David Lawder]
  • In Mexico, too, there’s pressure to reconsider NAFTA — in the hopes of improving what’s seen as a deal that’s too favorable to the United States. Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray actually threatened to withdraw from NAFTA on Tuesday, a day before Trump did (though no one noticed) — although Videgaray doesn’t seem committed to seeing that threat through, and stresses that his country won’t accept “just any” renegotiation. [Vox / Alexia Fernández Campbell​]

Miscellaneous

  • The Trump administration has set up a hotline where people can report “crimes committed by illegal aliens,” so naturally people are calling in and reporting on the evil things that space aliens like ET or Superman are doing in their neighborhoods. [BuzzFeed / Brianna Sacks]
  • Five sweatshops in Ethiopia with far more job applicants than job openings let researchers decide whom to hire at random. That let them see what the actual effects of landing a sweatshop job are — and they’re surprising. [NYT / Chris Blattman and Stefan Dercon]
  • Bill Nye has become the face of climate change to many Americans. Maybe that was a mistake? [New Republic / Emily Atkin]
  • The Pro-Life Committee bills itself as an anti-abortion PAC, and it raised more than $ 7 million in the 2016 cycle. Ninety-eight percent of that money went to two vendors. Those vendors don’t appear to have any other clients. In fact, the whole thing looks like a massive, massive scam exploiting grassroots donors. [American Spectator / Paul Jossey]
  • Against “prestige TV.” (This piece is too harsh on Fargo but still makes a good point.) [Esquire / Eric Thurm]

Verbatim

  • “For most of my life I dreaded going to JFK. Now I’ll remember it as where I came to finally feel American.” [Slate / Aymann Ismail]
  • “Where do you send a fax from? Please tell me Aretha moseyed down to the local Staples with her strongly worded missive, tossed her fur coat on the floor and told the cashier, ‘I’m here to send Dionne Warwick a message. You know what to do.’” [Elle / R. Eric Thomas]
  • “Mr. Ahmed likes to tell the cautionary tale of a pushcart vendor who made the best food — so good he once netted $ 3,000 in one day. That vendor worked alone, and worked himself so hard, Mr. Ahmed says, that he got sick. Now he can’t take care of anyone and has no one to take care of him.” [NYT / Tejal Rao]
  • “There was a record company that stole my albums and didn’t pay me. And they came to Switzerland, and I said, ‘Where’s my money?’ And they said, ‘we’re not going to give you any money.’ I said, ‘oh yes, you are.’ I got a gun ― it was a gun, it wasn’t a knife ― and I followed him to a restaurant and I tried to kill him. I missed him and I went back to America.” [Nina Simone to BBC / Tim Sebastian]
  • “The glaring mistake they all make, however, is thinking that there is any way to disentangle reproductive rights from economic issues.” [NYT / Bryce Covert]

Watch this: Firing Bill O’Reilly doesn’t fix Fox News

Sexual harassment allegations aren’t an anomaly at Fox News — they reflect a deeper problem inside Fox headquarters. [Vox / Carlos Maza, Coleman Lowndes]


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