British voters look like they’re rejecting Santa and embracing Scrooge. Why? | Jonathan Freedland

It’s bad news for the Labour party. Despite the popularity of its general election manifesto proposals, credibility matters more

By rights, Labour should be on course for a landslide win on 8 June. The manifestos of the two main parties are now out, and Labour promises lots of things that people really like, while the Conservatives are offering bitter medicine that will especially hurt those who turn out in big numbers: the old. Surely voters will pick the party of sweet over the party of sour.

Related: Labour's manifesto: analysis of the key points and pledges

May’s motive in channelling her inner Ebenezer is uncomplicated. She wants a mandate

Related: General election 2017: Tories called 'utter hypocrites' for wanting winter fuel payment cuts for England but not Scotland – as it happened

Continue reading...

Could Trump go the way of Nixon? The parallels with Watergate are uncanny | Jonathan Freedland

The latest revelations that Trump tried to shut down the FBI investigation into Michael Flynn could be the ‘smoking gun’ that spells the end for the president

First there were the uncomfortable similarities. Then there were some striking echoes. Now, with the revelation that Donald Trump asked the director of the FBI to shut down an investigation into his former national security adviser, the parallels with Watergate are becoming uncanny – and full of foreboding for the beleaguered president.

Plenty in Washington saw the connection immediately. No sooner had word emerged that in February Trump asked James Comey to shut down an inquiry into Michael Flynn, who had just resigned in disgrace for lying over his contacts with Russia, than former Republican presidential candidate John McCain declared that the Trump scandals were now of a “Watergate size and scale”.

Related: Firing Comey won't save Trump from the flames of the Russia scandal | Jill Abramson

Continue reading...

Donald Trump has no shame – and that makes him dangerous | Jonathan Freedland

For all the US constitution’s great virtues, it’s impotent against a man who respects no limits on his lust for power

Donald Trump is giving America and the world a lesson in the value of shame – and the power of shamelessness. Through his actions, most vividly his firing on Tuesday of the FBI director James Comey and his comments about it since, Trump has taught us that shame performs a vital democratic function – and how dangerous is the man who feels none of it.

First, though, take a step back. For years, reformers in this country and many others believed a written constitution was the true guarantor of democracy. Only such a document could properly entrench the rights of citizens and impose restraints on their masters. An unwritten constitution, like Britain’s, was no constitution at all, just a murky accumulation of custom and convention that surely had no force because it existed only in the ether: it wasn’t worth the paper it wasn’t written on.

Related: Donald Trump admits 'this Russia thing' part of reasoning for firing Comey

Continue reading...

James Comey firing: FBI director’s dismissal rocks Washington – live

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has rejected calls for a special prosecutor to investigate ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. “Today we’ll no doubt hear calls for a new investigation, which could only serve to impede the current work being done,” McConnell said on the senate floor.

Republican senator Rand Paul is also with the “meh” crowd:

Hypocrisy and fake outrage? Dems had been calling for months for the firing of Comey!

Another Republican congressman with “concerns”...

Like many Americans, I have serious concerns and unanswered questions about the timing of Director Comey's dismissal.

Republican senator Ted Cruz reacts... sort of:

Asked about Comey firing, Sen Ted Cruz R-TX tells reporters he will put out a written statement

Republican elected officials continue to express misgivings about the Comey firing. Here’s Arizona senator Jeff Flake, a longtime Trump critic:

I've spent the last several hours trying to find an acceptable rationale for the timing of Comey's firing. I just can't do it.

Another Republican, Rep. Barbara Comstock of Virginia, calls for an independent investigation into Russia/2016. pic.twitter.com/zzZ2GXPq6Z

Here’s video of Schumer speaking on the floor:

Schumer: "The dismissal of Director Comey establishes a very troubling pattern." —via @MSNBC pic.twitter.com/khLMrB3QB9

The real question we face today is whether Director Comey was fired because of the Clinton email investigation—which could have happened in January—or whether he was fired because of the FBI’s investigation of Trump connections to Russia.

If Director Comey was fired to stifle the FBI’s Russia investigation—and the timing of this action makes that a real possibility—that simply can’t be allowed to happen.

No matter the mistakes that Director Comey has made, the timing of his firing clearly suggests that President Trump is trying to influence or upend the FBI’s investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with a foreign government. It simply defies logic that President Trump, who made the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails a centerpiece of his campaign, would all of the sudden convert to the view that Clinton was treated unfairly.

Two things must happen now. First, clearly the time is now for an independent prosecutor. The president’s continued refusal to support the appointment of a prosecutor would confirm America’s worst fears about the motivation for Comey’s firing. Second, the Senate must rise to this constitutional challenge and insist that Director Comey be replaced by a person of unquestioned independence and integrity, not a partisan hack. The Senate, designed by the Founding Fathers as the guardian of democratic norms, must now rise to meet the gravity of this moment.

When Trump met Comey:

Pres. Trump greets FBI Director James Comey during First Responders ceremony at the White House: "He's become more famous than me." pic.twitter.com/9Rdgyqi1iM

"More famous than me." Is it possibly as simple as that? https://t.co/3GafnPgi0f

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer is on the senate floor speaking about Comey’s firing. He asks why attorney general Jeff Sessions, after recusing himself from the Russian inquiry, could weigh in on the firing of the FBI director running that inquiry.

“Are reports that the president was searching to fire the FBI director for weeks true?” Schumer wonders.

Was this really about something else? No doubt we’ll have the opportunity to question Mr Comey, now a private citizen... but we need to hear from this administration.

Donald Trump’s decision to fire the FBI director, James Comey, who was investigating links between the president’s associates and the Russian government, has taken US democracy into dark and dangerous new territory. That was the assessment of Democratic leaders, legal observers and security experts last night, with some drawing direct comparisons to Watergate and tinpot dictatorships.

FBI directors are given 10-year terms in office, precisely to insulate them from politics. It is very rare to fire them. The last time it happened was 24 years ago, when Bill Clinton sacked William Sessions, who had clung to office despite a damning internal ethics report detailing abuse of office, including the use of an FBI plane for family trips.

Eric Columbus, a former Obama justice department employee, shares information about deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, whose recommendation the White House says it took in firing Comey.

Columbus points out that in the letter circulated by the White House, Rosenstein does not actually recommend firing Comey. Here’s Columbus’ thread, culminating with musing on whether Rosenstein will appoint a special prosecutor, with a link to Rosenstein’s letter at bottom:

THREAD: The key player here is Deputy Attorney General (DAG) Rosenstein. I spent 5 yrs in the DAG’s office under Obama. Please indulge me.

Rosenstein is a rare breed – a Bush political appointee who Obama kept on for eight years, as U.S. Attorney for Maryland. (2/22)

Rosenstein was particularly beloved by then-Senator Barbara Mikulski, at whose recommendation Obama kept him. (3/22)

Related: 'You are terminated.' The three letters that ended James Comey's career

Guardian world affairs editor Julian Borger was in the room for the Lavrov moment. Julian notes that the Lavrov-Tillerson meeting is to be followed by one between Lavrov and Trump in about an hour.

You had to be there to get the full measure of sarcasm and disdain in these comments https://t.co/etCKpa90E2

Today’s presidential briefing will be conducted not by Sean Spicer, the press secretary, but by one of his subordinates, Sarah Sanders, the White House has announced.

No word on why. The Washington Post captured a strange scene outside the White House last night in which Spicer hid in the bushes and refused to go on camera:

No one writes scenes like @wpjenna, but this is insane. https://t.co/lGFViQJXAr pic.twitter.com/cUIREoN6WG

Contra Politico’s earlier report that Roger Stone – the political operative whose name has come up a lot on the Russia inquiry – recommended to Trump that he fire Comey, here’s the president:

The Roger Stone report on @CNN is false - Fake News. Have not spoken to Roger in a long time - had nothing to do with my decision.

This is going to be even more of a "the president live-tweets cable news" day than usual, isn't it? https://t.co/yng6Z77YDo

I am not the source of Politico/ CNN stories claiming I urged @realDonaldTrump 2 fire Comey. Never made such claim. I support decision 100%

If Lavrov did not know about Comey (he was being sarcastic), it’s not because the news failed to reach the Russian media space. The Guardian’s Alec Luhn translates reaction on Twitter from Russian legislator Alexei Pushkov:

The FBI director was surprised by the decision to fire him. He was so busy monitoring the ‘Russian threat’ that he didn’t see the threat of his own dismissal.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting today with secretary of state Rex Tillerson.

When the men appeared briefly before cameras, a reporter asked whether Comey’s firing would overshadow their meeting.

Here’s video of Lavrov-Tillerson—>

Q: “Does Comey cast a shadow over your talks?”

Lavrov: “Was he fired? You are kidding, you are kidding" pic.twitter.com/8yJb2DkZnd

Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland sees the Comey firing as a wake-up call for those who had grown sort of used to Trump’s abnormal presidency:

Over the 110 days since, normalisation has indeed looked possible. Partly through simple fatigue, Trump actions that should bring outrage – the egregious conflicts of interest, the naked use of public office to advance private business interests, the coddling of dictators – often produce instead a weary shrug. It’s hard to maintain a permanent state of fury, and so Americans and those watching from around the world have risked becoming inured to what is, in fact, a deeply abnormal presidency.

And then something comes along that is so big and so shocking, it snaps you out of your slumber. The sacking of FBI director James Comey is, for the moment at least, one of those events.

Related: If you’d got complacent about Trump, let Comey’s sacking shake you out of it | Jonathan Freedland

We’d meant to include this clip in the previous post. It appears to illustrate the Democratic animus for Comey. A Stephen Colbert audience at first cheers upon hearing news of the firing:

Tonight! Stephen reacts to the day's big surprise: the firing of James Comey by President Trump. #LSSC pic.twitter.com/axuUmFLtSd

Why were Democrats mad at Comey?

Because 11 days before the presidential election he sent a letter to Congress announcing that the FBI was pursuing a new lead in its investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails. Some smart elections observers say the move “probably cost Clinton the election”:

1. So I have a looooong article up on the Comey letter's impact, and how the media covered it. https://t.co/6M6EdUgTRF

I am pretty sure that the Comey effect was exaggerated, maybe greatly, by pre-Comey polls released after the letter https://t.co/bBKq7SaCyx pic.twitter.com/mR8PUUdZlC

NPR's @NPRinskeep: Do you think Comey is the reason you're not VP?

Tim Kaine: "No, I don't."

Team Trump is out on the airwaves this morning swatting away.

Presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway says it’s inappropriate to question the timing of Comey’s firing.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: "You want to question the timing of when [Trump] fires, when he hires. It’s inappropriate. He’ll do it when he wants to."

Kellyanne getting her chance to prevaricate herself right back into the inner sanctum.

That'd be CCN, dumb ass pic.twitter.com/WX79zH5mjx

"This is not Watergate," GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham says on Morning Joe. Notes Democrats called for Comey to be fired. https://t.co/zqfRLjnAMJ

Watching Senator Richard Blumenthal speak of Comey is a joke. "Richie" devised one of the greatest military frauds in U.S. history. For....

He’s watching TV right now. https://t.co/BYAhShbKTv

Trump's either watching MoJoe or CNN... https://t.co/WUVKcAJe5f

The president is watching cable news and yelling at the TV on Twitter in real time. https://t.co/GAPJiXowJK

Where will conservatives and elected Republicans settle in reaction to the Comey firing?

Will they see a threat to the rule of law, condemn Trump, promote a special prosecution of the Russia inquiry and bring their leverage to bear in Congress, where the president has tenuous health care and tax reform initiatives afloat?

House Speaker Paul Ryan's office issued 3 press releases yesterday: 2 on health care, 1 on South Korea. 0 on Comey. https://t.co/TCNVyJoty6

Grassley, Cornyn, Collins. All aboard the Trump train. pic.twitter.com/G2wx2MS44h

This morning, it seems that 2/3 of what used to be called the conservative moment is jumping aboard as well. https://t.co/C3fYOyXGYo

Rudy?

.@RosieGray Just now: a source close to the president tells me Giuliani is 100% in consideration for the position.

Giuliani tells @rosiegray he's not a candidate for FBI Director https://t.co/t6yxrF7bZ9

Here’s a roundup of Trump tweets about the Comey affair sent last night and this morning:

Cryin' Chuck Schumer stated recently, "I do not have confidence in him (James Comey) any longer." Then acts so indignant. #draintheswamp

The Democrats have said some of the worst things about James Comey, including the fact that he should be fired, but now they play so sad!

James Comey will be replaced by someone who will do a far better job, bringing back the spirit and prestige of the FBI.

Related: James Comey: Democrat by birth, Republican by trade, thorn in the side of both

In testimony before Congress on 20 March, former FBI director James Comey confirmed in public for the first time that the bureau was investigating Russian ties to the Trump campaign.

One name that came up repeatedly at the hearing: Roger Stone, the Trump associate and political operative who had seemed to predict trouble for Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta in advance of Wikileaks’ release of Podesta’s emails.

While shock dominated much of the FBI and the White House, the mood was more elated at Roger Stone’s house in Florida. Several Stone allies and friends said Stone, who has been frequently mentioned in the investigation, encouraged the president to fire Comey in conversations in recent weeks.

On Twitter, Stone signaled praise for the move by posting an image of Trump from The Apprentice saying “You’re fired.”

Discussing the FBI Director's termination w Roger Stone is so blatantly improper I can't wrap my head around it. https://t.co/9iT1hHICzc pic.twitter.com/zfChSpkgPA

Hello and welcome to our live coverage of fallout from president Donald Trump’s firing on Tuesday of FBI director James Comey.

The White House has said, in a series of official letters, that Comey was fired for mishandling an investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails. But that explanation is the object of intense skepticism this morning, with critics claiming that Trump has attacked the independence of the justice department and the rule of law, either out of personal anger or impulsiveness, or out of a desire to protect himself or his associates from the law.

President Trump has been screaming at the television @jdawsey1 reports https://t.co/GsLrFyCs8G pic.twitter.com/Ez5mBz7kZp

The Rosenstein memo is dated...today. So there was no real recommendation from DOJ. Trump wanted to do it, and they created a paper trail.

Gov. John Kasich statement on James Comey pic.twitter.com/Wrwj6sGqnz

I am troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey’s termination.

While the President has the legal authority to remove the Director of the FBI, I am disappointed in the President’s decision to remove James Comey from office. James Comey is a man of honor and integrity, and he has led the FBI well in extraordinary circumstances. I have long called for a special congressional committee to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The president’s decision to remove the FBI Director only confirms the need and the urgency of such a committee.

Marco Rubio "surprised" by Comey's firing, "but it's a decision the president's made and we'll go from here." https://t.co/PGVFL9o6DK pic.twitter.com/HWVS4DWLsR

my statement on Comey firing pic.twitter.com/Mc4o4pnQav

Just now: Giuliani here at the Trump hotel, says he thinks Trump was correct to fire Comey. pic.twitter.com/a8PiCSbQG4

The Democrats have said some of the worst things about James Comey, including the fact that he should be fired, but now they play so sad!

Continue reading...

If you’d got complacent about Trump, let Comey’s sacking shake you out of it | Jonathan Freedland

For a president to sack an FBI director who is investigating their links to a hostile foreign power is abnormal to the point of absurdity

Immediately after Donald Trump’s inauguration as president in January, the word of the hour was “normalisation”. That, Trump’s opponents agreed, was the danger to be resisted: the prospect that people would soon grow used to the Trump presidency – that, despite everything, it would somehow come to seem normal.

Over the 110 days since, normalisation has indeed looked possible. Partly through simple fatigue, Trump actions that should bring outrage – the egregious conflicts of interest, the naked use of public office to advance private business interests, the coddling of dictators – often produce instead a weary shrug. It’s hard to maintain a permanent state of fury, and so Americans and those watching from around the world have risked becoming inured to what is, in fact, a deeply abnormal presidency.

Obstruction of justice was article 1 of the rap sheet against Richard Nixon

Related: Trump fires FBI director Comey: key questions answered

Continue reading...

No more excuses: Jeremy Corbyn is to blame for this meltdown | Jonathan Freedland

Labour should be winning, but even its supporters say they can’t vote for a party with Corbyn as leader

What more evidence do they need? What more proof do the Labour leadership and its supporters require? This was not an opinion poll. This was not a judgment delivered by the hated mainstream media. This was the verdict of the electorate, expressed through the ballot box, and it could scarcely have been clearer – or more damning.

Related: Last night was a Tory landslide – 8 June could be even worse for Labour | Lewis Baston

Why are Corbyn and McDonnell so stubborn? It can’t be a tenacious commitment to socialism

Continue reading...

May’s posturing won’t help in ‘bloody difficult’ Brexit negotiations | Jonathan Freedland

Theresa May taking on Thatcher’s hardline mantle could bring her domestic election success. But it will also unite the EU bloc in a desire to punish the UK

What could be more exquisitely Thatcheresque than Theresa May’s promise to be “a bloody difficult woman” during upcoming Brexit negotiations? The phrase is a downmarket version of the iron lady soubriquet so gleefully embraced by Britain’s first female prime minister. They both tap into an archetype with deep roots in the national mythology: the warrior queen who defiantly defends these islands from hostile foreigners – Boudicca, Elizabeth I, Victoria, Britannia herself.

But it also relies on the same political jujitsu performed by Thatcher. For “iron lady” was, like “bloody difficult woman”, a compliment that began as an insult. It was coined by a Russian military journalist writing for the Red Star newspaper in 1979 and was not meant kindly. But Thatcher seized on it and wore it with pride. Similarly, it was arch-Europhile Ken Clarke who was overheard last year calling his former cabinet colleague “a bloody difficult woman” and May wasted no time in repeating those words as praise.

Related: Brexit talks will not be quick or painless, says EU's chief negotiator

Related: I fear Theresa May is negotiating us all towards Brexit disaster | Keir Starmer

Continue reading...

Goodbye, Dr Gorka: will the White House’s wacky rightwing headcount fall further?

The US national security adviser has been pushed out after revelations linking him to the far right. But he’s not the first to be ousted – and he’s unlikely to be the last

The imminent departure from the White House of Sebastian Gorka, the London-born Hungarian nationalist and Fox News “counter-terrorism expert” who surfaced as a presidential adviser, reduces by one the headcount of the wacky right-wing camp of the Trump administration.

It’s a loss that faction can ill afford, given a string of reverses. For this is the group headed by Steve Bannon, the ultra-nationalist chief strategist to the president, who is locked in a power struggle with the Manhattan group, whose most visible figures are Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, reinforced by chief economic adviser and former New York investment banker Gary Cohn.

Related: Sebastian Gorka to leave White House amid accusations of links to far-right

Continue reading...