Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Sticks and Stones

The leader of the free world on the Manchester bomber:

Trump has called those behind the Manchester suicide bombing and other similar attacks “evil losers in life”.

“I won’t call them monsters because they would like that term. I will call them losers,” he said in a speech during a visit to the Middle East.

And then he challenged them a race to the top of the monkey-bars.

Well, at least he didn’t call them “poopyheads.”  That would have been silly.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Monday, May 22, 2017

Follow The Money

The news that the criminal investigation into Trump is looking at a “person of interest” in the current White House administration points to more than just Russian meddling in the election via trolls on Facebook.  It has to do with where Trump got all his capital to finance his businesses over the last 25 years.  It wasn’t from the local bank.

It also explains his fondness for Russia.

Major Upset

From Augie Ray via Facebook:

People think that those of on the left are upset about Trump. They’re right, but not completely. Trump is a symptom, not the disease.

We’re upset that some people lose their shit about a quarterback taking a knee during the anthem but have nothing say when a crowd of torch-bearing white supremacists chants “Russia is our friend.”

We’re upset that while the President of the United States gets caught in one lie after another, some possibly pointing to impeachable offenses in just the first 120 days of his administration, some of you are more concerned about the leaks that permit us to learn about the potentially criminal and dangerous activity.

We’re upset because no one owns the idea of wanting to make American great, and it certainly won’t be done by giving tax breaks for the rich and paying for it with the health care used by the sick, poor and elderly.

We’re upset because truth matters and too many Americans feel it is acceptable to chase insane conspiracy theories spouted by the likes of Alex Jones and Infowars while choosing to ignore and deride the hard work of news organizations following ethical processes to source and verify the news they publish.

We’re upset that some people are so committed to free speech they are moved to complain when a handful of conservative speaking events on college campuses are shut down, preventing hundreds from hearing the same people they watch every night on TV and YouTube, but not when systemic gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts prevent tens or hundreds of thousands from having their voice heard at the election box.

We’re upset that 12,000 people are murdered in gun violence each year, yet most of those are greeted with indifference until the rare instance when an undocumented immigrant commits a crime, and then it becomes a reason to smear large groups of people.

We’re upset that some claim to love the Constitution but constantly complain about the equal protections it provides to people they don’t like.

We’re upset that our planet’s climate is changing but some would prefer to fight for yesterday’s fuel sources rather than support tomorrow’s, even if it risks their children’s and grandchildren’s futures.

We’re upset that a significant portion of our nation agrees with the wealthy, white man born of privilege when he whines about being mistreated but is silent when unarmed people of color are shot and killed by police.

We’re not upset about Trump. We’re upset so many people were willing to elect him and even now support him as his administration hurts the poor and needy, diminishes public education, attempts to reinstate unfair and racist sentencing policies, shreds protection of our air, water and planet, embarrasses the US with allies, and tries to evade the basic rules of transparency and ethics that are key to our Democracy.

If you think we’re upset now, wait until he actually manages to pass something through Congress.  So far the only thing holding us back has been his colossal ineptitude and inability to do anything more than just talk and trip over his own corruption.

HT to CLW.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunday Reading

Ford Had a Better Idea — Matthew Rozsa in Salon on the differences between Gerald Ford and Mike Pence.

As Democrats focus more and more on the possibility that President Donald Trump has committed impeachable offenses, many are also asking whether they should place the spotlight on Vice President Mike Pence. After all, Pence has so far joined the rest of the Trump administration in defending the president despite the numerous scandals that swirl around him and continue to get worse. Wouldn’t that undermine his credibility if Trump was forced to resign in disgrace and Pence became the 46th president of the United States?

I am reminded of an anecdote by the only other vice president to find himself in this position, Gerald Ford.

Like Pence, Ford was heavily criticized for his public defenses of President Richard Nixon at a time when the walls of the Watergate scandal were starting to close in. Yet when Ford slipped up and told a reporter that he believed Nixon would have to resign but he didn’t want anyone thinking he (Ford) had contributed to that resignation, he immediately panicked and realized that he had to keep a lid on his moment of unintentional candor.

This is as good a place as any to examine the similarities and differences between Ford and Pence. Both men are Midwesterners (Ford from Michigan, Pence from Indiana) with extensive political experience and a reputation for being cool-headed and affable. Each one is definitely “establishment” in terms of their standing within the institutional Republican Party itself, and both have avoided developing too many deep personal enmities despite their extensive political careers.

On the other hand, Ford was an ideological moderate (arguably the last GOP president deserving of the term), while Pence was the most right-wing vice presidential nominee in 40 years when Trump picked him. Ford had a squeaky clean reputation, while Pence has a major corruption scandal in his own past and owes his very selection as Trump’s vice president to the intervention of former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who has since been disgraced (Ford didn’t even become Nixon’s vice president until Nixon’s initial vice president, Spiro Agnew, resigned).

All of this means that, while Ford was well-poised to heal the nation upon inheriting power in 1974 (and his approval ratings were quite high until his controversial decision to pardon Nixon), Pence would likely face more of an uphill battle.

While I have no idea whether Pence, like Ford, believes that his boss is doomed, I suspect that he shares Ford’s trepidation about being perceived as adding fuel to the fire of the president’s scandals. The reason is obvious: He’d be the major beneficiary if Trump left the Oval Office.

Is Pence in the right for doing this? Maybe.

While it’s valuable to not be viewed as a Machiavellian schemer, Pence risks swinging too far in the other direction and being perceived as part of the same set of problems that are being created by Trump and Trumpism. If Trump needs to resign, Americans will have to turn to Pence to restore faith in the American government. That will not be possible if Pence is viewed as an extension of the corruption that took down Trump, rather than an antidote to it.

When it comes to avoiding that outcome, Pence may be running out of time. Although he has not been personally implicated in any of Trump’s scandals, a point is being reached in which continuing to lie on behalf of this president will seem not only willfully obtuse, but downright complicit. One of the reasons Ford was such a great president (an opinion that many historians do not share) is that he was able to set a good example with his personal character. Trump, by contrast, is a president whose personal character is appalling, regardless of whether one believes he engaged in criminal activity — you don’t have to think he committed sexual assault to be disgusted by his willingness to brag about it, or to think he means what he tweets to think his incessant online sniping is beneath the dignity of his office.

The president is supposed to do more than craft policy. He or she is also supposed to be a role model, someone that we can say embodies the basic decency that we expect from every American citizen. Ford had that quality, even when he was trying to publicly avoid believing the worst about Nixon.

If Pence has that same characteristic, he needs to start showing it — and soon.

How Roger Ailes Degraded America — Stephen Metcalf in The New Yorker.

What surprised me most about Gabriel Sherman’s excellent 2014 biography of Roger Ailes—who died on Thursday, at seventy-seven—was how much of Ailes’s upbringing was a gift of America’s postwar social contract. He was born in 1940 and raised in Warren, Ohio, a town with a beautiful post office, adorned with W.P.A. murals, that was built by the New Deal. His father was a union worker in the nearby Packard Electric plant, and retired with a pension. Ailes idealized growing up in Warren; he thought of it as the real America, which had been degraded by the eggheads and the snobs. When he created his own production company, in 1990, it was named after his childhood street.

He was a hemophiliac, and as a boy often stayed home from school. He grew up a loner, absorbing hours of daytime programming and, in the evenings, sometimes, beatings from his father. The portrait Sherman draws of Ailes’s father is of a man who felt thwarted by the very things that made and sustained him: marriage, a labor union, suburbia. Unable to see the glory in any of it, he took to abusing those around him who couldn’t defend themselves. (A court later found him guilty of “extreme cruelty” to his wife.) Once, when Roger was small, his father told him to jump off a top bunk into his arms; his father let him crash to the floor and said, “Don’t ever trust anybody.” (As Jill Lepore notes in her review of the Sherman biography for this magazine, a man who worked with Ailes in the nineteen-seventies called this Ailes’s “Rosebud story.”)

Having been a student of both his father’s mood swings and televisual technique, Ailes, unsurprisingly, became, in Sherman’s words, a “big fan” of Leni Riefenstahl. At virtually every point that television played a role in degrading American life, Ailes was there: the repackaging of Nixon, the destruction of Michael Dukakis, the hyping of the Lewinsky scandal and the Iraq War, and on and on. He was less a right-winger or believer in family values than a hustler and an opportunist, and, from the evidence Sherman assembles, a badly damaged human being. But he was a consummate talent. You’d have to be to turn Nixon into a likable man, or Dukakis, with his easygoing manner and charming immigrant backstory, into a race traitor and backstabbing Fifth Columnist.

The outsized profits that Ailes created for Fox came from doing something he instinctively understood: simultaneously alarming and comforting people who were home alone watching television. To justify himself to himself, he had to believe that “real” journalism, with its supposed canons of “objectivity,” was dishonest, self-serving, slanted. All he was doing was issuing corrective after corrective to a world vilely corrupted by liberalism. But this was less partisan politics than the strategic use of misanthropy to hide from one’s own self-hatred—or at least that is the overwhelming impression given by Sherman’s book.

Prior to cable, television news had been regulated by the standards of William Paley, the founder of CBS, and by the fact-finding probity of his first breakout star, Edward R. Murrow. It was this legacy that Ailes set out to destroy. Television produces simultaneity but at a great distance; intimacy but—at low levels and at all times—feelings of alienation. The genius of Paley, as expressed by Murrow to Walter Cronkite, was putting forth figures that soothed the alienated response, allayed and minimized it, in favor of an elevated idea of both the country and the medium. The genius of Roger Ailes is that he intensified and played upon that alienation, and then, as it shaded into paranoia, channelled it against his enemies, or anyone who dared tell him that his childhood was a lie.

But perhaps it was. Throughout his childhood, Ailes was told that his paternal grandfather had been killed in combat in the First World War. In fact, as he discovered only later in life, his father’s father was living a few towns over during Ailes’s childhood and was a “a respected public health official with a Harvard degree.” Ailes’s father was the son of a proper Wilsonian, an accomplished and credentialed public servant.

There was a time in my life when, every so often, I would watch Fox News for hours at a time. My wife and I used to fly through Atlanta and into the rural airport in Dothan, Alabama, to visit her grandparents. If her grandparents were religious, they kept it quiet. There was no Jesus in that house, no Bible, no devotional materials of any kind, no crucifixes or homiletic asides, nothing. The absence was explained once, cursorily, by the story of how Grandaddy, at the age of ten, had been forced to go to church wearing shorts. He hated wearing shorts, and never went to church again. He had been a cook in the Navy, and was the kind of quiet man who refused his shore leave. When he retired, he promised himself he would never cook again, and never leave his cattle farm.

He would wake up early and work outside before the heat descended, then recline on his sofa and watch soap operas. He gardened, he whittled, he pastured cows, and he almost never spoke. After the soap operas, he would turn on Fox News. Every year, the television got a little louder. It was on these annual visits that I came to understand that Fox News, for all its outrageous excesses, is a low-level inflammation-delivery system, the real effects of which are felt only over time.

The day my wife was born, her grandfather bought a cow in her name, and used the money from selling its calves to put her through college. He once said, with a conviction so total I have never forgotten it, that he didn’t mind the Wall Street bankers and their bonuses because “they don’t have anything I want.” Deep into his eighties, his convictions seemed to shift in both direction and ferocity. He believed that the subprime crisis involved only public housing, the malfeasance of the government, and unqualified minority borrowers. Only in retrospect did I align a growing coldness in his manner toward us with the milestones of Ailes’s later career: the launching of Fox News, in 1996; its deepening paranoia during the Obama years. I saw up close how Roger Ailes implanted beliefs in people that were beneath their good character.

I would distill Ailes’s genius down to the following formula: There is a person at a great distance from you who, simply by existing, insults your existence; therefore, that person does not have a right to exist. Ailes did more to degrade the tone of public life in America than anyone since Joseph McCarthy, and, even the day after his death, it is a struggle to write about him without borrowing from that tone.

The Rituals of Spring — Leonard Pitts, Jr. in the Miami Herald.

I’ve been meaning to write this column for years.

The inspiration will invariably come some warm May evening as I am standing in the lobby of a downtown hotel and, suddenly, a limousine sweeps up and disgorges these boys in crisp tuxes, these girls in sparkly dresses, T-shirts and hoodies abandoned for the night, looking handsome and gorgeous and startlingly adult as they seek the ballroom where the prom is being held.

Or the inspiration will arrive on a June afternoon as I am passing a chapel where some poor photographer is wrangling children, flower girls and ring bearers much more interested in frolicking on the grass than in posing for posterity, as groomsmen and bridesmaids arrange themselves just so while the newly minted Mr. and Mrs. beam, having just vowed to face together whatever comes.

Or, the inspiration will show up as it did a few days ago when I served as commencement speaker for Willamette University. The stately strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” rang in the damp Oregon air, then bagpipers played and cheers rose as a procession of black-robed young people made their way forward to meet a moment many years and tears in the making. And I heard a familiar whisper.

It said, You really ought to write a piece celebrating the rituals of spring.

I’ve toyed with the idea many times. But invariably, the notion of some such languid meditation is burned away in the fire of more urgent news.

It almost happened again this year. Lord knows there is no shortage of urgent news. Did you hear about the president blabbing classified intel to the Russians? Did you see where he apparently asked the FBI director to back off an investigation? Did you know about the appointment of a special prosecutor?

The guy who promised to “drain the swamp” is snorkeling in it. The president — and, thus, the country — lurch from crisis to crisis like a drunk on the deck of a ship in high seas, and there is a queasy sense of America unraveling.

What are a prom, a wedding, a graduation against all that? These are not special things. These things happen all the time.

But that, of course, is precisely what makes them special. These things happen all the time.

Or, more to the point, they have happened, always. In the years when men went to war wearing pie pan helmets, during the gin and jazz of the ’20s, the brother, can you spare a dime of the ’30s, in the blood and sacrifice of the ’40s and the rock, riot and political murder of the ’60s, through gas lines, Max Headroom, and the meaning of is, through upheaval, change, and all the unravelings that have come before, certain things have always happened.

Fumbling fingers have always pinned corsages to girl’s dresses. Nervous couples have always pledged themselves one to the other. “Pomp and Circumstance” has always heralded the graduates.

I think that’s why, when you witness spring’s rituals, you almost always smile. Who can help smiling as some girl goes tottering on skyscraper heels into her prom or some graduate pumps his fist as he crosses the stage?

You smile, remembering. You smile because these are signs of continuity. You smile because they are acts of faith.

Yes, the president lurches. Yes, one feels an unraveling.

But the bride stands beneath the garland clutching her bouquet, as brides always have, the students move the tassel from right to left as students ever will. There is renewal in these rituals of spring. They allow you to remember that even now, some things are still good.

And to believe they always will be.

 Doonesbury — Niche market.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Moscow On The Potomac

Time magazine’s current cover.

Reuters:

Michael Flynn and other advisers to Donald Trump’s campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race, current and former U.S. officials familiar with the exchanges told Reuters.

The previously undisclosed interactions form part of the record now being reviewed by FBI and congressional investigators probing Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia.

Six of the previously undisclosed contacts described to Reuters were phone calls between Sergei Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, and Trump advisers, including Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, three current and former officials said.

Conversations between Flynn and Kislyak accelerated after the Nov. 8 vote as the two discussed establishing a back channel for communication between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that could bypass the U.S. national security bureaucracy, which both sides considered hostile to improved relations, four current U.S. officials said.

Here’s what I don’t understand, and I’m hoping someone can explain it to me: what’s the attraction for Trump and his minions with Russia?  It’s a huge country with a lot of natural resources like oil and gas and raw materials, but it is still functioning like it’s the 1930’s and still under Stalin.  It makes nothing we want to import: would you buy a Russian car or cell phone or TV?  Do they even make them beyond what they cranked out under Communism?  Unlike China, Russia has not embraced the benefits of capitalism — a booming middle class — without abandoning the strict controls of dictatorship — who needs freedom of the press when you can drive a Maserati into Tienanmen Square?

The only thing Russia has going for it is that it’s ruled by a man who doesn’t take shit from anybody and can pretty much do what he wants and still be considered “duly elected.”  Vladimir Putin is everything Trump is not but would like to be: strong, confident, ruthless with his opponents, able to keep a story straight, and doesn’t care what anyone outside his country thinks of him.  He’s disciplined — when was the last time Putin tweeted his innermost thoughts at 4 a.m.? — and even when he bullshits he at least makes it sound plausible.  He’s even unashamed to show his bald head in public.

But other than the fact that Trump clearly has a teenage-boy style crush on the big badass jock, I don’t get it.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

This Is Special

Some reactions to the appointment of Robert Mueller as the special counsel.

Charles P. Pierce:

This administration is the worst thing to happen to D.C. cocktail hours since Prohibition. The end of business is no longer the end of business. It’s like being a volunteer fireman in hell. The best news is that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein took a good look at the dents in his reputation and appointed Robert Mueller, a former director of the FBI, to be a special counsel to oversee the DOJ in its investigation not only Russian meddling in the 2016 election, but also into “related matters.” Which means, well, everything.

If you want to know more about Mueller, then consult Dr. Google on the subject of “Stellar Wind.” That was the Bush Administration’s extra-constitutional surveillance follies. Mueller (along with James Comey, the Zelig of federal law enforcement) threatened to resign if the administration and its lawyers didn’t find a way to make Stellar Wind conform to constitutional norms. It’s important to remember that Mueller, at the time, was trying to find a way to rehabilitate the Bureau’s image after the intelligence community failed altogether on 9/11, but even Mueller found what the Bush NSA was doing was a long step over the line.

In short, if you were looking for someone with Washington street cred and a history of not being intimidated by people like presidents, even semi-competent ones, Mueller is as good as it gets. The administration’s toes just lost contact with the bottom of the pool.

Josh Marshall:

This is important and necessary but not sufficient.

There also needs to be an independent commission to investigate what happened in the 2016 election. These two options – special counsel or independent commission – are often bandied about as two separate options, one or the other, or as steps of escalation in a scandal. None of those things is true.

It is critical to understand that the most important details we need to know about the Russian disruption campaign and the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with it may not be crimes. Indeed, I would say that the crimes we’re likely to discover will likely be incidental or secondary to the broader actions and activities we’re trying to uncover. Just hypothetically, what if Russia had a disruption campaign, Trump campaign officials gave winks and nods to nudge it forward but violated no laws? That’s hard to figure but by no means impossible. (Our criminal laws are not really designed for this set of facts.) The simple point is that the most important ‘bad acts’ may well not be crimes. That means not only is no one punished but far, far more important, we would never know what happened.

People who committed crimes should be punished. Unquestionably. But the truest and deepest national interest is that the whole story be thoroughly investigated and the full story get a public airing. That is far more important to the health of the Republic and its safety than whether particular individuals spend time in prison. Again, it’s not either/or. But one is far more important than the other. A counter-intelligence probe or even a criminal investigation could wind up and the details and findings never be known. That can’t be allowed to happen. We need a fully empowered commission charged not with investigating and prosecuting criminal conduct but ascertaining, as far as possible, what happened and then bringing that information before the public.

That’s critical. This is an important step. Great that it happened. But the country can’t get past this without that full accounting.

digby:

He’s a good choice if only because he was FBI chief for a dozen years without a whole lot of drama. Presumably he’s well respected by the rank and file and both parties will be satisfied. If nothing else, the Republicans won’t be able to whine too much about it.

The best aspect of this is if Trump picks Joe Lieberman for FBI chief, as is rumored. Having a Mueller as special counsel will spare us having to put up with him using the Russia investigation to punish liberals for beating him in a primary.

Yes, he is that petty.

History has shown that when a special counsel is appointed, the investigation becomes real.  Money is going to be spent, staff is going to be hired, and there will be results.  It also means that no one knows where it will go.  The special counsel hired to look into Whitewater ended up with Monica Lewinsky, and an investigation into the money paid to the perpetrators of a third-rate burglary led to the resignation of a president.

So here we go.

No Kidding: “Putin Pays Trump”

Via the Washington Post, we get to eavesdrop on what the GOP leadership really thought about the relationship between Trump and Putin almost a year ago.

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.

Before the conversation, McCarthy and Ryan had emerged from separate talks at the Capitol with Ukrainian Prime Minister Vladi­mir Groysman, who had described a Kremlin tactic of financing populist politicians to undercut Eastern European democratic institutions.

News had just broken the day before in The Washington Post that Russian government hackers had penetrated the computer network of the Democratic National Committee, prompting McCarthy to shift the conversation from Russian meddling in Europe to events closer to home.

Some of the lawmakers laughed at McCarthy’s comment. Then McCarthy quickly added: “Swear to God.”

Ryan instructed his Republican lieutenants to keep the conversation private, saying: “No leaks. . . . This is how we know we’re a real family here.”

When the Post asked Speaker Ryan’s office for a comment on the story, at first they denied it.  Then they were shown a transcript, which they said was made up.  Then the audio recording of the conversation was played.

When initially asked to comment on the exchange, Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Ryan, said: “That never happened,” and Matt Sparks, a spokesman for McCarthy, said: “The idea that McCarthy would assert this is absurd and false.”

After being told that The Post would cite a recording of the exchange, Buck, speaking for the GOP House leadership, said: “This entire year-old exchange was clearly an attempt at humor. No one believed the majority leader was seriously asserting that Donald Trump or any of our members were being paid by the Russians. What’s more, the speaker and leadership team have repeatedly spoken out against Russia’s interference in our election, and the House continues to investigate that activity.”

“This was a failed attempt at humor,” Sparks said.

Yeah, so funny I forgot to laugh.

Rep. McCarthy is well-known for shooting off his mouth.  After former Speaker John Boehner (remember him?) resigned in the fall of 2015, there was talk of making Mr. McCarthy the Speaker of the House.  But he went on live TV and told the world that the House panel on Benghazi was specifically tasked with taking out Hillary Clinton; she was “untrustable,” which is exactly what the GOP planned to do as long as nobody actually admitted it.  But Mr. McCarthy couldn’t restrain himself.

So it’s no surprise that he would be caught on tape talking about Trump and Putin and Paul Ryan had to shut him up.

In the larger context, even if Mr. McCarthy was joking, the rest of the GOP had to know that even the illusion of collusion between Trump and Putin was already making itself known.  A year ago the press was already sniffing around Paul Manafort’s connection with the pro-Putin forces in Ukraine, and it was only after it was made glaringly obvious he was on the take from the Russians that he left the campaign.  And now we have the staff meeting of the Trump-Putin alliance in the Oval Office last week.

I’m old enough to remember that time when even a hint of a Russian influence in American politics was the kiss of death.  Now it’s an endorsement.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Not Guilty By Reason Of Stupidity

The New York Times has a backgrounder on the mood and atmosphere at the White House.

The bad-news stories slammed into the White House in pitiless succession on Tuesday, leaving President Trump’s battle-scarred West Wing aides staring at their flat screens in glassy-eyed shock.

The disclosure that Mr. Trump divulged classified intelligence to Russian officials that had been provided by Israel was another blow to a besieged White House staff recovering from the mishandled firing of James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director.

And the day was capped by the even more stunning revelation that the president had prodded Mr. Comey to drop an investigation into Michael T. Flynn, his former national security adviser. That prompted a stampede of reporters from the White House briefing room into the lower press gallery of the White House, where Mr. Trump’s first-line defenders had few answers but an abundance of anxieties about their job security.

The president’s appetite for chaos, coupled with his disregard for the self-protective conventions of the presidency, has left his staff confused and squabbling. And his own mood, according to two advisers who spoke on the condition of anonymity, has become sour and dark, and he has turned against most of his aides — even his son-in-law, Jared Kushner — describing them in a fury as “incompetent,” according to one of those advisers.

Yeah, it’s the White House aides who are “incompetent.”  Who hired those bozos in the first place?

The stress was taking its toll. Late Monday, reporters could hear senior aides shouting from behind closed doors as they discussed how to respond after Washington Post reporters informed them of an article they were writing that first reported the news about the president’s divulging of intelligence.

So they sent out H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, to issue a flat non-denial denial, hoping that a combat veteran could take the heat.

As he was working on his statement, General McMaster, a former combat commander who appeared uncomfortable in a civilian suit and black-framed glasses, nearly ran into reporters staking out Mr. Spicer’s office.

“This is the last place in the world I wanted to be,” he said, perhaps in jest.

Meanwhile, the administration is coming a rather unique defense of why Trump blabbed to the Russians.

In private, three administration officials conceded that they could not publicly articulate their most compelling — and honest — defense of the president for divulging classified intelligence to the Russians: that Mr. Trump, a hasty and indifferent reader of his briefing materials, simply did not possess the interest or the knowledge of the granular details of intelligence gathering to leak specific sources and methods of intelligence gathering that would harm American allies.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my client is too stupid to have knowingly committed this crime.”

That might actually work.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Trump To Comey: Back Off

From the New York Times:

Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.

“I hope you can let this go,” the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.

The existence of Mr. Trump’s request is the clearest evidence that the president has tried to directly influence the Justice Department and F.B.I. investigation into links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia.

Mr. Comey wrote the memo detailing his conversation with the president immediately after the meeting, which took place the day after Mr. Flynn resigned, according to two people who read the memo. The memo was part of a paper trail Mr. Comey created documenting what he perceived as the president’s improper efforts to influence a continuing investigation. An F.B.I. agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations.

Mr. Comey shared the existence of the memo with senior F.B.I. officials and close associates. The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo, which is unclassified, but one of Mr. Comey’s associates read parts of the memo to a Times reporter.

This shit’s getting real.  We now have evidence that Trump willfully and willingly tried to obstruct the investigation.  I believe that is not only a felony but falls under the definition of a high crime and misdemeanor.

Okay, Republicans, over to you.

Blabbermouth

From the Washington Post:

Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.

The information the president relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said.

The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia, and officials said Trump’s decision to do so endangers cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State. After Trump’s meeting, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency.

“This is code-word information,” said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, using terminology that refers to one of the highest classification levels used by American spy agencies. Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.”

I don’t think Trump did this to subvert the U.S. intelligence services or give away code-word secrets to the Russians.  He did it because he can’t help himself.  He’s a narcissist and a braggart and he has to show off to anyone who’s in the room.  It doesn’t matter who they are; it could be the Quad Cities bridge club or the inner circle of the Kremlin.  He just has to shoot off his mouth.

This is yet other example of Trump’s razor: When seeking an explanation for the behavior of Donald J. Trump, always choose the stupidest possible explanation.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Withdrawal Symptoms

Via Mike Allen at Axios:

At the urging of longtime friends and outside advisers, most of whom he consults after dark, President Trump is considering a “huge reboot” that could take out everyone from Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon, to counsel Don McGahn and press secretary Sean Spicer, White House sources tell me.

Trump is also irritated with several Cabinet members, the sources said.

“He’s frustrated, and angry at everyone,” said one of the confidants.

The conversations intensified this week as the aftermath of the Comey firing pushed the White House from chaos into crisis. Trump’s friends are telling him that many of his top aides don’t know how to work with him, and point out that his approval ratings aren’t rising, but the leaks are.

“The advice he’s getting is to go big — that he has nothing to lose,” the confidant said. “The question now is how big and how bold. I’m not sure he knows the answer to that yet.”

If Trump follows through, his innermost White House circle would shrink from a loop to a straight line of mid-30s family members with scant governing experience: Jared and Ivanka. So while the fighting and leaking might ease, the problems may not because it’s the president, not the staff, calling the shots.

One note of caution: Trump often talks about firing people when things go south and does not follow through on it. So it’s possible these conversations are his way of venting, and seeking reassurance.

[…]

The sources say Trump feels ill-served by not just his staff but also by several of his Cabinet officials. Trump has two complaints about Cabinet members: Either they’re tooting their own horns too much, or they’re insufficiently effusive in praising him as a brilliant diplomat, etc.

He’s not even four months into his term and he’s already thinking about a wholesale housecleaning and reduction in counselors.

This is surely a result of Trump being used to running the whole show and being surrounded by sycophants who would make sure that his every wish and need was taken care of without question.  That’s how it worked at his business, so that’s what he expects as president.  The very idea of being held accountable to Congress or the voters?  You’re kidding, right?

I think what we’re seeing here is the result of Trump taking on a job he thought would be so easy — after all, Dubya and Obama did it — but is not only much harder than he thought but it requires a skill set that he doesn’t have: the ability to get along with people, listen to them, and actually follow their advice, even if it goes against his instinct.  All signs, either now or in his past, indicate that he’s never had to do that, and even when faced with defeat, bankruptcy, or defiance, he’s managed to absorb it not as a failure or mistake on his part but as a betrayal or failure by someone else.

So far the failures and fumbles of this administration have been minor compared to what could really happen, and in the hands of other administrations, they would have been dealt with swiftly and moved on; Hillary Clinton’s attempt at healthcare reform didn’t result in the purge of the cabinet, and if the Trump administration faced the backlash that greeted the arrival of the Obamas, he would have lined up his cabinet against the wall at Mar-a-Lago.  What is really scary is contemplating what’s going to happen when the inevitable major challenge comes along: an economic downturn, a major terrorist attack, a natural disaster, or any one of the number of things that happen in the life of a presidency.  Those won’t be resolved by firing the staff and leaving it up to your son-in-law and retreating to the residence to wait for the adulation from Sean Hannity.

Bonus Track from D.R. Tucker in Washington Monthly:

Donald Trump did not make himself President. A significant portion of the American electorate begged for a candidate like Trump–someone who scorned expertise, someone who believed that talking tough constituted leadership, someone who believed America fell into degeneration in the years following Brown v. Board of Education. Trump is the natural consequence of a generation of folks that watched All in the Family and actually thought the Archie Bunker character would make a one heck of a president.

The folks who voted for Trump knew exactly what they were doing. It wasn’t desperation. It wasn’t confusion. It was a willful and deliberate attempt to turn the clock back, to “deconstruct the administrative state,” to live out a fantasy of privilege, prejudice and power.

When Trump attacks our institutions, he is doing so with the full and total imprimatur and approval of those who voted for him. They like what they’re getting. Progressive nightmares are the same as their dreams.

It’s easy to put this all on Trump. It’s easy to say he’s out of control. It’s harder to countenance the idea that those who voted for Trump wanted chaos and disorder, wanted national and international harmony destroyed, wanted to eliminate all vestiges of progressivism and enlightenment in this country. No one wants to believe their neighbors hate them.

Which means that even if Trump can’t handle the job, they’ll still say they support him.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sunday Reading

Happy Mother’s Day — Brandon E. Patterson in Mother Jones reports that Black Lives Matter is bailing out women for Mother’s Day.

Black Lives Matter has a big gift for some moms this Mother’s Day—their freedom. Groups affiliated with the police and criminal justice reform movement have been bailing black women out of jail ahead of the holiday on Sunday. The nationwide effort, dubbed National Black Mamas Bail Out Day, seeks to reunite the women with their families and raise awareness of the disparate impact of incarceration and the bail system on black women.

So far, more than 50 women around the country have been bailed out by the Mother’s Day effort. Organizing groups in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, New York City, Oakland, and 13 other cities, have been raising money through an online fundraising campaign. So far, they have brought in nearly $500,000 for the campaign, with $25,000 set aside for use in each city. The average bail paid off has varied widely; organizers in Atlanta bailed out 19 women with their pot of money, whereas 4 women have been bailed out in Oakland.

Activists have also raised money individually as well. Members of the Atlanta chapter of Southerners on New Ground (SONG), an LGBT-focused racial justice group, canvassed neighborhoods and collected small donations in a hat, according to Mary Hooks, an organizer with the chapter who came up with the idea for the nationwide initiative. “Black people have a tradition of using our collective resources to buy each other’s freedom,” she says, referring to the slavery-era practice of free black people saving money to purchase the freedom of their enslaved family members and friends. “We have an opportunity to do that when we understand how the cash bail system works. The sooner we can get folks out, the ability for them to mitigate their cases increases and the less collateral damage they are likely to incur.”

The organizers have drawn on their existing relationships with other criminal justice organizations to identify women to bail out of jail. In Oakland, the public defender’s office sent organizers names of women in jail, says Gina Clayton, an organizer with Essie Justice Group. Essie Justice organizers also sat in on arraignment hearings to identify women who would need to be bailed out. One of the people bailed out in Oakland was a mother of two who was jailed on a $10,000 bail about a week earlier, Clayton says. When organizers visited the woman to tell her they were paying her bail, she cried. Organizers with the Oakland office of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, an immigrants’ rights group that focuses on black migrants, bailed out a Haitian woman who had been held in a detention facility in Southern California. The woman had fled domestic abuse in her home country, according to Devonte Jackson, an organizer with the group. BAJI bought the woman a bus ticket to Florida so she could visit her family for Mother’s Day.

The term “mama,” as it’s used by the National Black Mamas Bail Out Day campaign, is broadly defined to include not just women with biological children, but all women—including trans women—who are linchpins for their families and neighborhoods. “It’s about knowing and naming that black women play such a critical role in our communities,” Hooks says.

The number of women behind bars in the United States has increased 700 percent since 1980, according to the Sentencing Project. More than 100,000 women are currently in jail. Many have not been convicted of anything but are unable to make bail, and a disproportionate number of them are black. Eighty percent of incarcerated women are mothers, according to the Vera Institute of Justice.

Nationally, the median bail set for a felony charge is $10,000, almost a year’s income for the average person unable to meet bail, according to the Sentencing Policy Initiative. Nearly 90 percent of inmates awaiting trial can’t afford bail; The average bail amount in felony cases has nearly tripled since 1990.

Bail reform is a key part of the national policy platform released last summer by the Movement for Black Lives, a broad coalition of groups affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement. Many of the groups bailing out women this week are also working on efforts to pass local and state legislation that would abolish cash bail in their jurisdictions. Earlier this year, New Orleans and New Jersey eliminated cash bail requirements for a range of low level offenses.

This weekend, organizers in some cities are holding events to welcome newly freed women back home. In Atlanta, organizers are hosting a picnic for the women and their families on Mother’s Day. Volunteers will help connect the women with resources for housing, employment, and legal assistance, Hooks says. The groups are also raising money for a possible bail-out effort to commemorate Father’s Day on June 18.

He Is What He Is — David Roberts in Vox on the tendency to overanalyze Trump.

We are not accustomed to having someone so obviously disordered in a position of such power. Trump is surrounded by people — not only members of his administration but Congress, the press, pundits, conservative ideological groups, industry lobbyists — eager to invent stories to make sense of his behavior.

Politicos and journalists need a story in which Trump’s stumbling and grasping can be construed as a savvy media strategy, a “distraction” from some other wrongdoing he has going on, or a “pivot” from his current omnishambles. Those are all versions of political maneuvering with which they are familiar. They need for Trump to want things, to be after things, to have a plan.

Politicians, journalists, analysts, the public — everyone wants some kind of story, some Theory of Trump. And so Trump surrogates try to provide it, scrambling to weave a coherent narrative around his careening, erratic lies.

But there’s no there there. He’s lunging this way and that, situation by situation. Firing Comey? Trump just got mad. He wanted Comey and the Russia investigation off his TV. There’s no deeper story than that.

This is an utterly terrifying conclusion. A Machiavellian Trump — one who was merely acting the fool, manipulating the public and media in service of some diabolical long-term agenda — is less frightening than a purely narcissistic and impulsive one.

No agenda guides him, no past commitments or statements restrain him, so no one, not even his closest allies (much less the American public or foreign governments) can trust him, even for a second. He will do what makes him feel dominant and respected, in the moment, with no consideration of anything else, not because he has chosen to reject other considerations, but because he is, by all appearances, incapable of considering them.

This makes him, as many others have noted, extremely vulnerable to being manipulated by whoever happens to talk to him last, whoever butters him up and makes him feel important. (And that includes the TV.)

It’s one thing when that involves a wild Twitter accusation or the firing of a staff member. All Trump’s crises so far have been internal and self-inflicted, more or less.

But what will happen when he gets into a confrontation with North Korea, when Kim Jong Un deliberately provokes him? Will his response be considered and strategic? Will he be able to get information and aid from allies? Will he be able to make and keep commitments during negotiations?

There’s no sign of hope for any of that.

More likely he will prove, as he has in literally every confrontation of the past several years, congenitally unable to back down or deescalate, even if doing so is clearly in everyone’s best interests.

More likely he will be desperate to maintain face and will listen to whatever his security staff whispers in his ear.

More likely he will make rash and fateful decisions with insufficient consultation and no clear plan.

That’s who he is: a disregulated bundle of impulses, being manipulated by a cast of crooks and incompetents, supported by a Republican Party willing to bet the stability of the country against upper-income tax cuts. We need to stop looking for a more complicated story.

Expletive Not Deleted — Alan Burdick in The New Yorker on why swearing is good for you.

By several accounts, Donald Trump has spent a decent amount of time in recent weeks screaming at his television. Almost certainly he’s been swearing at it; what else do you scream at your television but expletives? Besides, the President doesn’t often censor himself, even in public. On the campaign trail, he vowed to “bomb the shit out of ISIS,” suggested that U.S. companies that move their operations overseas should “go fuck themselves,” and proposed to begin trade negotiations with China by saying, “Listen, you motherfuckers.” As he told the audience at February’s National Prayer Breakfast, “The hell with it.”

Melissa Mohr, the author of “Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing,” has noted that cursing can be a handy rhetorical strategy: it’s common parlance, so employing it makes Trump seem more like a man of the people. But perhaps the President has also been reading about the analgesic benefits of profanity. In 2009, Richard Stephens, a psychologist at Keele University, in England, asked a group of volunteers to plunge one hand into a bucket of ice-cold water and keep it there for as long as they could. Sometimes Stephens instructed them to repeat an expletive of their choice—one that “they might use if they banged their head or hit their thumb with a hammer,” according to an article he wrote about the study. Other times he had them repeat a neutral word, like “wooden” or “brown.” With few exceptions, the volunteers could hold their hand in the water for longer when they cursed—about forty seconds longer, on average.

Swearing, Stephens thinks, may be a form of pain management, maybe even empowerment. Last week, he and a colleague, David K. Spierer, of Long Island University, described a new study in which swearing seemed to bolster physical strength. One group of volunteers pedalled an exercise bike for thirty seconds against intense resistance; sometimes they repeated a curse word, and other times they repeated a neutral word. “It’s a hugely difficult task,” Stephens told me. “Your heart rate goes through the roof.” A second group was challenged with a hand dynamometer, which measures grip strength. Swearing improved the performance on both tasks—between two and four per cent for the cyclists, and eight per cent for the squeezers.

It’s perhaps not so surprising that profanity has these occult powers, since it differs from the rest of language in a number of ways. For one thing, as Benjamin K. Bergen, a cognitive scientist at U.C. San Diego and the author of “What the F,” has pointed out, vulgarity bends the usual rules of grammar. For instance, the common expression “Fuck you!” is the rare sentence in which the verb has no subject. It’s not like “Curse you!” in which the “I” is understood; who’s fucking you in this case? The expression isn’t even a proper imperative. (That would be “Fuck yourself.”) Or consider the sentence “There’s too much work in this fucking class.” Is “fucking” an adjective? An adverb?

Swears are also unique in their effect on the human body. In 2011, researchers at the University of Bristol found that saying aloud the words “fuck” and “cunt” (but not the words “glue” and “dumb”) prompted a silent emotional reaction from the people who said them, detectable as an increase in the conductivity of their skin. One leading idea about swearing is that it is the fundamental language of emotion, and it seems to be generated by the parts of the brain from which emotions arise.

Indeed, sometimes, when the rest of language is stripped away, profanity is all that’s left. One of the earliest studied cases of aphasia, from 1843, involved a French parish priest who had suffered a stroke. He could say just two words: je (“I”) and foutre (“fuck”). In a similar case from the nineteen-nineties, a patient known as R.N. was left with a vocabulary of six words: “well,” “yeah,” “yes,” “no,” “shit,” and “goddammit.” Language is assembled in different parts of the brain, but obscenities seem to occupy a bin of their own; so long as neurological damage is limited to the regions governing intentional speech, the obscenity bin stays intact. In “What the F,” Bergen describes the case of a patient, E.C., who had the entire left half of his brain removed. In the process, he lost most, but not all, of his language abilities. He would open his mouth, say a few words, struggle to string them together, and then, with a burst of emotion, clearly express a series of expletives, including “goddammit.” “You don’t need your left hemisphere to talk as long as you’re swearing in frustration,” Bergen writes.

Stephens took an interest in swearing a dozen years ago, while his wife was giving birth in the hospital. The labor was prolonged—more than twenty hours—and her swearing was profuse. Afterward, she was “a bit embarrassed,” Richards said; she apologized to the midwives and doctors, but they kindly brushed it off. “‘They said, ‘We hear this all the time. This is a completely normal part of giving birth.’ That made me start thinking about swearing and pain. People instinctively swear when they hurt themselves. They must do it for a reason.”

Stephens’s first major study on the subject was the 2009 ice-bucket challenge. In the course of it, he found that the heart rates of the volunteers who swore went up relative to those who didn’t—an indication that swearing had indeed engaged the parts of the brain involved in emotion. Notably, the volunteers weren’t shouting the curse word but were merely repeating it, without affect. The physical effect seemed to result from the word itself, not from the manner in which it was expressed.

Next, Stephens turned the logic around: if swearing increases one’s tolerance for pain, and if swearing is ultimately emotional language, then making volunteers emotional should increase their pain tolerance. To test this idea, Stephens had one group of subjects play a first-person-shooter video game—Medal of Honor—for ten minutes and a second group play Tiger Woods P.G.A. Tour 2007. Afterward, the Medal of Honor players reported feeling more aggressive; when Stephens submitted them to the ice-bucket challenge, they could withstand it longer than the golfers could. In January, Stephens and his colleagues published a related study showing that Medal of Honor players also did better on what’s called a swearing fluency test: they could list more swear words in a minute than they could after playing the golf game. (All told, the test subjects came up with sixty swear words, although the paper notes that nineteen of them—including “feck,” “fuckaroo,” “asstaxi,” “wanko,” and “penis”—were “deemed not to be a recognized linguistic form of swear word.”)

Both studies were consistent with Stephens’s theory that swearing eases pain by triggering aggressive emotions, much in the way that the mere act of smiling can make a person feel happier. The aggression, in turn, triggers a fight-or-flight stress response, releasing adrenaline, which is known to increase physical performance. But his latest study, involving handgrips and stationary bicycles, complicates that story somewhat. In previous physical-challenge experiments, volunteers who swore had higher heart rates than those who didn’t—telltale signs of the fight-or-flight response. In the recent study, however, they didn’t. “Our latest findings are an effect but without an explanation for it,” Stephens said. There are at least two possibilities, he added. One is that swearing aloud may distract people from their pain, enabling them to better tolerate it. Or “it could be that swearing brings about a general disinhibition,” he said. “People feel less uptight when they’ve been swearing, and that lets them go for it a little bit more.”

Either way, Stephens said, the profanities traditionally considered most vulgar are losing their power to shock. Even the Democrats are trying to capitalize on the trend. Bernie Sanders has publicly denounced the President’s “shitty budget.” Politicorecently highlighted a New York magazine profile of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand that “included one ‘fuck,’ two ‘fucking’s, one ‘bullshit,’ one ‘pissed off,’ one ‘they suck,’ and a ‘what the hell is going on?’ ” In April, with children standing behind him, Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told a crowd that Trump “doesn’t give a shit about health care.” (For thirty dollars, the D.N.C. is also selling a T-shirt that reads, “We give a shit about people.”) Feigning offense, Fox News has complained that Democrats want to “make using profanity a new normal.”

Will profanity lose its pain-relieving magic along the way? At one point in his research, Stephens found that people who swore more in the course of an average day didn’t gain as much of an edge in the ice-bucket challenge, but he’s since had trouble replicating that finding. Odds are, though, that if profanity begins to fail us, we’ll find a way to upgrade it. “We’re getting to the point where the four-letter words are diminishing very much in their meaning,” Stephens said. “But there will always be new taboo words and phrases. We might be in a kind of plateau at the moment, before new oaths and profanities and whatever come along. But they will.”

 Doonesbury — No clue.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Loyal To A Fault

Via the New York Times:

Only seven days after Donald J. Trump was sworn in as president, James B. Comey has told associates, the F.B.I. director was summoned to the White House for a one-on-one dinner with the new commander in chief.

The conversation that night in January, Mr. Comey now believes, was a harbinger of his downfall this week as head of the F.B.I., according to two people who have heard his account of the dinner.

As they ate, the president and Mr. Comey made small talk about the election and the crowd sizes at Mr. Trump’s rallies. The president then turned the conversation to whether Mr. Comey would pledge his loyalty to him.

Mr. Comey declined to make that pledge. Instead, Mr. Comey has recounted to others, he told Mr. Trump that he would always be honest with him, but that he was not “reliable” in the conventional political sense.

[…]

By Mr. Comey’s account, his answer to Mr. Trump’s initial question apparently did not satisfy the president, the associates said. Later in the dinner, Mr. Trump again said to Mr. Comey that he needed his loyalty.

Mr. Comey again replied that he would give him “honesty” and did not pledge his loyalty, according to the account of the conversation.

Pledging your loyalty to a president is not something you do in a democracy.  It’s what you do in a dictatorship.  Here in America we ask officeholders to swear (or affirm) their loyalty to the Constitution of the United States.  Period.

Was He Mirandized?

In an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, Trump told the world that he basically broke the law.  (Underlined portion is the good stuff.)  Via TPM:

If you’re a fan of TV cop shows like “Law & Order”or even have a passing acquaintance with them, you know the first thing the arresting officer does is read the suspect his Miranda rights: “You have the right to remain silent; anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law,” and so on.  So, did anyone Mirandize Trump before he basically admitted to committing an impeachable offense?  Obstruction of justice was cited in the articles of impeachment of both Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

Well, obviously Trump was not in custody nor was he in jeopardy of being arrested, so he didn’t need to be read his rights, but should it come down to a situation where he’s brought up on charges of obstructing justice, this interview will be used as evidence.  And dollars to donuts, he will deny it all.

Trump apparently doesn’t understand that “anything you say can and will be used against you” applies not just to criminal suspects.  Either he doesn’t remember or he doesn’t care that he’s said something and then later completely contradicts himself or can’t understand why someone would hold him to his word.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Acting On Impulse

The Washington Post has an in-depth look into the background of the Comey firing.

Every time FBI Director James B. Comey appeared in public, an ever-watchful President Trump grew increasingly agitated that the topic was the one that he was most desperate to avoid: Russia.

Trump had long questioned Comey’s loyalty and judgment, and was infuriated by what he viewed as the director’s lack of action in recent weeks on leaks from within the federal government. By last weekend, he had made up his mind: Comey had to go.

At his golf course in Bedminster, N.J., Trump groused over Comey’s latest congressional testimony, which he thought was “strange,” and grew impatient with what he viewed as his sanctimony, according to White House officials. Comey, Trump figured, was using the Russia probe to become a martyr.

Back at work Monday morning in Washington, Trump told Vice President Pence and several senior aides — Reince Priebus, Stephen K. Bannon and Donald McGahn, among others — that he was ready to move on Comey. First, though, he wanted to talk with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, his trusted confidant, and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, to whom Comey reported directly. Trump summoned the two of them to the White House for a meeting, according to a person close to the White House.

The president already had decided to fire Comey, according to this person. But in the meeting, several White House officials said Trump gave Sessions and Rosenstein a directive: to explain in writing the case against Comey.

The pair quickly fulfilled the boss’s orders, and the next day Trump fired Comey — a breathtaking move that thrust a White House already accustomed to chaos into a new level of tumult, one that has legal as well as political consequences.

Rosenstein threatened to resign after the narrative emerging from the White House on Tuesday evening cast him as a prime mover of the decision to fire Comey and that the president acted only on his recommendation, said the person close to the White House, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Justice Department officials declined to comment.

When asked during a photo op why he fired Comey, Trump said he wasn’t “doing a good job.”  That means — to Trump — Comey wasn’t toeing the White House line that President Obama had secretly wiretapped Trump Tower, he wasn’t investigating the leaks from the White House and, worst of all, he was hogging too much screen time on TV talking about Russia.

The president can fire anyone in the executive branch; they all serve, as the saying goes, at the pleasure of the president.  But there has to be some sort of impulse control; everyone loses their temper over something with someone, but that doesn’t mean you act out on it with deep political and even legal consequences.

It’s no great revelation to find out that Trump is not someone who thinks things through; he was genuinely surprised at the shitstorm that fell on him Tuesday night and all day yesterday.  He thought the Democrats would be happy he did what some of them clamored for last fall and for the reason they wanted: he screwed up the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation.  He didn’t see the glaring truth that nobody would buy that from him now, and then when he goes and gratuitously throws in “you’re not investigating me,” he sounds like a kid who says “Don’t look in my room, Mom!”

He also had no clue — or if he did, he didn’t care — that this move will make it basically impossible to get anything through Congress without a Sisyphean struggle.  The Democrats, well-taught by the Republicans during the Obama administration, will use every lever and device they can to throw sand in the gears of confirmation hearings and legislation until they get answers.

If Trump is counting on loyalists in the party to hold up his story, he’s either forgetting — or doesn’t care — that Congress is up for re-election in less than two years and the longer the Republicans are tied to this juggernaut of a clusterfuck, they’re going to be the ones who get the blowback from the voters.  Yes, November 2018 is an eternity in politics, but Google lasts forever and you can be sure that there are plenty of political ads already being crafted with vulnerable GOP representatives with bulls-eyes painted on their backs.  When it comes down to standing with Trump or saving their own skin, it’s not hard to guess which choice they’ll make.

None of this is going to force Trump out of office ahead of schedule.  Talk of impeachment or resignation is just so much delusional click-bait.  But if he keeps acting on impulse like this — and dog forbid he should lash out at a foreign power or adversary in this manner — the more he will lose credibility and leverage with anyone other than his rabid base and basically become an attention-seeking noisemaker with access to the nuclear codes.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

You’ve Been Served

If the purpose of firing James Comey was to put the kibosh on the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s involvement with the Trump campaign, they missed a spot.

Via CNN:

Federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn seeking business records, as part of the ongoing probe of Russian meddling in last year’s election, according to people familiar with the matter. CNN learned of the subpoenas hours before President Donald Trump fired FBI director James Comey.

The subpoenas represent the first sign of a significant escalation of activity in the FBI’s broader investigation begun last July into possible ties between Trump campaign associates and Russia.

The subpoenas issued in recent weeks by the US Attorney’s Office in Alexandria, Virginia, were received by associates who worked with Flynn on contracts after he was forced out as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, according to the people familiar with the investigation.

Robert Kelner, an attorney for Flynn, declined to comment. The US Attorney’s Office in Alexandria, the Justice Department and the FBI also declined to comment.

I suppose Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III could fire the federal prosecutors, but that might give people the wrong idea.

Tuesday Afternoon Massacre

The official story is that FBI Director was fired by Trump because he mishandled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails.  You mean the investigation that delivered the election to Trump?

Okay, if you believe that…

If you’re of a certain age, you remember the Saturday Night Massacre of October 20, 1973.  (I watched it unfold on NBC News that night on my black-and-white TV in my apartment in Miami; I was a senior at UM.  John Chancellor was stunned.)  For those of you who don’t, it happened when Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox was skating too close to Nixon’s involvement in the cover-up of Watergate.  Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Cox.  Richardson refused and resigned, as did the next in line, Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, who also refused and was fired.  It then fell to Solicitor General Robert Bork, who followed the order: Cox was fired and the shit hit the fan.

The difference between now and then is that there are no Richardsons or Ruckelshauses in a Trump administration; they are all Borks.

Charles P. Pierce:

I will take any bet in any amount that we will have a special prosecutor looking into the Russia business by midsummer at the latest. Otherwise, I don’t know who will take the job. The entire DOJ—including the FBI—is now hopelessly compromised. And yes, I dread the very thought of who these clowns might appoint—Rudy Giuliani? Chris Christie? Sheriff Clarke? Bo Dietl?—but that seems a secondary concern right now. At present, we’re governed by people in a frenzy to cover their own asses. Nobody’s hands are on the wheel.

This is how dictatorships begin.